- 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
Heavy snowfall kept the garrison confined at Alcanfor, though the General had determined to demand the submission of the rest of the Tiguex nation and to obtain it if necessary with further battle. About a week after the arrival of the army it was possible to send Captain de Cárdenas and a party of forty horsemen and some infantry up the river with the ultimatum. They crossed to the eastern bank and presently came among the upriver towns which they found abandoned. At one of these they discovered a number of dead horses. In retaliation, Cárdenas burned the town and returned to headquarters. Word presently came that the Indians driven from their refuge in the bare and frigid hills were collecting at the pueblo of Moho, on the west bank about ten miles north of Alcanfor. In common defense, the river people, though accustomed to live under local rule in each town, now gathered under the general rule of Juan Alemán. Again and again the General sent his message of clemency and power, calling for all to submit to His Holy Catholic Caesarian Majesty. Captain de Maldonado took it to Moho first, only to return with reports of treachery and defiance. Cárdenas went forth once more with his cavalry and infantry, and found the Indians clustered on their roof edges at Moho waiting for him with Juan Aleman to speak for them.
Arriving within earshot, Cárdenas made his proclamation with large gestures.
Alemán responded. It was good to have the Captain there. Much could be settled without war. Let the Captain dismount and come forward alone, and he would meet him likewise on the ground before the pueblo.
Cárdenas gave his sword, lance and horse to an orderly to hold for him and went forward, but not without a few guardsmen following him. Alemán advanced from the pueblo unarmed, but also followed by his bodyguard. As the two leaders met Alemán held out his arms with a smile and embraced Cardenas about the body—and tightly held him immovable. The Indian bodyguard sprang forward and rang blows with wooden maces on the Captain’s helmet. They took him away from their chief and carried him rapidly toward a narrow opening in the palisade. People on the roof crying execrations sent arrows and stones down on the visitors. At the entrance, Cárdenas freed himself enough to brace against its sides as the Indians worked to drag him through into captivity and death. Three of his horsemen rallied and charged to the palisade to rescue him. They brought him free of danger. He was wounded in the leg by an arrow.
But in spite of his wound and the weather he went upstream to the next pueblo, after leaving a detachment on guard at Moho. Once again he met abuse, arrows and defiance. He returned to Moho, gathered up his rear guard, and followed the trail in the snow back to Alcanfor. The General then determined to give battle with his whole army.
They came in full array a few days later to Moho, and made camp about the spring outside the pueblo. The German bugler from Worms sounded his trumpet. The call to surrender and the offer of amnesty were given in the proper form, with the notary officiating. The frieze of defenders on the terraces became animated with obscene mockery. The General gave an order. The troops moved out to surround the town which stood on a level plain of barren gravel from which the wide slow curves of the river could be seen to the north and south. Stout tree trunks were planted deep in the earth to form a palisade before the walls. The defenses were better than at Arenal, for the walls themselves were built of upright timbers solidly side by side and woven with willow branches from the river banks, and thickly plastered over with river silt. Here the town had not one continuous terrace of roof at each level, but several platforms separated by wide gaps. There were towers with portholes near their tops. It was a large town with deep granaries well-filled.
Stones flew down on the attackers who tried to climb the walls. Many soldiers fell, hurt and stunned. On one wall, soldiers raised ladders and fifty reached a roof terrace. They fought across gaps firing at Indians on the same level. From higher terraces stones fell and arrows whistled. To help them in their preparations for war the Indians called upon deathly nature. They shut rattlesnakes into willow cages and thrust arrows among the snakes who striking at the arrow heads flooded their venom on the flint or obsidian points, where it dried in tiny crystals but did not lose its power. Now from the portholes in the towers they sent the poisoned arrows and where these struck they left festering wounds that killed or disfigured.
A soldier ascended to one of the portholes bringing wet mud with which he tried to plaster it shut. He was killed outright by an arrow that quivered deep into his eye.
Another was struck in an eyebrow by a poisoned arrow, but lived, saying that he was saved by his devotion to the rosary.
Nearly a hundred soldiers were wounded by arrows in this first day.
When the cold night fell the soldiers retired to their camp where the physician went to work on the living casualties, who numbered nearly a third of the army. It was costly; too costly. The General resolved on a siege of the pueblo. He controlled the water supply. How long could the Indians live on whatever water they had stored?