THE ADOBE KINGDOM
New Mexico 1598 - 1958 as Experienced by the Families Lucero de Godoy y Baca
The history of the Bacas and Luceros in colonial New Mexico begins with the 1598 Spanish colonizing expedition of don Juan de Oñate, New Mexico’s first governor and captain-general. Spain, however, before embarking on the attempt at colonization, was involved in several authorized and unauthorized, intentional and unintentional explorations of this new land. This introduction details briefly the major efforts of exploration in this extraordinary place which made later colonization possible.
This Extraordinary Place
The Western Hemisphere had remained untouched for untold millennia while generations of ape men and men of the Paleolithic roamed the other continents. None of these earliest ancestors of modern men originated in the Americas. The most ancient human bones brought to light in the Americas were of men in their present form, Homo sapiens.
Perhaps as long as 40,000 years ago the forebears of the American Indian entered the still untouched New World. Archaeological finds have proven the presence of man in America at the time of the Ice Age mammals: the camel, mammoth, giant ground sloth, and primitive horse. These were here during the Pleistocene glaciations, the last of which is known to us as the Wisconsin. Thus, man has been in the Americas between 10,000 and 40,000 years. That these early men came across the Bering Straits is fairly certain. They entered the continent long before there were boats large enough to have made an ocean crossing, which means they had to have come on foot. They entered during an iceless inter-glacial period or via ice-free corridors hundreds of miles wide which ran from the Arctic through Canada.
The climatic changes during the Pleistocene were almost imperceptible, but the accumulation of climatic effects drove the people, plants and animals from one part of the world to another. The march from the Bering Straits to Tierra del Fuego took some 25,000 years. The imperceptible movements may have largely been north-south with east-west expansion occurring like ripples on a pond. However, it is simplistic to think of the oldest wave of migration as being on the edge of the concentric circles for this is not supported by archaeological evidence; a date of 29,000 B.C.E. years has been suggested for a site in California while dates of 8,000 B.C.E. are recorded for finds in South America.
These variances are also found in New Mexico, the site of three of the most important archaeological finds. One of these is at Clovis where there is evidence of hunters of 12,000 years ago butchering a mammoth. Still older appear to be the recent finds at Orogrande in southern New Mexico which may approach forty millennia. However, even now, in spite of many older artifacts having been found, the discovery of nineteen man-made projectile points at Folsom, one embedded between the ribs of an extinct bison, is perhaps the most important as it proved that people had been in North America much earlier than presumed.
The prehistoric hunters of Clovis, Folsom, and Orogrande may have been the ancestors of the “Basketmakers,” the earliest Ancient Puebloans. The descendants of these people are thought to be the Pueblo Indians whom Vásquez de Coronado found living in villages in New Mexico and present-day Arizona.
The report of the Vásquez de Coronado expedition lists seventy-one pueblos containing 30,000 people (likely a very low estimate), many of whom lived in the upper and lower regions of the Rio Grande. These communities, notes Burke, “were independent of each other and there was no tribal or political organization linking them into units larger than the individual village.”
The Pueblos of New Mexico (Indians from the Pueblos) spoke seven different languages. The Zuñis spoke one. The others spoke a variety of languages gathered into two general groups, the Keres and the Tanos. The Keres language was spoken by the Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Zía, and San Marcos, on the Rio Grande, and the Laguna and Ácoma Indians, located 50 miles to the southwest of the main group of Keresan speaking pueblos. The second major grouping was the Tanos which included Tewa spoken by the Nambé, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Pojoaque, and Tesuque; Tiwa spoken by the Isleta, Alameda, Puaray, Paako, Quarai and Sandía near Albuquerque and the Taos and Picurís Pueblos north of Santa Fe; Towa spoken by the Jémez and Pecos; Piro spoken by the Alamillo and Senecu whose pueblos were between Socorro and El Paso, no longer in existence; and Tano spoken by the San Cristóbal, Galisteo and
San Lazaro, also no longer in existence. Another vanished group was the Tompiros who lived far to the east of the Rio Grande in pueblos sometime referred to as the Salines and whose abandoned ruins are now known to us as Chilili, Tajique, Abo, Tabira and Las Humanas (Gran Quivira). It’s important to note that a number of pueblos such as Zuñi that are spoken of as an individual entity are or were in fact a collection of villages inhabited by people who appear to have been closely related. There are an untold number of individual pueblos represented in the major groupings given.
