TT: Magic, Miracles, and Mayhem

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Just page back one for an excursion into the mysterious realm of Ideas.  Then join me and Alan as we discuss a historical occurrence that, if it weren’t true, no one would ever believe.   And remember, tomorrow, the Friday Fragments continue the fun.

ALAN: Last time you promised to tell me about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

A Church Destroyed

A Church Destroyed

JANE: Right!  Here goes… The story begins in 1675, when fourteen Spaniards, several of whom were friars, died in the village of Powhogeh, which was called San Ildefonso by the Spanish.  The deaths were blamed on witchcraft and forty-seven men were arrested, tried, and punished.

Maybe the Spanish really believed that witchcraft had been used.  I’ve read translations of some of the trial records and it’s impossible to tell.  Remember, this was a time when witch hunts were rampant in Spain.  Whatever he believed, Governor Juan de Treviño unwittingly set in motion events that would lead to the revolt five years later.

You see, the forty-seven men arrested were not all from Powhogeh.  They were not even all from Tewa-speaking villages.  (Tewa is one of the five main languages spoken in the region.)  Among those arrested were Tiwa and Keresan speakers, from groups that were, at best, uneasy allies with the people of Powhogeh.  Four of these men – quite possibly strangers to each other and so unlikely collaborators – were sentenced to be hanged as examples.  (One robbed the hangman by committing suicide.)  The remainder were sentenced to be whipped and otherwise humiliated.

What the men did have in common were that all were important members of their communities.  One theory is that Francisco Guitar, who had served as guide and interpreter for the Spanish sent to investigate the deaths, decided to get even with his fellow Tewa, who now shunned him as a collaborator with their oppressors.  For good measure, Guitar had pointed out a few other important men.  And so the stage was set.

ALAN: If I may go off on a little bit of a tangent here, I’d never heard of Tewa until you started telling me about this history. But just this morning I read A Story, With Beans by Steven Gould, and Tewa was an important element in the plot. Life is full of funny coincidences…

Sorry! I interrupted. Just ignore me.

JANE: That’s cool.  I’ve seen a lot of Steve Gould lately…  We did a signing together, then Bubonicon.  But I stray…

There seems little doubt that Governor Treviño would have carried out his intended punishment, but a very large delegation from the local tribes, led by a man named Saca from Teotho (called Taos by the Spanish) intervened.  The record says that Saca and his delegation brought gifts, but also that they made clear they would have fought if those gifts had not been accepted and the captives freed.

Among those arrested and publically whipped was Po’pay, a priest and leader among the people of Ohkay (called by the Spanish, San Juan Pueblo).  Because of the Spanish’s proclivity for recordkeeping, we know a lot about the events of 1675.  What exactly happened next is more open to speculation because – obviously – the Spanish didn’t know the details of the revolt being planned against them.

However, Po’pay – working with Saca and others – managed to coordinate a revolt that would remove the Spanish from New Mexico for the next twelve years.  The feat boggles the mind.  Do me a favor and pull out map of New Mexico so you have some idea of how large the area we’re talking about is.  Got it?

ALAN: (Geographically challenged Alan hunts vainly for an atlas). I know I’ve got one somewhere…

Got it! OK – Now all I have to do is find New Mexico…

Phew! (Geographically challenged Alan relaxes).

Did I ever tell you about the time I really did get lost walking from the bedroom to the bathroom? It’s a true, and very embarrassing, story. Perhaps that’s a tangent best not explored. Tell me about New Mexico instead.

JANE: Hmm…  I may ask for that story off-stage.  (I did.  Oh, my!)  But back to New Mexico.

Now, remember, New Mexico isn’t a green and pleasant land.  It’s dry and rocky, with temperatures that go well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and well below freezing in the winter.  There’s no hopping a boat for easy travel between points.  At the time Po’pay and his allies were planning their rebellion, the horses were largely owned by the enemy and those who collaborated with them – so travel would have been on foot.

Despite this, Po’pay coordinated a revolt that – if one put it in a novel – the critics would be screaming about the unrealistic nature of the details.  Just a few include forging a successful alliance between peoples who spoke five different languages and had different cultures (and that includes religious beliefs), the use of a knotted cord to synchronize attacks so that the uprisings happened simultaneously across the region, and the defeat of armored men armed with higher tech weapons (muskets, swords), by unarmored warriors with clubs and short bows.

ALAN: I could make a facetious comment, but that is so awe-inspiring that I wouldn’t dare cheapen it by doing so. It really beggars belief and I am truly astonished and amazed. Real life trumps fiction every time. But sometimes real life is hard to believe.

JANE:  It gets better!  There are some other details right out of a science fiction novel.  Po’pay was said to have mysterious advisors, whose names do not fit into any of the language groups spoken in the area.  Even better, he was said to have been able to shoot lightning from his fingertips and feet.

I used these details and others in my short story, “Like the Rain” (published in Golden Reflections edited by Joan Saberhagen and Robert Vardeman).  However, this was one of those cases where the inclusion of futuristic high tech intervention actually made more sense than leaving it out.

ALAN: Now that I’ve willingly suspended my disbelief, tell me what happened afterwards.

JANE: The Spanish were kept out of New Mexico for twelve years.  Later, they claimed a “bloodless” re-conquest, aided by the intervention of the Virgin Mary who performed miracles, including aiding the Spanish in getting their heavy wagons up La Bajada hill.  This would indeed have been a tremendous help to an invading force.  Even today, with a modern highway, large vehicles pull to a special slow lane to labor up La Bajada.  The Spanish with their ox carts would have been very vulnerable.

The wooden image of the Virgin, now called “La Conquistadora,” remains enshrined in Santa Fe and is paraded through the streets during the annual Fiesta.

