National Park Service
Kiva, Crown, Crown


The Invaders

The New Mexico: Preliminaries to Conquest

Oñate's Disenchantment

The "Christianization" of Pecos

The Shadow of the Inquisition

Their Own Worst Enemies

Pecos and the Friars

Pecos, the Plains, and the Provincias Internas

Toward Extinction



Chapter 8: Pecos, the Plains, and the Provincias Internas, 1704-1794

The Comanche Peace

For reasons best known to themselves, the Comanches in 1785 began treating seriously of peace. Beyond the elimination of Cuerno Verde, reasons advanced by others include heavy losses in the smallpox epidemic of 1780-1781, military pressure by other tribes armed by the Spaniards on the east Texas frontier, a slow drift southward with corresponding diversion of raiding sphere from oft-plundered New Mexico to richer regions, Anza's refusal to admit their trade so long as they remained hostile, and the appeal of the titles and gifts and supplies offered by alliance. Perhaps the choice of Pecos as an access to Santa Fe and as the new focus of their trading was in part symbolic. Surely if a Pecos could embrace a Comanche, the lamb would lie down with the coyote. [54]

title page of books
Title page of the Reglamento of 1772 governing the frontier military, Madrid, 1772. Wagner, Spanish Southwest, II

Anza made one thing clear. It was all or nothing. Each of the three major branches of the Comanche nation, the Jupe or Yupe (the people of the timber), the Yamparika (the root eaters), and the Cuchanec or Cuchantica (the buffalo eaters), had to concur. At a council on the Arkansas in November, attended by representatives of all but the snowbound northern Jupes and the easternmost Cuchanecs, they all did. It was resolved that Ecueracapa, leading chief of the Cuchanecs, speak for the others at Santa Fe. When José Chiquito, likely a genízaro, strayed from a party of Spanish buffalo hunters into Comanche hands, Ecueracapa made him and two Comanches his emissaries to the Spanish governor. He begged entrance though Pecos. Anza should warn the Jicarilla Apaches to let him pass.

Feted in Santa Fe for four days, given horses and gifts for themselves and a horse and cap of fine scarlet for Ecueracapa, the emissaries could hardly wait to report back to their chief. Anza ordered them to take with them thirteen Pecos Indians and a Spaniard, evidently José Manuel Rojo. They departed Santa Fe on January 3, 1786. Meanwhile, a renegade bunch of Comanches tried to subvert the peace, killing Juan Sandoval, a Pecos, outside the pueblo. But diplomacy overcame. Ecueracapa so outdid himself to entertain the returning emissaries and their guests that they "never tired of elaborating on it when they got back to the province."

On a cold day in February, the Pecos looked out on a rare sight, Comanches setting up their tipis in peace. A resplendent Ecueracapa rode on up to Santa Fe where Juan Bautista de Anza was waiting to receive him with honors due a visiting chief of state, with military escort, the municipal council turned out, pomp and an applauding crowd.

Ecueracapa loved it. "His harangue of salutation and embrace of the governor on dismounting at the door of his residence exceeded ten minutes." Inside they talked of terms. A tense moment followed when Anza presented the Comanche chief and his staff to a Ute delegation, mortal enemies since mid-century. The very name "Comanche," applied to the plains nation by the Spaniards, derived from a Ute word for enemy, or "anyone who wants to fight me all the time." It had taken the governor hours of parleys to bring the Utes to the brink of reconciliation. "After several accusations and apologies by both parties this was achieved and formalized in their manner, chiefs and attendants exchanging their garments with their counterparts."

After three days of conferences and festivities in Santa Fe, after Ecueracapa and the Ute chief had been regaled equally "to avoid jealousy which might prejudice their recent friendship," Anza led them and a colorful, polyglot concourse over the mountain to Pecos. There they would draw up the preliminary articles of peace.

Conference at Pecos

The Comanches who had camped before Pecos came out to meet the governor, "manifesting their great joy and delight." When he dismounted "at his own quarters," they crowded around him, some two hundred of them. "All, one by one, came up to embrace him with such excessive expressions of affection and respect that they were by no means appropriate to his rank and station." One of the governor's emissaries on the plains described how Comanches embraced him and rubbed their faces against his. Here Anza was at his best. [55]

Comanche war leaders
Comanche war leaders by George Catlin, 1834. Catlin, North American Indians, II

Retiring to the lodging prepared for him, the governor took his midday meal in the company of the Comanche captains, some of whom wore such earthy names as Rotten Shoe, He Plays Dirty, and The Vermin. Anza's superior, Commandant General Jacobo Ugarte y Loyola, an old campaigner himself, painted a portrait in words of these Comanches after a delegation of them visited him in Chihuahua late the same year:

All of these Indians are robust, good looking, and extremely happy. Their faces show forth the martial, frank, and generous character that distinguishes this nation from the others of this frontier. Their dress is decent, fashioned from buffalo skins they provide themselves. They paint their faces with red ochre and other earths, highlighting their eyelids with vermillion. They love adornments and sport them especially in their hair which they wear braided and intertwined with imitation gold buttons, colored glass beads, ribbons, and whatever other thing that glitters. Yet in odd contrast, the women are slovenly. Their hair is cut, which among them is a sign of slavery and abjection. They enjoy no more respect than what their owners bestow in proportion to how they serve them. [56]

