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Pueblo de Abiquiú - A Genízaro Community

By William H. Wroth

The present village of Abiquiú, founded in the eighteenth century, was built on top of the ruins of a prehistoric Tewa Pueblo, still known today as P’efu (other forms of this word are Phé shúu ú, Feshunun, and Avéshu).. When the ancestral Tewas, according to their traditional history, emerged from a lake in the north and began their southerly migration to the Rio Grande, they established several communities along the way, among them P’efu (Avéshu) which was pronounced by the Spaniards as Abiquiú. Based on archaeological evidence from Poe shú, a nearby ruin, P’efu most likely dates from the thirteenth century and was abandoned some time in the sixteenth century, probably due to drought and nomadic Indian raids. According to traditional Tewa and Hopi history, the residents moved south to the Tewa Pueblos of San Juan and Santa Clara in the Rio Grande valley where some of them remained, but the majority went to the west and ended up at Hopi where they became the Asa clan.

By the 1730s Hispanic settlers had begun to populate the Chama River valley and by 1744 at least 20 families were living in the Abiquiú area where they founded Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiú a few miles south of the present village. In 1742 as part of the ongoing effort to Christianize the Hopis, Fray Francisco Delgado and two other friars converted and brought 350 Hopi-Tewas back from Hopi villages to live at Jemez and Isleta Pueblos. About 24 of these Hopi-Tewas were resettled on the south end of the mesa at Abiquiú, forming the Plaza del Moquis. Moqui is the term used by Spanish authorities for the Hopis, possibly a self-designation or else derived from the Zuni term for Hopi.

The continual raiding of nomadic Indians resulted in frequent temporary abandonment of the Hispanic ranchos and plazas in this period, reaching a crisis level in 1747 when the Utes and Comanches attacked in force and caused the complete abandonment of Santa Rosa de Lima. In 1750 the Spanish authorities mandated the resettlement of Abiquiú, but the site was relocated upstream to its present location. Along with the reluctantly returning settlers were thirteen Indians identified as Moquis, probably the Hopi-Tewas who had settled on the mesa in 1742. The returning settlers continued to suffer from raids due to the lack of military protection provided by the government. To deal with this problem, in 1754 Governor Tomás Vélez Capuchín awarded a community land grant on the Abiquiú mesa above Santa Rosa de Lima to 34 genízaro families.

Genízaros were detribalized Indians who, usually as children, had been captured in intertribal warfare and then traded or sold to Hispanic settlers where they often served as servants, shepherds, or laborers. They were thus raised in Hispanic culture, speaking Spanish and becoming Christians, and were given Spanish names. Their origins included virtually all of the surrounding non-Pueblo tribes: Ute, Paiute, Comanche, Kiowa, Navajo, Apache, Pawnee, and others. The term genízaro comes to Spanish from Turkish yeni cheri (English janizary) meaning “new troops.” Governor Vélez Capuchín’s primary purpose in awarding a land grant to Genízaros was to give them a quasi-military function in protecting the vulnerable northwestern frontier of New Mexico from the raiding tribes. The particular origins of the 34 genízaro families sent to Abiquiú are not known, but it is likely that they had been living in and around the Hispanic settlements at Santa Fe and Santa Cruz de la Cañada. Once reaching adulthood, they lived either as indentured servants, thus protected by their masters, or else were independent but highly vulnerable. As Father Domínguez remarked in 1776, “they have no true home as hunger and the enemy pursue them from every side.” The awarding of a community grant to these Genízaro families, while serving the defensive purposes of the Spanish authorities, gave them the opportunity to own their homes and farm their own lands. It was the first non-Pueblo Indian community grant to be given in New Mexico, and the already settled Hopi-Tewas at Plaza del Moqui, were included as members.

The Pueblo de Abiquiú, as the new settlement was called, was named by Governor Vélez Capuchín “Santo Tomás de Abiquiú.” Domínguez notes, however, that the patron saint Santo Tomás was little regarded in the community; instead the residents paid homage to Santa Rosa de Lima: “they celebrate the feast of this female saint, and not that of the masculine saint, annually as their patron.” Today the feast days of both saints are celebrated in Abiquiú. A new church and convento were begun at the Pueblo in the 1750s and finally finished in the 1770s, and the community was placed under the spiritual ministry of the Franciscan friars with Fray Juan José Toledo in residence from 1756 to 1771.

A major issue in this period was the accusation of the practice of sorcery and witchcraft by some community members who were even said to have tried to kill Father Toledo with their spells. During the trial which went on for ten years (1756-1766), suspected sorcerers and witches were jailed and flogged. Pagan idols were found and destroyed, and the destruction included several ancestral Pueblo shrines in the area. It was a complicated situation, but clearly was a case of cultural conflict and incomprehension. The religious authorities, although more tolerant after the 1696 Re-conquest, used the witchcraft issue as a means to suppress expressions of indigenous religion and cultural practices, such as traditional methods of healing. It was an attempt to bring the Genízaro community into more complete conformity with Catholic practice. Although the immediate issue quieted down in the 1760s, indigenous religious expressions continued into the twentieth century. Tewa ceremonial dances accompanied by singers from San Juan Pueblo were performed during the annual feast days at Abiquiú until the 1930s.

