The Mark of Rebels: Indios Fronterizos and Mexican Independence

The Mark of Rebels: Indios Fronterizos and Mexican Independence

by Barry M. Robinson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817319205
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 08/15/2016
Series: Atlantic Crossings Series
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.90(d)

About the Author

Barry Robinson is an associate professor of history at Queens University of Charlotte and the coeditor of Slaves, Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America.

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The Mark of Rebels

Indios Fronterizos and Mexican Independence

By Barry M. Robinson

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2016 University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1920-5


Conquest Identities and the Indios Fronterizos of Colotlán

[The Indians of Colotlán] hardly have an appropriate kind of Government, maintaining the false idea of being important Fronterizos, when they have nothing to make them such, since the indios of Nayarit [have long since been conquered and] are more domesticated and more peaceful and without comparison less rebellious than the Colotecos; and I would rather choose to live with the Indians of Nayarit than among the Colotecos, as I have not heard that the Indians of Nayarit have killed any of the officials who have been placed over them. What, then, can remedy this situation? I judge that the answer lies in making them Tributaries.

— Report of Pedro Antonio Trelles Villa de Moros, corregidor of the mining center of Bolaños, 1783

The European colonization of the Americas followed a pattern of conquest and settlement that began with the earliest encounters in the Caribbean and continued on through at least the late nineteenth century. But this was not simply a European project. Indigenous communities frequently allied themselves with European conquerors, often participating as conquistadors in their own right. The implications of this indigenous participation have the potential to reshape our understanding of the colonial era, and of the independence period. Native communities played a fundamental role in shaping and maintaining the colonial system, and they also had a greater stake in its dissolution than has yet been recognized.

Frontier areas, on the edges of these colonial systems, opened up opportunities for social fluidity and cultural adaptation that did not exist elsewhere. In the Colotlán Frontier, native allies of the Spanish parlayed their service as conquistadors into the establishment of a "Frontier Indian" status that granted them special privileges and a measure of autonomy from the surrounding Spanish settlements. As the epigraph above suggests, these fronterizo communities valued and defended their special status up through the late colonial period, when it came under attack from their Spanish neighbors.

The Initial Conquest of Colotlán

A number of different indigenous groups inhabited the Colotlán region before the arrival of the Spanish and their native allies in the 1530s. Groups speaking a variety of southern Uto-Aztecan languages included Cazcanes, Coras, Guachichiles, Huicholes, Tepehuanes, and Zacatecos. These groups occupied a region dominated by the Sierra Madre Occidental, with deep canyons funneling rivers through the highlands. Cultures were diverse, with certain groups like the Cazcanes living in more sedentary agricultural settlements while others like the Huicholes inhabited smaller family-based rancherias spread throughout the mountains. Evidence also remains of earlier and more sophisticated civilizations, which built great fortresses such as Chicomostoc, also known as La Quemada.

The Spanish and their indigenous allies initially referred to the region's native population as Chichimec, a generic term of Nahuatl derivation referring to many "uncivilized" indigenous groups outside of Spanish control. Although subsequent events would lead to their partial incorporation into colonial society, at this point most of the indigenous groups of the Colotlán region were still included in the Chichimec designation. The Spanish and their Indian allies encountered fierce indigenous resistance from the time of their earliest expeditions. Soon after the first missionaries entered the region, the Mixtón war of 1541, named for the range of mountains near Colotlán that separates the valleys of Tlaltenango and Juchipila, erupted. Spanish settlers had "pacified" the area just to the south, and Franciscan friars had begun to evangelize the outlying areas. According to an anonymous friar cited in Renato Haro Ortega's Historia de Colotlán, at a gathering of Indian leaders in Tlaltenango, individuals claiming to be "messengers of Tecoroli" proclaimed that this messianic figure would resurrect their ancestors, and that "those who believed in [Tecoroli] and renounced the teachings of the friars to follow him would not suffer, would never die, would be rejuvenated, and could have as many women as they wanted and not just one, as the friars commanded. He that was content with just one woman would die immediately. Then Tecoroli would go to Guadalajara, to Jalisco, to Michoacán, to México, to Guatemala, and to all the places where there are Christians from Spain, and would kill them all." This tradition of messianism among the indios of the Colotlán region, manifested in the person of Tecoroli during the Mixtón war, would persist into the early nineteenth century, when indigenous resistance would take similar form in the messianic figure of "El Indio Mariano."

