- Historic Sites
Paul Horgan tells a lyric story of the Rio Grande Valley, where Spanish and Indian cultures met in a conflict of arms and ideas
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
In daylight, the east mountains of bare rock looked near. Below them lay the band of desert; below that, the sandy terraces to the river, edged with groves brittle in winter. The pueblo rose in cubes of earth, casting sharp triangles of ink-blue shadow. The roof terraces were peopled. The ladders were up. Silence held the strain of looking. Presently from the south there was movement through the dry trees and out to the opening about the celled house. The light stung itself on metal and broke in rays as the column turned and halted. One man went forward and motioned a few others to follow him. They advanced quite clear of the troops and halted facing the plain walls along whose tops clung the minutely striving creatures dimly glistening like bees in great swarm. To them the man spoke out. At a distance his voice sounded thin but earnest. He motioned with his arms, offering. The swarm buzzed in rage from the roofs and replied with threatening motions. The man cried out again. Again the clustered bodies of the hive showed defiance. For two hours the exchange of offer and refusal continued. The man on the ground then returned to the mounted column and all rested motionless for a few moments. Then a movement began to detach one horseman after another from the column, as they set out and formed a circle all around the pueblo. When the movement was completed, there followed another pause and then came a long valiant cry that weakened as it went through the air until it might have been a wail, crying “Santiago … ,” and the men outside the pueblo began to advance on horseback and on foot against it. From the roofs downward: arrows and stones, wild dancing convulsions loathing and loathly, handfuls of powdered mud from puddled walls, screamed incantations. From the ground upward: slicing flights of arrows from crossbows, and volleys of lead bullets lumbered in gentle arcs by the harquebuses, and charges forward on horseback to cover efforts on the ground against the very walls. The walls were not excessively high, for the bodies of a few men leaning upon them, and the feet and hands of others climbing upon these, and holding, and the scramble of a few more upon those, let the top of the first rise of wall be reached. There swords flew, flashing, and wooden maces beat against them and upon helmets. The clinging strife against the wall fell down and rose again and fell and rose, and through the hours prevailed with its armored bodies flowing at last over the roof edge to stay, like a stain that once spilled would spread and flow until it stained all. Colors changed. Fluid crimson altered the rooftop as it altered naked earthen brown. Sounds wound on the air, the break of wood and steel, bone and life. With failing light and yellow evening the men from the ground were everywhere on the rooftops, and the people of the hive, but for their dead, were vanished below within the cells, into which the long delicate prongs of their ladders were drawn after them. Silence came with night, and hardly a movement, save that of the calm river going in its shallow valley. With morning, on the roofs, the leader of the armored men made another scene of exhortation, casting his voice awide and turning himself to be heard down below in the pits of darkness where remained silence and defiance. After an interval, then, separate small storms followed when the attackers tried to capture each cell by itself with its occupants. But the structure was thick, the entrances small, the cells many and interconnected, and advance was slow. There was a pause for a new undertaking, directed from the captured terraces, and then, below, on the ground, came men bearing a heavy burden against the walls. It was a huge log. With its end they began to thunder upon the ground wall of the big house slowly, in regular rhythm, shaking the earth house as if with deep drumbeat. Behind the battering ram there was a gathering of dry winter brush and bough. Fires sprang alive in the daylight and carried smoke into the blue. The giant drumming went on and wall-earth began to crumble. Cakes of earth fell aside, then whole clods, sliding like talus, then white dust shaken from the interior walls, and the hive was opened at its lowest level. Now the fires were taken brand by brand to the breach, and thrown in, and wood brought, and added, and the air shuddered in and out as drafts fought, but finally the whole cellular house acted as a chimney, and the smoke was drawn whistling from the banked fire on the ground outside through the rooms and out on to the roof terraces. With it were drawn the people inside, stumbling and crying, who clawed at themselves to see, and hugged themselves to breathe. They swarmed to the edges of the roof, where many were thrust by swords. Some hung down from the roof and dropped and ran and were ridden down by mounted men. Others were stopped as they ran on the ground, and were laid low by swords or bullets. Still others, taken as they fled from the walls, were made to keep running but tightly held until they reached the roaring fires into which they were thrown and in which they were kept at the points of long lances that spitted them if they strove to reach the cool air. Near-by there were stakes driven into the ground with faggots piled about them. To these many captives were dragged and tied, and the fires lighted about them. All appeared to happen with speed, wild understanding and inevitability. A tent for the mounted commander stood safely apart. Into it a large throng of escaped or surrendered people were put. The burning bodies at the stakes were in their view.