Revolt In The Pueblos

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Imbued with an enormous imagination of his own, Fray Marcos set off for the distant land, guided by Estevanico, the Moorish slave who had accompanied Cabeza. Estevanico traveled ahead of Fray Marcos and, accompanied by some loyal Indians of northern Mexico, reached an adobe pueblo of Zufiis at the base of a butte in the western desert of what is now New Mexico. Adorned with feathers and bells and taking seriously the character of a god with which the Indians had endowed him during his journey with Cabeza de Vaca, Estevanico sent to the Zuni chief a ceremonial gourd rattle he had picked up during his earlier wanderings. The Zuni, in a rage, recognized it as belonging to people who had been his enemies, and he apparently ordered Estevanico to leave the country. The Moor refused and instead sent back glowing reports to Fray Marcos, who was still following hard on his trail, that he had reached a wonderful city of a great and wealthy land called Cibola. It was his last report. Soon afterward, the survivors of his party came flying back to Fray Marcos with news that the Zunis had attacked them and slain the Moor with arrows.

The Franciscan hesitated, then with two Indians stole forward for a swift, secret look at the Zuni pueblo. From a distance, the terraced city seemed to confirm what he wanted to believe, and he hastened back to the Spanish settlements in Mexico, reporting that everything that Cabeza and Estevanico had said was true and that with his own eyes he had actually seen “house doors studded with jewels, the streets lined with the shops of silversmiths.” Moreover, he said, the Indians with Estevanico had told him that this was only the first and smallest of seven cities.

The friar’s news was what Viceroy Mendoza was waiting to hear, and the next year, 1540, he dispatched the young, hot-blooded governor of the North Mexican province of New Galicia, Francisco de Coronado, with an expedition of 230 mounted troops, 62 foot soldiers, a company of priests and assistants, and almost 1,000 friendly Indians to explore and seize the new territory of Cibola. Guided by Fray Marcos, the army of conquistadors followed a rough and difficult route northward across hot and waterless deserts and finally reached the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh. The Spaniards were appalled to learn that the miserablelooking mud pile of ladders and adobe walls was Fray Marcos’ idea of a sumptuous city of gold and jewels, and the angry Coronado wrote to Mendoza that the “priest has not told the truth in a single thing he said.” But the army was starving after its long, wearying march, and at least there were Indian supplies of corn and beans stored in the pueblos.

At first, Coronado’s signs of peace were ignored by the frightened inhabitants, who were stunned by the sudden appearance of the strange host and its fantastic animals and equipment. For the first time the Indians were seeing horses, whose long heads and big teeth made the natives certain that they ate people. It was no reassurance to them, either, that the newcomers in shining helmets and suits of armor sat unconcernedly on the snorting beasts, and the alarmed Zunis made a line of sacred corn meal on the ground and warned the Spaniards not to cross over it with their animals. When the invaders ignored the warning and started forward, the panicky Indians sounded their war horn and let fly a hail of arrows. The sudden answering explosions of Spanish guns and the fierce charge of horses and men with long lances routed the natives, who fled to their pueblo, and the battle was quickly over. While the Spaniards broke into the Zunis’ stores and appeased their hunger, the defeated Indians sent runners to other pueblos with amazing tales of the power of the newcomers, and chiefs from other towns soon arrived with gifts for what the Indians began to suspect were the white gods who, ancient legends had dimly suggested, would some day appear among them from the south.

Moving to the Rio Grande country which the Indians called Tiguex, the Spaniards established winter headquarters in the pueblo of Alcanfor and ordered all the Indians to evacuate it. Abuse of native women and brutality toward several chiefs brought matters to a head, and before Christmas, revolt flared in some of the settlements, whose outraged inhabitants were now sure that the newcomers were mortals like themselves. For more than three months, the Spaniards faced resentment and hostility, and again and again, with wild battle cries of “Santiago,” launched furious assaults against the walls of defiant cities, cutting down their defenders by the hundreds and burning captured Indians at the stake. Abominable cruelties and atrocities mounted on both sides, until at length the chastened Tiguas of the area abandoned their villages and stole away to other pueblos in the north.