However, although the re-conquest was far from the bloodless victory the Spanish claimed, it was not as devastating as it might have been, either for the Spanish or for the native peoples.  Most historians agree that the native peoples could not agree how to live once the Spanish were gone.  Some purists – Po’pay among them – wanted to eliminate anything the Spanish had brought with them.  Others had grown to like melons, sheep, and other introduced items.  Christian saints and customs had been absorbed into the local religions.  With all the disagreement among themselves, the Pueblos may have been resigned to the return of the Spanish.

ALAN: Much like the Maori who enthusiastically adopted Christianity, and alcohol and firearms and potatoes and warm clothes and who have no desire at all to go back to the old days – though Maori pride in their history and heritage is a very real phenomenon and they certainly do try hard to keep the old traditions alive. Nevertheless, they are also very much twenty-first century citizens.

JANE: Based on the Comments these last several weeks, there’s lots of interest in the impact on colonialism on the cultures of the indigenous people of both New Zealand and New Mexico.  Maybe we can take a look at that next time!


8 Responses to “TT: Magic, Miracles, and Mayhem”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Great story! I’d suggest, though, that we’re overawed by the technology of the Conquistadors. Charles Mann in 1491 suggested strongly that Inkan slings had the range on the smoothbore muskets of the Conquistadors, and quite possibly a higher firing rate. I actually tried to get the Mythbusters to test this one (to no avail), but remember that 17th century guns were pretty primitive. In Mexico and Peru, the Conquistadors succeeded because they had a lot of native allies (10,000 or so against the Inka), all of whom they subsequently played against each other and betrayed. They subsequently mythologized the role of their own superior weapons to downplay the role of their allies as part of this betrayal.

    In the Pueblo revolt which I assume was an example of what we now call asymmetric warfare, we really have to look at the relative numbers of warriors on each side, and at things like how well the Spanish horses were armored, what happened to Spanish supply lines, and the like. It was an asymmetrical war, but as we know from modern asymmetrical wars, a small force with higher tech weapons can conquer an area, but they have enormous trouble holding onto it in the face of a coordinated opposition (cf: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia…). This especially true if (as in the Pueblos), there’s not an existing empire that they turn to their own purposes, as happened in Mexico and Peru.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Coronado State Monument has (or at least did the last time I was there) a replica Spanish helmet and breastplate. I was astonished by the weight and thickness.

      Accounts of the Spanish attack on Acoma Pueblo (which is up on a mesa) record that the assault team climbed in full armor. Whatever one thinks about the Spanish treatment of the native peoples, one can’t deny they had more than their share of raw determination.

  2. Jim Says:

    No slings among the Pueblos, mainly just clubs and short bows, though they had picked up some aspects of Spanish warfare, with some warriors using lances. Mostly, they surprised and overwhelmed the Spanish. As Jane said, all the Pueblos joined together in this effort, for the first and essentially last time.The Spanish were also at a disadvantage, because there were a large number of noncombatants that had to be protected and evacuated. Retreat was their only real option.

    While the SPanish continued to have the advantage in weaponry, they were simply overwhelmed by the number of Pueblo warriors that attacked and, unlike previous attempts at revolt, few of the Pueblos chose to side with the Spanish, removing the possibility of effective allies.

  3. Paul Genesse Says:

    Thanks for the post. It’s all fascinating to read about. The aggression of the Spanish and the injustices they inflicted upon the Native Americans were awful, and those twelve years of freedom from oppression were hard won, and I suppose ultimately squandered. Or perhaps it was a calculated move to let the Spanish back in, to avoid suffering major Native American casualties? I wonder.

  4. Paul Says:

    A fascinating read, as always.

  5. CBI Says:

    Thanks for the read. I think that the 12-year period in between Spanish control is often omitted in history. According to some of my students, history is often told in a binary fashion, with only “good guys” and “bad guys”, with sometimes switching of sides in a bewildering manner. I’ve actually had people relate to me how peaceful and calm relationships between the tribes were before the Europeans came along!
    Where were/are the Navajo at that time? Jim was telling me some of the history awhile back, but I’m trying to fit together in my mind the Athabascan migration, the Navajo and Apache splitting (or were they separate migrations from the north?), the Spanish arrival on the same timeline. I was discussing it once with a Navajo ranger at Chelley, but we didn’t have the information to figure it out, especially given the place of sheep in the Navajo culture. Probably too long to explain here, but if you have a book recomendation?

  6. Jim Says:

    The Navajo were occupying much of northwest New Mexico at the time of the Pueblo Revolt, and there were Apaches on the eastern flank of New Mexico as well as in the southern part of the state. In fact, there were alliances between some of the Pueblos and various Athabaskan groups during the revolt period, as factions began developing soon after the Spanish left the region.

    The Navajo were in northwest New Mexico by at least around 1500, and had probably expanded to the Gallup region by the late 1500s. The Apaches were on the eastern Plains and had arrived in northeast New Mexico shortly before the first Spanish expedition led by Coronado in 1540-1542, though some think it was earlier.

    A really good book covering the history of Spanish-Pueblo-Apache (and Navajo) relations in New Mexico prior to the Pueblo Revolt is APACHE, NAVAJO, AND SPANIARD by Jack D. Forbes (1960, reprinted by the University of Oklahoma Press). Perhaps a bit outdated, but very readable and a great coverage of a very complex period in New Mexico history.

    • CBI Says:

      Thanks, Jim! I have a hold request on the book at the library now. I’m looking forward to it.
      My wife and I just finished an audiobook biography of Merriwether Lewis which includes a few descriptions of tribal customs of some of the Northern Plains and other tribes on the Expedition route. I’ve been wondering how the Athabascans travelled through the territories of these other tribes but, of course, most were nomadic so I guess it’s not that problematic.

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