That afternoon, the business of making peace continued. Bare from the waist up, Tosapoy, who occupied third place in the Cuchanec order, delivered a moving harangue. As a token of good faith, on his knees he presented to Anza a Spaniard from Santa Fe, young Alejandro Martín, who had been a captive among them for eleven years. The governor now affirmed tentatively, pending the commandant general's approval, the five points presented in Santa Fe by Ecueracapa: 1) a new and lasting peace; 2) permission for the Comanches to move closer to New Mexico; 3) access to Santa Fe through Pecos and free trade at the latter place; 4) an alliance and redoubled war against the Apaches; and 5) acknowledgment before other Comanche leaders, since only Cuchanecs were then in attendance at Pecos.

In compliance with the last point, the Spanish governor gave to Ecueracapa his own sword and banner and arranged that his staff of office be displayed to members of the tribe who were not present. The Comanches, in response, dug a hole in the dirt and refilled it, "performing various ceremonies suggesting that in so doing (as they said and as is customary among them) they were for their part also burying war." After many other Comanches had acknowledged the peace, either in Santa Fe or on the plains, Anza submitted the articles to Ugarte. The commandant general added some commentary and clarification but he approved the pact essentially as it was drafted at Pecos on February 28, 1786. [57]

A Trade Fair Seals the Peace

Next day in the new atmosphere of good feeling, Anza presided over a trade fair at Pecos. It was Ash Wednesday. Voluntarily "all the Comanche and Ute captains with the rest of the individuals of both nations present" accompanied the governor to receive the ashes at service. Afterwards, he published a decree designed to restrain the Hispanos' usual outrages during the trading and to set the rules. The old 1754 price list would govern, with two exceptions: trade knives and horses. Two knives would bring only one buffalo hide, and thirteen of the same, a single average horse. A decade earlier, describing what went on at Taos, Father Domínguez had written:

The Comanches usually sell to our people at this rate: a buffalo hide for a belduque, or broad knife made entirely of iron which they call a trading knife here; "white elkskin" (it is the same [buffalo] hide, but softened like deerskin), the same; for a very poor bridle, two buffalo skins or a vessel like those mentioned; the meat for maize or corn flour; an Indian slave, according to the individual, because if it is an Indian girl from twelve to twenty years old, two good horses and some trifles in addition, such as a short cloak, a horse cloth, a red lapel are given; or a she-mule and a scarlet cover, or other things are given for her. . . .

They are great traders, for as soon as they buy anything, they usually sell exactly what they bought; and usually they keep losing, the occasion when they gain being very rare, because our people ordinarily play infamous tricks on them. In short, the trading day resembles a second-hand market in Mexico, the way people mill about. [58]

The infamous tricks were precisely what Anza wanted to avoid.

Then on the ground designated for the fair he marked out two lines so that the contracting parties, each positioned on the outside of one, could exhibit and hand over to each other in the space between whatever goods they had to exchange. With this arrangement, the presence of that chief [Governor Anza], the opportune positioning of troops, official overseers, and the abolition of the abusive contributions that the latter used to charge the heathens as a fee for permission to trade, this fair took place in ideal calm and good order.

The Comanches exchanged at it more than 600 skins, many loads of meat and tallow, 15 horses, and 3 muskets to their entire satisfaction, without experiencing the slightest affront. As a result, grateful and pleased with this new method, they proclaimed publicly that they know now more than ever the truth of our peace, and by virtue of the justice and consideration shown them were bound to be faithful always, and that the advantages they had gained would prompt them to repeat such trading with even greater determination transferring the larger part, if not all, of their fairs to the pueblo of Pecos. [59]

During the following months, Anza worked to secure Ecueracapa's preeminent position as captain general of the entire Comanche nation. And he succeeded. By April 1787, he had in hand a final treaty with all three branches. Ecueracapa had gone after Apaches and sent in tally sheets of his kills. His people had come again to trade at Pecos. Despite the replacement of Anza in 1787 and the death of Ecueracapa in 1793, despite the utter failure of the Jupes to settle down in the pueblo they asked the Spaniards to build for them on the Arkansas, despite troublesome hostilities of Utes, Navajos, and Jicarillas with Comanches, the alliance of Comanches and Spaniards embarked upon at Pecos in 1786 stood unbroken for a generation. [60]

Plains Exploration

In the fading light of afternoon, the Pecos made out riders approaching. As they drew closer, they could see that they were Comanches escorting a couple of Spaniards "with flag unfurled." Actually one was a Frenchman called Pedro Vial, a gunsmith and Indian trader now in the service of Spain. It was May 25, 1787. At the bidding of the governor of Texas, the explorer Vial had just made his way cross country clear from San Antonio.

