by Malcolm Ebright

Genízaros, according to the traditional short definition, are Indian captives sold to Spaniards who then became household servants.  Most Genízaros in New Mexico were Plains Indians captured by other Plains tribes and then sold to individual Hispanos or Pueblos. The legal basis for this arrangement is found in the laws of the Recopilacíon de Leyes de Reynos de las Indias 1681, which justified the purchase of captives under the Christian obligation to ransom captive Indians.  The practice was given further sanction in 1694 when a group of Navajo brought Pawnee children to New Mexico to sell to the Spanish.  When the Spaniards refused to purchase the captives, the Navajos beheaded the children!  After this, Charles II, King of Spain from1665-1700, ordered that, if necessary, royal funds be used to purchase captives to avoid such an atrocity.

Traffic in Genízaros was also sanctioned by the government as a method of Christianizing Indian captives. Teaching their servants Christian doctrine was however often ignored by the Spaniards and more emphasis was placed on the amount of work Genízaro servants performed. The value of Genízaro servants varied: eighty pesos was paid for Pedro de la Cruz (to be discussed later) and fifteen mares (about one hundred fifty pesos) were paid for an Apache captive in 1731.  According to Christian doctrine, once the process of Christianization had occurred and Genízaros had earned enough to pay off his their ransom, they were supposed to be freed. The standard wage for a Genízaro was three to five pesos per month, depending on the length of their service.

Genízaros were purchased at annual trade fairs held at Pecos, Taos, and Abiquiú where they were considered one of the most profitable commodities; the “richest treasure for the governor,” in the words of the Fray Pedro Serrano.  Genízaros were marked with a very low social status because they were neither Spanish nor Indian; thus, it was difficult for them to obtain land, livestock, or other property required to make a living.  Some Genízaros, however, such as Juana “La Galvana” Hurtado were able to use their contacts in both Hispanic and Native American worlds to their advantage, acquiring land, livestock, and a substantial amount of material goods, though they retained their Genízaro status.

The first-known group of Genízaros in New Mexico lived in the Analco barrio of Santa Fe, south of the Santa Fe River. They replaced the Tlascalan Indians from central Mexico who were the first occupants of Analco before the Pueblo Revolt. This first Genízaro community may have been established as part of the Analco church of San Miguel even before Governor Pedro de Peralta (1610–14) moved the capitol from San Gabriel to Santa Fe in 1610. During the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, the Pueblos burned the church of San Miguel and almost wiped out the Analco settlement on the first day of the revolt, unleashing particular fury there.  This may have occurred due to Pueblo Indian jealousy over the special treatment the Spaniards accorded these Indians from New Spain, some of whom are said to have had Pueblo servants.

Genízaros often spent most of their lives as servant/slaves in New Mexico households.  In the contemporary documents they are called criados, genízaros, and Indio-genízaros.  They were accorded few rights and were often physically abused.  At the time, they were not considered slaves because when their term of servitude was completed, they were to become free. It was not always clear, however, how long this term lasted.  Many Genízaro owners attempted to keep the term of service vague so that they could continue to reap the benefit of Genízaro labor long after they had completed their term of service. Spanish law differentiated between the purchase of captives for use as servants who would eventually be freed, and outright slavery, which was prohibited in the Americas, largely due of the influence of fray Bartolomé de las Casas, 1484-1566, and his books decrying Spanish mistreatment of the Indians.

The primary elements of Genízaro status were servitude or captivity and Indian blood.  Within these two factors there were numerous variations, often situationally defined. Some Genízaros might be considered Spaniards in the community where they lived, but were seen as Genízaros by the people with whom they interacted elsewhere.  Genízaros lived in pueblos such as Taos, San Juan, Santa Clara, and Nambe where they served as domestic labor for Pueblo families.  Genízaros were sometimes purchased by other Genízaros, as well as by Pueblo Indians and New Mexican Hispanos.  Some Genízaros maintained contact with their tribe or pueblo of origin, a connection they used to their advantage in trade with those groups outside of the annual trade fairs.  After being released from service to a master and given land in a frontier community, many Genízaros retained their Genízaro status within Genízaro communities such as Santo Tomás de Abiquiú, or the plaza at Belen called Nuestra Señora de los Genízaros.  The population of Genízaro plazas such as Santo Tomás de Abiquiú remained relatively constant, as many former Genízaros assimilated into surrounding plazas and became full-fledged Spanish citizens through marriage to Spaniards.  The Genízaro official classification in mid-eighteenth-century New Mexico often varied depending on the somewhat subjective scrutiny of the census-taker.

The practice of trading in Indian captives to be used as servants was closely connected to Indian warfare and Hispano raiding. Slave-raiding by Hispanos perpetuated the Indian wars in that slaving was often the catalyst for hostilities, and the resulting wars were often used as a cover for the “harvesting” of new crops of servant/slaves.  Manuel Mestas, Andrés and Lucrecio Muñiz, and Pedro Luján are examples of Genízaros who eventually acquired vecino (land-owning Hispanic citizen) status largely through their trading – often for Indian captives – with the Utes.

