CONTACTS AMONG CULTURES IN NEW MEXICO - JUNE 2007

 

       In June I spent nine days in New Mexico. I had previously attended a psychology conference in Albuquerque and had visited Acoma Pueblo and other Native American sites nearby.  But I wanted to learn more.  So I stayed with friends in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and made day trips to museums and historical sites around Santa Fe and Taos.  I learned much about interactions among Native Americans, Spanish colonists, and U.S. traders and troops in various historical periods. I also gained a deeper appreciation of the role of the Southwest in the westward expansion of the U.S.

 

BEFORE THE SPANIARDS CAME

       There is archeological evidence of human activity in New Mexico dating back 12,000 years, when Native Americans hunted big game and foraged for food.  By 800 AD they lived in pithouses dug in the ground, with a rim of rocks covered by branches, and grew maize (called corn in the U.S.), a type of grain that came from Mesoamerica, as well as beans and squash. In 1100-1300 Pueblos (towns) were created by enlarging caves of volcanic tuff in cliffsides (similar to churches and homes I had seen in Cappadocia in Turkey), and by building houses of adobe bricks made of sand, clay, and straw dried in the sun.  The adobe houses had ceilings of logs packed with adobe, and some were five stories high.  Entrances were on the roofs, using ladders that could be pulled up for defense. The Pueblo tribes traded with and were raided by nomadic tribes from the Plains.

 

CONQUEST BY THE SPANISH

        Coronado came in 1541 looking for gold but found none. Spanish colonists came from what is now Mexico in 1598.  Franciscan priests came with the settlers to minister to them and to “civilize” the Native Americans by converting them to Christianity.  There were strong efforts to eliminate Native religious ceremonies which the priests considered to be devil-worship.  In one case in 1756, Native healers who used medicinal herbs, and others whom the priest thought were possessed by the devil, were accused of witchcraft (see The Witches of Abiquiu by Malcolm Ebright & Rick Hendricks, 2006).  Fortunately, the Governor of New Spain at that time did not believe the accusations since it was inconsistent for the Devil to recommend that they repent their sins!   So no accused witches were executed there as they had been in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.

        The Spanish colonists traded with the Pueblo tribes, and like them, were subject to raids by the Plains tribes.  Often the plundered groups made counter-raids.  Women captured in raids were often taken as wives by the tribes or as concubines by the colonists.  Children were sometimes adopted and sometimes kept as servants.  There was a previous history of using captives as slaves among Native American tribes before the Spanish came, and among Spanish in Spain who captured Muslims.  In New Mexico, there was a brisk trade in captured slaves among all of the groups.  For example, in 1754 a Native American slave girl cost 2 horses.

        But these slaves were not considered to be inferior legally, as were African slaves in the U.S., since Catholic priests said that the slaves had souls. In theory those Native Americans captured or bought by colonists could earn their freedom, similar to indentured servants in the eastern U.S. colonies, after enough years of labor equal to their purchase price.  But sometimes the years of labor were unclear or not honored.  Since the captives became bi-cultural, and sometimes were considered kin, they facilitated trade among the otherwise antagonistic groups (see the discussion of Genizaros in The Witches of Abiquiu; also see Captives and Cousins by James F. Brooks, 2002.

        Tensions became greater as more colonists arrived and usurped tribal lands, and as priests punished converts who still practiced Native Rituals. The Pueblo tribes revolted in 1680 and drove out the Spanish.  The Spanish returned 12 years later to re-establish colonies.  But resistance by Plains tribes continued for another two centuries, ironically facilitated by horses and guns raided or bought from the Spanish settlers. 

 

CHANGING GOVERNANCE

        Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821.  Prior to that time Spain wanted the New Spain colonists to trade only with Spain, not with the U.S.  But the Mexican authorities welcomed trade with Americans who came across the Plains from St. Louis, Missouri, along the Santa Fe trail.  I learned about the other end of the trail when I was in St. Louis at the Museum of Westward Expansion two months ago. 

        In 1845 the U.S. annexed Texas, and in 1846 U.S. military troops came to New Mexico.  In the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, Mexico ceded 40% of its territory to the U.S. in exchange for $15 million, the same price as the Louisiana Purchase in 1804.   In 1854 the Gadsden Purchase extended the border of what is now Arizona and New Mexico to settle border disputes. 

