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 9: Toward Extinction, 1794-1840

The End of Prospector Castro

The Spanish quest for a Cerro Amarillo or Cerro de Oro in Comanche territory, the enduring enmity of certain Apache bands, and a heightened United States threat across the plains all coincided early in 1804. A far-ranging prospector and buffalo hunter named Bernardo Castro had just ridden into Santa Fe from his second bootless excursion in search of the magic mountain. He claimed to have seen it once before, but only fleetingly by night. Frustrated by deep snows in his attempt to pack a couple of loads of meat up to the villa, Castro decided to go back to El Vado to get them. At the same time, he meant to check out a "very rich vein of silver" two or three leagues from there. Chacón had advised him to wait until it warmed up, but Castro replied that he did not know how to stand idle.

Early in March, the teniente de justicia of Pecos and El Vado notified the governor of Castro's fate. A scouting party of twenty men under Diego Baca had picked up fresh tracks they reckoned were Apache, of seven afoot and two on horse back. They feared the horses might be Castro's. They were. That same day, Baca found the frozen bodies, Castro and José Antonio Rivera. He had them packed up to the mission of Pecos where Fray Diego Martínez Arellano gave them Christian burial, noting for the record that they had been "killed by Apaches while searching for the mine of the Río de Tecolote."

The same day that Fray Diego put Castro's body in the ground, Diego Villalpando, whom Castro had left among the Comanches Orientales, appeared in Santa Fe. He had been beyond Natchitoches with a dozen Spaniards out of San Antonio. A few days after parting with these men, Villalpando had noted among the Comanches an abundance of loot. He surmised that the heathens had killed these Texans for their large herd of horses and mules. When the Comanches heard that the Spanish troops had ridden out of San Antonio to repel "some Englishmen or Americans," they headed for that villa. One Comanche who did not go for lack of a horse made known his desire to kill Villalpando. It was then that the New Mexican had made his escape. [21]

The mention of Americans might well have caused Chacón to curse. The year was 1804. Thomas Jefferson had just stretched the United States constitution around sprawling, ill-defined Louisiana. Lewis and Clark were outfitting in St. Louis. From then on, right down to 1821, Spanish officials from San Antonio to Santa Fe would damn the Anglos, real or imagined, the likes of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, who came seducing the Plains Indians, filibustering, or just looking for commerce, honest or otherwise.

While Comanches came and went, and once in a while an American or two, the real everyday enemy on the Río Pecos remained the Apache. In the mission book of burials, it was as if a line had been drawn at 1786. Before that, for a half-century, all deaths resulting from hostilities were attributed to Comanches, after that only to Apaches. The friars did not identify them as Jicarillas, Mescaleros, or others. But between 1790 and 1803, the entries for at least five Pecos Indians included the terse explanation "killed by Apaches." In 1804, it was Bernardo Castro and his companion, while six months later, four more El Vado settlers. Time and again settlers and Indians went after them, mustering sometimes at the pueblo and sometimes downriver at El Vado. For the most part, it was like chasing the wind. One seemingly typical militia force set out from San Miguel del Vado in mid-December 1808. They came from all over and included ten genízaros from Santa Fe and ten from San Miguel. For a total of 148 men there were 47 firearms and 263 rounds of ammunition. The rest carried only bow and arrows. [22]

Lure of Trade on the Plains

For the average mixed-blood or genízaro who drew a plot of ground at El Vado in 1803, it was not the prospect of a good year for maize or beans that excited him most, but rather the vision of hunting or trading on the plains. There could be profit in that. The case of Juan Luján, "Indian settler" who owned a 65-vara parcel, was probably not unique. He had walked to the Río Tesuque to see if he could talk Bartolo Benavides, a retired soldier, into going halves with him on an animal to use for buffalo hunting. He failed. On the way home, as chance would have it, he came upon a horse strolling unattended along the road toward Tesuque, or so he later claimed. Since a dog had just bitten him and walking was painful, Luján caught the horse and rode back to El Vado. The Tesuques came looking and charged him with theft. He said he was going to return the animal. For his error Juan Luján spent a month at labor on public works. [23]

Near Rebellion in New Mexico

Lt. Col. Joaquín del Real Alencaster, governor from 1805 to 1808, very nearly lost New Mexico, not to Apaches or Anglos, but to the people themselves. Times were hectic, to be sure. Competition for the loyalty of the Plains tribes quickened. Unwelcome American traders and explorers kept showing up in Santa Fe. Whether he was following orders or not, Real Alencaster's rude attempt to curtail the irregular plains traffic out of the province almost caused a rebellion.

