Spanish in the Southwest

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Spanish in the Southwest


Explorations. When the Spanish found the great empire of the Aztec in Mexico in 1519 and understood both its immediate riches and its potential to generate wealth into the future, they naturally sought out other great empires. They found the Inca in Peru in 1529 but could not then know that the Aztec and the Inca were the only two such prizes. Exploration also turned north into what would become Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The first trek through the Southwest was accidental. In 1528 Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (literally head of a cow) was part of a colonizing expedition to the Gulf Coast of Florida. The expedition foundered, and he and three of the others washed up on the Texas coast and lived with various Indian groups, all the while traveling west and south. In 1536, eight years later, they finally found other Spaniards and made their way to Mexico City. They told of large cities with great populations. The Spaniards hoped these would be Cibola, the famed Seven Cities of Gold. The next major expedition, 15401542 under Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, attempted to find these cities. With three hundred soldiers, six Franciscan friars, hundreds of Indians, one thousand horses, and six hundred pack animals, Coronado marched to the Indian pueblos, first reaching the Zuni, who had already shown their hostility to the Spanish invasion by forcing back the missionary Fray Marcos de Niza the year before. Coronado was better prepared and was able to defeat various Zuni and Hopi villages. During the winter of 15401541 he got as far as Barnalillo, New Mexico, and had managed to antagonize most of the Native Americans in the area. In 1541 he returned to Mexico, leaving behind two friars who were soon killed by the Indians. In 1573 Philip II of Spain, distressed by the Indian deaths in the wake of Spanish colonization, promulgated a new ordinance that outlawed destructive military ventures such as Coronados and required missionary efforts. Some historians consider this the third and final period of Spanish colonization: conversion and settlement.

New Mexico. The first major colonizing venture in what would become New Mexico was a private undertaking sanctioned by the Crown but under contract to the wealthy Juan de Oñate. He grew up in New Spain, and his father had invested in the great silver mines of Zacatecas. In 1598 he set out with 400 soldiers, colonists, missionaries, and Mexican Indians for the Rio Grande

valley. There he established a settlement but soon ran afoul of the Pueblo Indians from whom he demanded food and other goods. They revolted, and in time Oñate lost control of his colony. In 1610 he was replaced as governor by Pedro de Peralta, who moved the settlers to Santa Fe, the third oldest permanent European settlement in the United States after Saint Augustine and Jamestown. By the 1630s there were 250 Spaniards, 750 Indians, and about two dozen Franciscan friars who serviced twenty-five missions. Santa Fe, and indeed all of the Southwest, proved to be lands of few mineral resources, leaving the labor that could be forced from the Indians the only road to wealth. Forced labor included herding, farm labor, blacksmithing, silverworking, and domestic labor. Spanish-Indian relationships were thus built upon exploitation, which led to resentment. In 1680 the Pueblo Indians formed a confederation and drove out the Spanish in what is known as the Pueblo Revolt. They killed 21 of 33 Franciscans and 401 settlers. The remaining 1,946 whites fled to El Paso del Norte, now Ciudad Juarez across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. The Spaniards gradually retook control of the pueblos and in 1693 set about resettling Santa Fe, making it a presidio (fort) with 100 soldiers. In 1695 families left to establish New Mexicos second town, Santa Cruz de la Cañada; eleven years later Albuquerque was founded. Twenty-one missions were also reestablished. By 1749 New Mexicos Spanish population had risen to about 4,300 persons. Meanwhile, the Indian population declined drastically; estimates of 17,000 in 1679 gave way to about 9,000 in 1693. Pueblo populations declined slowly as late as 1860.

Texas. While Spain worried about Indian hostility in West Texas, it had to fear other Europeans along East Texass Gulf Coast. In 1682 Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, had come down the Mississippi River claiming it for France. The Mississippi divided Spains claims into La Florida in the East and New Mexico in the Southwest. The French in the Mississippi Valley also put pressure on the Native Americans to move farther west, where they trespassed into Apache and Navajo hunting grounds. The Spanish responded by strengthening their forts. Early settlements in East Texas included an outpost at San Francisco de los Neches. In 1691, 6 missionaries and 16 soldiers were posted there, but the settlement was abandoned by 1693. Missionary-presidio complexes marked the path the Spanish took in East Texas. In 1716, in response to the French in Louisiana, some 80 persons, including 11 Franciscans, 25 soldiers, and 40 men, women, and children, were sent to establish missions and the presidio of San Juan. The settlement itself was called Los Adaes. These areas were close to the French. In 1718 the presidio of San Antonio de Béjar and mission of San Antonio de Valera were established. A town was created near them in 1731 that would become San Antonio. Sixteen families of Canary Islanders, some 55 people, helped start this settlement. Finally, a third presidio-mission complex was begun in 1721 near Espíritu Santo Bay at La Bahi on the Guadalupe River. These were the only three settlements that survived. In 1760 there were 1,190 non-Indians living in Texas.

Arizona. The northern part of the large area known in Spanish as Pineria Alta is present-day Arizona. Like New Mexico, it was first explored by Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1530 and by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. By the end of the sixteenth century Franciscans had established missions among the Indians. The Jesuits, however, had control over this part of the world, and in 1651 the Franciscans left. For twenty-four years Father Eusebio Francisco Kino worked among the Indians with mixed results. Those who depended upon the irrigation agriculture were easier to Christianize than the nomads and hunters. The Spanish push to establish Indian towns was counterproductive since these towns were easy targets for Apache raiders. The Sapnish finally settled in Arizona in 1752 when they built a presidio at Tubac. They built only one at Tucson in 1776 near what had been one of Father Kinos missions. California lagged even farther behind and had no European settlements in this era.


John Francis Bannon, The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 15131821 (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970);

Carl O. Sauer, Seventeenth Century North America (Berkeley, Cal.: Turtle Island Foundation, 1980);

David Hurst Thomas, ed., Columbian Consequences: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands West, volume 1 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989):

David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992).

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Spanish in the Southwest

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