        When the U.S. Civil War began in 1861, some New Mexicans joined the Confederate Army, but most of the territory remained loyal to the Union.  Confederate troops entered New Mexico seeking access to the goldfields of Colorado and California as well as the Pacific Ocean.  They took Santa Fe and won two battles at Glorietta Pass, but retreated after Union troops sneaked around and destroyed their supply wagons. 

        In 1880 the railroad came to New Mexico, expanding trade and making the Santa Fe trail obsolete.  It also brought many settlers and tourists enticed by railroad advertisements.  New Mexico remained a U.S. territory and did not become a state until 1912 after many petitions, due to prejudice against its having the highest percentage of Hispanic residents.  It was the 47th state, followed by Arizona the same year, the last two of the contiguous states.

        Today New Mexico has a rich mixture of Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures.  Santa Fe and Taos are popular destinations for artists, tourists, retirees, and skiers.

 

MUSEUMS AND SITES VISITED

        June 7:  I flew from LA to Albuquerque, and was picked up by my host who drove us 60 miles north to Santa Fe then 60 miles east to Las Vegas, NM.  My host and hostess had taught with me at Whittier College before they retired.

        June 8:  I visited the Rough Rider museum in Las Vegas, NM.  The Rough Riders were army volunteers recruited by Theodore Roosevelt. The museum had artifacts from the soldiers as well as photos of their later reunions.  It also had exhibits on history and nostalgia about the Santa Fe Trail. I then explored the downtown area on foot.

        June 9:  My host and I explored the ruins of nearby Fort Union, which was built to protect traders on the Santa Fe Trail from raids and which also served as a supply depot for 50 other forts in the Southwest.  We were there on the one day a year when they tour and lecture about the first fort which had been built by inexperienced soldiers using green wood and adobe which collapsed.  A second fort was built as earthen bunkers for defense, and the third was built of adobe again.  Many of the walls of the third fort had collapsed by now, leaving brick chimneys with parts of adobe attached in a surrealistic landscape.  Men could have their wives there, but the wives complained of dust storms, low pay, and boredom.

        We also visited the Cleveland Roller Mill, which had used rollers instead of millstones to grind wheat into flour, along with a series of machines to clean and separate the wheat from the bran before grinding it. Then at the picturesque old adobe church in Las Trampas we met a local artist who was making paintings of the church.

        June 10:  I drove to Santa Fe to see El Rancho de las Golondrinas (Ranch of the Swallows), a living history museum which displayed Spanish colonial life two hundred years ago.  It had an adobe wall around the compound and a watchtower and bell to warn of attack. It was a popular stop for travelers since it was a one-day ride by horse from Santa Fe.  There were rooms to store food for the winter, and each of the other rooms had a corner fireplace.  On display were triangular wooden saddles for lashing goods onto burros, which I had never seen before, as well as cradles suspended by ropes from the ceiling. 

        Elsewhere on the property were historic buildings brought from other locations including a school, a blacksmith shop, and a penitentes church. The school was unusual in having a room for the teacher to live; normally the teacher would live with a family rather than be a single young woman living alone. The penitentes identify with the suffering of Christ by flogging themselves and having processions during Lent. They were important in supporting faith among Catholics when priests were pulled back from New Mexico after Mexican Independence.  There also was a wooden house built for the filming of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; I believe it appears in the famous scene with a bicycle. 

        I drove to Museum Hill to see the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, which had some nice sculptures outside.  I also walked around the Santa Fe plaza and saw the old adobe San Miguel Church, the oldest church structure in the U.S., and other historical buildings.  I then watched a breakdance crew perform on the Plaza stage.

        June 11:  I explored the Pecos National Historic Park, which has the ruins of a Pueblo established in the 1300s and an adobe mission church that was originally built in 1635, destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and rebuilt in 1717. The visitors center had a wonderful series of panels which described the major periods in New Mexico history.  It filled in some gaps in my notes from other museums. 

        I then visited the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe, which was originally founded in 1937 to preserve Navajo rituals. It returned many of the artifacts to the Navajos in the 1970s since they were considered sacred.  It now has displays of Native American arts marketed for tourists. I learned that pottery-making almost died out after 1890 as ceramic pots were replaced by metal pots, but it was revived for tourists and mail-order trade facilitated by railroads.  Designs of blankets and jewelry were also modified, such as making silver bracelets lighter.

