Symbolic Discourse and Exterminatory Movements: The 1680 and 1696 Pueblo Revolts of New Mexico and the 1780-1782 Great Rebellion of Peru and Upper Peru


The 1680 and 1696 Revolts of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico



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The 1680 and 1696 Revolts of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico

The 1680 and 1696 Pueblo Revolts were only the most prominent expressions of native resistance that had been occurring for decades against Hispanic rule in the area of present day New Mexico. Small uprisings in which clerics and Hispanics died had erupted in Jemez in 1623, among the Zuni in 1632, and in Taos in 1639. Even more prevalent were Indian conspiracies, such as those by the Jemez in 1644, by the Tewas in league with the Apaches in 1650, and in the late 1660s based in Las Salinas.16 The last was not unlike many, in which the leader, Esteban Clemente, sought to “destroy the whole body of Christians […] sparing not a single friar or Spaniard.”17


The 1680 rebellion differed from the others mostly due to its success, which reflected extensive planning and coordinated and concerted action by the rebels. It was led by an enigmatic medicine man of San Juan named Popé. Perhaps a mulatto, he had been planning a regional rebellion at least since 1674, and perhaps began even six years earlier. In 1675 he had been rounded up and flogged along with numerous other curanderos18 for practicing witchcraft. After his release, he fled to Taos, long a center of resistance to Hispanic rule, where he continued to plan a massive regional uprising.19 Dispatching runners to the pueblos of the region, he commanded that other leaders support his plan or become victims of it.20 Despite efforts to the contrary, the Hispanics uncovered the plot on August 9 after the loyalist Indian governors of San Cristóbal, San Marcos and La Ciénega captured and interrogated two of Popé’s messengers.21 As a result of this, the Spanish Governor, Antonio Otermín, learned of the rebel’s “desire to kill the ecclesiastical ministers and all the Spaniards, women and children, destroying the whole population of the kingdom.”22 While Otermín was now aware of a conspiracy, he was mistaken concerning its date because when Popé’s messengers realized that the three loyalist governors were not supportive, they told them that it was planned for August 13th, not the original date of the 12th.23
Learning that the conspiracy had been uncovered, knowing that the Hispanic response would be quick, and not wanting it to go the way of so many previous conspiracies which had failed, Popé ordered that the rebellion begin immediately, on the night of August 9-10. Throughout that night and the following morning, in a well-coordinated assault, the natives of Taos, Picurís, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, San Juan, Tesuque, Pojoaque and Nambé attacked the Hispanic missions, homes and ranches in the region, killing the non-Indians, looting and burning many missions. In the Taos valley alone, sixty-eight of the seventy Hispanic settlers were killed.24 The rebellion continued through the 10th, as the inhabitants of many other towns and surrounding regions joined the uprising, such as those of Santo Domingo, Jemez, and San Lorenzo and Santa Clara.25
Having dominated most of the area around Santa Fe, the rebels then advanced on the Spanish capital. In Santa Fe, the Hispanics retreated to the governor’s compound, feverishly boosted its defenses and ordered those whom had taken refuge in La Cañada and Los Cerillos to come immediately to Santa Fe.26 By August 14, about 500 rebels from Pecos, San Cristóbal, San Lázaro, San Marcos, Galisteo and La Ciénega were just outside of town, “armed and giving war whoops” as they waited for reinforcements from Taos, Picurís and other towns, in addition to Apaches.27 Many of the rebels were ”on horseback, armed with arquebuses, lances, swords and shields, which they had accumulated in the despoiling of the people whom they had killed.”28 Despite sallies and skirmishes, the Hispanics were besieged, and by August 17 the rebels, now numbering about 2,500, moved into the center of town and diverted the Hispanic’s water supply.29
From their new positions, they began to burn and loot numerous buildings and also attempted to set fire to the doors of a tower which was part of the casas reales. Governor Otermín led several fruitless efforts to restore the defender’s access to water, although he was successful in preventing the rebels from setting fire to the casas reales. Despite this, the insurgents “began a chant of victory, and raised war-whoops, burning all the houses of the villa…[such that at night the] whole villa was a torch and everywhere were war chants and shouts.”30 The insurgents had reason to be optimistic. Of the approximately 1,000 people in the governor’s compound there were only about 100 people who could bear arms, “surrounded by …a wailing of women and children, with confusion everywhere.”31 Seeing the increasingly dire thirst and suffering of those around him, the increasing boldness of the rebels, and realizing that no succor was coming, Governor Otermín decided that the Hispanic’s best chance was to try to fight their way out and head south. On the morning of August 20th they charged the rebels, surprising many, killing over 300, and capturing and later executing forty-seven.32 On August 21, having lost five of their own in this latest encounter, the “routed, robbed and starving” Hispanics began to make their way south toward Isleta before the rebels could regroup with the aid of the Apaches.33 On August 23rd they arrived in San Marcos, and, following the Rio Grande, they arrived in Isleta on August 27th.34
