The Pueblo Revolt
of 1680 - the bloodiest, most destructive, most
dramatic event in the history of the fabled
Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road to
the Interior) - grew out of a clash between
an ancient European culture and an ancient Native
American culture. It climaxed in Santa Fe at
the central plaza, the northern end of the trail.
It produced a stream of suffering Spanish refugees
who straggled down the trail through New Mexico
to the Rio Grande ford at El Paso del Norte
(El Paso/Juarez). It set the stage for a march
by Spanish conquerors back up the trail, in
1692, to take back the lands of the Pueblos,
this time for good.
Spain's notions of conquest, imperialism and
Catholicism - which lay like stratified bedrock
beneath almost nine centuries of her history
- defined her exploration and colonization of
the lands of the Puebloan peoples. Her settlers,
many considering themselves aristocrats, began
coming by caravan up the trail that would become
known as El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro in
the late 16th century, marking her earliest
colonization efforts in the Southwest.
They rode horses descended from Spanish stock;
carried cannon, harquebuses and swords from
Europe; used rudely crafted two-wheeled ox-drawn
wooden carts for conveyance; and drove great
herds of livestock. As "European aristocrats," they
felt culturally and morally superior to the
Puebloans they encountered as they moved up
the trail through the Rio Abajo stretch of the
Rio Grande basin and into the foothills of the
Southern Rocky Mountains, and they presumed
the right of entitlement to Puebloan stores,
larders and labor.
They intended to re-cast the Puebloan peoples
into Spanish subjects. They expected the Puebloans
to give allegiance to Spanish custom and law.
Most of all, in their unshakable faith, they
meant to convert the "heathen" Puebloans
to Catholicism and to abolish the ancient religious
Most Puebloans would come to view the Spanish,
and especially their Franciscan friars in blue
habits bound at the waist with ropes, as unwelcome
Conquest, Imperialism and Catholicism
Spain had mastered the art of conquest during
the Reconquista, or Reconquest, the epic seven
and one-half century crusade to drive the Moorish
sultans and their armies from the Iberian Peninsula
back to North Africa. Led by Ferdinand and Isabella
- known as the "Catholic Monarchs" -
Spain celebrated her final triumph in January
of 1492, when her forces marched into the streets
of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold.
Spain had perfected the craft of imperialism
in the wake of the Reconquista, through systems
called encomienda and repartimiento, royally
approved grants which allowed an aristocratic
new owner of re-conquered Iberian territory
to tax the local peoples provided he would also
Christianize, civilize and protect them. The
aristocrat frequently collected his "taxes" in
the form of spoils, tribute and enforced labor.
With the approach of victory over the Moors,
Ferdinand and Isabella had sharpened the zeal
of the Church into a fearful weapon - the Inquisition
- to nationalize a fragmented land, convert
or expel Moors and Jews, and assail the heretics.
During the days of the Inquisition, Spain burned
people at the stake for advocating the heresy
of Protestantism, purportedly practicing the
dark magic of witchcraft, carving their mutton
in the kosher tradition, or for taking their
weekly rest on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath,
rather on Sunday, the Christian day of worship.
The Spanish settlers came up El Camino Real
de Tierra Adentro imbued with an attitude cast
by conquest, encomienda and repartimiento, and
the Inquisition. That shaped their view of the
Puebloan peoples. It had worked so far in the
Spanish conquest and settlement of the New World.
In the immediate aftermath of the Reconquista,
Spain, intoxicated by an exaggerated sense of
power and a fervor for Catholicism, laid claim
to the most extensive empire in history. It
included many of the Caribbean Islands; much
of the South American continent; all of Central
America and Mexico; the lands along the northern
Gulf of Mexico; the deserts and Pacific Coast
of southwestern North America; the islands of
the Philippines; large parts of Africa; all
of the Iberian Peninsula; and large parts of
Germany and Italy. (Spain's ambitions would
transcend her national power and resources,
leading to an unprecedented crash of empire,
astonishing waste of treasure, and impoverishment
of her people, but she left her enduring cultural
and religious imprint across a vast region.)
Spain sent her conquistadores - the conquerors!
- trained in the crucible of battle during the
Reconquista, to the Western Hemisphere to plunder
the Native American gold and silver treasures
and to expand and consolidate Spanish domination.
("I came to get gold, not to till the soil
like a peasant," Hernán Cortés,
the conqueror of the Aztecs, had declared.)
