New Mexico’s vital role as a buffer zone in the geographic imagination of royal officials dovetailed with the El Paso refugees’ desire to take back their former homes and to restore their honor. They had the distinction of being the only European people to have been forced to abandon a colony by its indigenous inhabitants. After Otermín’s efforts to salvage his own legacy failed, his successors made a few equally futile attempts to reestablish Spanish rule in Santa Fe. In 1687, for example, Governor Pedro Reneros de Posada led an expedition to Santa Ana Pueblo. His forces razed the pueblo, but returned to El Paso without reclaiming the former colonial capital.
The following year, in exchange for a payment of 2,500 pesos, Diego de Vargas received the royal commission to become the next governor of the colony in exile. Preparations and travel time delayed his arrival at his new post in El Paso until February of 1691. Vargas was similar to Juan de Oñate in that he was very much a traditional conquistador in an era that no longer welcomed the former violence of conquest. Unlike Oñate, however, Vargas was more calculated and shrewd in his use of brutality and threats of violence. Vargas came to New Mexico at the age of forty-eight. A native of Madrid, he was raised by his grandmother and eventually left his wife and five children behind in Iberia in order to settle his father’s affairs in the Americas. Much like other noblemen, he possessed large tracts of land but very little liquid wealth. His time in the Americas did little to resolve that situation, although he served admirably in administrative posts in Oaxaca and Michoacán in southern New Spain. He hoped to enhance his family name and his personal fortune through service as New Mexico’s governor. First, however, he would have to reconquer the province.
Almost immediately after his arrival in El Paso, Vargas began to organize a reconnaissance mission of the Pueblo heartland. In the fall of 1692, he made his first foray northward along the Rio Grande with a small, but concentrated force of about sixty soldiers and one hundred indios amigos: Piros from Senecu and Socorro and Isleta people, comprised the bulk of the native allies. In his mind’s eye, he imagined precisely how the reconquest was to proceed. Vargas intended to retake the colony without so much as firing a single shot. As his group approached each Pueblo, they intentionally kept their weapons holstered. The first
A portrait of Diego de Vargas from the New Mexico History Museum collection. This is a reproduction of the only known portrait of De Vargas that was commissioned during his lifetime.
Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), No. 011409.
was to simply announce their presence and then invite the Pueblo people to return to Spanish rule and the Catholic faith. Once the people consented, the Franciscans who also accompanied the mission would hear the natives’ confessions and baptize any children born during the Spaniards’ absence. Despite such principled hopes for the reconquest, all of the men in the expedition were armed and the group brought two cannons at its rear guard. Vargas understood that most Pueblos did not welcome the idea of their return.
As the group moved northward, they encountered numerous abandoned Pueblos. Due to the continuation of drought and famine, Apache raiding only intensified in the years between 1680 and 1692. Their skillful use of horses meant that the raids were swift and precise. Entire villages were deserted when Pueblo peoples attempted to find more defensible positions against the raids. Many also moved in search of more regular access to water. Due to these stresses, by the time of Vargas’ entry into the area, unity between the different Pueblo groups had all but evaporated.
Despite his ability to galvanize Pueblo resistance, Po’pay’s leadership style provides a good lens through which to consider the reasons that cooperation failed to outlive the revolt. In certain ways, he was willing to be just as brutal as the Spaniards had been. He reportedly orchestrated the murder of his son-in-law, Bua, to maintain the revolt’s secrecy. Once successful, he ordered Pueblo peoples to abandon all aspects of their lives that had come to New Mexico with the Spanish. He went so far as to tell them to stop using their Catholic names and to divorce spouses they had married under Franciscan authority. He also wanted them to give up firearms, horses, watermelons, cattle, and any other material items that had not existed in the Pueblo world before the Europeans’ arrival. Paradoxically, he also utilized syncretic religious concepts as a justification for his mandates. In his campaign against all things European, he claimed a connection to the trinity as well as to the devil, yet those concepts had not existed in the Pueblo world prior to 1540.
This statue of Po’pay stands in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Despite his success as a leader of the Pueblo Revolt, Po’pay’s insistence that Pueblos abandon all Spanish material culture and his heavy-handed leadership style caused him to fall from grace not long after the successful 1680 offensive.
