The Spanish Frontier in North America: The Brief Edition

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This compact synthesis of David J. Weber’s prize-winning history of colonial Spanish North America vividly tells the story of Spain’s three-hundred-year tenure on the continent. From the first Spanish-Indian contact through Spain’s gradual retreat, Weber offers a balanced assessment of the impact of each civilization upon the other.

Praise for the previous edition:

"I cannot imagine a single book giving a more comprehensive and balanced study of Spain's presence in North America."—Louis Kleber, History Today

"For readers seeking to understand the larger meaning of the Spanish heritage in North America, Weber's vivid narrative is a must. This is social and cultural history at its best."—Howard R. Lamar, Yale University

"A superb study."—Choice

"[A] deeply researched and splendidly conceived and written survey."—Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., New York Times Book Review

Winner of the 1993 Western Heritage Award given by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, here is a definitive history of the Spanish colonial period in North America. Authoritative and colorful, the volume focuses on both the Spaniards' impact on Native Americans and the effect of North Americans on Spanish settlers. "Splendid."--New York Times Book Review.

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Editorial Reviews

H-Net Florida - F. Evan Nooe
"The Brief Edition is sure to be a successful successor to the original. General readers should find this to be an unintimidating work that is eloquently written. Teachers who assign this book for their class will be pleased."—F. Evan Nooe, H-Net Florida
Library Journal
Weber presents a balanced and thorough history of Spanish exploration and settlement from Ponce de Leon's landing in 1513 to the end of Spain's North American empire in 1821. Most of the book is devoted to Spain's political and military activities in North America. One chapter traces the social history of Spaniards in the New World while the last chapter explores history's verdict of Spain's treatment of colonists and Indians. Illustrations, including photographs and line drawings, add little to the text, but the numerous maps are useful. There are extensive footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography. Recommended for academic libraries or public libraries with large American history collections. Index not seen.-- Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist . P.L., Metamora
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300140682
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Series: The Lamar Series in Western History
  • Edition description: Brief
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 418,896
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David J. Weber is Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History and director, Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University. Spain and Mexico have given him the highest awards they bestow on foreigners and the American Academy of Arts has elected him to membership. His previous books include the award-winning The Mexican Frontier, 1821–1846 and Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment. He lives in Dallas and in Ramah, NM.

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Read an Excerpt

The Spanish Frontier in North America

By David J. Weber


Copyright © 2009 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-14068-2

Chapter One

Worlds Apart

Give the natives to understand that there is a God in heaven and the Emperor on the earth to command and govern it, to whom all have to be subjected and to serve. -Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza to fray Marcos de Niza, 1538

They wore coats of iron, and warbonnets of metal, and carried for weapons short canes that spit fire and made thunder.... these black, curl-bearded people drove our ancients about like slave creatures. -Zuni tradition

At no time in history has there been such a significant degree of culture contact between peoples of completely distinct traditions. -George Foster, 1960

Early in the summer of 1540 a group of young Spanish adventurers, mounted on horseback, approached the Zuni village of Hawikku in what is today western New Mexico. Led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, a thirty-year-old nobleman from the Spanish university town of Salamanca, the Spaniards had traveled for six months to reach this barren and forbidding land of brilliant skies, broad vistas, andsharp-edged red-rock mesas. Coronado had moved ahead of the main body of his army with a small group of mounted men, numbering little more than one hundred. Although it was summer, some of Coronado's men feared Indian arrows more than oppressive heat and wore protective coats of chain mail or thick buckskin. Coronado himself sported a plumed helmet and a suit of gilded armor that dazzled the eyes when it caught the rays of the sun.

The Spaniards had traveled long and hard. They had come through a stretch of uninhabited country, and several men had died of hunger and thirst. "I thought we all should die of starvation if we had to wait another day," Coronado later recalled. But as the Spaniards made their way along the narrow plain of the Zuni River, they expected to be rewarded for their suffering by the sight of a splendid city-one of seven cities of a rich province that Indian informants had called Cíbola. Instead, they saw the sun-baked mud-brick walls of a modest town of multistory apartments, whose inhabitants displayed none of the gold, silver, or jewels that symbolized wealth to the Spaniards.

