Great River


But spring was advancing. The snowfalls ended. The water supply in the crippled town was finally vanishing. Moreover, the season of planting and propitiation, the birth of the future, were passing by, and if unattended, would end in physical hardship and spiritual sorrow for the Indians. One night at the end of March they began to steal away out of their walls toward the river. Forty mounted soldiers were on guard. The alarm was given. An Indian arrow pierced a soldier’s heart and he died at once. Another soldier was seized and taken and was never seen again. The soldiers attacked, the camp was aroused, and a battle followed in the darkness. Many Indians were killed, and soldiers were wounded, as the Indian retreat continued toward the river. The water was high and cold, the current fast. Hurrying for freedom, the Indians came to the bank and were pursued by the cavalry, and few escaped wounds or death. The river took away the bodies and blood of those killed while trying to cross. Some reached the east bank in the dark. It was an icy night, filled with the sounds of arms and voices. The investment of Moho was over. It had lasted fifty days.

In the morning, soldiers went over the river and found wounded and half-frozen Indians lying there, whom they brought back to be restored and treated as servants. Other soldiers entered the pueblo to see what they could find, for all provisions were to be gathered for the commissary. Soldiers looked out for jewels and other treasures, and discovered instead the ashes of mantles, feathers and turquoise strings burned to save them from the Spaniards. They found stores of maize, and recognized again that Indians of the river did not own anything except their food and their cotton clothes and their robes made of turkey feathers and rabbit fur.

The General commanded a portion of the pueblo of Moho burned as a warning to the people of Tiguex. He sent for Bigotes, the Turk and Isopete so they too might see. His policy was prevailing everywhere, for farther up the river during the last days of the siege, another pueblo had been taken by a mounted detachment who forced the Indians to abandon it. After a few days, in early April, the General heard that the people were returning to some of the upriver towns to fortify them. He sent Captain de Maldonado to do what needed to be done. A day or so later, the General saw smoke in the north over the valley, and asked what it meant. He was informed that Captain de Maldonado had burned a town. With that image—distant smoke rising from the mud-plastered timbers of a Rio Grande pueblo in the springtime groves of willows and cottonwoods far below the air-blue mountains—the Tiguex war was won.

The Eastern Plains

The weather warmed, and then froze again, and solid ice reached across the river. If they were all going east it would be well to start while they could cross on the ice, the whole army of fifteen hundred people, and a thousand horses, and five hundred cattle, and five thousand sheep. On April 23, 1541, the train passed from Alcanfor over the frozen river and began the long march to the eastern plains in search of Quivira and its treasures. Bigotes and Isopete, freed of their collars and chains, were on their way to be restored to their pueblo of Pecos. The Turk was the principal guide, still raving of wonders to come. The slow procession went north along the east bank, passing the burned town of Arenal, empty like all the other pueblos of Tiguex. Rounding the northern end of the Sandia mountains, the army drew away eastward and out of sight of the river.

Seventy-seven days later, all but the General, his chaplain, and thirty mounted men and six footmen returned to the river to settle once again at Alcanfor. The town was still empty of Indians, like all the others, and so long as these Spaniards were in the nation of Tiguex, no Indians ever came back to live there.

The army returned in low spirits and unwillingly. On their march to the plains with the General they had met one disappointment after another, though they saw strange sights of passing interest. Farther and farther east the visions of the Turk had taken them to the very limit of caution. They left Bigotes at Pecos, and moved out to the plains where they saw Indians who lived in tents and used dogs as beasts of burden, and noticed that if his load was badly balanced the dog barked for someone to come and set it right. They heard of a big river to the east and many canoes. It was all familiar—the Turk had mentioned such. They came to flat highlands in whose irregular faces were deepslashed canyons of red rock and scrub oak. In such places, the plains cattle stampeded, the army lost horses, Captain de Cárdenas broke his arm. Now and then they encountered groups of Indians who lived in straw huts on the prairies and hunted the buffalo for materials of food, shelter and arms.

What was wrong? Where was the gold? The Turk took them now in one direction, now in another, keeping up a flow of promises and explanations for his change of plans.

Isopete, the Indian slave brought from Pecos, declared that the Turk was lying. There was such a country as the Turk said, but there was nothing in it that the General sought.