Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico

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For more than four hundred years in New Mexico, Pueblo Indians and Spaniards have lived “together yet apart.” Now the preeminent historian of that region’s colonial past offers a fresh, balanced look at the origins of a precarious relationship.

John L. Kessell has written the first narrative history devoted to the tumultuous seventeenth century in New Mexico. Setting aside stereotypes of a Native American Eden and the Black Legend of Spanish cruelty, he paints an evenhanded picture of a tense but interwoven coexistence. Beginning with the first permanent Spanish settlement among the Pueblos of the Rio Grande in 1598, he proposes a set of relations more complicated than previous accounts envisioned and then reinterprets the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the Spanish reconquest in the 1690s. Kessell clearly describes the Pueblo world encountered by Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate and portrays important but lesser-known Indian partisans, all while weaving analysis and interpretation into the flow of life in seventeenth-century New Mexico.

Brimming with new insights embedded in an engaging narrative, Kessell’s work presents a clearer picture than ever before of events leading to the Pueblo Revolt. Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico is the definitive account of a volatile era.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806139692
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 11/19/2008
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John L. Kessell is author of several books on the colonial Southwest, including Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico and Spain in the Southwest: A Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California.
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Read an Excerpt

Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico

By John L. Kessell


Copyright © 2008 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8483-8


The Pueblo World

In the beginning, gods, mortals, and animals lived together in a dark chamber beneath Sandy Place Lake far to the north. In that place, no one died. Yet the mothers of summer and winter—Blue Corn Woman and White Corn Maiden—begged a man to find a way out. Three times he refused. The fourth time, he agreed. Reporting back after he had ventured to the north, to the west, to the south, and to the east, he told the mothers that the world beyond was hazy and unfit. Then go up, they directed.

As the man emerged through an opening, predator animals—mountain lions, wild cats, wolves, coyotes, and foxes—and predator birds—vultures and crows—attacked him, clawing and pecking his body. Suddenly the creatures spoke as friends. The man's wounds vanished. He found himself provided with a bow and arrows, dressed in buckskin, his face painted black, with feathers in his hair. The animals told him that the things they had given him were to better prepare him for the future. Returning as Mountain Lion—or Hunt chief—the man thus became the first Tewa Made person, assuring his people that through him they had been accepted into a wider world.

Presenting each with an ear of white corn, Hunt chief created Summer and Winter chiefs, the second and third Made people, who in turn called upon six pairs of brothers—blue, yellow, red, white, dark, and all-colored—to explore north, west, south, east, above, and below. The first five pairs, although they saw mountains in each of the cardinal directions and a brilliant star in the sky, informed the people that the earth was still "soft." The sixth pair found that the earth had become harder, and they saw a distant rainbow. It was time to leave their home beneath the lake. Led by Summer and Winter chiefs, the people came forth, while the original corn mothers, other gods, and the predator animals and birds stayed behind.

As the people migrated southward, many fell sick. Since this was a bad sign, the Summer and Winter chiefs led the people back to their refuge under the lake. There, Hunt chief discovered a corn mother full of pebbles, ashes, and cactus spines, sure omens that witchcraft, evil, and death were afoot. Replacing these with seeds, Hunt chief entrusted the people's health to a medicine man, the fourth Made person, and again they set out. Three more times they were forced to return, since they were still not fully prepared. Clowns, Scalp chief, and the Women's society came into being.

Before he sent them out again, Hunt chief divided the people. The gathering and farming Summer People migrated south through the mountains on the west side of the Rio Grande, halting to build eleven successive villages en route, while the hunting Winter People descended along the mountains on the river's east side, pausing the same number of times. At the twelfth stopping place, near present-day Ojo Caliente, Summer and Winter peoples reunited to form one village where they prospered for a long time. Finally, dislodged by an epidemic, six groups, each containing Summer and Winter and the necessary Made people, came to found the six Tewa pueblos we know today.

