Saturday, April 22, 2017

From Subjects to Allies

The early Spanish colonization of New Mexico brought much grief and few benefits to the province’s Pueblo Indian peoples. The conquerors destroyed several Pueblo communities, notably the town of Acoma, and imposed heavy tribute burdens on the survivors. Those Indians who sought the protection of the province’s Franciscan missionaries found themselves subject to coerced labor and corporal punishment, their ceremonial centers proscribed and their veneration of indigenous gods (katsinas) condemned. The Puebloan nations had to endure most of a century of Spanish domination, mitigating its worst effects by “playing off” venial officials and overworked friars against one another, or forming personal alliances with individual colonists, or fleeing the colony.

Eventually, Native New Mexicans decided they would rather fight than submit any longer. In 1675, on the heels of a severe drought and famine, Spanish officials and missionaries united to suppress the katsina faith and execute Pueblo holy men. This became the last straw. Five years later several thousand Puebloans rose in rebellion against their overlords. In a series of coordinated attacks, Pueblo warriors killed four hundred priests, officials, and colonists (out of a European population of 1,000) and forced the survivors to flee the province. The colony ceased to exist. The Pueblos recovered their independence and maintained it for thirteen years, until Spanish troops re-took Santa Fe and reconquered New Mexico.

“Reconquest” may be too strong a word. The new Spanish governor, Diego de Vargas, did crush an anti-Spanish uprising in 1696, but his successors generally treated their Indian subjects very gingerly. Post-Revolt governors reduced the heavy tribute the Pueblos had once paid, and missionaries no longer pursued heretics and “witches” as vigorously as they had once done. Memories of the 1680 rising probably contributed to this conciliatory posture. As important, however, were the growing military power and intensifying raids of New Mexico’s non-Pueblo neighbors: the Utes, Apaches, Navajos, and Comanches. Spanish officials believed the best defense against these nations was a good offense, but they could not conduct those offensives on their own, having only 200 soldiers under their command. If Spain wanted to hold its re-conquered colony, it needed Pueblo Indian military assistance.

Dependency became particularly obvious in 1705, when Navajo raiders hit several pueblos in the Rio Grande valley. That summer Roque Madrid assembled a punitive expedition to, as he put it, “make war by fire and sword” on the Dine*. Of his force of 400 men, over one hundred were Indian allies of “all the nations,” including Pueblos and detribalized Plains Indians (genizaros). Madrid frequently showed his reliance on the Pueblos as he made his 300-mile journey to eastern Navajo country, south of the San Juan River and west of Chama in northern New Mexico. He relied on his warriors and war captains to scout the route of march. Pueblos and genizaros fought as equals in the expeditionaries’ skirmishes with the Navajos, and helped destroy their milpas (cornfields). Madrid had to allow his warriors to kill captives whom he would have preferred to interrogate or enslave. (Doubtless they wanted vengeance for earlier Navajo raids). The only decision the commander seems to have left to his white colleagues was the collective resolution to retreat, which Madrid and his captains made after two weeks on the trail. Pueblo warriors may have wanted to push on, but they depended on Spanish arms as much as the Spanish depended on them, and they too turned homeward.

The Pueblos did not have the uppermost hand in eighteenth-century New Mexico, but the 1680 rising had left an indelible impression on Spanish memories. Spain now saw its Puebloan subjects not as placid peasants but warlike peoples. This actually became an asset for indigenous New Mexicans, for in the 1700s the Southwest became a highly militarized environment. The Navajos, Utes, Pueblos and Comanches alternated raiding one another’s homelands with marketing the proceeds of their raids: foodstuffs, horses, and (most valuable of all) captives. Spanish officials wanted to protect their own colony from raids and, as importantly, profit from the sale of plunder and slaves. They needed manpower, and the Pueblos had inadvertently demonstrated that they could provide it. The rebels of 1680 had organized their insurrection in order to free their communities from Spanish domination and religious oppression. If they at least partially succeeded in attaining both goals, it was because the revolt had given them a reputation as people dangerous to cross but useful to have on your side in a fight, and because the returning Spanish realized New Mexico was going to be in a lot of fights. An apparently idealistic gesture of liberation became a component of a very realistic modus vivendi. Just because a rebellion appears to fail doesn’t mean it won't eventually prove a good idea.

Sources: Rick Hendricks and John Wilson, eds., The Navajos in 1705: Roque Madrid’s Campaign Journal (University of New Mexico Press, 1996), quotes 13, 22; James Brooks, Captives and Cousins (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 93. The standard history of the 1680 revolt is Andrew Knaut, The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), reviewed here.

* Dine was the eponym (self-given name) of the Apaches and Navajos.

Image of Laguna Pueblo man and woman, ca. 1900, courtesy of National Park Service.

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