Galisteo Basin Archaeology | Spanish Colonial Period (2023)

Spanish Colonial Period

European “history” in the GalisteoBasin begins with the first exploring expeditions, or entradas, that entered what was to become northern New Mexico.Journals and accounts are sketchy if they survived at all, and generations ofhistorians and archaeologists have attempted to place the few descriptions inthe context of modern geography. Place names often were reinvented from groupto group, and only after a permanent colony was established do the cultural andnatural geography come into clear focus. After failed unauthorized attempts atcolonization, a royal franchise was granted to Juan de Oñate, and he established an authorizedcolony in 1598. Spanish colonization consisted of two parallel processes, onereligious and one secular, that were often in opposition. The Spanish Colonialperiod is divided into two by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the most successfulinstance of Native American resistance in North America. The second periodbegins with the Reconquest in 1692, and it ends with the independence of Mexicofrom Spain in 1821.


The first Europeans to describetheir visits to New Mexico were accidental tourists of the failed Cabeza deVaca expedition, traveling through portions of the Southwest in the 1528-1536period while escaping captivity by Native American groups to the east. Stories theyrelated on their return to Mexico led to the dispatch of the 1539 Fray Marcosde Niza expedition, famous for Estevanico’s death at Zuni (Estevanico is oftenreferred to as a Moor or as a Black slave) and Fray de Niza’s misperception froma distance that mud plaster was gold. The anticipation of potential riches anddesire to further Galisteo Basin Archaeology | Spanish Colonial Period (1)consolidate Spain’s claims to New World territory resulted inthe Coronado expedition of 1540-1542. After learning the disappointing truthabout Zuni mud plaster, and sending Fray de Niza home in disgrace, Coronado setup his winter base camp near Bernalillo. From that base Coronado sent out partiesthat explored areas of the northern Rio Grande Valley, briefly exploring theGalisteo Basin as a prelude to venturing out on the plains to the east insearch of Quivira and the next apocryphal source of wealth. In the Coronado expedition’swanderings through the basin, they noted a pueblo in ruins (circumstantialevidence suggests that they were probably referring to the Pueblo of SanLazaro) and several other occupied pueblos on the route to Pecos (Cicuye). Theoccupied pueblos probably include two or more of the pueblos of San Marcos,Galisteo, or San Cristobal.

Accounts of the subsequentexploring expeditions of Rodríguez (1581) and Espejo (1582) areambiguous concerning Galisteo Basin communities. Both expeditions passedthrough the Galisteo Basin, and Pecos Pueblo is a solid referent, but theirsketchy accounts of directions, distances, and sights don’t allow independent assessmentsof the Galisteo Basin communities at that time.

Castaño de Sosa led an abortivecolonizing party to northern New Mexico in 1590-1591. From a temporaryheadquarters at Pecos they explored as far north as Taos, returning through theGalisteo Basin. Another headquarters was established at Pueblo San Marcos, followedby a move to the Rio Grande at Santo Domingo Pueblo. During prospecting foraysfrom San Marcos, apparently to the Ortiz Mountain area, additional occupied andabandoned pueblos were noted. In addition to Pueblo San Marcos, historians arerelatively confident that they can equate the Castaño accounts with the pueblos ofGalisteo and San Cristobal, and other descriptions could be of Pueblo SanLazaro and Pueblo La Cieneguilla. De Sosa’s colonization effort wascharacterized as “unauthorized,” and he was arrested and his party returned toMexico. The accumulating accounts of numerous indigenous farming communitiesand potential mining prospects in what would become Nuevo Mexico encouraged thedecision for a royally sanctioned colonization effort.

