The Spanish and New Mexico…some information


SPANISH CONQUEST ADORES SEARCH FOR THE CITIES OF GOLD
Nearly 100 years before the Pilgrims landed on the eastern coast of the continent to establish the colonies which were to become the United States, the Spanish explorer and Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, arrived in the area of Zuni to look for the fabled cities of gold said to exist there. After a journey of more than two months from Mexico, this adventuresome padre reached a point about forty miles south of present-day Gallup, where, on May 23, 1539, he built a large mound of stone with a cross on top, and dedicated the region to Saint Francis. Fray de Niza was overly exuberant in his description of the area he had found and soon sent word back to Mexico that great riches were to be found. In response to this very glowing report, many Spaniards wanted to lead expeditions to explore the northern country to find the Seven Cities of Gold. The first group was led by Francisco Vasquez Coronado who traveled with 300 Spaniards and 800 Indian allies. They arrived at Cibola in July 1540, after traveling for four months from Mexico City. Coronado’s group included Franciscan friars who were instrumental in convincing the native population that the Spaniards were there to bring peace and friendship. Later in the century, the friars accompanied the colonization groups arriving in the territory to begin their evangelization work. Fray Augustin Rodriquez, then at San Bartolome in Mexico, had heard of people living in the north and set about making arrangements to travel to the area. His small group, with two jother friars, started off from Mexico in June 1581, visiting all of the pueblos in the Rio Grande Valley as well as Zuni and Acoma. They systematically examined each pueblo giving an excellent and accurate description of each one. Instead of returning to Mexico, the two friars remained at Puaray Pueblo where they were later martyred.

THE ESPEJO EXPEDITION
The Franciscans back in Mexico were concerned about the safety of the friars who were left alone in New Mexico and quickly organized an expedition led by Antonio de Espejo. This group, accompanied by Fray Bernardino Beltran, left Mexico on Nov. 19, 1582, and followed the same route of the previous expedition. After reaching Acoma, they traveled to Cibola, where they found three Christian Indians who had gone there with Coronado. This expedition was well described by the chronicler of the party, Diego Perez de Luxan. Espejo learned about the Hopi country from the natives of Zuni. With a large number of Zuni Indians and three Mexican Indians, he went there and found five pueblos. The Hopis greeted the Spaniards in a friendly and hospitable manner. At Awatobi pueblo, they were given food for their return trip to Zuni. Espejo had gained the good will of the Hopi people. Espejo then visited the village of Acoma and was received kindly there as well.

A COLONY IS ESTABLISHED
In 1598, the first colonization expedition was organized under the leadership of Juan de Onate, who was named governor of the new territory. As he traveled through New Mexico, he received the allegiance of the Pueblo Indians. Franciscan friars were assigned to the pueblos along the route, in order to convert the natives to Christianity. Although he had verbal assurance of obedience to the crown, the chief at Acoma planned to trap and kill Onate, but was unsuccessful. The chief was later successful in attacking the nephew of Onate and his company of soldiers, killing all but four. This occurred in 1599. In retaliation, bloody assaults were made by the Spaniards in which hundreds of men were killed. Others were sentenced to having the right foot cut off, followed by twenty years of forced labor. The women and children were also sentenced to a similar period of hard labor. Onate’s expedition then traveled to the first Zuni pueblo, arriving on All Saints Day, 1598. There the natives gave them food. In all the Zuni villages he found crosses being venerated by the Zunis. He then traveled to the Hopi villages, again receiving formal submission and being entertained well by the Hopi. The administration of the Zuni and other pueblos was assigned to Fray Andres Corchado, but no missions were established there at this time. While the colonies were being established, the Franciscan friars organized the Custodia de la Conversion de San Pablo del Nuevo Mexico. The exact date of this is not known, but is thought to be about 1616-1617. It was part of the Provincia de Santo Evangelio de Mexico, with its headquarters at the El Gran Convento in Mexico City. There is no evidence that the Custodia was ever raised to a provincial status. Fray Estevan de Perea was elected the first custodian and served until 1621. He was elected to another term of office at a later time. He and the subsequent ecclesiastical leaders had their headquarters at Santa Fe and were given the rank of Titular Prelate. Following Fray Estevan’s first term, Fray Alonzo de Benavides was appointed custodian. He visited all the pueblos and found that the natives were responding to the evangelization efforts of the friars. He asked for more missionaries to carry on this work. In response to his report of 1626, the King of Spain ordered that 30 more friars be sent to accomplish the work. For many years, all of the Franciscan mission activities in the area had the material support of the King of Spain. It seems he and his advisors regarded this new land valuable only because of the mission work to be done. One visitor to Hopi, Fray Estevan de Perea, wrote of the similarity of the land to Spain. He wrote a glowing report of their well-built homes, their industriousness, and their values.