In 1749 when Tomás Vélez Cachupín replaced Joaquín Codallos y Rabal as governor of New Mexico, there was a dramatic shift in the attitude of the Spanish government toward Genízaros. Before Vélez Cachupín, the judicial climate was not favorable to Pueblo Indians or Genízaros.  When Governor Vélez Cachupín arrived in New Mexico in 1749, he found a frontier province surrounded by hostile Ute, Apache, Comanche, and Navajo tribes.  One of his responses was to expand Spanish settlement beyond the settled areas and into the periphery of the Spanish Kindom, making peace with friendly Indians when possible and fighting hostile ones when necessary. Once the governor had achieved a tentative peace with the surrounding indigenous peoples, he was able to turn his attention to the Genízaros who complained of mistreatment at the hands of their Spanish masters.  The Genízaros sought independence and land of their own. Vélez Cachupín’s approach to lawsuits involving Genízaros was generally sympathetic, often giving them the relief they requested. He was much more concerned with the treatment of Genízaros than previous governors had been and he found ways to bring more Genízaros into frontier settlements such as Abiquiú, though his motives were not entirely altruistic—he wanted communities on the periphery of Spanish settlement as a buffer against hostile Indian attacks.

Governor Vélez Cachupín gave testimony about the Genízaros in his report to the viceroy as part of the Abiquiú witchcraft trials.  He described the Genízaros as: “perverse, lazy, and with such serious vices, that they are most difficult to regulate and subdue, because they and their families love the life of the vagabond. They move from one place to another within these areas, causing much damage to the planted fields and livestock, living by theft without respect of justice. They are quarrelsome and stubborn in their ways, especially in their love of gambling.”  The governor’s harsh opinion was slightly softened by his judgment that Genízaros were the best Indian fighters, whether they served as auxiliaries to Spanish troops or lived in frontier settlements such as Abiquiú, Ojo Caliente, or San Miguel del Bado. Vélez Cachupín believed that the negative character traits of the Genízaros were due, not to any “innate propensity,” but to a lack of proper training by their masters, who typically employed them as shepherds and wood-gatherers and failed to teach them Christian doctrine. Vélez Cachupín’s opinion was informed by the many complaints he received from Genízaros regarding their ill treatment. Often he removed complaining Genízaros from abusive masters, assigned them to other households, or emancipated them and sent them to be part of the Abiquiú Genízaro grant.  Vélez Cachupín believed that the nomadic lifestyle of the Genízaros was “totally free and restless because they do not have possessions or a proper place to live.”

The Genízaros who settled in Abiquiú on the land granted them by Governor Vélez Cachupín were primarily Hopis, Plains Indians, and some Tewas from nearby Pueblos.  At the time of the Abiquiú witch trials in 1760-66, Genízaros, like other people of New Mexico, were influenced by a multitude of cultures including Hopi, Hispano, Rio Grande Pueblos, Plains Indians, Utes, Navajos, Kiowas, Pawnees, Apaches, and Comanches but the Genízaros also had tribal affiliations.  Over the course of many years this tribal affiliation became lost among the Genízaros and they would simply be identified as Genízaros or “Indians of unknown parentage.”  Beginning in the early nineteenth century, many individuals would cease to call themselves Genízaro, a liminal identity that marked one as lower status.  Genízaros would eventually refer to themselves as Spaniards, especially after they were freed and had married. The term “Genízaro” gradually disappeared as a designation of casta (caste), although the practice of Hispanic households keeping such Indian servants continued into the late nineteenth century.

Today, individuals of Genízaro ancestry from Abiquiú might consider themselves Hispano throughout the year, but on the Abiquiú feast day of Santo Tomás, in late November, they identify themselves as Indians.  Among the most solemn dances performed at the Abiquiú feast day are El Nanillé and Los Cánticos del Cementerio, performed in front of the church.  The Nanillé is danced to the cadence of the tombé, or hand drum, and includes words such as “nanillé” that no one recognizes.  To some the song sounds Navajo, to others it is similar to the Tewa eagle dance from Jemez.  The origins of the Abiquiú songs, dances, and pantomimes, still performed on the November feast day, remain enigmatic.

One of the pantomimes performed at the Abiquiú feast day directly confronts the experience of captivity that is at the heart of the Genízaro experience.  As described in Nuevo Mexico Profundo,  “A cautivo is taken prisoner from the crowd and presented to the people with a shout of ‘¿Quién lo conoce?’—‘Who knows this person?’  Someone comes forward with the desempeño [ransom], which is paid to the singers. If nobody claims the captive, the person remains the ‘property’ of the singers.”  This pantomime beautifully encapsulates the nature of the Genízaro experience as being in the middle, living in two worlds with the possibility of incorporating the best of those worlds into the Genízaro identity.