The Pueblos were collectively a group of reasonable, rational and responsible farmers who lived life in moderation. They had no excesses and were sober and industrious. As farmers, the Pueblos were tied to the earth, working extensive fields covering most of the arable land the length of the central and northern Rio Grande valley. Here they planted their several varieties of corn and beans and squash. Although it had become increasingly difficult to grow these, as well as their non-food crops, their cotton and gourds, due to the ever-shortening growing season, these village people worked to collect surpluses as a hedge against increasingly deteriorating climatic conditions. Winter temperatures were becoming more severe. They experienced excessive snowfall. There were late thaws and early frosts. And each year their great river, the Rio Grande, became a frozen water course.
The Pueblos noted that these severe conditions had been so for six generations—certainly for the past fifty years. A period from AD 1550 to AD 1700 and some have said from AD 1450 to AD 1850 has become known as the “Little Ice Age.”7 Still the Pueblos had achieved a measure of equilibrium and were in harmony with the earth. They worked their fields that April of 1598 not knowing the harmony of things were about to be struck out of balance. They were now to experience six decades of winter and two of hell and their lives were to be changed forever.
This caustic statement has been rendered—ocho meses de invierno y cuatro de infierno, (Kessell) and—nueve meses de invierno, tres de infierno, (Yeo) in reference to New Mexico and Burgos, Spain respectively. Whatever the duration, they, of course, refer to a year of two seasons. With poetic license, I have used a variant of Kessell and Yeo’s lament to describe the period between 1598 and 1680.
An interesting aspect of the exploration of the geographic area which was to become New Mexico, is the way a number of the protagonists in these ventures were closely linked: Hernán Cortés to Pánfilo de Narváez to Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca to Estebánico to Friar Marcos de Niza to Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, covering the twenty-three year period from 1519 to 1542.
The first Spaniards who landed in Mexico came from Cuba in 1517. The Indians were awaiting them and they were driven back to their ships and returned to Cuba. The Governor of Cuba, Diego Velásquez, became very interested in this newly discovered civilization and organized a second expedition. The leader of this expedition, Juan de Grijalva, was ordered to establish a colony preparatory to exploring the interior. However, instead of doing this Grijalva sent one of his soldiers back to Cuba to ask for further instructions. This hesitation on the part of
Grijalva so angered Velásquez that he chose a new leader. His man for this epoch making venture was his private secretary, an individual by the name of Hernán Cortés. Velásquez chose Cortés because he had displayed leadership potential and because he felt Cortés could be trusted. Velásquez was correct about Cortés’ leadership ability but completely misjudged his loyalty.
Before Velásquez could stop him the audacious Cortés was supplying his ships and enlisting Grijalva’s crew. Thus, without Velásquez’ complete approval, Cortés, with 500 soldiers and 11 ships, left for the Yucatan during February of 1519. This little army, with the assistance of thousands of Indian allies whom he recruited along the way, was successful in defeating the Aztecs, one of the most advanced civilizations in the Americas. However, to perceive the conquest as easy is naive. For although Cortés had been allowed to march into the Aztec capital unimpeded, the events leading to the conquest of this mighty empire and its people remains one of the least appreciated sagas in the history of the Americas.
In the midst of his adventures Cortés bypassed Velásquez and had begun to communicate directly with the king, even sending to Spain some of the spectacular golden gifts received from the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma. Velásquez, infuriated, launched a large expedition to capture and execute Cortés. Placed in command of this army of retribution was Pánfilo de Narváez. Cortés became aware of these moves on the part of Velásquez and launched a small army of his own to intercept Narváez on the coast. Narváez, caught by surprise, was easily defeated, captured, and imprisoned by Cortés.
Four years later Cortés was talked into releasing Narváez who briefly returned to Cuba before heading for Spain. Once there, he complained about his treatment at the hands of Cortés to anyone who would listen. Narváez, however, had a second agenda. He wanted the Spanish authorities to give him permission to seek out and colonize new lands. Eventually Narváez was authorized to colonize “Florida,” meaning at that time the whole northern Gulf Coast to the mouth of the Rio Grande.
