More to Explore

Coofor and Juan Aleman


Coofor and Juan Aleman

by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint

Few New Mexicans today are familiar with the name Coofor (CohOHfor) or its common variant Alcanfor. The name likely derives from the Tiwa Pueblo word ghufoor, which means "parched corn." Yet, Coofor, or Parched Corn Town, was the site of dramatic events in the 1540s that set the stage for the emergence of the state\'s chief metropolitan area, the Belen-Albuquerque-Bernalillo urbanization, where nearly half of the state\'s population now lives. The ruins of Coofor, which have been heavily eroded by the Rio Grande, lie today on the river\'s west bank opposite the south end of the town of Bernalillo.

In 1540, though, as it had been for several hundred years, Coofor was one of a dozen or more pueblos situated in the Albuquerque-Belen basin in which the Tiwa language was spoken. That language provided a name by which the whole group of pueblos was known, Tiguex (TEEwesh). Coofor was one of the largest of the Tiguex pueblos and probably played a decisive role in the political, social, and religious life of the entire Tiwa-speaking community. That life revolved around cultivation of irrigated crops, especially corn, squash, beans, and cotton, as well as trade of those products with other indigenous groups for such staples as bison hides and meat and ornamental and ceremonial goods such as turquoise, sea shells, and exotic feathers.

By the same route that shells and feathers came to Coofor from the Pacific coast of what is now Mexico, came the1540 Coronado expedition, a force at least 2,000 people, accompanied by over 7,000 head of livestock. After having overrun the Zuni pueblos of Cíbola and finding them unappealing as a long-term base, the expedition looked for better opportunities. One of those it heard about was Tiguex, the "heart of the pueblos."

To take a first look at that populous and thriving community, Captain Hernando de Alvarado and fray Juan de Padilla were sent from Cíbola with a Pueblo leader the Spaniards called Bigotes as guide and intermediary. The reconnaissance party probably entered the Rio Grande Valley along the broad corridor now used by Interstate 40, which brought it into the southern end of Tiguex. The diplomatic abilities of Bigotes elicited a seemingly cordial welcome from the Tiguex natives. "The principales [leaders] and people came from twelve pueblos. [They came] in order, those from one [pueblo] behind the other. They walked around our tent playing a flute, and an old man [was] speaking. In this [same] way they came into the tent and presented me with food, mantas, and hides they were carrying," wrote Alvarado later.

The pueblo where this ceremonial welcome occurred may well have been Coofor, because only it and its immediate neighbors are named in the surviving documents of the Coronado expedition. So impressed with Coofor, and Tiguex as a whole, were the captain and the friar that they sent a letter to the expedition\'s leader, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, suggesting that he and the rest of the expedition "come to that land to spend the winter." Accepting that advice, Vázquez de Coronado sent his maestre de campo, García López de Cárdenas, to Tiguex to prepare quarters for the winter.

It was to Coofor that López de Cárdenas traveled with a company of expeditionaries in fulfillment of his assignment. Cárdenas had the first of many conversations he and other members of the expedition were to have with the Pueblo leader known to the Spaniards as Juan Alemán. His name in the Tiwa language was likely Xauian (shaWEEan), which was rendered by the expeditionaries in various ways, including Juan Alemán, because he was said to resemble a German (or alemán in Spanish) then living in Mexico City. His home pueblo was Coofor, but he appears to have been more widely influential in Tiguex.

An agreement was struck, through an interpreter, between López de Cárdenas and the leaders of Coofor, including Juan Alemán. The expeditionaries were allowed to erect shelters nearby and the maestre de campo, unfamiliar with northern and central New Mexico\'s typically cold winters, planned at first "to build straw huts." But with the arrival of the first frigid foretaste of winter, it was painfully obvious that such construction would provide inadequate protection. López de Cárdenas "asked the Indians to provide quarters for him in the pueblo where they were, after which the Indians left it," according to one expeditionary. Another member of the expedition, however, reported more heavy-handed action by the maestre de campo: "Since it was important that the natives see, I mean give up, a place where the Spaniards would be lodged, they were forced to abandon one pueblo and were given shelter in the other pueblos of their friends. They did not take [with them] more than their persons and clothing."

Among those expelled from Coofor was Juan Alemán. If, as appears to have been the case, he had previously tried to accommodate the expedition\'s requests, his attitude soured decidedly with such coercive repayment of his and his neighbors\' hospitality. To this initial cause for enmity were added other provocations equally egregious. Juan Alemán\'s counterpart at Cicuique/Pecos Pueblo, Bigotes, was imprisoned and tortured by the very people for whom he had eased entry into Tiguex. The two men, Bigotes and Juan Alemán, were colleagues of sorts; leaders of similar status and rank within their separate pueblos; men who dealt with each other from time to time, perhaps even frequently, mostly with goodwill, as the reception of the Coronado expeditionaries arranged by Bigotes at Coofor demonstrates. Juan Alemán, thus, certainly felt personalized anger over the mistreatment of his friend and associate.

To add insult to injury, several European men from the expedition attacked Pueblo women. In one such case, the husband of the assaulted woman, along with Pueblo leaders, perhaps including Juan Alemán, complained forcefully to Vázquez de Coronado, then ensconced at Coofor. The captain general made a superficial effort to locate the offender, with the promise of punishing him. But in a lineup that was hastily arranged, the guilty man appeared in changed clothing and could not be singled out, although the husband could point out his horse. Vázquez de Coronado pushed the investigation no farther and dismissed the Pueblo delegation, only heightening resentment in Tiguex.

