The New Mexico: Preliminaries to Conquest
The "Christianization" of Pecos
The Shadow of the Inquisition
Their Own Worst Enemies
Pecos and the Friars
Pecos, the Plains, and the Provincias Internas
While the last of the Pecos "kept the faith" at
Jémez, a motley procession of traders, soldiers, and tourists was
tracking through the ruins of their former homes, scratching graffiti,
pocketing souvenirs, and recounting the fantastic tales of "a lost
If Thomas James heard the tales in 1821, he did not
repeat them. Ten years later, Albert Pike heard them all
rightMontezuma, the eternal fire in a cave, and
worship of a giant snakebut he did not fix them precisely on
Pecos. That came soon enough. An article by "El Doctor Masure" in the
Santa Fe Republican of September 24, 1847, told of a visit in
1835 to the "furnace of Montezuma" at Pecos. Josiah Gregg, too, said
that he had descended into a Pecos kiva and "beheld this consecrated
fire, silently smouldering under a covering of ashes, in the basin of a
Ever since the sixteenth century, Spanish chroniclers
had associated ruins north of Mexico with the origin of the Aztecs and
with Montezuma. The legendary pre-conquest feathered serpent had
slithered northward even earlier. When, in the romantic atmosphere of
the nineteenth century, Pecos became a bona fide and easily accessible
ruin, it is no wonder that such specters took up residence here. "Ere
the May-flower drifted to Plymouth's snowy rock, this vestal flame was
burning. . . . and yet till Montezuma shall returnso ran the
chargethat fire must burn."
"Astek Church," actually the main pueblo
ruin, Pecos, 1846, by John Mix Stanley. Emory, Notes
Artist John Mix Stanley, with the invading Army of
the West in 1846, sketched both mission church and pueblo ruins, and in
House Executive Document No. 41 of the Thirtieth Congress, First
Session, the former was labeled "Catholic Church" and the latter "Astek
Church." Army engineers W. H. Emory and J. W. Abert related the
Montezuma legend at Pecos, where "the fires from the 'estuffa'
burned and sent their incense through the same altars from which was
preached the doctrine of Christ" and where "they were said to keep an
immense serpent, to which they sacrificed human victims."
Yet no one topped young Pvt. Josiah M. Rice, who
passed by in 1851 with Col. Edwin V. Sumner's command. "There are,"
claimed Rice, "many traditions connected with this old church, one of
which is that it was built by a race of giants, fifty feet in height.
But these, dying off, they were succeeded by dwarfs, with red heads who,
being in their turn exterminated, were followed by the Aztecs."
Pondering Montezuma's alleged birth at Pecos and his
vow to return, the astute Adolph F. Bandelier in 1880 ascribed the tale
to "an evident mixture of a name with the Christian faith in a personal
redeemer, and dim recollections of Coronado's presence and promise to
return." Of course it may also have become a convenient ruse employed by
the Pueblos to mislead inquisitive whites. Lt. John G. Bourke,
contemporary of Bandelier and ethnologist in his own right, found the
Montezuma story "among the Pueblos who have had most to do with
Americans and Mexicans and among no others." No matter,
thought historian Ralph Emerson Twitchell in 1910.
"This story is the veriest rot."
The big snake, in whose veracity Bandelier refused to
believe "until I am compelled," persisted nonetheless. In 1924, a
grandson of Maríano Ruiz, chief informant of Bandelier, recited what he
had heard his grandfather tell about the Pecos snake. This account
appeared in Edward S. Curtis' The North American Indians, volume
The snake, he said, was kept in an underground room
in the village, and at stated intervals a newborn infant was fed to it.
The elder Ruiz was asked to assume the duty of custodian of the sacred
fire, an annual office, which he declined because he had observed that
the fire-keeper always died soon after being released from confinement
in the subterranean chamber where the fire burned. (Whether the fire and
the serpent were housed in the
same cell the grandson did not know, but possibly
such was the case and the refusal of Ruiz to accept the proffered
position was really due to his horror at the idea of spending a year in
proximity to the reptile. But there appears to be no good reason why he
should not have imparted this information to Bandelier, if such was the
case.) Strolling about the environs of the village, Ruiz one day came
upon his most intimate friend bowed in grief. To the Mexican's inquiry
the Indian responded that his newborn child had been condemned to be fed
to the snake, that already he had been forced to yield several children
to the sacrifice, and had vainly hoped that this one would be spared.