Paraphrase of a Tewa Pueblo Indian creation story

On the eve of their first face-to-face encounter with Spaniards, the town-dwelling native peoples who came to be called Pueblo Indians inhabited a landscape of high desert plateau and basin-and-range country. Situated within present-day north-central New Mexico and the northeastern corner of Arizona, sixty to eighty thousand people lived in a hundred multistoried towns (or pueblos to Spanish eyes). Their world was large. Three hundred miles separated the farthest Hopi pueblo of Oraibi in the west from Pecos in the east, and from south to north along the Rio Grande, Senecú nestled two hundred miles downriver from northernmost Taos. Each community, home to a few hundred or as many as two thousand residents, was largely self-governing, although seven or eight geographical groupings or confederations clustered loosely within specific drainage basins and spoke that many distinct languages: Piro-Tompiro, Tiwa, Towa, Tewa-Tano, Keresan, Zuni, and Hopi. The Tano language, spoken by people of the Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe, is also called Southern Tewa. Tewas and Tanos often acted in league. The eastern or Rio Grande pueblos—where Spaniards had a greater impact—are sometimes distinguished from the western pueblos, namely Acoma, Zuni, and the Hopi towns.

The Pueblo Indian way of life had evolved over millennia. As early as1500 B.C., seed corn (maize) and squash had taken root along trails of trade reaching up from the agricultural cultures of central Mexico. Beans (with higher protein count) and cotton (eaten for the seed oil as well as woven) followed a few centuries later. The people domesticated dogs and turkeys, yet life and legend always centered on corn. To placate the forces of nature and enhance village living and plant cultivation, powerful images of the plumed serpent and cloud symbols came north from Mexico. Other ceremonial precedents designed to control weather, cure sickness, and assure fertility—along with weaving, basketry, building and irrigation techniques, weapons technology, musical instruments, ceramics, copper bells, macaws, and the kachina cult—had reached the Southwest by the 1300s, transforming the Pueblos' homeland into a Mesoamerican periphery.

The more recent illusion of Pueblo Indians as peaceable folk notwithstanding, endemic warfare, more intense in certain areas of the Southwest and at certain times—particularly during the drier, colder period from about 1250 into the 1500s—shows in the archaeological record: defensive architecture and site location, burned villages, mass graves, skulls with cut marks from scalping, projectile points embedded in skeletons, as well as fierce rock and mural art illustrating shield-bearing warriors in combat. The arsenal with which they would one day confront Spaniards included spears, bows and arrows with fire-hardened shafts and knapped flint points, stone axes and knives, heavy war clubs, and rocks. Cannibalism occurred in rare instances, for reasons still unknown. It might have been a form of terrorism inflicted by tyrannical elites or by invaders from the south, or as the last means to stay alive in a slowly starving community.

Considerable variety characterized Pueblo social organization, from the grouping of several lineages (each descended from a common ancestor) into clans—identified by such names as Coyote, Bear, Ant, Mountain Lion, Pine, Earth, Crow, Corn, Oak, and Badger—to the larger division of a community into two halves, or moieties, based on kinship ties—Summer and Winter people, South and North, Pumpkin and Turquoise. Clans prevailed in the western pueblos, while moieties were the rule along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Although Pueblo society has been represented as largely egalitarian in terms of material possessions, specialized religious, political, and occupational knowledge gave certain individuals and groups higher status.

Most Pueblo peoples seem to have converted to kachina religion two hundred to three hundred years before Spaniards came to watch and condemn. Evidently imposed by native people from the south, its ragged adoption in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had coincided with intense warfare. There must have been holdouts, individual priests of prekachina religious societies, some of whom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may have seen in Christianity an appealing alternative. Proselytizing Franciscans, therefore, may not have seemed so severe or so strange to peoples still relatively fresh from previous, pre-Spanish conversions.

Pueblo adherents saw kachinas as ancestor spirits who conveyed the intercessions of mortals to their deities—Sun Father, Earth Mother, the Twin War Gods, Morning Star, Blue Corn Woman, White Corn Maiden, the savior figure Poseyemu, and dozens of others. Kachinas took many forms, from bears to butterflies. They came among the living only during half the year, approximately between the winter and summer solstices, and for the remaining six months they dwelt in the underworld (where, some believed, night and day, winter and summer, were the reverse of their counterparts in the upper world).