Through its history the “great river” has had many names for the several reaches of its course among which are: el Río de las Palmas (Pineda, 1519); Río de Nuestra Señora (Alvarado, 1540); Río Guadalquivir (Rodríguez, 1581); Río del Norte (Pérez de Luxán, 1582); Río Bravo (Castaño de Sosa, 1590, and Oñate, 1598) and Río del Norte y de Nuevo Mexico (Map, in Sigüenza y Góngora, 1700). In this discussion it will be referred to as the Rio Grande, the name by which it is now known.
Pánfilo de Narváez with his contingent of 400 men set out from Cuba during the spring of 1528. Accompanying this group was Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca who functioned as treasurer of the expedition. Encountering stormy seas, Narváez was forced to seek shelter on Florida’s West Coast. Here, against the advice of his men, he divided his forces into two groups, one to proceed by sea, the other by land along the coast to the mouth of the Rio Grande.
The people this group encountered, as well as the land itself, were very poor and hostile. Sick, facing starvation, and thoroughly discouraged, the land forces decided to construct boats to attempt an escape. They converted their weapons into tools and nails and wove ropes and riggings out of the manes and tails of their horses. Clothing was made into sails. Their food was a new horse killed every third day. Finally, the men of the Narváez land expedition completed five very poor boats and, leaving the graves of forty men on the beach, they set sail for Pánuco, a distance of twenty-four hundred miles. They were never to reach their destination.
Although the men attempted to sail close to the shoreline, the five boats were blown out to sea and became separated losing approximately 100 men in the process. Narváez succeeded in bringing the remaining three boats within sight of land again, but he and his crew foundered in a landing attempt and drowned. The remaining two boats were again blown out to sea and became separated, neither crew knowing the fate of the other.
The boat commanded by Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca was driven up on the sandy beach of an off-shore island in Galveston Bay. There, Indians who provided them with food and water helped the soldiers. After a short stay, the group decided to relaunch their craft and sail westward. The men placed all of their belongings in the boat including their clothes which impeded their work and which they hoped to keep from being soaked. In the launching attempt, however, the boat took on water, overturned, and disappeared.
The survivors, naked and with no provisions, were later joined on the beach by the men from one of the other barks bringing the surviving group to eighty. This number was reduced to 15, and finally to four by sickness, starvation and loss of hope. The four hapless survivors were Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, Andrés Dorantes de Carranca, and his Moorish slave, Estebánico. They had lost everything but their lives.
For about a year, the four surviving members of the Narváez expedition remained on the island where they had been marooned. Eager to leave, however, they attempted another escape, this one successful and eventually reached the Texas mainland where each was to embark on a saga of major historical importance.
During the next six years, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his men did whatever was necessary to survive, first working as slaves, then becoming traders. In time they chanced upon the roles that assured their survival in the new land. Essentially, they functioned as curanderos (healers), working their way westward with increasingly friendlier Indians. With reputations as healers, they began to be passed from one friendly group to another across Texas.
Where the party of Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca ultimately went is in question. Some historians believe they roamed as far north as Roswell, New Mexico,15 while others maintain they skirted the southern fringe of the present state of New Mexico, but did not enter it. Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca himself, his account not published until 1542, had no idea. Almost certainly, they crossed the Rio Grande at present-day El Paso, Texas where the Indians told them of cities to the north with big houses and many people. From there they continued westward, then turned south, eventually encountering in southern Sinaloa a group of four mounted Spanish soldiers looking for men to enslave. More than seven and a-half years had elapsed since the shipwreck on Galveston Island. This shipwreck influenced the history of the entire Southwest because of the interest in further exploration engendered by accounts of their ordeal.
Understandably, neither Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca nor his two Spanish companions had any desire to return to this new land where they had endured such hardships. Alonso del Castillo Maldonado and Andrés Dorantes de Carranca settled in New Spain while Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain. In later years Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca led a party from the coast of lower Brazil to a new colony in Paraguay where he had been appointed governor. Thus, he is not the progenitor of the New Mexico family of this name.
Estebánico was now the best man to go back. Unfortunately, he had no choice in the matter since he was a slave and had become a possession of the Viceroy. The Viceroy was one link in an elaborate administrative structure that governed the Spanish colonies. Initially, the administrative unit to which control was entrusted was El Consejo Real (the Council of Castile). This body was charged with the responsibility of advising the king and queen on matters of state. In time the authority of this body was transferred to the Real y Supremo Consejo de las Indias (Royal and Supreme Council of the Indies) which sat in Spain. Its sub-part was an audiencia, a group of five judges (oidores) responsible for assisting with the political, financial, and religious administration of a territory. The audiencia also served as a court of justice for civil and criminal cases and was responsible to the king through the viceroy.