This was the first time Ruiz had heard that children were fed to the
snake. He proposed that they hoodwink the priests, and acting on his
advice the Indian poisoned a newborn kid with certain herbs, wrapped it
up as if it were a baby, and threw it to the reptile. That night
terrifying sounds issued from the den as the great snake writhed in its
death agony, and in the morning it lay with the white of its belly
exposed. The populace was utterly downcast, for this presaged the
extinction of the tribe.
Some observers recorded more mundane theories of why
the Pecos had departed. Certainly disease and warfare had figured
prominently in the pueblo's decline. Santa Fe trader James Josiah Webb,
passing through in 1844, surmised that the inhabitants "had become so
reduced in numbers that they were unable to keep their irrigating
ditches in repair, and other necessary community labor, to support
themselves in comfort." Looking at it from a different angle, Indian
Agent John Greiner asserted in 1852 that the Pecos had been "annoyed
beyond endurance by the Mexicans living in their houses and seizing
their property by piecemeal." Finally they had given up. "The pueblo of
Pecos is now a mass of ruins," reported John Ward in 1867.
The few original inhabitants
were compelled to abandon the village about eight years previous to our
government's taking possession of the country in 1846. They left in
consequence of their reduced circumstances and numbers and the
encroachments of Mexican citizens in general.
Mexican landowners. John T. Hughes,
Doniphan's Expedition (Cincinnati, 1847)
After the Pecos had gone, the pot hunter, the
scavenger, and the transient pretty much wrecked the place. A few sorry
souls haunted habitable corners of the ruins for a decade or
soMatt Field's wizened goatherd, fugitive Juan Cristóbal Armijo
wanted for murdering a Mormon peddler, the old woman and her comely
daughter of "dark and meaning eye" who so titillated Richard L. Wilson
as he gathered his Short Ravelings from a Long Yarn, or Camp March
Sketches of the Santa Fe Trail. One unfortunate of the 1841
Texan-Santa Fe expedition, Thomas Falconer, remembered being herded with
his fellow captives into the ruins of Pecos pueblo. "It is a walled
enclosure, in which a few persons lived; but," he added, "the houses
within were made more ruinous than on our arrival, by the Mexican
soldiers, who, made fires of the materials."
The north end of the main quadrangle stood longest.
"The dwellings," James Madison Cutts said in his journal entry of August
17, 1846, "were built of small stones and mud; some of the buildings are
still so far perfect as to show three full stories." A comparison of
Stanley's sketch with the rendering by German artist Heinrich Balduin
Möllhausen twelve years later illustrates the rapid moldering of the
pueblo proper. Already by 1858, great mounds buttressed and filled the
walls of the lower stories, mounds that would continue to grow and
thereby entomb for the archaeologist what lay beneath.
The same dozen years also brought the hulking church
to the brink. Möullhausen, like almost every writer before him, commented
on the woodwork in the building, carved and painted, especially the
hefty beams and corbels. Above them, the roof had begun rotting away,
and, in places, the sunlight shown through. The German's painting of the
Pecos church in 1858 is the last to show the structure essentially
intact. Shortly thereafter a Polish squatter named Andrew Kozlowski tore
into it. His widow told Bandelier that when they had arrived in 1858 the
beams were still in place. Kozlowski pulled many of them down to build
houses, stables, and corrals. He also, she said, tried to dig out "the
corner-stone," but in that he failed.
In 1866, when landscape painter Worthington
Whittredge portrayed the building's southern profile, nave roof and
The Pecos church, 1858, by Heinrich
Balduin Möllhausen. The artist visited Pecos on June 15, 1858, but
probably did not paint this romantic watercolor until after his return
to Berlin in the autumn of that year. Housed in the Museen Preussischer
Kulturbesitz, Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin, the painting was
destroyed in the bombing of the city during World War II. The print,
from a pre-War negative, was provided by Museum through the coutresy of
David H. Miller, Cameron University.