Courtesy of Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Most Pueblo people found Po’pay’s directives to be extreme. As was the case for the Spanish refugees, by 1680 very few of them remembered a time before Spanish colonization. They relied on the tools, implements, animals, and seeds that Europeans had introduced to the region, and they saw no reason to abandon them. Indeed, acculturation. and the use of Spanish technology were factors in the success of the Pueblo Revolt. Opposition to Po’pay’s leadership style, as well as differences in terms of how to reestablish each Pueblo’s traditional political, religious, and familial structures meant that by 1692 the various Pueblo groups had once again divided.
Isleta and Piro peoples had accompanied the Spanish during their retreat to El Paso, and more Isletas joined the refugees following Otermín’s failed reconquest venture. Some Pueblos reportedly welcomed the Spaniards’ return, if with trepidation. These people faced the harsh reality of continued famine and Apache raids without the advantage of European weapons and goods. By the early 1690s, their supplies of ammunition had dwindled to nearly nothing and, at any rate, the weapons had not allowed them to permanently repel nomadic raids. This group did not forget the abuses and excesses of the colonial past, but they apparently began to consider the Spanish presence preferable to their current situation.
One such Pueblo supporter accompanied the Vargas party as they made their way northward to Santa Fe. Their Zia informant, Bartolomé de Ojeda, decided to accompany the Spaniards back to El Paso following a 1689 excursion into the Pueblo world led by another governor in absentia, Domingo Jironza Pétriz de Cruzate. Jironza’s forces wrought havoc in Ojeda’s home of Zia, forcing most of its residents to take refuge at a site to the west of present-day Jemez Pueblo. Ojeda himself had participated in the Pueblo Revolt and the early resistance to the return of the Spaniards under Otermín and Jironza. In the course of battle, he was gravely wounded and left for dead. He survived and the Spaniards took him to El Paso. Despite (or, perhaps because of) the violence, Ojeda became a valuable informant to the refugees there. Historian John L. Kessell has posited that Ojeda began to support the Spanish return to New Mexico when he decided that further resistance was futile. Additionally, tribal traditions hold that a group of men from Jemez, Zia, Santa Ana, San Felipe, and Pecos travelled to El Paso in late 1691 or early 1692 to speak with Governor Vargas and other officials. Their purpose was to invite the Spaniards to return.
When Vargas’ party arrived outside of Santa Fe on September 12, 1692, they had received mixed signals about Pueblo intentions toward them. The villa was occupied by a recalcitrant group of Pueblos that refused to believe that the Spaniards were who they claimed to be. Instead, they figured that Vargas’ contingent was an Apache raiding party trying to trick their way inside the city’s walls. When they were finally convinced of the group’s true identity, they made it clear that the Spaniards were not welcome to enter. Despite their resistance, they surrendered to Vargas’ demands by twilight. The twin cannons trained on the town were one of the main reasons that the Pueblos changed their minds. Governor Vargas’ method of diplomacy through intimidation seemed to pay off.
Vargas later boasted of his success in retaking New Mexico “without wasting a single ounce of powder, unsheathing a sword, or without costing the Royal Treasury a single cent.”6 His comment was a deliberate cut at the failed methods of his predecessors. After he led his men into Santa Fe, he marched the same royal banner through the streets that had been carried to New Mexico by Oñate in 1598 and then by Otermín in retreat in 1680. The Pueblos present were organized into a procession behind the banner. As they paraded around the villa, they were instructed to chant “Long Live the King” each time the standard was raised.
Tom Lea’s 1947 illustration of Don Diego de Vargas. In this particular image, Vargas is portrayed as a warrior.
© James D. Lea
Once again, public performance played a central role in the Spanish act of possessing the colony. After pledging loyalty to the Crown, the Pueblos received pardon for their sins from the Franciscans who accompanied the reconnaissance party.
