Monday, September 9, 2013

Moody River, More Deadly...

Sometimes things arrive from the ether, and you have no idea why. Such was the case this morning when I woke up hearing the melody to "Moody River" going round and round in my head. Whut the... ?

As I rubbed the overnight crusts from my eyes, I couldn't get the lyrics right, though I remembered the rhythm and the melody correctly. I kept thinking the lyric was "muddy river" and couldn't get the following lyrics at all. What could it be? "Torments me?" What could it be about? The Rio Grande?

We don't live close to the river, but we were near it yesterday when we went on yet another literary adventure, this time to Albuquerque to see and hear Dennis Herrick discuss his historical novel "Winter of the Metal People, the Untold Story of America's First Indian War." Herrick is a friend of Ms. Ché's.

The book is Herrick's novelization of what's known as the Tiguex War of 1541-42, when the Spanish adventurer Vasquez de Coronado set himself on the conquest of the dozen or so pueblos dotting the Rio Grande Valley between present day Albuquerque and the bluffs north of Bernalillo.

In the course of that struggle, numerous pueblos were destroyed, their inhabitants and defenders slaughtered in most horrible fashion, and many of the survivors were driven into or attempted to escape by crossing the Rio Grande River, and many perished in the freezing water. "Moody River," indeed. What tragic things that river has witnessed.

Unknown history? Well, I knew about it, having read some of the Spanish chronicles and some of the anthropological and archaeological studies done on the era. I've written periodically about it here.

I wouldn't say it's well-known, however, in part because of the earlier tendency of historians to romanticize and  heroicize the European explorers and conquistadores who came and conquered (the linked story is one of the most shameful misrepresentations of Coronado's expeditions I've found). The brief story of Coronado that we were taught in elementary school was that he explored the Southwest and the Great Plains looking for the Seven Cities of Gold and he was the first explorer to discover the Grand Canyon. Then he went back to Mexico. Pretty much, that was it.

"He" singular. As if the thousands of adventurers and warriors and servants and hangers-on who went north from Mexico City on the expedition in 1540 hadn't existed at all. Yet there were thousands of people on the march northwards, and there were many animals, both livestock and transport animals.

The expedition would have been miles and miles long, kicking up enormous quantities of dust as it lurched and rumbled and sang its way forward through very difficult mountain and desert terrain up from Mexico into what's now New Mexico, across the territory west into Arizona and Utah and east into Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and back again. Coronado, however, split it up into several smaller companies, leaving at different times so that whatever forage they could find along the route would recover between times. Nevertheless, the company that eventually commandeered and destroyed the pueblos of the Tiguex province of the Rio Grande amounted to several thousand individuals and their livestock, a far larger cohort than any of the pueblos could muster, and possibly larger than the whole population of the region. Only a relatively handful of those who set out on this expedition however were said to have returned to Mexico in 1542, and of course they found no Cities of Gold. There weren't any to find.

Even by Spanish standards, the cities -- rather villages -- they did find were relatively poor though they were abundantly supplied with the necessities of living. There was plenty of food, the people's clothing was plain but very nicely woven and made mostly of cotton, the housing was mostly mud brick multi-story, multi-family dwellings not unlike Taos Pueblo today. They had simple but reasonably comfortable accommodations arranged around plazas where daily routines of life  and periodic ceremonials took place. There was no gold and very little metal at all. What there was largely consisted of little copper bells and trinkets traded from the peoples farther  south. In fact, the Spanish brought with them far more metal of varied kinds -- and left more behind them -- than the Natives of the region had ever imagined existed.

Because there were so many people and animals on the expedition, it was difficult or impossible to supply them from afar. They had to make their way by foraging the land, and their foraging would mean the destruction of the pueblos on the Rio Grande.  The Spanish were very unpleasant about it, too.

The Coronado expedition's violence, plunder, murder and destruction in the Rio Grande Valley became part of La Leyenda Negra, "The Black Legend," that chronicled (and sometimes exaggerated) Spanish atrocities in the New World.

It's part of local history that can't be escaped, though the story was sanitized when it came time to present it to school children, as most of the stories of exploration and conquest in the New World would be. The conquerors rarely see themselves for what they were and are. The way the Natives saw and see them is barely known at all.

Herrick pointed out that the Tiwa Pueblo people living in the region today wouldn't speak to him -- at least not about the events of the Coronado expedition of 1540-42. They don't talk about it, not with Anglos. I'm sure they preserve the memories, though. It was, undoubtedly, doGawful. (And yes, war-dogs were used in New Mexico against resistant Natives.)

It's said that all the pueblos of the middle Rio Grande Valley above the site of Albuquerque were abandoned and many of them were destroyed during Coronado's sojourn, and yet forty years later when further (and much smaller) Spanish expeditions were sent north, all of the pueblos were said to have been rebuilt and reoccupied, and there was little or no indication that Coronado's horde had ever passed through. Nor, apparently, was there much discussion about it.

