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Observations on Pueblo-Spanish Relations in the Vargas Era
An Essay by Rick Hendricks
The cries of the muleteers rent the hot, dry air of desolate El Paso. Heavily laden wagons lurched forward, propelled by yoked oxen to the accompaniment of the high‑pitched squeal and roaring undertone of wood‑on‑wood axles. Fighting men, Spaniard and Pueblo ally alike, went about the humdrum if exhausting task of seeing that the livestock, horses and mules, and provisions were safely on the other side of the Rio Grande del Norte. As they toiled and sweated throughout the long afternoon, their thoughts turned to the battles that might lie ahead.
After months of preparation and delay, the day don Diego de Vargas so eagerly awaited had finally arrived‑‑Saturday 16 August 1692. Though he would remain another five days futilely expecting fifty men from the presidios of New Biscay, the Reconquest of New Mexico was under way. The advance was led by maestre de campo Roque Madrid, taking three squads, one hundred Indian allies, and the necessary provisions across the Rio Grande and upriver twenty-nine leagues to Robledo.
Far to the north in the walled city of Santa Fe, transformed by its inhabitants into a multistoried pueblo, the cooler mountain air was redolent with wood smoke from cooking fires and alive with the sounds of the similar dialects of its Tano and Tewa residents. An almost full moon shone dimly in the afternoon sky, the early corn crop and melons ripened in the fields. From their watchful scouts in the El Paso area, word would soon arrive that the noisy, malodorous Spaniards had crossed the river and were proceeding up the valley.
For some twelve years the Pueblos had lived largely free from interference by the Spaniards. They had cast off most of the trappings of European culture. Nevertheless, they remained wary of the Spaniards gathered in exile in the El Paso area, especially after don Domingo Jironza's brutal raid on Zia in 1689.
The events set into motion that otherwise uneventful Saturday, under the full moon during the season when the early corn and melons ripened, marked the beginning of another act in the drama that was the clash of cultures initiated by don Juan de Oñate in 1598. On the surface the events seem remarkably similar, but in fact, they were not. More important, they had very different results.
Who were the actors in this real-life New Mexican drama and how did they perceive the world around them? This brief paper will attempt some observations about the nature of Spaniard and Pueblo in the late seventeenth century by examining the role of elites in their respective societies and their articulation in the Vargas era, 1692 to 1704.
The existence of elites is not epiphenomenonal; rather it defines those members of a society who are imbued or entrusted with secular and or religious authority, or those who have status or responsibility. A study of elites is not, then, elitist; it does not diminish or devalue the role played by the common person, Pueblo or Spaniard. Because of time constraints, this discussion can only be developed in the most general terms, limited to societal norms relating to secular and religious authority as they can be apprehended from a point view removed by almost three centuries. It must be kept in mind that neither the Spanish nor Pueblo world was monolithic. Both permitted a certain range of responses, variety, and nuance from region to region and group to group.
Although for Spanish Catholics in the seventeenth century the church was inseparable from the state, realms of responsibility were clearly defined and understood. The secular elite on Spain's far northern frontier was predictable. It was made up of those men who had successfully manipulated the complex web of kinship and clientele relationships that served as the motor for empire. The Vargas era is represented by two strikingly different figures. Don Diego de Vargas, Spanish blue blood from the imperial core, the capital of Madrid, and Pedro Rodriguez Cubero, commoner from the periphery in the mountains of Granada. Despite their different backgrounds and classes, both men had to rely on kinship and clientele relationships to achieve a measure of success. Don Diego attained the coveted honor of a title of Castile, while don Pedro rose from humble origins to govern a province. Both men compiled the solid records in his majesty's service necessary for advancement, but both depended on friends and relatives at court to influence patronage and preferment. To some extent, status and responsibility could be purchased in the Spanish imperial system with money and influence. Success was measured by accumulation of personal wealth and social and political importance.
Religious authority was held by the Franciscan friars. The Franciscan missionary was charged with the special responsibility of the spiritual and corporal care of the Indian. He was himself characterized by his asceticism and devotion, while zealous in seeking martyrdom in the service of God.
The composition of what could be called the secular elite in late seventeenth‑century Pueblo society is more problematic. This essay draws heavily on Alfonso Ortiz's work with the Tewa and Triloki Nath Pandey's research on Zuni. Since perhaps as early as 1620, the Pueblos had elected officials to fill administrative posts created by the Spaniards. These offices were governor, two lieutenants, aguaciles, and priests' assistants called fiscales. The Spaniards tried to make these officials into Spanish elites by bestowing the honorific "don" on them and giving them the outward signs of authority in the Spanish world, such as horses, clothing, and canes. When Vargas led the Spanish return in 1692, he naturally sought out the pre‑Revolt Indian officials. These were the people in whom, according to the Spaniards' perceptions, all authority resided. Within the pre-Revolt Pueblo world, however, the governors were only a part of the hierarchy of authority. What role they played after 1680 is not entirely clear. Typically, these officers were selected from among those men who had demonstrated skill in dealing with the outside world, the so called outside chiefs.
War chiefs and their captains filled another level in the hierarchy. The captain and his lieutenant were associated with the Twin War Gods. These men were selected from among those who were knowledgeable about and dedicated to native ritual. It seems that these men were also younger and in good physical condition--the mocetones described in the documents who led Pueblo warfare.
Religious authority resided with the inside chiefs, who were drawn from the leading clans or else from the moieties, which alternated either annually or according to the winter and summer season. These men were responsible for the internal, spiritual
life of the pueblo. They could not take an active part in violence or warfare.
