WHEN CULTURES MEET
Remembering the First Spanish Settlement in New Mexico
“Driving through Española, you might see a sign proclaiming it First Capital of New Mexico. Actually the first Spanish capital was a few miles north, just across the Rio Grande from San Juan Pueblo, San Gabriel del Yunge Oweenge. Juan de Oñate led Hispanic colonists there in the summer of 1598. During ensuing centuries myths have grown about this settlement, but until the past few decades historical information has been sparse.
“In 1984 Herman Agoyo and Lynnwood Brown of San Juan Pueblo organized a conference to consider facts about the area, as well as myths. Orlando Romero, novelist, comments on relationships between people of the Pueblo and Hispanics. Archaeologist Florence Hawley Ellis describes the ruins of the settlement. Marc Simmons, historian, provides an illuminating account of the attitudes and lifestyle of the Spaniards at San Gabriel. Myra Ellen Jenkins, an authority on Pueblo history, discusses Oñate’s administration and the Pueblo Indians. Jim Sagel relates a delicious story purportedly by El Turco, the Indian who has been misleading outsiders since the time of Coronado.”
—New Mexico Magazine
“Usually, when a reviewer says that the historical articles in a collection say little that is new, one expects the reviewer to pan the book. In this case the premise holds, but not the consequence. This is because this is an unusual collection, a mixture of scholarly articles, statements from tribal planners, a story, and a poem. The point of this collection, and the conference—held in conjunction with a celebration at Oke Oweenge Crafts Cooperative—was to bring together science and myth in remembering the first Spanish settlement in New Mexico: San Gabriel Del Yunge. What makes this little collection interesting is the success of the organizers in achieving their goal.
“Herman Agoyo, Lynnwood Brown, and Orlando Romero introduce the conference and collection and set the stage for the remaining articles in the collection. Florence Hawley Ellis tells the stories of the excavation San Gabriel Del Yunge. There are two histories intertwined in her account. The usual story of a settlement unearthed by archaeologists is presented with her customary skill and authority. This story, however, is embedded in an equally fascinating story of the history of the ‘discovery’ and excavation of the site. Line drawings of the ‘dig’ and photographs of the artifacts, excavators, and the site nicely complement the story. Professor Ellis’s account of the difficulties of the dig supports her plea to preserve the past. This, of course, is a familiar lament by archaeologists. What is unusual here is the community support of that purpose.
“Marc Simmons provides a historical sketch of the founding of the colony and the colonizing party. Myra Ellen Jenkins sketches the first Spanish administrator in New Mexico, Juan de Oñate, and the early relations between Spaniards and various Indians in the colony. In this brief account Professor Jenkins manages to convey the complexity of early New Mexican politics, citing testimony by other Spaniards against Oñate during his residencia. She does not omit the early injustices committed against their Pueblo hosts by Spanish colonizers.
“Richard I. Ford reconstructs, in an engaging, yet technical article, the changes in Pueblo cultural ecology engendered by new fauna and flora introduced by Spanish colonizers. Drawing on documentary, archaeological, and ethnographic sources he provides a readable summary of the consequences of their introduction for daily life in Pueblo society. Interestingly, he finds only the watermelon, chiles and wheat have been taken into Pueblo ceremonial rituals. Even after 300 years of use, all other new cultigens remain clearly foreign (p. 84).
“The collection concludes with Jim Sagel’s story and poem. The story ‘El Turco, A Story’ is a delightful first person account of how ‘The Turk’ led Francisco Vasquez de Coronado on a wild goose chase for Quivira. Of course, ‘El Turco’ is Coyote who returns many times to exploit the fantasies of would be conquerors and destroyers to save his home.
“The power and contribution of When Cultures Meet is the whole these separate pieces make. The collection is uniformly readable. Each contribution adds to the whole. In a short space it manages to present a well rounded introduction to the complex ethnic relations that have characterized New Mexico for nearly four hundred years. This is no mean feat when one considers how many sides there are to the story. That they are presented in an accurate, yet not acrimonious, way is a credit to the organizers and producers.
“Since this collection is such an excellent introduction to New Mexico, this is just the type of publication that thoughtful visitors to New Mexico would enjoy. It could also serve as an excellent ancillary text for courses on Indian history, New Mexican history, Chicano history, and ethnic relations.”
—Thomas D. Hall, University of Oklahoma, American Indian Quarterly