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Themes – Changes


The first groups to disrupt the centuries-old Pueblo system were the nomadic, Athapascan peoples from the east. Arriving between 1300 and 1500, these hunter-gatherers would evolve into the Jicarilla Apaches and the Navajo in the north, and the Lipan, Mescalero, Chiricahua, White Mountain and San Carlos Apaches in the south. The arrival of these groups created intense competition for scarce resources. In times of plentiful water and good hunting, the Athapascans traded meat and hides for agricultural products and finished cotton cloth. In times of drought or scarcity, the Athapascans raided the pueblos and took what they needed. Neither side spoke the language of the other. One culture lived a nomadic existence, the other a sedentary, agriculturally based life. They lived in proximity, together – yet separate.

The entry of the second group, the Spanish, in the late 16th century was cataclysmic for the Pueblos. Spanish goals in the Americas can be characterized as a quest for “God, Glory and Gold.” The conquistadores who arrived in the Western Hemisphere were entrepreneurs in search of wealth and property. Usually second or third sons who had been deprived of inheritance through primogeniture, these men sought to create in the “New World” the landed estates that they had been denied in the “Old.” Secondly, they sought honor through conquest. In Spain, the 700-year war fought to remove the Moors from the Iberian peninsula, the “Reconquista,” had created a “soldier society” in which personal honor was won and maintained through the conquest of an enemy. The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile centralized power in a Catholic monarchy that led the fight against the infidel Moors. The “Reconquista” firmly established that king and country fought for Christianity.  Religious purity became the rallying cause that bound previously autonomous medieval Spanish provinces under the flag of Ferdinand and Isabella. The battle cry, Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moor-slayer), referenced St. James, who had led the Spanish in defeating the Moors in 844, thus beginning the “Reconquista.” This call to battle clearly defined the defeat of the Moors as a religious crusade. In fact, Spain was the only West European country that did not participate in the medieval crusades in the Middle East. They were too busy conducting their own war for Christianity at home. It is not a coincidence that the Spanish launched their worldwide exploration and conquest in 1492, the same year that they expelled the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula. The same energy and motivation that had sustained Catholic Spain for 700 years was transferred to a greater world mission of defeating the infidel, extending the power and authority of both Catholicism and the Spanish Catholic monarchy, and if successful, achieving wealth, aristocratic standing and personal honor. “God, Glory and Gold” brought the Spanish to the Americas and into the American Southwest permanently at the end of the 16th century.

Don Juan de Oñate began the conquest of the Southwest in 1598. As he departed the “Kingdom of New Spain,” the area we call Mexico today, on his mission north, his goals were to extend the lands of the Spanish Empire, to convert the infidels occupying “Nuevo Mexico” along the way, and to enrich himself in the process. Oñate, a wealthy aristocrat from Zacatecas, bore nearly the entire expense of the expedition himself. In return, he was granted titles, received a royal salary, and was awarded the right to distribute conquered lands and collect Indian tribute and labor. At the same time, he was to foster conversion of the Indians he encountered. His entourage included missionaries as well as soldiers. By 1600, Oñate had pacified the region and had established settlements, complete with missions, alongside the principal pueblos in the Rio Grande Valley. The old pattern of the Southwest repeated itself again. Spanish settlements and Indian pueblos existed side-by-side, yet separately.