The first viceroy appointed in the Americas was don Antonio de Mendoza in 1529. However, he did not arrive in the city of Mexico until six years later. Mendoza was concerned that although Cortés had been made a marquis and given extensive estates, he would try to extend his influence by seeking a further assignment. Mendoza, therefore moved more quickly than he had intended to set up a full-scale expedition to La Tierra Nueva, (the New Land to the Europeans). This was the territory described by Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, Estebánico and the other two Spaniards. His choice for this assignment was his friend Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. However, before he could send Vásquez de Coronado, he felt he needed more information to support the need for an expedition. For this preliminary assignment he chose a Franciscan priest, Marcos de Niza.
Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan priest of French or Italian origin, happily accepted this assignment and with Estebánico as his guide set out on March 7, 1539. They were accompanied by a small group of Indians who acted as porters and who provided a measure of protection to the two principals. Where they went is not known, although, suspiciously, they were only gone for six months, hardly enough time to have reached the area Fray Marcos said he did and returned.
According to Fray Marcos, he and Estebánico had split into two parties with the elaborately costumed Estebánico and his two greyhounds moving ahead to scout and report back regarding the people he met. The code they devised for this communication was for Estebánico to send back a small cross if he sighted a moderately sized settlement, two crosses if a bigger one, and a large cross if he sighted a city. Day by day messengers came back to Fray Marcos with crosses, each larger than the one he had received the day before until one day, Fray Marcos received a cross as tall as a man!
Excitedly, Fray Marcos, with the main group, hurried to catch up to the scouting party only to find the remnants of this latter group moving toward them. The survivors related they had found a great city at the base of a hill (likely Zuñi). Estebánico, they said, had in his possession a rattle that he had obtained in his wanderings with Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, a rattle that had apparently served him well in his work as a curandero. Estebánico sent this to the chief of the city as a token of friendship. The chief, they stated, insisted this was the rattle of his enemies and ordered the group to leave his territory. Estebánico refused and was killed.
Fray Marcos, coaxed two Indians from the scouting party to accompany him to the city. Fearing to approach too closely, however, he observed it from a distance, and built a mound of rocks on which he placed a small cross and named the immediate area “the new Kingdom of Saint Francis.” He also took possession of the greater area, “Cíbola,” for his king and viceroy. He then went east and planted two additional crosses and took even more land for Spain. With the remainder of his party, he then began retracing his steps toward Compostela and the City of Mexico.
Some historians have speculated that Fray Marcos did not go anywhere and did not find anything. The ruse perpetrated by Mendoza, they said, was for Fray Marcos to feign making a trip to La Tierra Nueva and to bring back a favorable report. The speculation further contends that Estebánico was not killed, but chose instead to stay in the north country rather than return to slavery. The purpose of the ruse was to give Mendoza permission to place Vásquez de Coronado in the field in advance of Cortés.
Viceroy Mendoza, with permission from the Council of the Indies, had already appointed Francisco Vásquez de Coronado to lead this first large-scale operation in the North, an enterprise for which Vásquez de Coronado himself had put up approximately a million of today’s dollars. On January 6, 1540, Vásquez de Coronado’s large force began assembling at Compostela, the jumping-off point for many of these expeditions.
This expedition was composed of over 300 Spanish soldiers, six Franciscans, more than 1,000 Indian allies, large herds of cattle and sheep to be used as a walking food supply and some 1,500 pack animals and horses. A few of the soldiers brought their wives and there were even some children, although this was not a colonizing expedition. The money, which Vásquez de Coronado had put up, was to pay for armor, food, and supplies. The soldiers were not paid, but hoped to receive Indian tribute.
Accompanied by an advance party and with Fray Marcos as his guide, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado moved ahead of the lumbering force that slowly made its way across tortuous terrain. It soon became apparent that the easy trails and fertile land described by Fray Marcos did not exist. The group began immediately to doubt the truthfulness of the favorable report Fray Marcos had filed regarding his explorations. Extremely disappointed by the results of these early ventures, Vásquez de Coronado dispatched a report by armed escort to Compostela. At the same time he sent back Fray Marcos who had proven to be totally unreliable. Vásquez de Coronado sent him home not only because he was angry with him, but also because he wanted to save him from being killed by his bitterly disappointed soldiers.
