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Spanish Encounters

Pecos National Historical Park
PO Box 418
Pecos, New Mexico 87552

Visitor Information
(505) 757-7200
Tours and Special Use Permits
(505) 757-7212


The idea of a "new" Mexico, another land of great cities weighted with gold, appealed to the latecomers who thronged Mexico City after the conquests of the Aztecs and Incas. These ambitious seekers needed only direction. Shipwrecked Cabeza de Vaca stumbled back into Mexico in 1536 after wandering over new Spain's northern frontier. 

His tales of rich cities farther north combined with tantalizing legends of-lost bishops and their seven cities out somewhere in the wilds to provide that direction. This was the vision quest Francisco Vasquez de Coronado pursued in 1540.

Leading an army of 1,200 Coronado made his way into he country north of Mexico. Six months into the march he rode into a cluster of Zuni pueblos, Cibola, near present day Gallup. He attacked the Zuni an Hawikuh, taking over that principle town and its food stores for his famished soldiers. 

At Cicuye-later called Pecos- 150 miles east the reception was different. The Indians welcomed the Spaniards with music and gifts. A Plains Indian captive at Pecos told of a rich land to the east, Quivira, and Coronado set out in spring 1541 to find it. Wandering as far as Kansas he found only a few villages. His Indian guide confessed he lured the army on to the plains to die, and Coronado had him strangled. 

The expedition turned back. After a bleak winter along the Rio Grande the broken army went back to Mexico empty handed, harassed by Indians most of the way. In Coronado's sojourn the Pecos Indians and their Pueblo neighbors had felt the warmth of a powerful world. They had seen the gray-clad priests plant crosses for their gods. But the strangers went away, and the Pueblos settled back into their old ways.

Colonizers and Missionaries

Nearly 60 years now passed before Spaniards came to New Mexico to stay. New Spain's frontier had slowly advance with the discovery of silver in nothern Mexico. In 1581 explorers began prospecting for silver in the land of the Pueblos. 

Their failures foreshaowed a truth that determined much of Spanish New Mexico's history: that province held neither golden cities nor ready riches. But the fact that settlers could farm and herd there focused the joint strategies of Cross and Crown: Pueblo Indians could be converted and their lands colonized.

Don Juan de O�ate was first to pursue this mixed objective, in 1598. Taking settlers, livestock, and 10 Franciscans he marched north to claim for Spain the land across the Rio Grande. Right away he assigned a friar to Pecos, richest and most powerful New Mexico pueblo. 

The new religion got off to a shaky start. After episodes of idol-smashing provoked Indian resentment, the Franciscans sent veteran missionary Fray Andr�s Ju�rez to Pecos in 1621 as healer and builder. Under his direction the Pecos built an adobe church south of the pueblo, the most imposing of New Mexico�s mission churches�with towers, buttresses, and great pine-log beams hauled from the mountains.

The ministry of Fray Ju�rez from 1621 to 34 coincided with the most energetic mission period in New Mexico, now a royal colony. It was a Franciscan-led time of mission building and expansion. Its success bred conflict�church and civil of�ficials vied for the Pueblo Indians� labor, tribute, and loyalty. The Indians suffered these struggles as religious and economic repression.

War and Reconquest

Decades of Spanish demands and Indian resentments climaxed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Indians in scattered pueblos united to drive the Spaniards back to Mexico. At Pecos loyal Indians warned the local priest, but most followed a tribal elder in revolt. They killed the priest, destroyed the church, and�symbolizing the discontent� built a forbidden kiva in mission�s convento itself.

Twelve years later, led by Diego de Vargas, the Spaniards came back to their lost province, peacefully in some places but with the sword in others. Vargas expected fighting at Pecos, but opinion had shifted. The Indians welcomed him back and supplied 140 warriors to help retake Santa Fe. A smaller church built on the old one�s ruins was the first mission reestablished after the Reconquest, and most Pecos sus�tained Spanish rule until it ended.

In return the Franciscans mod�erated their zeal. Tribute was abolished. As allies and traders the Pecos became partners in a relaxed Spanish-Pueblo community. But by the 1780s disease, Comanche raids, and migration reduced the pop-ulation of Pecos to fewer than 300. 

Long-standing internal divisions�between those loyal to the Church and things Spanish and those who clung to the old ways�may have contributed to this once powerful city-state�s decline. The function of Pecos as a trade center faded as Spanish colonists, now protected from the Comanches by treaties, established new towns to the east. 

Pecos was almost a ghost town when Santa Fe Trail trade began flowing past in 1821. Last survivors left a decaying pueblo and empty mission church in 1838 to join Towa-speaking relatives 80 miles west at J�mez pueblo, where their descendants still live today.

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