Unlike the Spaniards, the Zunis were dressed for the season. Coronado noted that "most of them are entirely naked except for the covering of their privy parts." Only able-bodied men remained at Cíbola. Women, youngsters, and the elderly had been sent away, for the Zunis did not intend to allow Coronado's party to enter, much less provide the food and shelter their visitors desperately needed. Coronado's arrival had not surprised the Indians. Their scouts had followed the strangers' movements. Even before Coronado reached the outskirts of Hawikku, Zunis had attempted an ambush. When that failed, Zunis sought supernatural assistance. With sacred golden cornmeal, their warriors drew lines on the ground, warning the intruders not to pass beyond them.

While the Zunis waited to see if sacred cornmeal would turn back the unwelcome strangers, the Spaniards also appealed to metaphysical sources for help. Through an interpreter, probably a Pima Indian, Coronado assured the Zunis that he had come on a holy mission. The Spaniards read aloud a statement that summarized Spanish theology, explaining that Spain's monarchs had received temporal powers from a deity through one they called pope. Their monarch required them to communicate this requerimiento, or notification, to natives throughout the New World, and on occasion Spaniards followed the letter if not the spirit of the law by reading it in Spanish to Indians who did not speak or understand their tongue. The requerimiento demanded that Native Americans accept the dominion of the Spanish Crown and embrace Christianity. If Indians resisted, it warned, their lands would be taken from them, and they would be killed or enslaved. Although learned men in Spain had written the requerimiento and a notary probably attested to its reading at Hawikku, as the law required, the document failed to win the Zunis' obedience.

Instead of submitting, Zunis fired arrows at the Spaniards. Coronado responded with orders to attack, crying out as an incantation the name of St. James-Santiago! In the bloody battle that followed, Zunis took several Spanish lives, and Coronado himself almost perished. Nonetheless, armed with guns and steel swords, Spaniards fought their way into the natives' homes within an hour. The vanquished defenders fled, leaving behind storehouses of corn, beans, turkeys, and salt, to the delight of their hungry visitors.

Why the Zunis refused to permit Coronado's band to enter Hawikku may never be fully understood, but it seems likely they already knew enough about the metal-clad, mounted strangers to reject them. Like natives throughout northwestern Mexico, Zunis must have heard reports of Spanish slave hunters operating to the south. Then, too, a small Spanish scouting party headed by a black former slave, Esteban, had reached Zuni the year before Coronado arrived. The Zunis killed the black man, they explained to Coronado, because of liberties he had taken with their women. The natives, then, had ample reason to rebuff the overtures of the bizarrely costumed, bearded interlopers. Their resolve to keep the Spaniards out, however, may have been strengthened by the timing of Coronado's visit. He arrived during the culmination of the Zuni sacred summer ceremonies. His presence threatened to interrupt the return of Zuni pilgrims from the sacred lake and thus endanger the prospects for abundant summer rains and a good harvest.

Whatever the reason for Zuni resistance, one essential fact seems clear: Nothing in either group's previous experience had prepared them to comprehend the other. Coronado's translators could convert words from one language to another, but they could not convey the deepest meaning of the requerimiento to the Zunis. Nor could Zunis convey to the Spaniards the meaning of lines of sacred cornmeal or the significance of their summer ceremonies. The two peoples who met at Hawikku in 1540 came from different worlds.

* * *

The worlds of the sixteenth-century Spaniards and their contemporaries in North America differed profoundly, but neither Iberians nor native North Americans can be characterized easily because neither constituted a uniform group. Physically, Amerindians were relatively homogeneous, most of them having descended from waves of hunter-gatherers who had crossed the Bering Strait from Asia. By the time Europeans first encountered them, however, even those natives who appeared to outsiders as a single tribe, such as the peoples whom the Spaniards called Pueblos, varied considerably from town to town.