In 1541, indigenous inhabitants from Colotlán, Tlaltenango, and Tepechitlán soon joined with groups from Juchipila, Jalpa, and Nochistlán in open conflict against the Spanish and their native allies. The Indians pillaged Spanish settlements near the region and continued farther south. After a fierce battle on the outskirts of Guadalajara in late September, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza managed to subdue the uprising with the aid of additional indigenous allies, and in December he eliminated remaining opposition in Colotlán. This early resistance was recorded in the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, a cotton canvas painted by Tlaxcalan allies of the Spanish between 1550 and 1564, and provided an indigenous perspective of the conquest. The artists depicted charging Spanish horsemen and their Tlaxcalan allies attacking indigenous archers in Xochipilla (Juchipila), Tlaltenãpã (Tlaltenango), and Colotlán, respectively (see figures 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3). In the Colotlán figure the warriors fight with the image of a scorpion above their heads.

Tlaxcalan Indios Hidalgos and the Settlement Period

In 1584 the viceregal government attempted to apportion the indios of Colotlán into encomiendas, but the ongoing Chichimec war of 1561–89 doomed the effort. Beginning in 1591, the viceregal government introduced several Tlaxcalan settlements as a part of Spanish pacification efforts. Velasco's rationale revealed the Spanish dependence on native participation in the colonization of Mexico: "In as much as the Chichimec Indians from diverse nations in New Spain and New Galicia are in outright warfare and rebellion against my Royal Service, causing grave injuries, death, and thefts, destroying the peaceful pueblos and the cattle-ranching estates, and robbing and raiding Spaniards and travelers along the roads, and given that when it was attempted to remedy this situation with great loss of soldiers and warriors, it couldn't be totally accomplished and resolved [we request] the Indian Principales of the City of Tlaxcala to assist us with four hundred married Indian couples who will settle with the said Chichimecs in order to instruct them so that through their presence the Chichimecs will live in peace, ... forming established Republics ... and Pueblos of Christian People." The Christianized Tlaxcalans, allies of the Spanish since the earliest period of the Conquest, played a key role in the expansion of Spanish imperial authority by functioning as conquistadors and settlers throughout Mesoamerica, and by resettling in colonies in frontier areas.

The Tlaxcalan colony in the Colotlán district included 690 married people, 187 children, and 55 single or widowed people, spread into five settlements, including San Andrés. The viceroy instructed the Tlaxcalans to introduce agricultural practices to the indigenous inhabitants of Colotlán, and to teach them how to build houses, and whatever else was necessary to attain the desired goal of acculturation. He also instructed them to form repúblicas de indios of "Christian People, so that the priests can take charge of them, instruct them, and administer the sacraments for the salvation of their souls." In return, the viceroy exempted the Tlaxcalans from tribute, calling them, their descendants, and their dependents "Hidalgos," or nobles. He also permitted them to live separately from the Spaniards and Indian groups indigenous to the region, exempted their markets from the alcabala (sales tax), and permitted them to bear arms and ride horseback using saddles. Throughout the rest of the colonial period the tribute exemption was extended to native indigenous communities, as they intermarried with the Tlaxcalan colonists and performed militia service for the Spanish regime.