Joaquí del Real Alencaster

At San Miguel on the Río Pecos, don Felipe Sandoval called a meeting, ostensibly to raise funds for the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Juan Antonio Alarí, teniente de justicia of the Pecos-El Vado subdistrict, accused by the people of being a tyrannical bully for the governor, spied on the meeting. He was right. The Virgin was only a cover.

Spanish lance blade. Brinckerhoff and Faulk, Lancers

Sandoval was urging the people of San Miguel and San José to ignore the repressive measures of the governor and his henchmen. They should go to the Comanches and trade as usual. Just let the bastards try and stop them. The people of La Cañada and the Río Arriba were with them. At that, "with a garrote and clubs," Alarí broke up the meeting, and arrested Sandoval.

When it was learned that Sandoval and José García de la Mora, "defender" of the people of the Río Arriba, had been hauled before the governor, a mob from the north started for the capital. Only when they had been given assurance that neither Sandoval nor García was in jail did they turn back. From testimony taken in Santa Fe, a number of additional grievances emerged: the limit on what New Mexicans could take in the annual caravan to Chihuahua, the prohibition against selling sheep to the Navajos, the collection of grain from the poor citizens of the Río Arriba to feed the Santa Fe garrison. When Real Alencaster sent the proceedings off to the commandant general, he included charges of sedition against Felipe Sandoval. This time nothing had come of it. In 1837, the mob would behead an unpopular New Mexico governor. [24]

Don Alberto Maynez, who took over from Real Alencaster in 1808, was at pains to let the people of New Mexico know that they were at liberty to trade with the heathen nations and also with Nueva Vizcaya. All they needed was government approval and passports, these only to make certain the number of armed men per trading party was sufficient. Felipe Sandoval was vindicated. By 1814, he served as municipal councilman in Santa Fe and as protector of New Mexico's Indians. The settlers on the Río Pecos, with or without government sanction, kept on hunting and trading among the Comanches, enjoying "the best relations with that heathen nation . . . calm and at peace as always." [25]

Maintaining the Comanche Dole

Still, the New Mexicans were no fools. They knew that the only things that kept the Comanche "barbarians" at peace were trade and gifts. They knew that while they bartered cloth, hunting knives, and beads for horses and mules with one band, other Comanches were stealing more in Texas, Coahuila, or Nueva Vizcaya. When the Comanche general Soguara arrived in the fall of 1818 with "more than a thousand" of his people to trade, don Facundo Melgares, New Mexico's fat but singularly astute and energetic governor, gave out gifts until his warehouse was almost bare. He begged the commandant general to send more, posthaste. [26]

Exactly a year later, Manuel Antonio Rivera, a plains guide from San Miguel del Vado who had spent the summer of 1819 among the Comanches, testified in Santa Fe that General Vicente was en route to see Melgares with news that "many Anglo-Americans were coming to attack this province." Vicente wanted to assure the Spanish governor "that the Comanches and he were prepared to fight the Americans because they advance taking Comanche horse herds and captives and because the Spaniards of New Mexico are their friends and the lord governor their tata [dad]" [27]

Just how deep the Comanches' friendship ran was evident in August 1821 when Tata Melgares' gifts played out. Much of the viceroyalty had already pronounced for Agustín de Iturbide and independence. There was fighting elsewhere. Commandant General Alejo García Conde, who embraced independence that very month, could spare nothing for gratification of allied tribes. As the disgruntled Comanches rode back from Sante Fe through the El Vado district, they took out their frustrations en route, killing livestock, sacking several houses, stealing, and raping two women. "So as not to upset the peace" the settlers did not stand up to them. But they were furious.

These outrages, protested Manuel Durán of El Vado, were the result of having cut off the customary Comanche dole. Did the governor recognize the implications? "This could be the cause of our losing their fidelity to the alliance we have with them." He begged Melgares to solicit contributions for an emergency fund. The governor agreed. He knew full well that all the province's heathen allies might rebel if not supplied the usual gifts. Circulating the El Vado plea, he urged the other districts to forward whatever they could to gratify the barbarians "and escape desolation and death." [28]

St. Anthony of Padua, a retablo by the anonymous New Mexico santero "A. J.," 1882. Museum of New Mexico

There were tense moments, to be sure, but the Comanches never did go on the offensive against New Mexico the way they had before 1786. The tradition of trade and forbearing intercourse prevailed. Never was the 1812 prediction of El Vado promoters realized, never did great numbers of Comanches come to live as Christians on the Río Pecos. But some did, and their names are scattered through the parish records.

hand-written note
Recounting Comanche depredations, Manuel Durán of El Vado warns Governor Melgares that cutting off the dole may wreck the New Mexico-Comanche alliance, August 21, 1821 (SANM, II, no. 3008).