Over a period of four months Vargas toured the Pueblo homeland, repeating similar acts of persuasion and possession. During that time frame, just over 2,200 Pueblo people, mostly children, received Catholic baptism and twenty-three different Pueblos pledged loyalty to Spain. Despite the veneer of success, signs of trouble remained. After touring the northern Pueblos, Vargas made his way back south and then moved west to the relocated Zia Pueblo, then on to Jemez Pueblo. There, warriors greeted the Spaniards by throwing dirt in their eyes. Due to the difficult state of affairs following seven years of sustained drought, however, they were unwilling to directly challenge Vargas. When pressed about their actions, they claimed that they had accidentally hit the Spaniards with dirt in an act of rejoicing at their return.
Suspicious but hopeful, Vargas returned to El Paso before the onset of winter to organize a full-scale resettlement expedition. Had the reconquest been completed at that point, the claim that it had been enacted without the shedding of blood would have been true. In reality, however, the reconquest had yet to begin. Vargas filed the necessary paperwork with the viceroy and earnestly worked to organize families to recolonize New Mexico. By October of 1693, Vargas had enlisted a group of one-hundred soldiers, seventy families, eighteen Franciscans, and a large contingent of indios amigos for the return journey to the Pueblo homeland. According to Spanish records, twenty-seven of the settlers were of African descent. They also prepared all of the livestock that the colony would need, including two-thousand horses, one-thousand mules, and nine-hundred head of cattle. And, this time, they brought three cannons instead of two.
Vargas was disappointed by the turnout. He had envisioned a group of at least five hundred settlers, and the smaller numbers left doubts in his mind about the future status of the villa de Santa Fe and its corresponding presidio. In 1694 the colony’s numbers were boosted when Fray Francisco Farfán led a caravan of an additional seventy-six families from the mining town of Parral (in present-day southern Chihuahua) to settle in New Mexico.
The main body of settlers moved at a sluggish pace due to the cattle and supplies they transported. Vargas led an advanced party to ascertain the general mood of the Pueblos before the rest of the group arrived. The governor was dismayed to find that during his absence of nearly a year, most of the Pueblos had become openly defiant toward Spanish rule once again. Ojeda traveled with the vanguard in order to act as an emissary to Pueblo peoples. Despite the maintenance of defiant attitudes, the unity Pueblos had achieved in 1680 had lapsed. Some people understood Ojeda’s support of the Spaniards, while others resolved to prevent Vargas’ reentry into their lands.
Men, women, and children alike suffered privation and hardship as they traversed the section of the Camino Real that they dubbed the Jornada del Muerto (Dead Man’s Journey). That stretch of the trail between present-day Rincon and San Marcial departs from the Rio Grande along a more passable course that is devoid of water. By the time the settlers reached Santa Fe on December 16, 1693, they were desperate to re-enter the city. The winter was fast approaching, and they wanted to get settled before deeper cold set in. As had occurred the year previously, however, the city was occupied by Pueblo people, and, once again, they refused to allow Vargas to enter. This time the threat of cannons was not enough to make them stand down. They offered fierce resistance to Vargas and his soldiers, forcing the Spaniards to erect a more permanent camp outside the town. As the group weathered the cold and snow over the next two weeks, twenty-one children died.
On December 30 the Spaniards initiated a relatively one-sided battle due to their superior weapons and artillery. Dwindling supplies and the toll of sustained drought left the Pueblos unable to mount an effective defense. Even with such advantages, however, Vargas was still forced to order a siege of Santa Fe to pressure the Pueblos to surrender. After a period of only a few days the Pueblos could no longer hold out. In the course of the various battles eighty-one Pueblos were killed. Another seventy were summarily executed by order of the governor as a show of Spanish might, and four hundred others were placed in captivity. Even though the capital city was back in the hands of the colonists, outlying areas had yet to submit to Spanish rule. Vargas’ dream of a bloodless reconquest was not to be.
Over the next few years, Vargas led numerous military expeditions against various Pueblo peoples in order to assert his authority over New Mexico. Between 1693 and 1696, he realized that the reconquest would neither be bloodless nor quick. Instead, it was a slow and arduous process of warfare and negotiation. In many ways, Vargas’ efforts mirrored earlier patterns of Spanish conquest despite his intentions to deviate from them. As in the earlier episodes, the reconquest of New Mexico would not have been possible without Pueblo allies. Despite the presence of Franciscans and the desire to “pacify” the Pueblos rather than conquer them, violent action was necessary. And, in a step that could have arguably been avoided, Vargas used display violence in order to make an object lesson of Pueblo holdouts at Santa Fe.