EARLY MISSIONARIES RECEIVE COOL WELCOME
In 1629, priest arrived at Acoma and Hopi with greatly different welcomes. Based on a report of previous visitors, Fathers Francisco Porras and Andres Gutierrez, along with Brother Cristobal de la Concepcion, expected a warm welcome. They did not know that someone from another pueblo had arrived before them, spreading tales about the friars. The people were told that the friars were arriving to do them harm by burning their homes, stealing their property and killing their children. They were warned not to allow the padres to “sprinkle water” on their heads because it would mean death. Thus, the group found a very cold welcome. They posted guards about their camp, and on the second night after their arrival, they were alerted in time to defend themselves against an armed attack. The Hopis attacked again the next night. The Spaniards ended the attacks by threatening to call an entire army to their defense. The people remained very wary as the friars tried to preach the new faith throughout the village. The people of Awatobi and some of the other villages came to listen. Even though the friars gave them gifts of rattles, beads, hatchets, knives and other objects, their attitude was not softened. They continued to recall the warning they had received from another village. Finally, an incident occurred that changed their attitude. Father Alonzo de Benavides wrote a lengthy report of the incident in 1636, but the incident has never been authenticated by the Church. According to Benavides, Father Francisco had brought with them a cross that had belonged to a Spanish nun of the time, Madre Luisa de Carrion. This cross had a history of apparitions and miraculous conversions. He displayed the cross to the people of Awatobi and told them the story of the Passion and death of our Lord. He failed to gain a favorable response. Meanwhile, the leaders continued encouraging the people to put the priests to death. The presence of the military that accompanied the priests probably prevented the people from carrying out their execution.

BLIND BOY CURED
One day, a group of Hopi people came to Father Francisco, caring with them a young boy who had been born blind. They offered the priest a choice, either cure the boy’s blindness or be slain. If he could carry out their request, they would consent to conversion. Fray Francisco quickly dropped to his knees and began to pray earnestly while lifting the cross toward heaven. It is reported that he arose, continued praying and placed the cross over the boy’s eyes. Benavides reported that the boy cried out aloud, exclaiming that he could see. The people carried the boy through the streets, telling what had occurred and urging conversion. Following this event, many people were impressed by the power of the priest and his religion and asked for conversion. They regarded the priest and brothers with love and respect. Within four years, missions and visitas were established. The village leaders did not share this respect and enthusiasm for the friars and the new faith they wanted to bring to the village. Their hatred and resentment only deepened. They were angry at losing their position of power and respect from the people and were waiting for an opportunity to gain revenge. They made careful plans and on June 28, 1633, an opportunity presented itself.

FRAY FRANCISCO PORRAS IS KILLED
Father Francisco was at Walpi for the day, and poison was put into his food. He quickly realized that he had eaten poisoned food and hurried to the mission at Shungopavi where he received last rites from his colleague. He died after reciting the psalm, “Into they hands, Oh Lord, I commend by spirit.”

ACOMA MISSION ESTABLISHED
At Acoma, things proceeded quite differently. What started as hostility changed into love and respect. Although Fray Juan Ramirez was not the first priest assigned to Acoma, he was the first to finally go there. The deep hostility of the people because of the reprisals on them following the attack on Onate’s nephew, Juan Zaldiver, had prevented the previously assigned priests from carrying out their assignments from the Church. Father Juan had just arrived from old Mexico to serve in the new Custodia. He set out alone and on foot for Acoma, carrying only food, a breviary and a cross. In the face of the hostility, he began his journey up the only trail that led to the top of the 357-foot cliff. The people watched his ascent, throwing rocks at him and a few men shot arrows at him, but he continued unharmed. At this point, a little girl plunged over the edge of the cliff, falling 60 feet and landing on a pointed rock. It is not certain what caused the fall, but the people were stunned. He rushed over to where the little girl had fallen and knelt in prayer. Then he picked her up and carried her to the top of the rock. He gave the child to her parents who discovered that she had not even been bruised. None of this occurrence has been proven. The Acoma people allowed him to enter the village, but still retained their hostility. Soon after, they submitted to him as if he was one with supernatural powers. With this change in attitude, he sent about swiftly to carry out the work of V conversion and began plans for a Church to be constructed in the village. The hard work of construction was carried out by the people who seemed to have developed great love and reverence for this gentle friar. The Church was dedicated to San Estevan Rey, whose feast is September 2nd, the day Father Juan was thought to have arrived at the pueblo. It is not known for certain that the present Church at Acoma is the one built by Father Juan and his flock. At the time of the Reconquest, Diego de Vargas visited the pueblo and noted at the time that the only evidence of damage to the structure was broken windows. Other records describe some construction after the Reconquest, but could have been nothing more than ordinary repairs.