Spain sent her citizens to settle the land and
subjugate the people. She dispatched her Franciscan
and, later, her Jesuit friars to harvest the
souls of the "heathens."
Spanish conquistadores, in their glittering
armor, came to the lands of the Puebloans in
an illusory search for treasure. Colonists - "aristocrats" -came
with royal grants of land as well as the specific
rights of encomienda and repartimiento to establish
and consolidate empire. The missionaries came,
financed by the Spanish royalty, with the charge
to Christianize and civilize the Puebloans,
making them loyal, if lower class, subjects
under Spanish governance. The friars anticipated
Puebloan gratitude in return for holy salvation
and a European value system.
The Puebloans viewed the invasion - the occupation
of their lands and the demands for their housing,
goods, food, labor and religious conversion
- with smoldering resentment.
Conquistador -- El Paso's monumental sculpture, The Equestrian, the world's largest bronze equestrian statue.
Juan de Oñate
"I take possession, once, twice, and thrice,
and all the times I can and must, of the actual
jurisdiction, civil as well as criminal, of
the lands of the … Rio del Norte [the
Rio Grande], without exception whatsoever, with
all its meadows and pasture ground and passes," Conquistador
Don Juan de Oñate, a wealthy Basque born
in Mexico's silver mining town of Zacatecas,
declared ceremoniously on April 30, 1598.
He stood on the right bank of the river on
his way up El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
to found the first European colony in the Southwest,
near Española, north of Santa Fe. "…this
possession is to include all other lands, pueblos,
cities, villas, of whatsoever nature now founded
in the kingdom and province…and all the
neighboring and adjoining lands thereto, with
all its mountains, valleys, passes, and all
its native Indians who are now included therein," said
Oñate, according to Gaspar Pérez
de Villagrá who chronicled the expedition
in his History of New Mexico, Alcala, 1610.
"I take all jurisdiction, civil as well
as criminal, high as well as low, from the edge
of the mountains to the stones and sand in the
rivers, and the leaves of the trees."
Oñate acted in the name of the "most
holy Trinity, and of the eternal Unity, Deity,
and Majesty, God the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Ghost, three persons in the one and only
true God…" and in the name of "the
most Christian king, Don Philip, our lord, the
defender and protector of the holy church, and
its true son…"
"The work must be done," Oñate
believed, "because it is the will of God
that all people [in this case, the Puebloan
peoples of the upper Rio Grande] be saved. It
is His divine will that His word be carried
to all men, and that it be obeyed everywhere
"There are other temporal reasons for
which I should accomplish this conquest … That
these peoples may be bettered in commerce and
trade… gain better ideas of government … augment
the number of their occupations and learn the
arts, become tillers of the soil and keep cattle,
and learn to live like rational beings …"
The Puebloan peoples knew utterly nothing,
of course, of Oñate's ceremony hundreds
of miles to their south, on El Camino Real de
Tierra Adentro. Undoubtedly, they felt comfortable
with their own religion, which had served them
for centuries. They had commerce and trade networks,
perfectly functional local governments, various
occupations, craftsmen and artisans, farmers
and domesticated turkeys. They probably even
thought they lived like "rational beings."
Moreover, as Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá would
remark, the Puebloan communities along El Camino
Real de Tierra Adentro were "all well built
with straight, well-squared walls. Their towns
have no defined streets. Their houses are three,
five, six and even seven stories high, with
many windows and terraces. The men have as many
wives as they can support. The men spin and
weave and the women cook, build the houses,
and keep them in repair. They dress in garments
of cotton cloth, and the women wear beautiful
shawls of many colors. They are quiet, peaceful
people of good appearance and excellent physique,
alert and intelligent …"
One suspects that the Puebloans may have been
rather surprised to discover that they (including
their souls) and their land (including the "leaves
of the trees") now belonged to someone
called "Philip," who was a person
called a "king" from someplace called "Spain."
Oñate, however, embodied the beliefs
and attitudes of the Spanish military, colonists
and Franciscan friars, who would extend their
collective and abrasive reach into every corner
of Puebloan life in the coming decades.
Part II continued in July Gazette...
Ferdinand's tomb, in the Cathedral of Granada. Isabella's tomb lies immediately next to Ferdinand's tomb.
Monuments in western El Paso, near the ford where Oņate led his colonizing expedition across the Rio Grande
Franciscans, under the watchful eye of conquistadores,
Christianize Indians near the banks of the
As portrayed in a mural on a public
building in Juarez