Beyond the Zuni towns, Coronado met many more natives who lived in compact communities of esplanades, courtyards, and apartment houses, some rising to three and four stories. Spaniards called these prosperous farmers Pueblos because in contrast to their nomadic neighbors they lived in towns, or pueblos. No central government linked the autonomous towns of the Pueblos, but they seemed to the earliest Spanish visitors to be one people. They grew maize, beans, cotton, and gourds in irrigated fields, dressed in cotton blankets and animal skins, and appeared to Coronado's men to have "the same ceremonies and customs." Despite superficial similarities, significant differences in Pueblo religious practices and in political, social, and family organization probably existed then, as they do now. Indeed, Pueblos spoke and still speak several mutually unintelligible languages, and the Pueblos offer only one example of the diversity of North American Indians.

The variety of languages, religions, and customs of North American Indians in the sixteenth century appears to have been greater than that of their European contemporaries. Some Indians lived in large urban centers and others in family homesteads, and their social structures, governments, economies, religious beliefs, technologies, histories, and traditions ranged across a wide spectrum. Native Americans engaged in a variety of economic activities, from hunting, fishing, and gathering to irrigating fields and manufacturing tools and wares. Native trading networks ranged from the local level to the transcontinental. Yumas on the Colorado River, for example, knew of Coronado's arrival at Cíbola, nearly four hundred miles to the east, soon after the event, and Coronado's contemporary in the Mississippi valley, Hernando de Soto, met Indians who owned turquoise that came from the direction of the sunset-from the lands of the Pueblos.

Notwithstanding the great variety of their cultures, it appears that many North American Indians held certain beliefs in common, some of which set them apart from Europeans in general and Spaniards in particular. Compared to Spaniards, for example, most North American Indian people interacted more intimately with the natural world, placed less emphasis on the accumulation of surpluses of food and other goods, and tended to regard the users of land as possessing greater rights than the nominal owners of land.

At the time of Coronado's arrival, natives throughout North America lived in small units, none of which seems to have approached in size what Europeans would come to call a state. Larger political or economic units existed in Arizona and New Mexico centuries before Coronado's arrival, but scholars know these so-called Anazasi and Hohokam peoples very imperfectly, largely through physical remains of their great urban centers and cliff dwellings (such as the ruins known today as Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and Casa Grande) and through artifacts unearthed and interpreted by archaeologists. The same may be said of the great chiefdoms of what archaeologists call the Mississippian tradition, which reached its apogee throughout southeastern America about 1200 to 1450 AD.

The Native American cultures the Spaniards encountered were not only smaller than states but also lacked some of the institutions of the emerging states of Europe, especially those designed to enforce social order: armies, police, and bureaucracies. As the historian Frederick Hoxie has written, Amerindian communities were not "smaller, backward versions of European villages," but rather unique, non-Western cultures "rooted in the obligations of kinship rather than the appeal of political ideology." Beyond this, few generalizations about Native Americans at the time of Coronado's visit have value; it is more useful to consider individual tribes than to speak inaccurately of Indians in the aggregate.

* * *

In contrast to the cultures of Native Americans, which had grown increasingly diverse since their ancestors crossed the Bering Strait, the cultures of the various peoples who inhabited the Iberian peninsula had begun to amalgamate by the sixteenth century. Unlike Native Americans, who probably had a common group of ancestors, the peoples of Iberia descended from a wide variety of tribes and genetic strains from outside the peninsula, including Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Franks, Jews, and Muslims. Indeed, even these broad categories included still smaller tribes and bands, each with its discrete culture.

Like North American Indians in the early sixteenth century, Spaniards were not a unified people. The nation-state that came to be called Spain had consisted of many tribes organized into kingdoms, such as Castile and Catalonia, which spoke distinct languages. These realms vied with one another for power, and factions within them fought ruinous civil wars. In 1469, the marriage of Queen Isabel of Castile to Prince Fernando of Aragón had brought two powerful kingdoms together in a condominium that laid the foundations of the modern Spanish state. Under Isabel and Fernando the realms that would become Spain moved toward greater political and cultural homogeneity, although they never fully achieved it. Because Castile's monarchs took the position that the Spanish pope, Alexander VI, gave the New World to Castile in the celebrated papal donations of 1493, its monarchs believed themselves to have exclusive sovereignty over the newly discovered lands (excepting the east coast of South America, which they inadvertently gave to Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494).