Initial Colonization to the PuebloRevolt

The Spanish Crown granted acontract or franchise for the colonization of New Mexico to Juan de Oñatewho had become wealthy in Zacatecas. With hopes of expanding his wealth, Oñateassembled the components of his colony and began the slow journey north acrossa then trackless landscape. Ending their journey at the village of Ohkay Owinge(which the Spanish named San Juan de los Caballeros), the Colonists took overthe pueblo of Yunque Yunque, renaming it San Gabriel. From this base,expeditions were sent out to assert sovereignty over all of the nearby Pueblocommunities, to prospect for mineral resources, and to establish the boundariesof Spanish rule. Establishing sovereignty was both a secular and religiousprocess, requiring Native populations to accept both Spanish rule and religiousconversion. Oñate visited the Galisteo Basin Pueblos and placed themunder his authority, but Spanish resources were too few to establish apermanent presence in the region. The Galisteo Basin pueblos escaped theviolence and atrocities perpetrated by Oñate’s forces against the community atAcoma, reflecting a more passive mode of cultural interaction that was topersist up until the Pueblo Revolt.

Spanish governance of New Mexicowas a revolving door of franchise assignments. The initial colony under Oñatestruggled economically and in terms of internal morale (the colonists’expectations of quality of life and riches did not materialize). Oñatewas recalled, and the new governor, Pedro de Peralta officially moved hiscapitol to Santa Fe by 1610. The northward flow of colonists and Franciscan missionariesincreased, and Spanish ranchos were established in the Rio Grande Valley fromsouth of Socorro to the Taos Valley. While the seat of secular government wasat the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, the seat of religious leadershipwas established at Santo Domingo.

Tension between the secular andreligious institutions was played out repeatedly in the Galisteo Basin over theensuing century. Governors were expected to manage the colony on behalf of theKing, quietly extracting their own fortunes in the process. Communities, andespecially Pueblo communities, were taxed in terms of both encomienda (tribute in goods) and repartimiento (tribute in service). Encomienda and repartimientowere administered by favored colonists on behalf of the Governor, and inexchange for taxation, the governor and his representatives were obligated toprovide protection for the pueblo communities. Meanwhile, Franciscanauthorities were establishing missions for the conversion of the Indianpopulation, and those missions had to be self-sustaining. Labor in support ofthe missions was provided by the Indian community, and to the degree that thepriests were successful, it eroded the resource base of the governor and hisagents.

With the establishment of thepermanent colony, it quickly became apparent that the riches enjoyed by many regionsof Mexico and South America were lacking, and that the major reasons formaintaining a colonial presence were to fend off other European powers and tocomplete the work of converting the native inhabitants to the Catholic faith.New Mexico became a subsidized colony from the perspective of the SpanishCrown, although the Governors still expected to earn their personal rewardsfrom their administration of tribute and trade. Lacking riches, and relying onNative labor for survival and wealth, the stage was set for conflict betweensecular and religious authorities, with the productive capacity of Pueblocommunities as the prize to be fought over.

Meanwhile, northern New Mexico wasfar from the center of Colonial power in Mexico, and supply and tradingcaravans could be months to years apart. In addition to goods, the caravansheading north brought new priests for the missions, usually fresh graduatesfrom seminaries in Mexico that formed “recruiting classes.” From ecclesiasticalheadquarters in Santo Domingo, the religious administration decided how best todistribute the new arrived priests, whether replacing deceased or departingpriests or establishing new missions among new Native communities. Waves ofmissionization resulted, as the Franciscan reach was extended and withdrawndepending on circumstance. Experience, training, fervor, and the tone ofsecular-religious relationships all were expressed in the mission history ofthe Galisteo Basin.

Perhaps as early 1613 but at leastby 1616, small missions had been established at Pueblo Galisteo and Pueblo SanLazaro. Seven new priests arrived in the winter of 1616-1617, allowing theestablishment of a mission at Pecos, while the mission at San Lazaro wasdowngraded to a visita of the missionat Galisteo. A mission was built at Pueblo San Cristobal in 1620, but after1626 it was downgraded to visitastatus in favor of the larger mission at Galisteo Pueblo. The mission atGalisteo Pueblo figures most prominently in Spanish records, but missions werealso present at Pueblo San Marcos and La Cieneguilla. By Royal decree, Friarswere entitled to the services of ten Indian servants, but if secular accountsare to be believed, the missions were fully developed economic enterprises forthe benefit of the Franciscans.

