Revolt In The Pueblos


In the spring, with authority established over the region, the Spaniards re-formed their ranks for another long march. Leaving the silent Indian towns, they headed for the northeastern plains, where brandnew rumors hinted of a province called Quivira, whose lord “took his afternoon nap under a great tree on which were hung a number of little gold bells, which put him to sleep as they swung in the air,” and where “everyone had their ordinary dishes of wrought plate, and the jugs and bowls were made of gold.” It was another will-o’-the-wisp. When Coronado reached Quivira on the plains of Kansas and found it to be an impoverished settlement of grass huts belonging to Wichita Indians, he had had enough. His army returned to another bitter and profitless winter in the empty pueblos of Tiguex. In the spring, with all their high hopes of two years before turned to frustration and disillusionment, they abandoned the Rio Grande and straggled gloomily back to Mexico.

Their unhappy reports discouraged further Spanish interest in the northern country, where it was now proved that there was neither gold nor other treasure, and for almost forty years the Pueblos saw no more of white men. Gradually, the Indians came back to their Tiguex settlements, filled with bitter memories of the invaders. Coronado, however, had had no idea of establishing a colony among them, and the Span iards had created no lasting damage to the Pueblos’ civilization. Once again, the Indians were masters of their homeland, leading the centuries-old lives of their ancestors, and as time went on, the wounds of their first contacts with the Spaniards were overshadowed by a growing desire for the metal tools and other goods of the white man’s civilization that Coronado’s men had brought among them.


In the south, meanwhile, a new generation of Spaniards began to talk again of the strange lands and peoples whom Coronado had visited. There were rumors of rich mines that the conquistadors had missed, and fortunes to be made in Tiguex and in the mysterious countries that lay beyond the Rio Grande. New Spain was still filled with adventurers, restless to repeat the glorious triumphs of Cortes and Pizarro, and by 1580 eager petitioners were again asking the king of Spain for permission to bring the northern countries under Spanish domination and convert the natives who lived in the terraced cities in those regions.

The latter aim, a holy one, though a cover for personal greed, was more immediately appealing to the authorities, and in July, 1581, three Franciscan friars, accompanied by nine soldiers and sixteen Mexican servants, traveled back to Tiguex along the newly discovered Conchos River route that led from northern Mexico to the Rio Grande. The Pueblos received the new white men without enmity, eyeing their goats and horses and packs full of trade goods, and allowing them to move freely through their country. One of the priests resolved to return to Mexico alone to report what he had seen, and the rest of the party explored east and west, visiting the different pueblos and coming again upon the Zunis. Returning at length to the Rio Grande, the other two priests and several of the Mexicans decided to settle among the Indians and try to convert them to Christianity, and the rest of the group headed back to Mexico.

The following year, another missionary party rode north to Tiguex and, arriving among the Pueblos, found to their horror that all three of the priests who had entered the country the previous year were dead. The Indians, it appeared, had slain them for their possessions and trade goods. After fighting several battles with the Pueblos, the members of the new group returned to Mexico with romantic tales of what had happened to them, but the stories they told only served to quicken interest in the region. Impatient adventurers, still waiting for permission to lead official expeditions to what was now being called the province of New Mexico, were sure that they could conquer the unruly inhabitants of the north for cross and crown, and incidentally find fame and riches for themselves.