        June 12:  I drove to Taos and visited the Church of St. Francis, made of adobe with unusual buttresses depicted in many paintings. At La Hacienda de Martinez, another colonial rancho made of adobe, I learned about the importance of sheep brought by the Spanish.  The wool woven into textiles was an important export for the colonists, and later for Native Americans who sold blankets to tourists. 

        The highlight of Taos, however, was Taos Pueblo, where Native Americans still live in ancient adobe buildings up to five stories high.  Some of the buildings now have shops selling pottery, jewelry, t-shirts, and other items for tourists.  One woman told me that she has a shop there but lives in town.  Among the 2500 members of the tribe, 1800 live on the reservation but only about 50 live in the historic pueblo.

        I also explored Lumina Gallery sculpture garden, the Plaza downtown, and the Kit Carson museum.  Kit Carson was a fur trapper catching beavers for hats until silk hats became fashionable and beavers were depleted.  He became a guide for three expeditions to California where he became involved in the Mexican-American War, then served in the U.S. Civil War.  Western novels and later movies made him famous as an Indian fighter.  While the museum depicts him as a hero, some historians view him as responsible in massacres of Native Americans (see Kit Carson at www.wikipedia.com).

        June 13: I returned to Santa Fe and visited the Fine Arts museum.  It had a wonderful display of historic periods of Santa Fe art, with a written description of each period accompanied by a small number of illustrative works.   I also saw the Palace of the Governors which had been the seat of government for Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. officials.  Among the artifacts on display were a violin made of leather, a leather jacket made to ward off arrows, and samples of barbed wire used to partition off ranches.  I learned that cattle were branded to indicate their owners when they grazed in mixed herds on the open range. 

        At the Georgia O’Keefe museum I learned that she not only painted flowers, but also abstract New Mexico landscapes.  The Institute of American Indian Arts was changing exhibits so its galleries were closed, but the gift shop had a nice collection of DVD movies and documentaries about Native Americans whose titles I copied to sample from Netflix.  The Loretto Chapel had an interesting spiral staircase supported only at the base and top.  On the way out of town I explored the campus of the College of Santa Fe where my wife had spent a month at a geology workshop five years ago.  It had many outdoor sculptures.

        June 14: My host drove us to Bandelier National Monument to see cliffside caves in volcanic tuff and the ruins of adobe buildings occupied from the 1100s to the 1500s.   The visitors center told about the work of the Civilian Conversation Corps in making improvements at the site.  The CCC was a federal program that hired 3 million unemployed men to work on projects across the U.S. during the Great Depression in the 1930s.   The site was also interesting for its bio-diversity as a transition zone among fir, pine, and deciduous trees, in a canyon that had been carved out of a volcanic flow by a stream.

        We also stopped at the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos, which told about the development of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  When I was in Japan I had visited the peace museums in those cities where I was struck by the image of a person blasted into the sidewalk and the ragged clothes of junior high school kids who were at the epicenters of the blasts.  In Hiroshima the kids had been clearing rubble from conventional bombs, and in Nagasaki the epicenter was a junior high school when the clouds cleared enough to drop the bomb.  At Los Alamos they are again making plutonium pits for nuclear weapons, along with research on other applications such as brain scans.

        June 15: I drove 5 miles out of Las Vegas, NM to see Monteczuma’s Castle, a Victorian building originally built as a hot springs resort which later served as a Catholic seminary and a Baptist college.  It now is a branch of the United World College which has an International Baccalaureate program for the last two years of high school for 200 students from around the world.  I continued driving up to El Parvenir campground for beautiful views of Hermit’s Peak, then drove on narrow winding gravel roads to make a loop back to town. 

        I also drove the opposite direction from town to see a National Wildlife Preserve. It was the wrong time of year to see the water fowl there, but the visitors center had interesting displays of bird migration patterns, animal tracks, and skeletons of small animals.  I learned that bat wings are made of membranes stretched across fingers as long as the bat’s body.   I then walked around the Plaza in Las Vegas and browsed in a bookstore where I bought two books and copied some titles to order later online.

        June 16:  My host and I went on a studio tour of local artists in Las Vegas, NM before going to the Airport in Albuquerque for my flight back to LA.  I arrived home with many photos to edit and only two weeks left to finish the presentations I will give at two conferences in Mexico City.