Spain remained politically disunited and culturally heterogeneous in the sixteenth century, but by 1492 its peoples possessed greater organizational unity and common hierarchical and religious values than did the peoples of North America. This relative political and cultural unity worked to Spain's advantage when its seafaring sons discovered another world. In North America, where decision making in most native societies depended on what one anthropologist has described as "a slow process of achieving consensus," Spaniards and other Europeans enjoyed an advantage. Unencumbered by democratic restraints, Spanish leaders had authority to take quick, concerted action.

So, too, did Spaniards' prior experience with "infidels" from North Africa work to their benefit in the New World. A prolonged struggle to reconquer the Iberian peninsula from Muslim invaders profoundly influenced Spanish values and institutions, making Spaniards uniquely suited among European nations to conquer, plunder, and administer the New World. The reconquest, or reconquista, of Iberia began soon after the Muslim invasion of 711; it did not end until 1492, when the combined forces of Isabel and Fernando entered the Alhambra in triumph as the last Moorish kingdom, Granada, capitulated.

The Spanish struggle to control the New World and its peoples became, in effect, an extension of the reconquista, a moral crusade to spread Spanish culture and Catholicism to pagans in all parts of the Americas. Optimism born of religious zeal, ignorance, and intolerance gave Spain's onward-moving Christian soldiers another powerful advantage in their encounters with Native Americans. Spaniards believed in a supreme being who favored them, and they often explained their successes as well as their failures as manifestations of their god's will. Was it not providential, for example, that Spaniards discovered America, with its fresh supply of infidels, in the same year they completed the long struggle against the Muslims in Iberia?

With or without the reconquista, Spaniards of the early sixteenth century would have believed that Providence sided with them. They knew that persons radically unlike themselves, who neither held Christian beliefs nor lived like Christians, were inferior human beings, perhaps even bestial, deserving of enslavement or whatever other ills might befall them. Like other Christians, Spaniards understood that their god had given them "dominion" over all creatures on the earth, including these infidels. The god of the Christians, according to their holiest text, had ordered them to "be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." In 1493 Pope Alexander VI asserted that he had the right, "by the authority of the Almighty God," to "give, grant, and assign" the New World to Isabel and Fernando so that they might convert its inhabitants. In a similar document, an earlier pope had cited biblical justification (Jeremiah I:10) for a papal donation of so-called pagan lands in Africa: "See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant."

Christianity thus imbued Spaniards with a powerful sense of the righteousness of their aggression against those natives in North America who threatened to block their advances. Nowhere was this clearer than in the requerimiento that Coronado read to the Zunis. Conquistadors had read this summons to countless indigenous Americans since it had been drawn up in 1513. The requerimiento commanded Indians to "acknowledge the [Catholic] Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope, and in his name the king and queen [of Spain]." Those natives who did so, the document said, would be treated well. Those who did not were assured that "with the help of God we shall forcefully ... make war against you ... take you and your wives and your children and shall make slaves of them ... and shall do to you all the harm and damage that we can." More zealous than any other European power in attempting to fulfill what it saw as its legal obligations to the natives, Spain put Indians on notice that if they failed to obey, "the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours."


Excerpted from The Spanish Frontier in North America by David J. Weber Copyright © 2009 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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
List of Maps
Spanish Names and Words
Introduction 1
1 Worlds Apart 14
2 First Encounters 30
3 Foundations of Empire: Florida and New Mexico 60
4 Conquistadores of the Spirit 92
5 Exploitation, Contention, and Rebellion 122
6 Imperial Rivalry and Strategic Expansion: Texas, the Gulf Coast, and the High Plains 147
7 Commercial Rivalry, Stagnation, and the Fortunes of War 172
8 Indian Raiders and the Reorganization of Frontier Defenses 204
9 Forging a Transcontinental Empire: New California to the Floridas 236
10 Improvisations and Retreats: The Empire Lost 271
11 Frontiers and Frontier Peoples Transformed 302
12 The Spanish Legacy and the Historical Imagination 335
Abbreviations 361
Notes 363
Select Bibliography 491
Index 555
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