Conflict between governors and thereligious authorities was tense from the beginning, and in the 1610s Governor Eulatewas accused of allowing and even promoting traditional religious practice atthe Galisteo Basin pueblos in exchange for favorable tribute. Thesecular-religious conflict theme was repeated continually, and in the early1659-1661 the Pueblos of San Galisteo, San Cristobal, San Lazaro, and LaCienguilla were singled out as places where then Governor Mendizábaldecreed that the communities should resume their ceremonial dances. The conflictinvolved settlers and soldiers who were responsive to the Governor, andSpaniards are reported as participating in katchina dances at San Lazaro andGalisteo pueblos, to the distress of the Friars.

The Pueblo Indians were pawns inthe Spanish Colonial power struggles, and collateral damage took the form ofunrelenting economic demands and repression of traditional religious belief andpractice. The most important perspectives on the latter are two qualities ofPueblo culture. First, there is no clear line between the secular and sacred,so that religious belief and practice are fully integrated into daily life.Second, unlike European conceptions, Pueblo religious systems are inclusiverather than exclusionary. There is noinherent contradiction in Pueblo culture in attending mass and thenparticipating in traditional religious practices. This duality, however, wasanathema to the missionaries, who saw the abandonment of traditional religionas an absolute requirement.

The demands of encomienda and repartimientowere unrelenting, even in the face of drought, disease, and famine. Prolongeddrought in 1660s and 1670s stressed Native American communities and Spanishcolonists alike, and Spanish demands for tribute threatened the survival ofPueblo communities. Religious oppression was expressed in public discipline andexecutions of perceived traditional religious leaders, and the two stressorswere the catalyst for yet another attempt at revolt on the part of the Indiansof New Mexico. Instead of being isolated expressions of resistance, the revoltof 1680 was coordinated and ultimately successful.

Much of the early recorded history in the Galisteo relates to establishment of missions. Within the basin four were established at the pueblos of San Cristóbal, Galisteo, San Lazaro, and San Marcos. The church at Pueblo Galisteo was reported to be especially grand, though today traces of its existence are very subtle (photo). In addition to a quest for converts, it was desirable for the larger Spanish settlements such as Santa Fe to maintain a buffer against incursions by plains groups such as the Comanche.

A signal event in the history of Spanish settlement in the Tierra Adentro was the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. While other uprisings against European colonizers took place, that of 1680 is the most famous and was the most successful. The Europeans were expelled from all of present-day New Mexico and Arizona for 12 years. The Tano residents of the Galisteo pueblos were active participants in the revolt and the churches at the pueblos in the basin were largely destroyed. After the Spanish reconquest in 1692 several attempts were made to repopulate the Galisteo pueblos for their protective effect. This effort involved building new, though smaller, churches at Pecos and Galisteo.

Land tenure in the Galisteo Basin was largely determined by huge land grants from the Spanish Crown. The San Cristóbal and Galisteo grants began around 1800, the beginning of a long and complex history of disputes. The San Cristóbal Grant begun under Spanish rule has survived under Mexican rule, was recognize by American governments and largely is intact as the San Cristóbal Ranch today. Land speculation has always been a part of the political and social landscape.

For many years the basin was regarded as a dangerous place due to raiding by Comanches, Apaches, and even criminals disguised as natives to defer blame. While the Tano were at times staunch allies of the Spanish, they also became debt peons, disenfranchised from their lands and therefore could also become raiders.

Lippard (2010:239-280) gives an account of the latter eighteenth century travails of the Tano in the vicinity of Galisteo Pueblo. She includes an account of the mission in 1776 by Fray Antanasio Dominguez which is truly dismal:

“The description of the church and convent…finds no better explanation than in the lamentations of Jeremiah. The church is small. Its walls are about to fall. Half the roof is on the ground and the rest is ready to lie on the floor…The main door, which faces east, is always open, for if they move to close it falls to the ground.”

“The Comanches have deprived many of their lives; all of them of their land property. Those who remain are forced to eat hides of cows, oxen, horses for their very existence….“In short, they are so discouraged that they would have thought of abandoning the pueblo and dividing themselves as best they might among the pueblos with good supplies, but they have not done so for fear of the government.”

(Lippard 2010:272)

Added to these problems were epidemics of small pox. Eventually, of course, they did leave for other pueblos including Santo Domingo, perhaps Pecos.

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