That Indians of Pecos pueblo and Comanches continued to come in frequent contact, during "fairs" and on the plains, is beyond question, and perhaps, as one early anthropologist said, many Pecos "spoke Comanche as well as their own tongue." It seems doubtful, however, based on the same church records, that "there was much Comanche blood in the tribe." [29] As far as Pecos and Comanches were concerned, the hachet buried in 1786 stayed buried. But that did not always mean, literally, that they lay down together.

The Pecos Pueblo League

As they passed back and forth on the dirt track from Santa Fe to El Vado, breaking their journey at Pecos, more than a few Hispanos noted good land along the river, land that the Indians of the dying pueblo were not cultivating, vacant land ripe for the taking.

In 1813, the year after Father García del Valle had moved down to San Miguel, an enterprising trio of "Spaniards and citizens of Santa Fe," by name Francisco Trujillo, Bartolomé Márquez, and Diego Padilla, requested "several pieces of land, unappropriated, untilled, and unimproved at the place called Las Ruedas, located in the environs of the pueblo of Pecos." Once the site of a prehistoric Pecos satellite community, Las Ruedas lay about four miles downriver from the pueblo, near present-day Rowe. Their ownership of such lands, the promoters averred, would in no way prejudice the settlers at San Miguel. Neither would it encroach in the direction of Pecos on "the boundaries of the league (which is ordered set aside for every Indian pueblo), not by far." [30]

The famous "pueblo league" was a legal fiction. Before the eighteenth century, the Pueblo Indians seem to have been entitled under Spanish law to whatever lands they habitually occupied or used. Sometime after 1700, however, there evolved the doctrine of a given league, a sort of recognized minimum right of the Pueblos. In the case of Pecos, it was a minimum indeed, one eventually imposed by the growing Hispano presence and the pueblo's decline. In Spanish law, current use was the key. No matter that the Pecos had farmed or otherwise used more land historically, they were no longer using it in the nineteenth century. Measured one league, or 5,000 varas, in each of the cardinal directions from the cross in the mission cemetery, the standard "pueblo grant" thus contained four square leagues, roughly twenty-seven square miles, or more than 17,350 acres.

The Upper Pecos Valley.

The only extant Spanish land title to Pecos pueblo is a clumsy forgery. One of the so-called Cruzate grants, allegedly made to eleven different pueblos in 1689, it was apparently part of a large-scale nineteenth-century hoax. Nevertheless, the description of the Pecos "grant" was accurate: "to the north one league, and to the east one league, and to the west one league, and to the south one league, and these four lines measured from the four corners of the pueblo leaving aside the church which is to the south of the pueblo." [31]

So long as the Pecos had no neighbors, there was no reason for them to go out and measure their grant on the ground. After the Trujillo-Márquez-Padilla petition of 1813, there was every reason. But since that petition, forwarded by Gov. José Manrique to the commandant general, got lost in the bureaucracy, the earliest recorded measurement of the Pecos league took place in August of 1814.

A Land Grant to the North

Juan de Dios Peña, retired ensign of the Santa Fe garrison, and two companions were bidding for a grant just north of Pecos on both banks of the river. A settlement there, the would-be grantees declared, "will serve as a defensive outpost against the enemy Apaches and other barbarians." By order of Governor Manrique and commission of Santa Fe's constitutional alcaldes, Protector de indios Felipe Sandoval went to Pecos and in the company of Peña and local Alcalde Juan Antonio Anaya "we proceeded to measure to the satisfaction of the native principal men of the pueblo the league which from time immemorial His Majesty (God save him) has granted them to the four points of the hemisphere." On this occasion they did not say where they began the measurement. [32]

For some reason—probably related to the restoration of Ferdinand VII and the reversal of reforms by the Cortés— Peña's 1814 petition was not acted upon. The following year, after there had been a change of governors, he tried again and was successful. Sometimes called the Cañón de Pecos, or the Cañón de San Antonio del Río Pecos, this, or a part of it, eventually became the Alexander Valle grant. Assured by Felipe Sandoval that "said site is independent of the league and farm land of the natives of that pueblo, at a normal distance, and very much separated from the property of said pueblo," Gov. Alberto Maynez sent Santa Fe Alcalde mayor Matías Ortiz out to put Peña in possession. "Beginning at the cross in the cemetery," said Ortiz, "I measured the league upriver and, having completed in full the Indians' league, in the surplus I took don Juan de Dios by the hand" and went through the usual routine. By starting at the cemetery cross, well south of the pueblo itself, Ortiz had lopped off just that much good irrigable land to the north. [33]