It was perhaps no wonder that other Pueblo groups defied Spanish authority for as long as they possibly could. For a full nine months in 1694, northern Tiwa and Tewa groups allied with the Jemez people continually raided Santa Fe from their base at San Ildefonso. In the midst of such activity, disputes between some Pueblo peoples erupted into open hostility. Clashes between the Jemez people and their Keresan neighbors at Zia and Santa Ana intensified due to the Keresans’ renewed alliance with the Spaniards. In an effort to quell the dispute, Vargas personally visited Jemez in the company of several Franciscans. Despite superficially friendly relations and the baptism of over one hundred Jemez children, raids on the Keresans’ livestock continued. In mid-1694, following a raid in which four Zias and one Jemez man were killed, Vargas led a combined force comprised of 120 Spanish soldiers supported by Zia, San Felipe, and Santa Ana warriors against the Jemez people. Despite hopes for a rapid victory, the combined Spanish-Pueblo force only subdued Jemez after a frantic and bloody battle.
When the dust settled, eighty-four Jemez were killed (five of that number were burned to death and another seven pushed off of cliffs) and 361 women and children taken captive. According to Jemez oral traditions, many people jumped off of nearby cliffs to avoid capture. Not long thereafter, the image of San Diego materialized on one of the cliff faces. To this day, the likeness of San Diego is still visible on the ridges of the San Diego Mesa.
The victors remained upon the mesa for over two weeks following the battle in order to loot Jemez Pueblo and secure the captive women and children. Nearly five hundred bushels of corn were awarded the Spaniards’ Zia allies for their service. By mid-August 1694 Jemez leaders were able to negotiate the release of the prisoners. In exchange, they were to reconstruct the mission church at Jemez and join Spanish forces against Pueblos that had yet to submit to Vargas’ leadership. By September the prisoners had returned home and reconstruction began.
In the summer of 1696, Vargas engaged in a war of attrition with the aid of Pueblo allies. Spanish forces besieged those Pueblos that refused to recognize their authority, burning their lands and homes. Once again, Vargas relied on traditional patterns of conquest as he used existing conflicts between Pueblo groups to his advantage. By the end of 1696, most Pueblos except for Acoma, Zuni, and Hopi had once again submitted to Spanish authority. Luis de Tupatú led the people of Picuris to El Cuartelejo, an Apache ranchería (encampment) in order to elude submission to Vargas’ leadership. Additionally, the people of Sandia relocated to the Hopi village of Payupki until 1742 when Padre Menchero worked to secure their return to their homeland, secured by a royal land grant. And Tano Pueblos from San Cristóbal and San Lázaro occupied La Cañada, a site later elevated to La Villa de Santa Cruz de La Cañada. A large body of Jemez people also refused to accept Vargas’ leadership and they fled their homes to join Navajo communities to the northwest. Many scholars believe that it was at that time that Navajo women learned the practice of weaving from the Jemez refugees. The Hopi people were the only ones able to retain their autonomy until the American period.
Once the long and drawn-out reconquest efforts finally came to a close in the late 1690s, none of the factions involved had fully achieved what they had hoped. Vargas was unable to maintain his dream of a peaceful, bloodless reconquest of New Mexico and the overall Pueblo population was further reduced through his actions. The Spaniards did learn some valuable lessons during the period between 1680 and 1692, however. Never again did they attempt to reinstate the onerous encomienda system, although repartimiento and the practice of rescate (trade for native captives) did continue in altered forms. Franciscans no longer sought to annihilate Pueblo traditions, instead contenting themselves with the syncretic or compartmentalized religious practice with which the Pueblos themselves were comfortable. The result was 120 years of relative peace on both sides. Even with all of these concessions, it was the imposing threat of Comanche and Apache raids that forced Pueblos, Spaniards, and mestizos to come together in New Mexico. And, despite accommodations, Spanish political, economic, and religious systems dominated all others throughout the remainder of the colonial period.