By Bandelier's day, the church had definitely gone to
ruin. "In general," he wrote in 1880,
the vandalism committed in this venerable relic of
antiquity defies all description. It is only equalled by the foolishness
of such as, having no other means to secure immortality, have cut out
the ornaments from the sculptured beams in order to obtain a surface
suitable to carve their euphonious names. All the beams of the old
structure are quaintly, but still not tastelessly, carved; there was . .
. much scroll-work terminating them. Most of this was taken away,
chipped into uncouth boxes, and sold, to be scattered everywhere. Not
content with this, treasure-hunters, inconsiderate amateurs, have
recklessly and ruthlessly disturbed the abodes of the dead. "After
becoming Christians," said to me Sr. Maríano Ruiz, the only remaining
'son of the tribe' of Pecos, still settled near to its site, "they
buried their dead within the church." These dead have been dug out
regardless of their position relative to the walls of the building, and
their remains have been scattered over the surface, to become the prey
of relic-hunters. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Mexico [Jean
Baptiste Lamy] has finally stopped such abuses by asserting his title of
ownership; but it was far too late. It cannot be denied, besides, that
his concession to Kozlowski to use some of the timber for his own
purposes was subsequently interpreted by others in a manner highly
prejudicial to the preservation of the structure.
Even in ruin it was impressive.
"I am dirty, ragged & sunburnt," Bandelier
exulted from Pecos on September 5, 1880, "but of best cheer. My
life's work has at last begun."
"Pecos Church, New Mexico," by
Worthington Whittredge. 1866, oil on cardboard, 9-3/8 x 22-1/8 inches.
Courtesy M. Knoedler and Co., New York
The great Swiss-American pioneer ethnologist had only
just arrived in the Southwest a few days before. From the train, he had
caught his first glimpse of Pecos. Its setting was all colors:
to the left, the towering Mesa de Pecos, dark pines
clambering up its steep sides; to the right, the broad valley, scooped
out, so to say, between the mesa and the Telcolote ridge. It is
dotted with green patches and black clusters of cedar and pine shooting
out of the red and rocky soil. Scarcely a house is visible, for the
casitas of adobe and wood nestle mostly in sheltered nooks.
Beyond Baughl's [siding], the ruins first strike his [the tourist's]
view; the red walls of the church stand boldly out on the barren
mesilla; and to the north of it there are two low brown ridges,
the remnants of the Indian houses.
To alert the less observant tourist, the Santa Fe
Railway Company later erected on the north side of the tracks opposite
the ruins an immense signboard proclaiming Pecos a wonder of the
Southwest. In a sense, Bandelier did the same thing. His notably
meticulous reporteven to mention of the broken Anheuser-Busch
beer bottlesbased on ten exhilerating days of
field investigation, alerted the archaelogist to the
potentials of the Southwest.
Curiously, Bandelier never followed up his initial
study at Pecos. Eight years later, in 1888, he did meet at Jémez a trio
of the Pecos remnant: José Miguel Vigil, Agustín Cota, who was at the
time governor of Jémez, and José Romero. Aside from the Spanish names of
six other Pecos Indians "still alive," and the native names for Pecos
pueblo and four nearby ruins, he got very little out of them.
Ethnohistorian Frederick Webb Hodge and archaeologist Edgar L. Hewett,
who interviewed Vigil and Cota on several occasions between 1895 and
1902, did better. Hewett's 1904 article "Studies on the Extinct Pueblo
of Pecos" listed twenty-two Pecos clans, discussed the archaeology of
the upper Pecos Valley and the aboriginal range of the Pecos people,
fixed the year of the abandonment at 1838, and recorded the native names
of the seventeen refugees. Relying mainly on Pablo Toya, son of the
deceased Juan Antonio, the persistent Mrs. Parsons added three more
refugees and figured out genealogies.
Adolph F. Bandelier in 1882.
Photographed by W. Henry Brown. B. M. Thomas Collection, Museum of
Adolph F. Bandelier
Meantime, Pecos had been on display in California. A
sixteen-foot-long model of the mesa top showing reconstructed church,
South Pueblo, and main Quadrangle was a prominent attraction in the New
Mexico building at the 1915 San Diego Panama-California Exposition. That
same year, the trustees of Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, resolved to
excavate a site in the Pueblo area "large enough, and of sufficient
scientific importance, to justify work upon it for a number of