A couple of months later, old José Mares, long-time Spanish soldier at Santa Fe and scout, stopped over at Pecos. He was going to try it in reverse, from New Mexico to San Antono, taking with him Cristóbal de los Santos, who had been with Vial, and interpreter Alejandro Martín, the young man presented to Anza at the Pecos peace conference the year before. They also made it, by a shorter route, and returned. Vial followed in 1788-1789 with a trek from Santa Fe to Natchitoches to San Antonio and back, and in 1792-1793 to St. Louis round trip. Always they came and went through Pecos, New Mexico's eastern port of entry.

As individual feats of exploration, these lonely voyages across the plains were prodigious. As moves on the international chessboard of North America, they were singularly puny. Spanish imperialists wanted to bind the Provincias Internas and Spanish Louisiana, to secure the middle of the continent from Englishmen out of Canada, Anglo-Americans shoving west, and conniving Frenchmen who wanted their American empire back. The explorations of Vial and "interpreter" Mares, in the words of Viceroy Revillagigedo, "have been and can be very important and conducive to counteract the dangerous designs of foreign powers." In the long run, they proved not very conducive at all. [61]

casualty tally
Comanche tally of casualties and spoils in battle with Apaches, 1786 (AGI, Guad., 287). Thomas, Forgotten Frontiers

For a few short years, it looked as though Pecos might recover. The murderous assaults had ceased. The eastern gateway lay open. Trade picked up. "In the short time since my arrival," exulted Gov. Fernando de la Concha in 1787 three months after taking office, "seven fairs have been held at the pueblo of Taos, a very considerable one at that of Pecos, and another at Picurís, the most noteworthy since up to now none has taken place at this pueblo." [62]

Nurturing Comanche Peace

Concha was as careful of the Comanche peace as Anza had been. He treated with their delegations, provided maize as relief when drought temporarily drove the buffalo herds from their ranges, and regularly distributed gifts to them and the other allied tribes. Each spring when the caravan from Chihuahua pulled into Santa Fe, these heathen allies lined up for the dole. Bolts of bright cloth and quantities of hats, shoes, knives, mirrors, rope, strings of beads, coral, vermillion, indigo, bars of soap, cigarettes, and piloncillos, those hard-as-rock little cones of raw sugar, were a small enough price to pay. When treasury officials held up the four thousand pesos in 1790 for "extraordinary expenses of peace and war," Concha appropriated the funds allotted for the missionaries' allowances, assuring the commandant general in 1791 that the Franciscans had "gladly agreed to wait until this year." A bald forced loan, it clearly showed the governor's priorities. [63]

Lipan Apache warrior
A Lipan Apache warrior after a painting by Arthur Schott. W. H. Emory, Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey vol. 1 (Washington, D.C. 1857)

As the regular port of entry and trade for the Comanches after 1786, Pecos became almost an agency town. To make the peace work, Anza and Concha relied on "interpreters," Spaniards or mixed-bloods who knew the natives' language and customs, who knew where they could be found when the governor wanted them, who handled the delicate business of grievances and infractions, in effect, Indian agents. José Mares, the elderly plains explorer who headed the Pecos census of 1790 and who lived at the pueblo with his thirteen-year-old son, was evidently one of these.

Juan Bautista de Anza

On occasion, Indian diplomacy demanded tact of the highest order. Not long after the Comanche peace had been signed at Pecos, a group of "Lipan Apaches" showed up to test it or at least to share in the benefits. They asked "that they be permitted to re-establish the commerce which 35 or 40 years ago they carried on at the Pueblo of Pecos," before they had gone south for fear of the Comanches. The traders of New Mexico were glad to see them back and urged the governor to admit their petition. The Comanches were appalled. If the Spaniards made peace with these Apaches, who would the Comanches have left to fight? They would become mere women!

Recognizing the conflict, the commandant general instructed Governor Concha to keep the peace only with Comanches, Utes, Navajos, and Jicarillas, the so-called "four allied tribes," and to make war on Apaches by any other name. By 1790, scattered deaths attributed to Apaches began appearing in the Pecos book of burials. Yet, on occasion, the lure of profit and the ransom of captives prevailed. In 1791, "a party of Llanero and Mescalero Apaches" came to Pecos to get what they could for ten captives "and to barter various goods and buffalo hides." [64]

Spanish soldier's pistol, c. 1780. Brinckerhoff and Faulk Lancers

The Gateway Displaced

By the end of the century, Spanish settlement at the river ford had superseded Pecos pueblo as port of entry and agency town. "Interpreters" to the Comanche nation moved down to San Miguel del Vado. Hispano comancheros and ciboleros, a breed of plains traders and hunters in the tradition of Diego Romero, made their bases there. Instead of waiting for the Comanches to come to them, they took themselves to the Comanches. Even though the occasional color and hubbub of trade fairs broke the routine at Pecos well into the nineteenth century, the recovery set in motion by the Comanche peace had passed.

Still, for another forty years, Pecos refused to die.

Pedro Vial's arena, Santa Fe center left, Louis center right, New Orleans lower right. Carl I. Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West, 1540-1861, vol. (San Francisco, 1957)
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