The advance party came first to Hawikuh, one of the villages among the six or seven towns at the pueblos of Zuñi. A splinter group then went to Hopi. At both locations they met with resistance from the Indians whose villages they visited. In both skirmishes the Spaniards prevailed, although Vásquez de Coronado was wounded slightly at Zuñi. Interestingly, because it reveals the character of the conquerors, the twenty-nine-year-old Vásquez de Coronado could not understand why the Indians would resist being overtaken. The rules of engagement under which he operated required he offer surrender to any group which mounted resistance. He begged them repeatedly to lay down their arms. They refused and their villages were sacked. The Spaniards were bent on exploring the interior and the Indians were equally bent on stopping them, if not by force of arms, then by guile.
Vásquez de Coronado then sent an exploratory group led by García López de Cárdenas west to the Colorado River, and these men became the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon. Hearing of the Pecos area from a party of Pecos Indians he met at Zuñi, Vásquez de Coronado also dispatched a second exploratory group to visit that region. This group led by Hernando Alvarado passed Ácoma and came to Tiguex where the Indians of this pueblo accepted the Spaniards in peace. They next went up the Rio Grande to Taos and then veered east to Pecos, the home of their guides. Here Alvarado’s group was turned over by the Pecos to a Plains Indian who was living at Pecos. With the Indian whom the Spaniards called El Turco (the Turk), the scouting party moved out from Pecos onto the buffalo plains. Their guide directed them even farther onto the vast prairie toward a rich land called “Quivira” which El Turco said lay toward the east. He said he had been to this land before and had been given a gold bracelet which was subsequently taken from him by the people of the Pecos. When Alvarado returned to the Pecos Pueblo with his group, he was told El Turco had lied and there had been no such bracelet.
Because the gold bracelet suggested the promise of riches at Quivira, Alvarado returned to Tiguex where he met Cárdenas whom Vásquez de Coronado had sent from Zuñi to prepare winter quarters for the expedition. Cárdenas had accomplished the housing of the Spanish soldiers by ordering the Indians of Tiguex (Tewa), a collective group of twelve pueblos near Bernalillo, to move out of one of the villages and seek shelter elsewhere. These were the people who had received Alvarado in peace and now in return they were being displaced.
Despite the manner in which the conquerors treated the Pueblo Indians, these villagers, whom they perceived as a brave and modest, impressed the Spaniards. Said Pedro de Castañeda de Nagera, the chronicler of the expedition, in speaking of the Zuñi; “There is no drunkenness among them, nor sodomy nor sacrifices, neither do they eat human flesh nor steal, but they are usually at work.” Now, however, they were at work for the Spaniards who paid them back by taking their food, blankets, women and houses.
Vásquez de Coronado, responsible for the 1100 individuals in his party, wintered at Tiguex. It was truly a horrible period for all; Spaniards and Indians. Vásquez de Coronado’s group, already in possession of one of the villages, made heavy demands upon the Indians among whom they lived. The Pueblo people retaliated by stealing the Spaniards’ horses. Vásquez de Coronado saw this as an uprising he must put down if his expedition was to survive. It was now a war of retribution with Cárdenas sacking the fortified pueblo of Arenal near present-day Alameda. The town was destroyed in a quick and bloody battle.
The war, however, was far from over. Many of the surviving warriors retreated to a pueblo named Moho (site unknown). The Spaniards lay siege to the place and after allowing the women and children to leave, killed most of the armed warriors as they tried to escape during the night. This series of events, in this clash of cultures, established the basis for the difficult relationship which was to exist between the Pueblo Indians and the Spaniards for many years.
In the spring of 1541, Vásquez de Coronado’s entire force was ready to move out onto the plains toward Quivira with El Turco as guide. The group now numbered about 1,500 including recently enslaved Pueblo Indians who acted as porters. Near present-day Amarillo, Texas, Vásquez de Coronado decided the terrain was becoming too rough for easy passage and with a contingent of about fifty, moved across the Oklahoma panhandle and into Kansas. He sent the remainder of the expeditionary forces back to Tiguex.
