Gran Quivira (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro) -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Gran Quivira  (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro)

Gran Quivira (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro)
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument Mountainair, New Mexico

Coordinates: 34.596385, -106.295893
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Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Gran Quivira  (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro)
Visitor next to the large stone kiva at Gran Quivira

Photo by HJPD, 1998. Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

In the Salinas Basin of central New Mexico the pueblo and mission ruins of Gran Quivira, or San Buenaventura de Las Humanas, present an impressive physical record of the successes and trials of the people who once called that place home. The region has a long history of human occupation and the large pueblos attracted the Spanish when they first arrived to colonize what is today New Mexico. During the early period of Spanish colonization in New Mexico Franciscan missionaries undertook the conversion of the Salinas Pueblos. Three of the missions established at that time are now included in Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument administered by the National Park Service: Gran Quivira (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro at the Pueblo de las Humanas), La Purísima Concepción de Quarai, and San Grégorio de Abó. In 1629, under Spanish rule, these missions were part of the Jurisdicción de las Salinas that bordered the nearby saline flats. Severe drought and famine in the 1670s led the Tompiro-speaking Pueblo people of Las Salinas and the Spanish priests to leave the pueblos and missions and seek refuge in other settlements. Present-day visitors can explore what remains of the large pueblo and the mission churches of Gran Quivira--San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro, as well as the others missions at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.
The Pueblo of Las Humanas

Gran Quivira's site history began ca. A.D. 800 with a sedentary native population dwelling in pithouses. Archeological evidence indicates that by A.D. 1300, the area overlooking the southern Estancia Basin was inhabited by Tompiro-speaking peoples who built the culturally distinct pueblo masonry architecture. From about A.D. 1000 to the 1600s, three villages there served as major regional centers of trade with Indians from the Plains, the Pacific Coast, and the Great Basin. Gran Quivira, the largest of the Salinas villages, became a bustling community of 3,000 inhabitants. Living in a land with scarce water, these early peoples subsisted from their hunting, gathering, and agricultural activities, allowing them to develop trade relationships with the Apaches and other tribes.
Gran Quivira  (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro)
View of San Buenaventura construction from local limestone.

Photo by Patrick Gibbons, 2010. Courtesy of Flickr Commons.

Gran Quivira ( San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro)

In 1598, while exploring the territory he had claimed for Spain, Don Juan de Oñate arrived at Las Humanas and administered an oath of obedience and vassalage to the Humano Indians. Years later missionary activities at Las Humanas began in earnest and around 1626 the pueblo was designated as a visita of San Grégorio de Abó mission. By 1629 Las Humanas had its own resident priest, Fray Francisco de Letrado, who began construction of the first permanent mission at Gran Quivira. Letrado was moved in 1631 and Fray Francisco de Acevado took control and completed construction of Inglesia de San Isidro in 1635. In 1659 Fray Diego de Santander was permanently assigned to Gran Quivira after which construction on a new larger church, San Buenaventura, began. The churches and the community were built out of blue-gray local limestone and held together with caliche-based mortar.
Gran Quivira  (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro)
The interpretative trail lets visitors access the site’s notable structures.

Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Trouble followed as the fight between Spanish civil and ecclesiastical authorities over who among the Spanish had the right to direct the labor of the Indians exacerbated the tensions that had long been mounting. Governors sought native labor to increase their personal wealth while undermining the authority of the priests among the Indians. Secular authorities captured Apaches for use as slave labor or for sale to the northern areas of New Spain, causing retaliatory attacks by the Apaches on the missions, which were more vulnerable and located in outlying areas like Las Humanas.

By the late 1660s, amidst this turmoil, Humano inhabitants also found themselves in the grip of drought and famine, surviving only on food brought into the Salinas Basin from other settlements. Persistent drought plagued the area, eventually leading to the starvation deaths in 1668 of many Humano Indians. In September 1670 Apaches raided Las Humanas and destroyed the mission and pueblo, leaving eleven dead and taking thirty inhabitants as captives. By 1672, disease, drought, famine, and Apache attacks led to a decision to move somewhere safer and the pueblo and the churches were abandoned and left to the elements.
Gran Quivira  (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro)
Park Service employees backfilling rooms in 2012. Preservation continues to be a challenge at the missions.

Courtesy of the National Park Service.

What you can see today

The pueblo remained vacant for over a hundred years until a new wave of explorers rediscovered the imposing ruins of the mission and pueblo mounds. In 1773 to 1774 John Rowzée Peyton, a Virginian traveling up the Rio Grande Valley, found his way to the east side of the mountains and left one of the first descriptions of Gran Quivira after the residents had left. The site fascinated early American travelers, such as James W. Abert in 1846 and Major James Henry Carleton in 1853, who would also visit the site and leave descriptions and views of the ruins complex. In 1883 archeological studies began with Adolph Bandelier who described, photographed, and mapped the ruins. President Taft established Gran Quivira National Monument on November 1, 1909 to preserve "one of the largest and most important of the early Spanish church ruins" as well as "numerous Indian pueblo ruins in its vicinity" (Proc. No. 882). San Isidro was first excavated and stabilized in 1951 by NPS archeologist Gordon Vivian and later in the 1960s Alden Hayes did additional work there. The National Park Service continues stabilization efforts.

Today, Gran Quivira is part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. Visitors to Gran Quivira can see the remains of the two mission churches of San Buenaventura and San Isidro, the convento, and an excavated pueblo (the ruins of the Humanos village), and visit the museum to examine tools and artifacts made by the people of Las Humanas. Interpretive trails lead visitors through the ruins of Gran Quivira, Abó and Quarai. Tourists can also explore the museums at the visitor centers and picnic in designated areas at Gran Quivira, Abó, and Quarai. The Main Visitor Center is in Mountainair. Camping is allowed in Cibola National Forest. Almost 50,000 visitors come each year to walk through the ruins of Gran Quivira, whose stories and architecture continue to fascinate travelers.

Plan Your Visit

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is a unit of the National Park System. The Main Visitor Center is located at 102 S. Ripley in Mountainair, NM. The visitor center is open daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The Monument's summer hours are from 9:00 am to 6:00pm, and during the winter, the site operates from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit the National Park Service Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument website or call 505-847-2585.
Many components of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey, including Church of San Isidro, Church of San Buenaventura. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is also featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary, the System and in the American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary. Gran Quivira is the subject of an online lesson plan Gran Quivira: A Blending of Cultures produced by the National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places program.

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