Dispute at North Boundary

The legal battle began in 1818. Juan de Aguilar of Santa Fe, one of Peña's two companions, believed that he had been defrauded. Three years before, he claimed, he had duly acquired a piece of land "in the place known as the surplus of Pecos." Later, the Pecos Indians had protested and called for a new measurement. The alcalde of El Vado, don Vicente Villanueva, complied. In so doing, Aguilar contended, he had deviated from established practice in two regards. First, he had begun from "the edge of the pueblo" instead of the cemetery cross, and second he had used a one hundred-vara measuring cord instead of the standard fifty-vara cord. "As a result several properties have been prejudiced." Aguilar begged Gov. Facundo Melgares to address himself to these two points.

Vicente Villanue

Responding the same day to an order from the governor, Alcalde Villanueva defended his measurement. He had indeed used a one hundred-vara cord. To have used a shorter one, he alleged, would have been prejudicial to the Indians because of the irregular, broken terrain. He had wet the cord and stretched it to get the kinks out and then staked it taut. Aguilar and his sons had stretched it again until it broke. With them and "the other settlers of the rancho" looking on, Villanueva had measured one hundred varas on the repaired cord "to every one's satisfaction," shouting out the count as he went.

That "several properties" had been prejudiced was a lie, said Villanueva, only Aguilar's. Actually one other property lay even farther inside the northern boundary of the Pecos league, but the owner, who did not want it, had died and his heirs wanted it even less. Villanueva had made a couple of other measurements for the settlers with the cooperation of the Pecos. As for his point of origin, the alcalde explained it in these words.

It is true that it has been customary (and I have done so myself) to begin at the cemetery cross. This has been done not because of a set rule but rather because all the pueblos (except this one) have the church more or less in the center. This pueblo, to the contrary, as a consequence of its long site has the church more than a hundred varas away from one end of the pueblo in the opposite direction from the part the natives are defending. Therefore I deemed it just that it be begun, in all directions, from the pueblo as center.

If the governor took any action, the record of it has long been separated from Aguilar's challenge and Villanueva's response. The precedent, however, was set. [34]

A Land Grant to the South

Meantime, Trujillo, Padilla, and Márquez had persisted. Submitting a new petition dated May 26, 1814, they asked this time for

an unimproved site, located at the place called Los Trigos as far as El Gusano, independent of the league of the Indians of the pueblo of Pecos, in order that we may, without injury to the latter or to any third party, establish our small stock ranches to pasture animals toward some betterment of our standard of living, to clear and plow a few pieces of land for planting, whether it be wheat or maize, knowing full well that we will not prejudice those adjoining us in any way.

The area known as Los Trigos, which gave name to the grant, pressed even closer to Pecos than Las Ruedas, extending from the latter to the present headquarters of the Forked Lightning Ranch. Eight or ten miles downriver, El Gusano, today's South San Isidro, was the western boundary call of the San Miguel del Vado grant and later the focus of a bitter boundary dispute.

Governor Manrique, observing the letter of prevailing reform legislation, had passed the petition on to the Santa Fe municipal council for its approval. Convinced that the grant would not encroach on the prior rights of Pecos Indians or El Vado settlers, the council at its meeting of July 30, 1814, recommended that Trujillo and companions be put in possession "whenever it is convenient." But then word of the king's restoration reached Santa Fe. Trujillo and company waited another year.

On June 22, 1815, Governor Maynez had set them straight. They could pasture their stock on the vacant lands that lay between Pecos and El Vado, but, if there were space enough, so could any other citizen. Only such lands as they might cultivate and fence, as well as the lots for their houses and corrals, would be covered by royal grant. That, years later, set the lawyers dancing an intricate step. Moreover, to make certain the Pecos league was being observed in full, the governor sent Matías Ortiz and the petitioners to Pecos. There on October 20, 1815, said Ortiz, "I measured a fifty-vara cord and handed it over to the Pecos Indians so that they might measure it to their satisfaction. Then, having measured [on the ground] a hundred cord-lengths to their entire satisfaction, I set their boundary." [35]

Now, both downriver and up, the land was taken. Although there was a lag between the issuance of these grants and their actual settlement, the Pecos soon had next door neighbors.

man riding mule
"Mexican woodman." John T. Hughes, Doniphan's Expedition (Cincinnati, 1847)
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