Rather than the gold bedecked natives of whom the Spaniards had been told, the Plains Indians they found were a poor tattooed people living in grass huts. El Turco finally admitted that the task given him by the Pecos Indians when the Spaniards first arrived in their territory was for him to lead the Spaniards out onto the plains and to lose them. Furious at this infamy, the Spaniards killed him. In bitter disappointment, the dispirited Spaniards returned for a second winter at Tiguex. Still feeling they had just missed finding the riches they sought, the Spaniards spoke of going back to Quivira the next year. These plans, however, were scuttled because Vásquez de Coronado suffered a fall from a horse and never fully recovered. During April of 1542, Vásquez de Coronado’s group, after having carried out one of the most extensive explorations ever undertaken in the New World, began the long arduous march back to Compostela. Their achievements were new extensive knowledge of La Tierra Nueva, and bitter relations with the people of the pueblos.
Difficult relations with the Indians appear to have stemmed from three sources: ignorance, greed, and the hostile feelings which the Spaniards had adopted toward other non-Christian groups. Although it may now be hard to believe, there was at this time some doubt in the minds of many otherwise intelligent people as to the exact nature of the aborigines they found in the Americas. Many Europeans argued they “were not really human beings, that they did not possess the power of reason” which separates men from the lower animals. This perception, arising among the intellectuals from the teachings of Aristotle who spoke of the destiny of some men to be free and others to be slaves, resulted in the Indians being treated as less than human by many Europeans.
Too, because of the confusion of the intellectuals in these matters, they appeared unwilling or unable to alter this perception. Pope Paul III had attempted to correct the abuses by his edict of 1537, Sublimis Deus, in which he stated: “The Indians . . . are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property . . . nor should they be in any way enslaved.” Because Pope Paul attempted to correct behavior without touching the faulty thinking on which it was predicated he was unsuccessful. In truth, however, it probably would not have mattered whatever he had said or done, for few seemed to be listening.
Following the Pope’s pronouncement, the Council of the Indies in 1542 issued its famous code of laws known as “The New Laws of the Indies for the Good Treatment and Preservation of the Indians.” “These regulations abolished slavery” of the Indians and “also prohibited the practice of the encomienda,” the Spanish institution in which a subject people were commended to a privileged few for the collection of tribute. These pronouncements and regulations were not taken kindly because colonization was so dependent on the encomienda system.
Moreover, the Spaniards were not too far beyond their experience with the Moors, the Caucasoid Arabs and Berbers of northwestern Africa. These people conquered Spain during the 700’s and were not expelled until 1492, not so coincidentally, the year in which Columbus “discovered” America. It was, in fact, Spain’s expulsion of the Moors which allowed it to turn its attention elsewhere in its march toward nationhood. Some of these Moors were Arabic speaking Muslims of Spanish or Turkish descent. In the minds of the Spaniards, all were infidels. The displacement of these hostile feelings from one non-Christian group onto another occurred quite easily. The subjugation of the hostiles whom they encountered in the “new world” seemed to them quite justified.
In 1550, Charles V of Spain issued a directive, unique in the entire history of the world. He ordered that no further expeditions be sent out or territories conquered until it could be determined whether or not exploration could be accomplished and colonization undertaken without doing an injustice to those whose lands were to be invaded. The new land was therefore to lie fallow for forty years after Vásquez de Coronado returned to New Spain in 1542. Her Catholic Majesties, Isabella, Charles V, and Philip II, meant well. The manner in which they resolved the question of “injustice” was to view the Indians as reasonable people who “deserved” to be Christianized. Once they embarked on this pursuit, they had to continue because they could not abandon those who had accepted baptism. Thus, the colonization and reconquest of New Mexico resulted from the perceptions of three devoutly religious monarchs who truly believed themselves responsible for these people they had discovered.
During the forty-year hiatus, the boundaries of New Spain moved ever northward. Silver was discovered at Zacatecas, and Durango and then at Chihuahua. New Mexico was still hundreds of miles away, but of primary importance, at least to the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Jesuits, the area held many thousands of souls awaiting conversion and baptism and these souls beckoned.
First to request permission to initiate missionary work in La Tierra Nueva during 1580 was a Franciscan lay brother named Agustín Rodríguez. The viceroy gave permission, but required that the missionary group be a small one. In addition to Rodríguez it contained two other priests, nineteen Indian servants, and nine soldiers under the command of Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado.41 This expedition set out with both exploratory and missionary objectives in June of 1581 after a year of preparatory discussion.
