Revolt In The Pueblos

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Finally, in 1590, one of them, Caspar Castano de Sosa, lieutenant governor of the province of Nuevo Leon, without waiting for word from Spain, organized a colonizing expedition of 170 people, equipped it with two brass cannons and a long train of supply carts, and started off for Tiguex. The group reached the Pueblos without serious difficulties and established a camp near an Indian town that was later called Santo Domingo. The Indians watched the new arrivals sullenly, giving them food when they asked for it, but otherwise having little to do with them. After sending a message to the viceroy in Mexico City announcing his success in establishing a colony, Castano de Sosa went off exploring the countryside. Soon after his return to the Rio Grande, he heard that a party of Spanish troops was marching up the river to Tiguex. Thinking that they were reinforcements for his people, he went out to meet them and was promptly arrested for presuming to erect a colony in New Mexico without royal permission. The soldiers dispersed the settlement, and the people gradually made their way back to Mexico. In the capital, Castano was tried, convicted, and exiled to China, where he was later killed. Other men secretly, and without success, continued after him, trying to steal into the country of the Pueblos, but eight years after Castano’s short-lived colony, the Spanish court finally authorized the scion of one of the wealthiest families in Mexico, Don Juan de Oñate, son of a governor and husband of a granddaughter of Cortés, to occupy the land of the Pueblos for the king and establish a permanent frontier settlement in the province. Onate, a vigorous and capable man in middle life, was a worthy successor to the long line of ambitious conquistadors who had preceded him. Spending a fortune of his own, which he fully expected would be repaid with dividends by the still undiscovered riches of New Mexico, he organized a huge expedition and in 1598 led it north to the Rio Grande. Marching under clear, brilliant skies, he reached the first of the pueblos on June 24. As he moved from one town to another, the size of his force awed the natives, and chiefs came forward solemnly to offer friendship and, at the direction of the governor and his host of Franciscan friars, to pledge allegiance to the king of Spain and to his Christian religion.

At the pueblos of Unquiet and Unique near the juncture of the Chapman River and the Rio Grande, Donate halted and, like Coronado before him, told the natives to evacuate one of the towns for his men. The Indians moved out peaceably, and the Spaniards renamed the village San Juan and designated it as the capital of the new colony. Irrigation works were begun and a church built, and on September 8, the first mass was sung in the new building. The Spaniards had invited the heads of all the pueblos to witness the colorful ritual of the Catholic religion, and the next day Donate assembled the chiefs again, once more pledged them to be loyal to the Spanish king, whom he represented, and then, through the Father President of the friars, proposed to them that they and their people receive the great joys and benefits of the true faith by accepting the white man’s God.

The chiefs were confused, but after discussing it among themselves agreed to allow the newcomers’ priests to come and visit them in their pueblos and instruct their people, with the understanding, however, that if the Indians approved of what they learned, they would adopt the Spaniards’ teachings, but if they did not like it, they would not be forced to accept what they heard. It was good enough for Donate and the friars, who divided the pueblos among themselves and departed for the lonely mission work at the different villages. Meanwhile, with his mind on material rewards, Donate was restless to find the riches that Coronado had missed, and on October 6 he rode out of San Juan at the head of an exploring party. While he was gone, the priests erected crosses at the different villages and began their work of telling the natives about Christ and the religion of the white men. Their work was suddenly interrupted by an outbreak of resistance that occurred at the sky city of Tacoma and almost threatened the future of the entire colony. A body of Spanish troops, marching westward one day, sighted the pueblo perched 400 feet above them on a steep-walled mesa. Faced by a shortage of food, the men followed a path up the high, rocky cliffs and entered the adobe town. At first, the Indians seemed peaceful, and the Spaniards broke into small groups and poked through the different apartments. What offense they gave the natives is not known, but suddenly a war cry rose through the village, and angry Indians came pouring out of holes in every rooftop, ready for battle.

The small band of Spaniards tried to gather in one of the streets, but in a moment, a screaming mob of almost one thousand natives, firing arrows and swinging clubs and lances, came at them from every side and cut them off. The wild combat lasted for three hours, and most of the Spaniards were hacked to pieces. Several of them managed to escape down the sides of the mesa, while others jumped to their deaths from the cliffs. Four of the soldiers miraculously survived the 400-foot fall, landing in sand banks at the base of the mesa, and with the other survivors got back to San Juan with news of the catastrophe. Wondering if all the other pueblos would now turn on them, the fearful colonists set a twenty-four-hour watch and dispatched messengers to the isolated priests, warning them to abandon their lonely missions and hasten back to the capital.