It is important to clarify that relations between the Tlaxcalans and indigenous communities native to the region did not begin with peaceful cooperation and ethnic integration. The Tlaxcalans valued the special status and fueros (privileges granting special exemptions to a specific group) that had accompanied their role as indios conquistadores during much of the sixteenth century, and they extended a Conquest model onto the social relations in the Colotlán region. Their settlement in the region resulted in immediate resistance. In 1592 Huicholes and Tepecanos (Tepehuanes), who were reduced to the new, joint Chichimec-Tlaxcalan settlement at San Andrés del Teúl, rose up against the newcomers, with the surviving Tlaxcalans taking refuge at an outpost of the Chalchihuites mining camp to the north in the district of Sombrerete. This would later become the pueblo of Nueva Tlaxcala. Sporadic uprisings would continue throughout the colonial period, usually originating in the less assimilated pueblos in the west and northwest, near neighboring Nayarit and Durango. San Andrés del Teúl was refounded some years later, a part of the doctrina of the Franciscan monastery at Chalchihuites, along with several other indigenous villages under the jurisdiction of the gobierno of Colotlán.

In addition to the Tlaxcalan settlement, 1591 also marked the establishment of the first permanent mission at San Luis de Colotlán by Franciscans from Zacatecas. With the exception of a portion of the province of Nayarit, controlled by Jesuits until their expulsion in 1767, Franciscans controlled the missionary effort in all of Nueva Galicia throughout most of the colonial period. As later events will make clear, although the evangelization of the Frontera pueblos was never complete, the church's presence supported Spanish colonial conceptions of corporate society, and also facilitated the formation of important relationships between particular communities and priests. Additionally, evangelization allowed for the establishment of lay brotherhoods, or cofradias, that could serve as communal support networks and secure repositories of local resources.

Throughout the colonial period the pueblo of San Luís de Colotlán was divided into three barrios: Tlaxcala, Soyatitán, and Tochopa. The division was originally along ethnic lines, with the first corresponding to the descendants of the Tlaxcalan colonists and the other two to indigenous groups native to the region. Over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most of the principal ethnic groups present at the time of conquest disappeared as distinct language and cultural communities, and aside from a smaller number of speakers of the Tepehuan, Huichol, and Cora languages, most people came to speak either Spanish or a variant of Nahuatl. Those families with the strongest claims to Tlaxcalan ancestry held positions of leadership in the Frontier pueblos, but anyone with a family connection to the indios conquistadores could claim the status of an indio flechero militiaman and enjoy the corresponding rights. These privileges gave the indigenous communities of the frontier a degree of relief from the commercial and tax abuses that prevailed in other parts of the viceroyalty of New Spain during much of the colonial period.

A late colonial report on the Colotlán Frontier noted that mulatos advenedizos joined indigenous communities "in order to enjoy [their] freedom and [tax] exemptions." By 1780, the Huichol, Cora, and Tepehuan ethnic groups would be the only discernibly non-acculturated indigenous groups remaining in the Colotlán region, and they were mostly located in smaller villages and rancheria settlements to the west. The "demographic mestizaje" identified by some scholars of the late colonial period — in which indigenous and Spanish communities became less geographically segregated during the eighteenth century–occurred to a degree in Colotlán, but to a lesser extent than elsewhere. Around 1790, the population of the Colotlán Frontier was about 69 percent indigenous, compared with roughly 40 percent for Nueva Galicia (see table 1.1). It is important to recognize that the Colotlán region remained heavily indigenous, with the heritage and identity of previous generations maintained and utilized by indigenous pueblos. Those castas who eventually married into local pueblos took on an ostensibly indigenous identity, and by the end of the eighteenth century the social lines between indigenous and nonindigenous communities in the region were still evident, even if cultural markers like language and dress were becoming increasingly blurred.