The most intriguing question about the relations between Pueblo and Spaniard in the Vargas era revolves around who was representative of authority figures among the Pueblos the Spaniards encountered. Whom did the Spaniard's perceive as important? Who were they and what role did they play in Pueblo society? When Vargas arrived at Santa Fe in 1692, he parleyed with one Antonio Bolsas, the Tano leader. From the foregoing discussion, it seems likely that Bolsas was either a war chief or an outside chief. If the latter is true, he must have been chosen some time after the Revolt because he was not sought out by the Spaniards as an official. The fact that he spoke Spanish very well, thus indicating a facility for dealing with the outside world, argues for his role as an outside chief or at least among those who might be chosen. The case of Luis Naranjo, described as an agitator in 1693 and a principal leader in 1696, is clearer. Because he actually led warriors in combat he must have been a war chief. What is puzzling is why the Spaniards did not punish him earlier. Perhaps the fact that he was a mixed-blood, a mulatto, led the Spaniards to believe he was more controllable. It is equally possible, however, that he felt especially discriminated against and had a special set of grievances against the Spaniards. This points to the fact that the Spaniards' perception of authority among the pueblos placed responsibility on the Spanish imposed imperial bureaucracy and its Indian officials, whom the Spaniards did routinely punish for others' actions. A final curious example is that of Luis el Picurí or Tupatú. According to Joe Sando, Tupatú was multilingual in pueblo languages, a characteristic of priests. Fortunately, his manner of dress when he met Vargas is recorded in the documents. Although it is possible to make too much of this, it is possible that his adornment was sufficiently unusual to merit its being noted. He is described as wearing a palmetto‑leaf headband with a conch shell ornament. That his adornment was mentioned in the documents may indicate that he functioned in a special role in society. The accumulation of shell was sanctioned by the gods of the Pueblo world and was associated with status. Could the trauma of the events have led to a break with tradition, forcing don Luis to violent action? Or was his choice of headgear a matter of taste?
In some respects access to elite status among the Pueblo was more egalitarian than in Spanish society. Positions of responsibility and authority were not as dependent on kinship and clientele relationships as in the empire. Maturity and having lived an exemplary life were keys to personal power as was knowledge of life-giving myth, legend, and lore. Rather than accumulation of wealth, a dearth of personal goods was highly respected. To be sure, however, some families received a greater measure of respect than others. Presumably, ties to such families might have improved chances of acquiring positions of responsibility.
Given these general characteristics for each elite group, a number of questions arise about the nature of the articulation between elites in the Vargas era.
When the Spaniards returned in 1692, they first attempted to contact the pre‑Revolt Indian officials. The physical characteristics of the New Mexican pueblos presented a surprisingly familiar physical environment to the Spaniard. From outward appearances, the pueblos reflected an urban, built environment. Therefore it was logical to assume that authority followed the anticipated norms of a European urban construct. It is manifestly unclear to what extent the Spaniards understood the Pueblo hierarchy and sociopolitical and religious organization. It is equally uncertain today how authority was ordered within the hierarchy. Some scholars suggest that the outside chiefs were subservient to the inside chiefs because of the general emphasis given to the sacred over the secular in Pueblo society. Others maintain that Pueblo factionalism resulted from the authority given by the Spaniards to the outside chiefs, thus exacerbating the potential divisiveness characterized by the duality inherent in Pueblo society. It seems quite possible that the Spaniards, while perceiving the spiritual role of inside chiefs, largely or completely misunderstood their role as civil authorities within the pueblo with ultimate authority to remove and replace outside chiefs, though Ramón Gutiérrez would have us believe that the Franciscan fathers knew full well the role of inside chiefs. In fact, he asserts that they tried to replace them as well as the war chiefs and many other authority figures in Pueblo society.
From their close observation of Spanish civil‑military and ecclesiastical authorities in pre‑Revolt New Mexico, the Pueblos had come to consider the Franciscans as countervailing authority to the civil‑military authorities. This perceived duality would have had a frame of reference within their own society. Their ability to manipulate this system, at times playing one authority off against the other, was characteristic of the earlier period. It seems likely that when the Spaniards returned, the Pueblos were slow to comprehend the fundamental alteration that had ocurred within the Spanish elite. The Vargas era had no real equal to the church‑state controversy of the pre‑Revolt period.
They also were forced, in practice, to surrender ultimate authority over the Pueblos, their charges.
One of the most puzzling questions in the whole Vargas period relates to the relatively peaceful reception of the 1692 reconnaissance. That the Spaniards caught the Pueblos off guard can be dismissed as extremely unlikely. What seems more probable is that the weak alliance that had coalesced in 1680 was in disarray. This seems to indicate conflict within and among Pueblo elites. It must be remembered that the revolt itself had evinced the full gamut of reactions from massacre to sheltering of Spaniards by different Pueblo groups.
The violent reaction to the 1693 colonizing expedition is more understandable, as is the 1696 revolt. It is also comprehensible that some groups, poorly used in resisting the Spaniards, allied themselves with the invaders.
With three hundred years of perspective, the Vargas era can be seen as the beginning of what John Kessell calls "pragmatic accommodation"; yet, when Spanish and Puebloan culture renewed their conflict, the initial reaction by the Pueblos was to drive the hated enemy out again. Perhaps because the Reconquest was first and foremost a military undertaking designed to secure New Spain's northern frontier against the French and end once and for all the rebellious demonstration effect of the Pueblos, it succeeded where the earlier attempt failed. At any rate, accommodation between common Pueblo and Spaniard only came about after the elites had settled the question of authority.