Later expeditions, and even Onate's colonization of the region starting in 1598, took scant notice of the previous Coronado expedition. Apparently, even in those days, the Natives had little or nothing to say about it. And according to reports, the pueblos showed no ill effects from it.

When we visited Kuaua years ago -- it's the Coronado State Monument, an abandoned and ruined pueblo in Bernalillo, north of Albuquerque --  the staff were mostly Indians, and they had a very contemptuous attitude toward Coronado, deeply resentful to this day of his predilection for violence, murder and plunder. They were not hesitant to express their views to visitors, either. We thought it was interesting that the staff at the Coronado Monument were so outspoken about a man they clearly loathed, yet for whom the site was named. These Indians, at any rate, had no qualms regarding speaking about Coronado.

Like all the other pueblos of the middle Rio Grande, Kuaua was situated close to -- but not too close to -- the Rio Grande, and the site has a spectacular view of the river, the bosque and the Sandias -- despite the real estate development that seems to be closing in all around it. The people of Kuaua and the other Rio Grand pueblos were farmers, growing extensive crops of corn, melons, squash, beans, and other fruits and vegetables in irrigated fields along the Rio Grande. Their farms produced a significant surplus which they stored for winter and for lean times. The Spanish took not only their surplus, but food the Indians needed for current use as well. The Spanish took the clothes from the backs of the Indians, and then they evicted them from a pueblo known as Coofor (and by other names) south of Kuaua, telling the inhabitants to go live with their relatives elsewhere.

The Spanish let their animals forage the harvested fields so that there would be no winter fuel for cooking and warmth.

When the Indians killed a number of the foraging animals, the Spanish declared them enemies who had declared war on the Spanish. And the lopsided battle was on.

The Indians were unable to defend themselves against Spanish aggression except by barricading themselves within their pueblos. The Spanish destroyed them one by one, and they massacred the defenders -- after giving them "pardons". Hundreds were said to have been burned alive at the stake.

Hundreds more were cut down by sword, lance, and harquebus.

Those Indians who could escape made their way to the mountains where they set up temporary camps and conducted a guerrilla campaign against the invaders until they left the Rio Grande Valley the following year.

These were the reports at any rate.

There are some indications that many of the Indian auxiliaries that came to New Mexico with Coronado and his troops stayed in the region and joined with the Pueblo peoples resisting the Spanish. Priests stayed behind to convert the savages, though they did not survive for long apparently.

While later expeditions from Mexico claimed that the area was well-settled and prosperous only a generation or so after Coronado's exploits, it wasn't much longer before the Rio Grande and especially the East Mountains Pueblo population crashed due to disease, drought and starvation, and Plains Indian raids. By the 1670's all the East Mountains and Salinas Mission Pueblos were abandoned and most of the Rio Grande Pueblos were "consolidated" what with  far lower Indian populations than previously.

The Pueblo Revolt occurred soon thereafter, reducing the Indian population of the Rio Grande even further and eliminating for a time the Spanish population.

When the Spanish came back beginning in 1692, all the pueblos in what's now the Albuquerque area had been abandoned except for Isleta south of present day Albuquerque. Laguna to the west was established with Indian refugees as was the re-established Sandia Pueblo north of Albuquerque.

Albuquerque itself was founded in 1706, after Barelas and Bernalillo, on lands formerly part of Indian Pueblos.

Many people, including the author Dennis Herrick until he had been here for quite a while, were unaware of the many historical factors that have gone into making the middle Rio Grande region what it is today. Even  those who have lived in the area most or all of their lives may know little or nothing about things that happened so long ago. Much as I found in California, many people are simply unaware of the long and rich history of the People Who Came Before, sometimes because they aren't curious about it, and sometimes because there is so little information available.

In the case of the middle Rio Grande, the issue isn't so much that there isn't information -- there's plenty of information -- it's more that so much of it comes from incomplete and inaccurate Spanish chronicles. The Indians won't discuss it with Anglos, though they maintain the stories of those times. Archeological sites were bulldozed or covered over, and what used to be is too often ignored. Even recent but historically significant sites along Central Avenue, the Route 66 spine of present day Albuquerque, have been bulldozed into oblivion.

Out where we live, the Salinas Mission Pueblos were never re-occupied by their builders, and the Galisteo Basin Pueblos were only temporarily reoccupied before being abandoned again. Nevertheless, Pueblo history hasn't ended, far from it. The 19 remaining pueblos could be considered merely a shadow of what used to be, but they are culturally strong and many are doing very well economically and financially thanks to casino revenues and increasingly diversified economies.

But what happened should never be forgotten.

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