The group made a circuitous trek up the Rio Grande to Socorro, Tiguex, and Jémez, and then back to Pecos and the buffalo plains. Against the advice of the party, one of the missionaries left the group at this point to return to New Spain and was killed along the trail. The remainder of the group then went west past Ácoma to Zuñi, and then back to New Spain, leaving at Tiguex Fray Rodríguez, the other Franciscan and several Mexican Indian servants. On the way home Chamuscado became ill and died. He was buried near Santa Bárbara.
Almost immediately after Chamuscado’s men arrived in Santa Bárbara, rumors of the possible murder of the two priests by the Indians with whom they were left prompted a rescue party. The command of this little force was entrusted to Antonio de Espéjo who mounted an expedition at his own expense as was customary during this period. In November of 1582 he left Chihuahua with fourteen soldiers and Fray Bernardino Beltrán.
Upon their arrival in the north country, the rescue party learned the rumors were true, that the missionaries had been killed because the Pueblos with whom they were left saw them as sorcerers. The rescue party survived several skirmishes with the Pueblos, but did not attempt to avenge the deaths of the missionaries, as their second agenda was exploration. They traveled to Ácoma and Zuñi and then into what is now Arizona. Later they split into two very small groups, one returning to New Spain by following the Rio Grande, the second by following the Pecos River. Both groups returned safely with accounts of rich mineral deposits in the north country and great promise for exploitation of both this mineral wealth and the souls they found there. Espéjo is credited as the first to use the term Nuevo Mexico (New Mexico), likening the potential wealth of this new land to the richness of Mexico City.
By 1586 plans were being made to colonize the northern territories. But before an official colonizing expedition could be launched two unauthorized and illegal incursions occurred. Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, lieutenant governor of the state of Nuevo León, mounted the first of these. He recruited for colonization the entire population of the mining town of Almaden, today's Monclava. The mines at Monclava were beginning to play out and were no longer profitable. Castaño de Sosa decided to move the villagers north to establish a new colony. He notified the viceroy of his plans, but did not wait for authorization. With over 170 men, women, and children, he headed north. They crossed the Rio Grande at Del Rio, Texas, then continued north to the Pecos River, following it to the Pecos Pueblo. There they had a minor skirmish with the Indians. Castaño de Sosa then went north to Taos and south to the Rio Grande valley near the Santo Domingo Pueblo where he planted his colony.
Pleased with himself in having successfully transplanted Monclava, Castaño de Sosa sent a message back to the viceroy telling him what he had accomplished and asked for more soldiers, colonists, and supplies. Instead, the viceroy sent Juan Morlete to arrest him. Castaño de Sosa was sentenced, exiled and the colony dispersed. He was eventually exonerated and ordered back to become the first authorized governor of New Mexico. However, he was killed before he received word of his appointment.
The second illegal incursion was conducted by two Spanish soldiers, Francisco Leyva de Bonilla and Antonio Gutiérrez de Humaña, who, with a small party including Indians from New Spain, had been sent out to punish some rebellious Indians in Nueva Vizcaya (present-day Durango and Chihuahua). Having accomplished this, they continued north. This small group marched up the Rio Grande and settled among the Indians at Bové, later the San Ildefonso Pueblo near Española. Leyva and Gutiérrez hunted for treasure and stayed among the Indians for about a year before moving east out onto the plains.
It is believed they ventured as far as the Platte River in Nebraska. Here in a fight over command, Gutiérrez killed Leyva. Later, some of the Indians from New Spain deserted. On the way back south, the group was attacked by Indians who set fire to the surrounding prairie, killing all except for one soldier, Alonzo Sánchez and a mulatto girl who was with the party. Why the Indians with whom they remained spared these two is unknown. Information regarding Sánchez and the group came back to the Spaniards via Jusepe (or Jusepillo) Gutiérrez, one of the Indians who had abandoned the group and who was later found by Juan de Oñate at San Juan.
Thus, beginning with the exploits of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca who had neither intended nor wished to undertake his transcontinental trek, and extending to the treasure hunting of Francisco Leyva de Bonilla, who died among an unknown people on the bison plains, the stage was set for the colonization of New Mexico.