The Hispanics in the region to the south of Santa Fe, known as Rio Abajo, had received word of the plot from Governor Otermín and as a result many were able to flee in advance of the uprising to Isleta, the only Tiwa pueblo that remained loyal.35 The natives of Puaray, Sandía and Alameda, however, joined the rebellion, and killed many Hispanics in their respective pueblos and surrounding areas. In all, about 120 people were killed in Rio Abajo, with the 1,500 survivors “on foot, without clothing or shoes,” left to ponder the intentions of the the natives in Isleta, who were becoming increasingly hostile.36 Perhaps those of Isleta feared Indian reprisals for failing to join the insurrection, or perhaps many secretly supported it, or both. The Lieutenant Governor of the region, Alonso García, decided to lead the refugees south on August 14th in the hope of meeting the triennial wagon train that was approaching the Rio Grande, having left from Mexico City some months before.37 By August 24th, the refugees under Lieutenant Governor García were in Socorro, and suspicious of the intent of the Indians there, they soon resumed their march. On September 4 they arrived at a place called Fray Cristóbal, 180 miles north of El Paso, where they would be joined nine days later by Governor Otermín’s group.38 By September 29th, both groups had arrived in La Salineta, twelve miles north of El Paso. While this area already had two missions and a few Hispanic colonists, the arrival of the refugees and their ensuing move just to the south marked the beginning of El Paso as a large scale settlement.39
The governor ordered a muster of all of the refugees on September 29th. Of the 1,946 people counted, only 155 could bear arms and only thirty-six had them, the “remainder being totally disabled, naked, afoot, unarmed.40 Of the total number, 954 were Hispanic women and children, and 837 were loyal natives, of which 337 were loyalist Piro Indians from Senecú, Socorro, Alamillo and Sevilleta whom had never been invited to join the uprising.41 Despite the Governor’s orders to the contrary, up to 1,000 people had already fled south to the province of Nueva Vizcaya.42 Otermín calculated that nineteen Franciscan friars, two lay brothers and 380 other Hispanics had been killed during the rebellion, and thirty-four towns had been burned in addition to numerous rural estates. All but 95 of the dead were women and children.43 Given that prior to 1680, the Hispanic population there never exceeded 2,500, the rebellion resulted in the death of about sixteen per cent of that group.44
Popé and his followers had achieved what many others had tried: the elimination of the Hispanic presence in the Pueblo region. Although the conspiracy was uncovered, the organization, communication and commitment of the rebels prevented them from being preempted and they embarked on twelve years of independent rule. Despite the utopian promises of Popé, it turned out to be a time of immense hardship marked by continuing Apache and Yuta attacks, Hispanic incursions as well as drought, famine and internecine division. Despite the occasional entrada,45 the Hispanics did not begin to effectively reinsert themselves in the region until 1692, under the leadership of Diego de Vargas Zapata Lujan Ponce de Leon.46 Unlike his predecessors, Governor Vargas relied heavily on political skill, the establishment of god-parental links, symbolic Indian submission and the threat of force to achieve his ends.47 In 1693 he led an expedition of settlers back to the region, although numerous and continuing conspiracies soon demonstrated that the Indian submission to the Spanish crown and cross was more of convenience than conviction.48 In 1695 there were near constant rumors of another regional rebellion, along with a poor harvest and an epidemic in which many died, Indian and Hispanic alike.49 The Franciscan friars in the pueblos consistently warned that “a rebellion and general uprising of the Indians of this kingdom is certain,” all the more so as the natives were aware that the Hispanics “lack provisions, many weapons, and military supplies.”50 The fears continued unabated, and by March, 1696, numerous Indians were increasingly disrespectful of the friars, and, in anticipation to hostilities, many had gone to the mesas.51 Rumors of rebellion were “rampant,” and many friars retreated to the the relative security of Santa Fe or other Spanish towns.52 Aware that conspiracies were often planned for a full moon, Friar Miguel Trizio wrote that there would be “many more full moons, and we do not know which one will become waning for us and the crescent for them.”53
On June 4th, 1696, the long-awaited rebellion did erupt, led by the Tiwas of Taos and Picurís, the Tewas of San Ildefonso and Nambé, the Tanos of Jemez and San Cristóbal, and the Keres of Santo Domingo and Cochiti. Though it had similar goals, it was on a smaller scale than that of 1680, although five friars died in addition to twenty one Hispanics.54 Almost all of the pueblos had some level of involvement in the uprising, including the Moquinos, Zunis, Acomas and Apaches, although most of the Indians of Santa Ana, San Felipe, Zia, Pecos and Tesuque stayed loyal to the Hispanics and helped in ending the rebellion.55

Among the insurgent leaders were the governor of Santo Domingo, who was executed in Santa Fe on June 14th, along with the Indian chiefs of Jemez and Nambé. According to the Hispanics, the latter had worked “tirelessly since the month of last December going through all of the nations and towns of the kingdom, persuading their inhabitants to unite...to finish off the Spanish or chase them from this land.”56 Governor Vargas wasted no time in catching and killing the leaders, such as Lucas Naranjo, El Zepe, Juan Griego and Juan Chillo from Santa Clara, and Dieguillo from Nambé.57 By late November of 1696, most of the Tewas of San Juan, San Ildefonso, Jacona and Nambé, and the Keres of Cochiti had been defeated and returned to their towns, although others had fled to live with the Hopi and Apache.58






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