Spain and the Pueblo de Los Pecos

From at least the thirteenth century A.D. the upper Pecos River Valley served as the eastern frontier of the Pueblo Indian culture. It is believed that the majority of the people who lived there had moved into the area from the San Juan River area, but there are also indications that they absorbed some immigrants from the plains area to the east. These people practiced rudimentary agriculture and made pottery. Their earliest habitations were scattered through the area with little concern for defense, but in the later thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries nomads from the plains began raiding the sedentary farmers and they began collecting into larger communities with an eye to defense. By 1400 A.D. the Forked Lightening people were concentrated on a small mesa near a river. In about 1450 they began construction of a huge fortress pueblo on the northern end of the mesa. They called it Cicuye.

In the fall of 1540 Hernando de Alvarado, Captain of Artillery in Governor Francisco Vazquez de Coronado's Expedition, became the first European to visit Cicuye. (Years later Don Gaspar Castano de Sosa referred to it as Pecos and that became the name that was used thereafter in Spanish and English.) In 1540 Coronado's chronicler, Pedro de Castaneda, speculated that the pueblo was home to as many as 2,000 people of whom 500 were warriors. Their leaders were proud of the fact that no one had ever subdued them and they saw the importance of their geographic position as being the gateway between the plains to their east and the pueblos to their west. They were active traders and claimed knowledge of the lands and peoples to the east. Cicuye provided the two slaves that told Coronado of great riches in Quivera and precipitated a grievous misunderstanding that soured relations between the first Spaniards and the people of Cicuye. When Coronado returned to New Spain in 1542 he left a Franciscan Friar by the name of Luis de Ubeda in Cicuye, but nothing is known about what happened to him.

In 1546 silver was discovered in Zacatecas and Spanish attention shifted away from the possibility of great wealth among the pueblos to the north and concentrated on achieving peace among the Chichimeca Indians surrounding the real wealth of the new mines. Not until June 1581 did another official expedition under the leadership of Franciscan Father Augustin Rodriguez head north to the pueblos. Francisco Sanchez Chamuscado escorted Father Rodriguez with nine men-at-arms. This expedition was the first to refer to the area as "New Mexico." In 1583 Antonio de Espejo led another small expedition into the land of the pueblos but little came of it. In July 1590 Gaspar Castano de Sosa headed into New Mexico at the head of a small illegal expedition in search of slaves and mines. In 1591 he entered El Pueblo de Los Pecos by force of arms, but very soon thereafter was arrested for having mounted an illegal entrada against the specififc orders of Viceroy Lois de Velasco II.

In September 1595 Viceroy Velasco signed a contract with Don Juan de Onate y Salazar to undertake the pacification of New Mexico. Onate's father and father-in-law were both rich Zacatecas silver mine owners and his recently deceased wife was descended from Cortez and Moctezuma. On October 21, 1595, Velasco appointed Onate Governor, Captain General, Caudillo, Discoverer and Pacifier of New Mexico. Shortly thereafter Velasco was replaced as Viceroy by the Count of Monterey and Onate's departure for New Mexico was postponed while the new viceroy considered his options. In March 1598 Onate's Entrada finally struck out across the Chihuahua desert. He struck the Rio del Norte just south of present day Juarez and formally claimed New Mexico for Spain on April 30, 1598. On July 25, 1598 Onate reached the Pueblo de Los Pecos and was peacefully received. Like Coronado and Sosa before him he claimed Pecos for Spain. Onate assigned Franciscan friars to all of the major pueblos in New Mexico including Pecos. In September Father Francisco de San Miguel took up residence in Pecos, but departed again shortly after the killing of Juan de Zaldivar at Acoma Puebo on December 4, 1598.

In January 1598 Juan de Zaldivar's younger brother, Vicente, captured Acoma and brought captives to Onate at Santo Domingo Pueblo. Onate dealt with the prisoners harshly as an example for the rest of the pueblo people. He had subdued the pueblos, but like Coronado and Sosa before him he had failed to find wealth. The majority of the Spaniards who had accompanied him were disillusioned. Many abandoned the Entrada and returned to Mexico. Onate resigned his commission on August 24, 1607, but was ordered to remain in New Mexico until replaced. Velasco had returned to New Spain as Viceroy and he appointed Don Pedro de Peralto Royal Governor of New Mexico. Peralta replaced Onate in February 1610. New Mexico was no longer a proprietary colony in search of wealth. Instead it was now a royal colony which was primarily interested in the conversion of the Pueblo Indians to Christianity. Franciscan missionaries were given that charge.

Friction between civil and religious authority had always been present in Spanish affairs in New Mexico but it now flared into a series of difficult confrontations that had a profound impact on the Pueblo Indians who witnessed it. In 1612 Franciscan Father Isidro Ordonez assumed the position of Father Commissary in New Mexico. (Viceroy Velasco was replaced by Arch Bishop and Viceroy Garcia Guerra in 1611. Dominican Father Garcia exercised both religious and civil authority In New Spain until a new viceroy was appointed in 1612.) In New Mexico Father Ordonez repeatedly challenged Peralta's authority, eventually jailed him, and managed to maintain a position of enormous independent influence even after a new governor was assigned in 1614. The effect of this and similar conflicts between church and state encouraged the Pueblo Indians to attempt to play one side against the other. It also weakened their respect for Spanish authority and set the stage for the revolt that was to follow.

In 1617 the Franciscans assigned Father Pedro Zambrano Ortiz to the Pueblo de Los Pecos. Zambrano opposed the policies of then Governor Don Juan de Eulate who the priest charged with Indian exploitation. In 1620 Father Pedro de Ortega replaced Zambrano. Ortega frontally attacked the traditional religion of the Pecos people smashing idols and destroying other religious paraphernalia in direct opposition to the more tolerant policies of the Governor. In 1622 Ortega was replaced by Father Andres Juarez. During his tenure in Pecos Father Juarez finished the church that Father Ortega had started. It was the largest church in New Mexico, but it did little to convert the Pecos people to more than a superficial acceptance of Christianity. They maintained their traditional customs and religious beliefs in spite of the teachings of Father Juarez and his fellow missionaries. Also while at Pecos Father Juarez did his best to convert the nomadic Apache groups that lived to the east of the pueblo. By the sixteenth century the Apaches had adapted themselves to the Buffalo Plains and by the middle of that century were trading regularly at Pecos.

Pecos National Historical Park...