Peace was established with the Utes and Comanches in the late 1700s, allowing more Hispanic settlers to spread out onto fertile lands near Abiquiú, where large sheep and cattle ranches were established. The Pueblo itself became an important trading center and the site of annual autumn trade fairs in which the Utes and other tribes took part, bartering tanned deerskins for tools and horses. Here also captive children, and some times adults, were bartered and sold. The Ute Indians maintained a close relationship with the people of Abiquiú, sometimes trading with the same families for generations. Several Ute bands spent the cold winter months in New Mexico, often camping close to Abiquiú. A nearby creek now known as Chihuahueños Creek is identified on old maps as Chahuaguas or Sabuaganas Creek. The Sabuaganas were a Ute band who wintered in that location every year.

Good relations with the Ute Indians deteriorated in the 1800s due to Ute concern with the expanding Hispanic settlements into their traditional territory along the northern reaches of the Chama River and other waterways. The situation reached a head in September 1844 when a large company of more than 1000 aggrieved Utes came to Abiquiú with a list of complaints which included attacks on Ute camps by Hispanic soldiers the winter before. Receiving no satisfaction in Abiquiú, six Ute chiefs and 108 mounted and armed warriors continued on to Santa Fe to meet with Governor Mariano Martínez in the Palace of the Governors. The meeting deteriorated into a fight in which eight of the Utes were killed. According to Governor Martínez’s official report, he acted in self defense; in Ute oral tradition, a different story was told of ambush and deceit. The rest of the Utes quickly left Santa Fe and began a new period of raiding in the Abiquiú area.

This period of hostility lasted until after the American occupation when in December 1849 Indian agent James S. Calhoun signed a peace treaty with the Utes in Abiquiú, in which they agreed to stop raiding in exchange for financial aid and the protection of the United States government. In 1854 Abiquiú became the location of one of the first two agencies for the Utes (the other being at Taos), and the agency soon was responsible for the Jicarilla Apaches who were also living in the area. In August 1855 Governor David Meriwether met with a delegation of Muache Utes and Jicarilla Apaches and made treaties with them in which the Indians again agreed to stop raiding and to give up claims to all lands outside of the reservations to be established for them. Meriwether on behalf of the government agreed to provide regular subsidies of foodstuffs and to give both tribes a reservation, but the treaty, possibly because of objections from Abiquiú area settlers, was never ratified by Congress. The Abiquiú agency was closed in 1877 and the Utes were moved to reservation lands in Colorado. The status of the Jicarillas remained in limbo until 1886 when the government finally established a reservation for them in New Mexico, northwest of Abiquiú.

In the period of Mexican sovereignty (1821-1846) the communal lands of the Pueblo de Abiquiú came under threat. The philosophy of classical eighteenth-century liberalism enshrined in the Mexican constitution of 1824 held that communal lands impeded individual liberties, were often not well utilized, and should be distributed to individual owners. Under the new government each family of the Pueblo was to be given individual title to the land they farmed within the grant. The actual land division proved very difficult and controversial. A major dispute over the location of the southern boundary of the community grant was disputed and the assigning of individual titles was not completed until 1841.

The land issues continued in the American period as the same philosophy of individual land ownership prevailed among the Americans. The people of the Pueblo de Abiquiú were ill-equipped to deal with the complicated American legal system and especially with unscrupulous officials, lawyers and speculators. The problem was aggravated by the government’s view that communal land grants, if not actively farmed, were unclaimed public lands to be distributed. The Pueblo de Abiquiú, however, was able to protect its land grant thanks to having a well-documented history of ownership and use. In 1894 the Court of Private Land Claims validated the entire 16,000 acre community land grant, but a dispute over the actual northern boundary of the grant delayed the final patent until 1909. The fate of other nearby land grants was not as clear. The Piedra Lumbre grant was claimed by Thomas B. Catron, of the notorious Santa Fe Ring, and a group of entrepreneurs who eventually gained ownership of two-thirds of the grant. Efforts in the mid-twentieth century to return some National Forest lands near Abiquiú to Hispanic families claiming them were successful in1969, thanks to negotiations initiated by the Presbyterian-owned Ghost Ranch. In the late twentieth century private land sales to outsiders, mostly Anglo-Americans in retreat from urban life have burgeoned as have real estate prices in the Abiquiú area. The community lands, however, are still well protected and will aid in the protection of core community values in the future.

Sources used:


Adams, Eleanor B. and Fray Angelico Chavez, eds. The Missions of New Mexico, 1776. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1956.

Chavez, Fray Angelico. Genízaros. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 9: Southwest. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1979.

Córdova, Gilberto Benito. Abiquiu and Don Cacahuate. Cerrillos: San Marcos Press, 1973.

Ebright, Malcolm and Rick Hendricks. The Witches of Abiquiu: The Governor, the Priest, the Genizaro Indians, and the Devil. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Kessell, John L. The Missions of New Mexico since 1776. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1980.

Kessell, John L. “Sources for the History of a New Mexico Community: Abiquiu.” In: New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 54, no. 4 (1979).

Poling-Kempes, Lesley. Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.