1712 Apache captives/servants attempt to escape with horses.  SANM II: 178.

1732 Governor Cruzat y Gongora prohibited the practice of Spaniards selling genizaros to friendly tribes who would later sell them back to other Spaniards.  SANM II: 378.

1733 Petition by an anonymous advocate on behalf of 100 genízaro Indians (Apache, Kiowa, Pawnee, Ute, and Jumano) who wanted to form a new settlement at the abandoned Sandia Pueblo.  Governor Cruzat y Gongora demanded that the Genízaros identify themselves by name and tribe.  Only 25 did (17 families and eight single males).  Then Cruzat y Gongora denied the petition.  SANM I: 1208.

1744 Fray Miguel Menchero noted that the importance of the Taos trade fair was that Plains Indians entered the pueblo to sell captives.

1744 Fray Pedro Serrano referred to Genízaros as “the richest treasures for the governor.”

1746 Antonio Casados, a Kiowa genízaro who had been purchased by a genízaro servant of Sebastian Martin, claimed to be the captain of a genízaro pueblo at Belen.  He traveled to Mexico City where, with the help of a lawyer he presented a petition directly to the viceroy seeking recognition of the genízaro pueblo and eviction of all Spaniards.  The viceroy ordered Governor Codallos y Rabal to comply or pay a 1,000 peso fine.  Instead, when Casados appeared in Santa Fe with 70 Pueblo Indians, the governor put him in jail and proceeded to hold the hearing ordered by the viceroy.  There is no record of the decision, though the Belen grant to Diego Torres remained in effect with several settlements of Genizaros on the grant.  SANM I: 183.

1746 Diego Torres, one of the grantees of the 1740 Belen grant, brought some 20 Genizaros to the grant to help populate and defend it.

1750 Genizaros constituted 10% of the population.  In Belen the 1750 census showed a population of 68 Genizaros.

1751 To communicate with certain Comanche hostages, Governor Vélez Cachupín used as an interpreter a Kiowa woman who had been captured by the Comanche, then captured by the Utes in a raid and finally purchased by Antonio Martín.

1754 Tomás Vélez Cachupín makes a grant at Abiquiú to 60 families who settle in the Genízaro plaza of Santo Tomás which grew up next to the Hispanic community of Santa Rosa de la Capilla.

1764 Governor Vélez Cachupín made the San Gabriel de las Nutrias grant to a group of people from Tome and the Rio Arriba area.  The grant was within the common lands of the Belen grant and the first census by Alcalde Miguel Lucero found 2 Genizaros, 2 coyotes (mixed blood children of a Genízaro) and one Navajo.  SANM I: 780.

1765 Iturbieta v. Gallegos refers to Genízaro land on the opposite side of the acequia from the Spaniards. It was used in common by Genizaros, and was not allotted like the lands of the Spaniards.  SANM I: 362.

1766 Gertrudes de Cuellar and José María Montaño, genízaro Indians, complain to Governor Vélez Cachupín about the abuses suffered at the hands of Teniente Juan Bautista Montaño who purchased José María nine years earlier for about 80 pesos in sheep and a little more.  Cuellar tells Vélez Cachupín that her husband has worked for Juan Bautista Montaño for ten years yet Montaño will not allow José María to leave unless he pays him 100 pesos or agrees to serve him for another five years.

1776 Genizaros made up 54 % of the population of Abiquiú (136/254), with the average family size was 2.9 for Genizaros and 5.2 for Hispanos.

1776 Within the villa of Santa Fe there was a total of 1167 persons including 42 families of Genízaros.  Thus 14% of Santa Fe residents were Genízaro.

1794 San Miguel del Bado grant was made in 1794 with initial settlement beginning around 1798.  The grant was made to Lorenzo Marquez and 51 others at least 13 of whom were Genizaros.



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Head, Lafayette.  “Statement of Mr. Head of Abiquiú in Regard of the Buying and Selling of Payutahs, 30 April 1852.”  Doc. no. 2150, Ritch Collection of Papers Pertaining to New Mexico, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
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Pinart Collection, PE 52:28,  Governor Tomás Vélez Cachupín, Decree, Santa Fe, 24 May 1766; PE 55:3,  1790 Census for Abiquiú.
SANM I: 85, 183, 494, 780, 1208, 1258.
SANM II: 477, 523, 555, 573.

Indians, Spaniards, captives, servants, Pueblos, status; Genizaros

Genízaros, according to the traditional short definition, are Indian captives sold to Spaniards who then became household servants.  Most Genízaros in New Mexico were Plains Indians captured by other Plains tribes and then sold to individual Hispanos or Pueblos. The legal basis for this arrangement is found in the laws of the Recopilacíon de Leyes de Reynos de las Indias 1681, which justified the purchase of captives under the Christian obligation to ransom captive Indians.