Ritual public dramas lay at the heart of kachina religion. Precisely costumed males wearing masks to depict their particular form became emissaries of the deities who enabled rain in season, fertility, and victory in battle. Sacred corn dances featured long rows of women adorned in their best mantas, symbolic rain sashes, high wrapped white moccasins, and terraced headboards (clouds) carrying evergreen branches (life). Children, as perfectly costumed as their parents, followed in descending height, down to five- and four-year-olds. Because letter-perfect performance of such elaborate rituals required the cooperation of everyone in the pueblo—as participants, auxiliaries, or rapt observers—each community developed its own variations on the kachina theme, rendering itself somewhat different from its neighbors.

Architecturally, adoption of kachina religion led to the structuring of large open plazas where the public performances could be enacted. These coincided with rites conducted in kivas (a Hopi word)—the distinctive round, partially subterranean Pueblo ceremonial chambers, with a fire pit in the floor and low benches around the sides. Colorful murals depicting the community's kachina figures commonly adorned kiva walls. Often freestanding within a plaza, Pueblo kivas were increasingly placed inside houseblocks after Spaniards began imposing their militant Christianity.

Correct staging of kachina ceremonials in plazas and kivas, accompanied by drumbeat and chanted Pueblo stories, contrasted with the deviant acts of "sacred clowns" meant to reinforce proper behavior by acting out its opposite. Such ritual clowns, whose antics of gluttony, obscenity, sexual-role reversal, and extreme individuality along with their burlesques of outsiders, reinforced the boundaries of Pueblo culture, wherein the self was always submerged in the group. Dissenters tended to leave the community and strike out on their own.

The Pueblos' recurring, religiously exact calendar-based in part on astronomical observations of the sun's location at its rising and setting along the horizon—told the seasonal phases of mother earth and father sun by the extremes of the solstices and the balance of the equinoxes. The rites of autumn and winter were believed to induce health, fertility, and success in war, while those of spring and summer brought the rains.

Each Pueblo community drew inspiration and strength inward from natural boundaries, from four sacred mountains or bodies of water in the cardinal directions, each associated with a different color and deity. The people wrapped sacred space—on the three cosmic levels of earth, sky, and underworld—ever closer around them to a center place, a sipapu, or earth navel, symbolically repeated as a hole in the floor of their kivas. Like germinating plants, human beings had emerged through the sipapu from the world beneath this one and would return to it without judgment after death.

No single item of Pueblo ritual held more significance than feathers, both of brightly plumed macaws traded into the Pueblo world and of eagles taken in carefully orchestrated hunts. Feathers adorned ceremonial costumes and altars and carried the people's prayers in the form of pahos, sticks with feathers attached, often placed at shrines. Later, feathers, sacred ears of corn, ritually ground cornmeal scattered during rites or sprinkled in a line across a path to prohibit entry, along with kachina masks, effigies of animals, and all manner of Pueblo ceremonial paraphernalia would draw the ire of Spanish missionaries as "idolatrous" vestiges of "pagan" religion.

* * *

The Pueblos' cosmos, as they came to view it, had taken shape over eons. Now, in the sixteenth century, Spaniards pushing north from Mexico meant to subvert the kachinas and put in their place a new religion. The Pueblos reacted in a variety of ways ranging from violent rejection to rote toleration, curiosity, and selective adoption. They had long practiced trial and possession of new traits. Their habitual mobility, which the Spaniards would curtail, had included splinter groups estranged from one community and taken in by another for the new blood or ceremonial powers they possessed. Early in the encounter, before their numbers plummeted, the Pueblos may have envisioned absorbing the invaders and their ways. Later, many Pueblo "Christians" complied outwardly to keep the peace, while inwardly observing traditional ways as circumstances and their hearts dictated.

Even the Spaniards' enticing material goods—especially their domestic animals and new food crops—forced unforeseen adjustments among the Pueblos. Abundant mutton and occasional beef diminished the hunt chief's role, while winter wheat, planted as early as February, threw off the aboriginal cycle of ritual, planting, and harvest.

