In the midst of piñon, juniper, and ponderosa pine woodlands in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe, enfolding the memory of those who came before, from nomadic tribes to pit house dwellers, the remains of an Indian pueblo stand as a meaningful reminder of a culture that once prevailed in this region.
Weathered adobe walls of a Spanish church share a ridge with the pueblo ruins, which extend for a quarter-mile along a ridge in a valley shared by the Glorieta Creek and the Pecos River. Long before Spaniards entered this country, this pueblo village was the juncture of trade between people of the Rio Grande Valley and hunting tribes of the buffalo plains. Its nearly 2,000 inhabitants could marshal 500 fighting men; its frontier location brought both war and trade.
At trade fairs, Plains tribes, mostly nomadic Apaches, brought slaves, buffalo hides, flint, and shells to trade for pottery, crops, textiles, and turquoise with the river Pueblos. Pecos Indians were middlemen, traders and consumers of the goods and cultures of the very different people on either side of the mountains. They became economically powerful and practiced in the arts and customs of two worlds.
Pecos Indians remained Puebloan in culture, despite cultural blendings, practicing an ancient agricultural tradition borne north from Mexico by the seeds of sacred corn. By the late Pueblo period, the last few centuries before the Spaniards arrived in the Southwest, people in this valley had congregated in multi-storied towns overlooking the streams and fields that nourished their crops. In the 1400s, these groups gathered into Pecos pueblo, which became a regional power.
Fine-tuned adjustments to their natural and cultivated world rested on practical science infused with spirituality. By story and dance tradition-bearers conveyed the knowledge and wisdom of centuries past. Individual, family, and social life were regulated via a religion binding all things together and holding balance, harmony, and fitness as the highest ideals. But ideals did not always prevail. Warfare between Pueblo groups was common. The frontier people of Pecos had to be vigilant with nomadic Plains Indians, whose intent--trade or war?--could be unpredictable.
Neighboring pueblos saw the Pecos as dominant. And Spaniards would soon learn that the Pecos could be powerful allies or determined enemies.