Yet another cause for animosity among the Pueblos was the expedition\'s practice of allowing its livestock to graze in the Indians\' harvested fields. That was an accepted practice at home in Spain, but in Tiguex it was viewed as theft. The cornstalks standing in the harvested fields, which were so relished as fodder by European horses, mules, and cattle, were a crucial stock of wintertime fuel for heating and cooking. To have that fuel consumed relentlessly by thousands of domesticated animals could not be countenanced.

The people of Tiguex rose up in arms and was recorded by expedition member Pedro de Castañeda de Nájera: "The next day an Indian from the expedition who had been guarding the horses came [to the pueblo of Coofor] wounded and in flight, saying that the Indians of that land had killed a companion [of his] and had taken the horses and driven them toward their pueblos. [The Spaniards] went to gather up the horses, but many were missing, as well as seven mules belonging to the general." Another member of the expedition reported that "One night they killed forty of our horses and mules which were roaming free in the countryside. [And] they fortified themselves in their pueblos." According to Vázquez de Coronado, Juan Alemán "had been with the army in the pueblo of Coofor and...was the principal instigator of the uprising."

In retaliation, members of the expedition attacked Arenal, Coofor\'s neighboring pueblo across the river. After a fierce struggle, the pueblo was taken, and dozens of Pueblo captives were executed, adding still further to the grievances of the people of Tiguex. "When the rest [of the Tiguex people] had seen this they abandoned their pueblos, except for two. One [was] the strongest of them all, at which the expedition spent two months."

It was now the depths of a very cold and snowy winter in the early days of 1541. The expeditionaries laid siege to the two strong pueblos, including one called Moho, several miles north of Coofor. It has not been identified precisely, but may have been on Santa Ana Mesa near present-day San Felipe Pueblo. Before opening hostilities, López de Cárdenas approached Moho with the intention of reading to its defenders a formal demand for submission to the Spanish crown known as the requerimiento. As the maestre de campo neared the pueblo\'s walls, three Pueblo men emerged from the fortified building. In the lead was Juan Alemán. He asked that López de Cárdenas lay aside his weapons, so that they could talk face to face.

Although urged not to by his subordinates, the maestre de campo complied. He and the three Indians converged. Several expeditionaries later testified as to what transpired next: "When he reached them, Juan Alemán came forward to embrace him. As he did that, the two [others] who came with him withdrew two small clubs they were secretly carrying behind their backs and struck him on the helmet, two such [powerful] blows that they nearly stunned him." Several other expeditionaries rode to López de Cárdenas\'s aid and just managed to snatch him away from likely death. Juan Alemán and his companions withdrew into the pueblo.

There followed a protracted siege, lasting two full months. A sullen standoff alternated with brief skirmishes and occasional negotiations. The people within the walls of Moho suffered severely from lack of food supplies and shortage of water, although they were aided twice by fortuitous snowfalls. Finally, though, "[the Indians] decided to leave [the pueblo], and so they did. Taking the women in the middle [of the group], they came forth during the quarter just before daybreak. Forty horsemen were keeping watch during that quarter, and they gave the call to arms. The [men-at-arms] in don Rodrigo Maldonado’s camp attacked [the Indians]. The enemies knocked one Spaniard and one horse down dead and wounded others. But [the men-at-arms] happened to break through and work slaughter among them until, [when] [the Indians] were withdrawing, [the men-at-arms] attacked them in the river, which was flowing rapidly and was extremely cold. Since the troop from thereal arrived very soon, those [Indians] who escaped death or injury were few."

The likelihood is that Juan Alemán died that night. He is not referred to again in the extant documents of the Coronado expedition. The surviving residents of Coofor did not return to their pueblo after that night until the expedition left the Rio Grande Valley in spring 1542. Later Spanish expeditions to New Mexico reported an inhabited pueblo at the same site, though it was referred to by other names: Palomares, Comise, and finally Santiago by the colonists led by Juan de Oñate in 1598. Sometime between 1629 and 1641, Coofor was permanently abandoned, as were many other Tiguex pueblos, probably as a consequence of rampant epidemic disease introduced from the Eastern Hemisphere by Hispanic colonists. The sudden disappearance of so many Tiwa people from Tiquex made possible the occupation of their former farmlands by the newcomers and the eventual foundation of both Albuquerque and Bernalillo.

Sources Used:

Barrett, Elinore M. Conquest and Catastrophe: Changing Rio Grande Pueblo Settlement patterns in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

Flint, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint, eds. and trs. Documents of the Coronado Expedition, 1539-1542: "They Were Not Familiar with His Majesty, nor Did They Wish to Be His Subjects. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2005.

Riley, Carroll L. Rio del Norte: People of the Upper Rio Grande from Earliest Times to the Pueblo Revolt. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995.

Tello, [fray] Antonio. Libro Segundo de la Crónica Miscelánea, en que se trata de la Conquista Espiritual y Temporal de la Santa Provincia de Xalisco en el Nuevo Reino de la Galicia y Nueva Vizcaya y Descubrimiento del Nuevo México. Guadalajara, México: La Republica Literaria, 1891. Reprint, México, D.F.: Editorial Porrúa, 1997.

Vierra, Bradley J. A Sixteenth-Century Spanish Campsite in the Tiguex Province. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico, 1989.

Vierra, Bradley J. and Stanley M. Hordes. "Let the Dust Settle: A Review of the Coronado Campsite in the Tiguex Province." In The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva: The 1540-1542 Route Across the Southwest, edited by Richard Flint and Shirley