Still, whether or not they chose to acknowledge it, Pueblos and Spaniards had much in common. The kachina religion and Christianity were both heavily patriarchal. And while Christians looked up to their one creator God and Pueblos looked down to the underworld for their origins, much of the new Christian pageantry was appealing: the music, dressing up, sacred images, and processions. If Christians did appear to the Pueblos unduly obsessed with a proper death, their baptismal and marriage rites seemed harmless enough.

Both Pueblos and Spaniards revered stories, hallowed places, and ritual, sacred and profane. Both embraced visions and believed that the physical and invisible worlds were somehow one. Both had their elders and their clowns. Pueblo coyote and Spanish pícaro were brothers, roguish tricksters both. Neither people suffered witches to live. And who among either, save a few priests, claimed the esoteric knowledge to fully comprehend the power and glory of the Pueblo savior god Poseyemu or Jesus Christ, the Corn Mothers or the Blessed Virgin Mary?

For all that, Spanish Catholicism, forged during the eight-century-long, on-again, off-again Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from Islam, bristled in comparison with the Pueblos' more accepting and still evolving ways. The Church Militant stiffened even further at mid-sixteenth century. Bracing against Protestants and folk religion in Europe, leaders of the Roman Catholic world had gathered intermittently at the Council of Trent in Italy between 1545 and 1563 to institute reforms, to more closely define doctrine and practice, and to demand strict adherence. Every time a Franciscan priest in New Mexico baptized, married, or buried Pueblos or Spaniards and recorded the fact, he did so according to the dictates of the Council of Trent.

Notably less formal, the persistent folk Catholicism of up-country parishes in Spain, with its roots deep in paganism, bore notable resemblances to Pueblo religion. During times of drought, the intent was the same whether the procession carried out into dry fields an image of a saint or of a kachina. But because the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans), as an agency of the Roman Catholic Church, responded more quickly and uniformly to the reforms of the Council, New Mexico's missionaries were less tolerant of Pueblo ways than were most Spanish colonists. The latter, as neighbors of Indian communities, often got on remarkably well, learning Pueblo languages more readily than the friars, and subsequently serving as interpreters for Spanish governors and officials.

Aside from religion, other basic similarities became evident. While men appeared to rule in the Pueblo world, women were just as essential to their households as Spanish women were to theirs, and their roles were just as invisible to outsiders. Because Franciscans looking through their patriarchal lenses saw only male idolaters, for the most part influential Pueblo women, members of women's ritual organizations, even female kachina dancers and shamans, escaped their gaze. Children in both cultures went through similar rites of passage: from naming—with Pueblo babies held up to the sun four days after birth and Spanish babies receiving baptism in their first days—on through rituals of acceptance by the larger community and lifelong learning by imitation of parents and wise counselors.

Pueblo midwives and mothers consoled their Spanish counterparts. As women, they learned from each other. Recipes, cures and curses, and words in their languages passed back and forth, forming small cultural sutures. As soon as Pueblo boys taught Spanish boys to crack piñon nuts, snare a rabbit, and find the local hot springs, the newcomers lost their unfamiliarity. Sexual relations by consent between natives and colonists rarely left a documentary trail unless a third party objected. As Spaniards buried their babies and their grandmothers in New Mexico's soil, place became as important to them as to the Pueblos.


Excerpted from Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico by John L. Kessell. Copyright © 2008 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction Conflict and Coexistence 3

1 The Pueblo World 7

2 Spaniards Come to Stay: Founding the Colony, 1598-1610 25

3 A Franciscan City of God on the Rio Grande, 1610s-1640s 51

4 A Colony of Cousins, 1630s-1660s 73

5 Troublous Times, 1660s-1670s 97

6 The Pueblos' Holy War, 1680s 119

7 Resettlement, 1690s 149

Epilogue: A Lifetime Later, 1760 177

Postscript 183

Notes 189

Bibliography 201

Index 209

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