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




The ruins of Cicúique are still to be seen at the site where [Hernando de] Alvarado visited it, close by the modern town of Pecos. This is one of the most historic spots in the Southwest, for in every era since it was first seen by Alvarado as the guest of Bigotes, it has occupied a distinctive position in all the major developments of the region. It was the gateway for Pueblo Indians when they went buffalo hunting on the Plains; a two-way pass for barter and war between Pueblos and Plains tribes; a portal through the mountains for Spanish explorers, traders, and buffalo hunters; for the St. Louis caravan traders with Santa Fe; for pioneer Anglo-American settlers; for Spanish and Saxon Indian fighters; for Civil War armies; and for a transcontinental railroad passing through the Southwest. Pecos deserves an historian.

Herbert E. Bolton,
Coronado, Knight of Pueblos and Plains, 1949

Another project definitely planned was a study of the documentary history of Pecos and other Rio Grande Pueblos. This, most unfortunately, was never done.

Alfred Vincent Kidder,
Pecos, New Mexico, 1958

So wrote Bolton and Kidder, the twin war gods of Southwestern history and archaeology. Although neither of them produced such a study himself, they were agreed. Pecos, that evocative "mess of ruins" twenty-five miles southeast of Santa Fe, was worthy.

Here then is a beginning, an historical documentary of the eastern fortress-pueblo from earliest Spanish contact in 1540, to abandonment three hundred years later. It is largely narrative, written in the active rather than the passive, largely biographical, concerned more with people than with inert phenomena. I have tried throughout to let the juices flow, the stuff of life that wells up in the documents, convinced that we historians too often squeeze them out in the interest of neat and dry, methodical monographs.

I have made every effort to get to the documents. In no case have I cited in the notes an archival source without having seen the Spanish myself, whether the original, a photographic copy, or a transcript. Such an approach would have been hopeless without the previous researches of France V. Scholes, Eleanor B. Adams, Fray Angelico Chavez, and a score of others who charted pertinent islands in the oceans of material. I have rechecked and revised others' translations—not because I mistrusted George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, or Charles Wilson Hackett and Charmion Clair Shelby, or Alfred Barnaby Thomas—but rather because my closeness to Pecos gave me the advantage of historical continuity. Knowing from other sources, for example, that the Pecos had built a low, mud-plastered rock wall around the entire perimeter of their building site was reason enough to question the sudden appearance of a "stockade," even though that, in another context, might have been an accurate rendering of the Spanish word.

I have seasoned the text with quotations, with the words of eyewitnesses and participants, of protagonists and antagonists, recognizing at the same time that the Pecos Indians themselves, when they are allowed to speak at all, do so only in a foreign tongue. In that sense, the story is one-sided. Forewarned by anthropologists that the Pecos of 1540 or 1740 were likely very different from their linguistic cousins, or even their own descendants who live at Jémez pueblo today, I have attempted no reconstruction of Pecos social organization. For those who would do so, blending the data of artifacts and the written record, full citation of sources will be found in the notes.

There are scenes that would delight a script writer: the entrance of Alvarado in 1540, bold but wary, as two thousand Pecos watch from the rooftops; Gov. Diego de Peñalosa's vain bullying of the Franciscan superior he had come to arrest in the mission cloister one dark night in 1663; the devil-may-care, three-day burlesque of a bishop's visitation by a Pecos carpenter in 1760; and the solemn harangues of Comanche warriors gathered at the Pecos peace conference of 1786 to embrace Juan Bautista de Anza, to smoke, and to barter.

There are themes, too, that run through the story from beginning to end. None is more persistent than factionalism, the fatal flaw that festered to a head in 1696, when Felipe Chistoe, one Pecos, delivered to Diego de Vargas the severed head, hand, and foot of young Caripicado, another Pecos. Still, despite the unrelenting decline in population and the violent rift that made them their own worst enemies, the Pecos people never did succumb to cultural submergence. The Pecos bull still cavorts at Jémez.

This book is dedicated to Eleanor B. Adams, generous scholar and kind friend who first pointed out to me the historic trail to Pecos. I am much indebted to Em Hall of present-day Pecos for relating to me the story of the pueblo land grant from the time John Ward peddled it in 1872 to date. His lively study of the subject will soon be published.

Jerry L. Livingston drew many of the illustrations and the maps, and Gary G. Lister took many of the photographs. Together they restored the 1758 Miera map. To them, and to a score of others in the National Park Service, my wholehearted thanks for the opportunity to tell the Pecos story. It has been good fun.

John L. Kessell

February, 1977

top of pageTop

previousPrevious Table of Contents Nextright