ZUNI MISSIONARIES ARE MARTYRED
In the same year, 1629, Fray Rogue de Figueredo was assigned to the Zuni area where he immediately founded a mission at Hawikuh and called it La Purisima Concepcion. He also founded a mission at Halona and dedicated it to Nuestra Senora de la V Candelaria. Fray Rogue continued his work among the Zuni for three years, converting many natives. His successful work came to an abrupt end when two of his fellow priests were attacked and killed by the natives who had become resentful because of cultural repression and harsh treatment by the conquerors. Fray Francisco Letrado became the first missionary to die for the faith in what is now the Diocese of Gallup. Newly assigned at Zuni, .he went out on Quinquagesima Sunday, February 22, 1632, to urge the people to attend Mass. The first group he met was angered by his reprimand and he quickly became aware that they intended to kill him. He immediately dropped to his knees, a small cross in his hands, and pleaded with them to go to Church. They responded by shooting arrows at him. Shortly before the death of Fray Francisco, Fray Martin de Arvide had stopped by to visit him at Hawikuh, where he prophesied the martyrdom of Fray Francisco, as well as his own. Shortly after, on a visit with Fray Rogue at another Zuni village, he again prophetically stated, “that in a few days he would win the palm of martyrdom.” After he left Zuni to continue his journey to his new assignment, he and his small group stopped to camp for the night. There they were attacked and killed. So, only five days after the death of Fray Francisco, Fray Martin met his fate on V February 27, 1632. Missionary work continued in Zuni for many years and during these years the Zuni villages were under periodic attack from Apache bands in search of food. In 1671, Fray Pedro de Avila y Ayala was assigned to Hawikuh, then considered a dangerous mission because of its vulnerability to Apache attacks. On October 7, 1672, a group of Apaches attacked Hawikuh where Fray Pedro was alone without the protection of his soldiers. He rushed to the Church where he embraced the cross and a statue of the Blessed Mother . The natives responded by dragging him out of the Church. They put him at the foot of the cross in the churchyard and crushed his head with a bell. Following this, they bummed the Church, destroying the sacred ornaments and statues. The next day a fellow priest went to Hawikuh in search of his body. He found it where it had been left, surrounded by more than 200 arrows and stones. He brought the body to Halona and buried it in the Church. The mission at Hawikuh was then abandoned.

NATIVES ARE SUBJECTED TO HARSH TREATMENT
In the years leading up to the revolt, the natives were subjected to harsher and harsher treatment at the hands of the Spanish colonists, who continued to put heavy demands on them and tried to suppress all native practices of religion. Frequently, the missionaries were on the side of the Indians, trying to get better treatment for them. Laws affecting the proper treatment of the natives were difficult to enforce because of the great distance from central Mexico. The use of Indian slave labor was common because the Spaniards rationalized that they could Christianize the people more quickly and easily that way. While enforcing the conversion of the people, the Spanish colonists set very poor behavioral examples and the word “Christian” became synonymous with someone who came to kill and plunder them, seize the women and sell them into slavery. THE PUEBLO REVOLT The resentment of the people continued to build up and by 1680, the tolerance of the Indians had ended. A revolt was scheduled for August 13, but because the plot was revealed to two friars, the Indians attacked immediately on August l0th. It was their plan to kill all the Spaniards and completely erase Christianity from their world. The pueblos in the area of the Diocese of Gallup actively participated, carrying out the assignment. Some of the missionaries were killed in the uprising, including four at Hopi. One of them, Fray Jose Trujillo, had previously been assigned in the Philippines. There he had been told that he would realize his desire for martyrdom in the mission field of New Mexico. He arrived at Hopi in 1674. Following his arrival, at some time, he wrote to a friar in Mexico that he had been told that a revolt would occur soon in the area. A young girl there, who supposedly had been cured by the Blessed Virgin, reported that the Lady had told her to warn everyone of the impending attack. Fray Jose was killed during the attack by the local natives at the Church of San Bartolome de Shungopavi. The other three friars who became victims of the Hopi part in the Pueblo Rebellion were Fray Jose de Espeleta, who had been a former custodian and a missionary to the pueblo for more than 30 years, and Fray Augustin de Santa Maria. They were both killed at the mission of San Francisco de Oraibi. Fray Jose de Figueroa, was killed at the mission of San Bemardo de Awatobi. t the same time, Fray Juan de Val was killed in Zuni while he was standing before the altar at the mission of La Purisima Concepcion at Hawikuh. At Acoma, according to their legend, they seized the only friar there at the time, Fray Lucas Maldonado, and threw him off the rock.

THE RECONQUEST
After 12 years, Don Diego de Vargas was appointed to regain New Mexico. On his journey north from El Paso, he carried with him the statue of our Lady of the Conquest. In 1625, when Fray Benavides went to New Mexico to visit the priests in his custodia, he brought with him a carved wooden statue of the Virgin Mary in the form of Our Lady of the Assumption. Upon the arrival in Santa Fe he ordered that a chapel be built to house the statue. It remained in Santa Fe under the titles of Our Lady of the Conception and Our Lady of the Rosary until the Pueblo Revolt. During its stay in Santa Fe, the people remembered that the Statue had been brought at the time of the conquest and she became known as La Conquistadora. When the Spaniards fled at the time of the revolt, the statue was taken to El Paso where it remained in a small Church unti11692, when Don Diego de Vargas carried the statue back to Santa Fe with him at the time of the Reconquest. It is still there, housed in a side chapel of adobe in the large stone Cathedral of Saint Francis.

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One thought on “The Spanish and New Mexico…some information

  1. Thank you. Found this fascinating article while researching Francisco Porras for a short story set on Route 66.One of characters was already called Yesenia Porras – a weird coincidence, especially as she is an archaeologist so fascinated by history of the area, like me. .

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