Developing a New Fronterizo Identity

In fact, the cultural context of the Colotlán Frontier reflected a gradual, subtle ethnic transformation toward an indio fronterizo identity. The preservation of their fueros offered an attractive cultural option for individuals from outside the region willing to serve in the militias in exchange for certain social freedoms that were available only to Spaniards in other parts of the viceroyalty. Significantly, there was little intermarriage between Indians and Spaniards in the Colotlán region, resulting in a relatively small mestizo population, especially outside of the larger towns. Thus, while the special status of indios hidalgos broadened to include non-Indian individuals like the aforementioned mulatos advenedizos, it reinforced the indigenous character of the Colotlán Frontier. It did not, however, signify an increasing mestizaje in the strict indio-plus-Spaniard sense of the term. The Conquest model still formed an important part of the collective identity of the pueblos of the Colotlán Frontier throughout the colonial period, but it would be the indios fronterizos — as the cultural descendants of the Tlaxcaltecan indios conquistadores — and not the Spanish who composed the greater part of the region's social and military force.

So, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought a degree of restricted assimilation to the complex and diverse Spanish Empire, as well as cultural attrition and transformation, albeit in a limited linguistic and mostly intraindigenous manner. Meanwhile, haciendas and smaller ranches from surrounding districts expanded and moved closer and closer to pueblo lands, although Spanish settlement in the Colotlán Frontier itself remained sparse. The recruitment of the Tlaxcalan colonists had furthered a number of Viceroy Velasco's political and religious objectives from the 1591 colonization. Ostensibly available to Spanish military authorities for actions against indigenous communities to the north and west that were still outside the scope of imperial authority, the indios fronterizos did occasionally help pacify unruly groups and suppress revolts in neighboring regions. However, large-scale military operations had, for the most part, ceased in the central-western Sierra Madre by the mid-seventeenth century, with remaining unassimilated groups either reduced, shifted farther to the north, or shielded from Spanish settlements by the indios of the Colotlán Frontier. In this regard, the Frontier Indians served as a cultural buffer, protecting the Zacatecan mining zones and the more established agricultural areas closer to Guadalajara throughout the duration of the seventeenth century.

Significantly, though, this cultural buffer worked both ways. First, the communities of indios fronterizos shielded Cora, Huichol, and some Tepehuan communities in the western portion of the Frontier and in neighboring Nayarit from Spanish intrusion. A number of pueblos, particularly among the Huicholes, remained free from Franciscan and Jesuit evangelization efforts up until just before the turn of the eighteenth century, along with almost the entire neighboring district of Nayarit. Second, the intermingling that occurred between formerly Tlaxcalan and Chichimec (mostly Caxcan and Tepehuan, but also some Cora and Huichol) communities transformed the Tlaxcalan communities themselves, particularly with respect to their relationship with the outside Spanish regime. In fact, the Tlaxcalans' descendants periodically joined indigenous communities native to the region in rising up against the Spanish during the seventeenth century. During one of these incidents, the rebels killed a capitán protector (governor) of the Colotlán Frontier. Just after the turn of the eighteenth century, another uprising originated in the pueblo of Nostic, originally a Huichol community that gradually interconnected with the indios flecheros. The rebellion ostensibly began over mistreatment at the hands of a capitán protector by the name of Silva, but was probably also related to encroaching lumbering activities based out of nearby Monte Escobedo in the Jerez district. This 1704 uprising spread from Nostic to nearby Mezquitic, and then to San Luis de Colotlán itself, eventually resulting in the death of Governor Silva after the rebels stormed his residence. Considering later occurrences, it seems likely that Silva took harsh action against the indios of Nostic that the indios of Colotlán interpreted as threatening the indios fronterizos as a whole.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Local Loyalties in an Imperial Context 1

1 Conquest Identities and the Indios Fronterizos of Colotlán 12

2 Indigenous Autonomy in Late Colonial Mexico 27

3 The Countess and the "Insolent Indians" 54

4 The Revolutions of This Canyon 70

5 Power and Pardon in the Independence of Mexico 87

Epilogue 111

Glossary 117

Notes 123

Bibliography 167

Index 179

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