The Rest of the Story
A centennial-celebration miscellany of
early New Mexico history, 12,000 BC-1862 AD.
by Jeff Berg
In case you have just happened upon this paper or are just learning about the state of New Mexico, Jan. 6, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of New Mexico statehood. The achievement of statehood in 1912 culminated a long, arduous process, which failed at least four other times, including a 1906 effort that proposed joint statehood with Arizona (ewwww!). But the state is also filled with history that dates back before most any living creature drew a breath upon the land that was officially outlined to become New Mexico.
All sorts of centennial activities have taken place the last few weeks and will continue throughout 2012. Through these events and other publications you will mostly get New Mexico history redux: pueblos, chile, kokopellis, Kit Carson, Georgia O'Keefe, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Soldiers, Santa Fe being overrun by gringo artists and wannabes. Same stuff, different year.
This is different. Herein, we present to you, kind reader, some pre-statehood bits of the history of your current home state (provided you aren't one of the wise out-of-state readers whom Desert Exposure may extend to), that you may not know about.
Much of this information is dredged from a wonderful book, nearly 700 pages in length, with no visible coordination of topics, called New Mexico: A Brief Multi-History by Ruben Salaz Marquez. Born in 1935 in Belen, Marquez continues to write, but current information on him is elusive. So, with a nod to his fine work, we begin.
Once upon a time, in pre-contact days, those days before European people invaded the Americas — actually long before that, 12,000-15,000 BC — it is said that the Sandia, a roving band of people, came to the Earth via an emergence from a lake called Shibapu. Traveling south from this place, some are said to settle around the Four Corners area, the spot that currently is the only place in the US where the boundaries of four states meet.
Sometime later, Clovis people are said to have their turn, around 10,000-9,000 BC, as they roam the area looking for game.
Folsom people are said to be next, arriving after the Ice Age in about 9,000-8,000 BC. To give you a bit of a comparison to more popular history, this is about the same time as when the Greeks where forming their city-states.
And if Sandia, Clovis and Folsom sound familiar, they are still terms known in New Mexico: Clovis and Folsom are towns and Sandia has a number of connotations.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, from 1 AD to about 1500 or so, other ancient cultures such as Zuni, Acoma, Tiwa, Dine (Navajo) and Keresan are also active in the area. All is well until about 1539, when one of the survivors of an ill-fated Spanish exploration that was shipwrecked in Florida returns to "new" Mexico, leading a small party looking for the rumored Cibola — Seven Cities of Gold.
Esteban, a former slave from Africa, one of the survivors who wandered with Cabeza de Vaca from Florida to southern Texas and Mexico, is taken on as their guide, essentially making a black man the first non-native to come to New Mexico. Esteban, who for many years was viewed as a seer or healer by some of the native tribes, gets killed at the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh, apparently after making too many demands involving women and turquoise.
But mission leader Fray Marcos exaggerates his findings greatly upon returning to Mexico, thus leading to the fabled Coronado expedition for those Seven Cities of Gold. All Coronado finds is nothing, but it this trip, wherein he ends up going as far north as Kansas, that leads to years of horror for the original peoples of New Mexico. This journey is also said to have had several European women along, thus making the three wives of three of Coronado's men the first of their gender to visit this area. Another source says an estimated 20% of the group of 560 were women.
In 1582, a wealthy Spaniard, Antonio de Espejo, finances a small expedition to New Mexico, to try to find out the fate of some missionaries who had traveled north in 1581. Marquez' book claims that this group visited over 70 pueblos, and that Espejo is one of the first to coin the term Nuevo Mexico.
Expeditions and colonization efforts continue, and it is not until 1598 that your current place of residence (my assumption) is claimed for Spain during another expedition, this one led by Juan de Oñate, who becomes governor (one who would not cut filmmaker subsidies or eliminate commuter trains). The governor, "Captain General" and "Advocate" takes possession of "New Mexico and of its kingdoms" at a huge "thanksgiving" feast complete with a high Mass and soldiers in formation, on April 30, 1598.
A captain in the group, one Gaspar de Villagra, chronicles all of this in an epic poem. This allows New Mexico to be the "only colony in history to have an epic like The Iliad, as a source for its incipient annals."
It is also at this time that any colonist who stays in New Mexico for at least five years is entitled to use the term "Don" to signify his New Nobility. So, you may now call me Don Jeff Berg.
A few months later, San Juan de los Caballeros, a site where present-day Española stands, is christened the first capital of New Mexico.
Also in 1598, a big year in our history, about 50 soldiers and officers, dismayed because they "didn't find silver lying on the ground" and because they cannot enslave pueblo people, decide to leave. There are other rumblings of mutiny of a different kind, even as Oñate meets with 38 pueblo leaders, who tend to the needs of an estimated 60,000 people. That number remains somewhat constant, even as late as 1638; the Spanish population of New Mexico is less than 1,000.
To finish up the year, the residents of Acoma pueblo revolt and kill about 25 Spaniards who had stopped to trade with the Acoma people.
The year 1599 starts off poorly, with more combat between the Spanish and the Acoma people, raising the body count for both sides. The Spanish are victorious, Acoma is destroyed, and a number of Acoma survivors are tried for the deaths of 27 Spaniards. Saved from the death penalty, two-dozen males are sentenced instead to have their toes cut off and to 20 years of servitude. Acknowledged history is that an even larger number of Acoma men had a foot removed, leading, hundreds of years later, to the actual removal of a foot from a huge statue of Oñate near Espanola, by perpetrators unknown.
But Marquez research disputes the dismemberment claim, citing several different historians and records of the time that indicate the toe sentences were indeed handed (pun intended) down, but never carried out.
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