Tag Archives: Cicúye

From Cicúye to Pecos Ruins — Coronado’s expedition and Spanish settlement

I read The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542, by Pedro de Castañeda de Nájera several years ago —  a bilingual version, which I love because the Spanish is old and Spain’s Spanish not mine, though the quotes here are from the online version you can find here, translated in 1904. As we drove to what are now called Pecos ruins from Chama, I thought I remembered this place mentioned — it was a curious text, tragic in what it meant and yet leaving you with little sense of tragedy, perhaps because it was so strangely matter of fact, even boring. But what I remember was that the Spanish were welcomed in village after village, and in village after village they killed and stole and demanded gold and anything else they wanted. Women seem to have been included in this.

Cicúye, now known as Pecos ruins, was no different. Upon their arrival:

Five days from here he came to Cicúye, a very strong village four stories high. The people came out from the village with signs of joy to welcome Hernando de Alvarado and their captain, and brought them into the town with drums and pipes something like flutes, of which they have a great many. They made many presents of cloth and turquoises, of which there are quantities in that region. The Spaniards enjoyed themselves here for several days … (40)

This is what this thriving, welcoming village looks like now. Great mounds with a few of the walls and structured excavated.

Pecos Ruins

Pecos Ruins

Pecos Ruins

After such a welcome…well, this is what greed and conquest look like.

When Hernando de Alvarado reached Tiguex, on his way back from Cicúye, he found Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas there, and so there was no need for him to go farther. As it was necessary that the natives should give the Spaniards lodging places, the people in one village had to abandon it and go to others belonging to their friends, and they took with them nothing but themselves and the clothes they had on. (41)

It is clear who the barbarians are here, demanding lodging. And then the manufactured incident, the kidnapping…and yet they still manage to see themselves as victims through the whole of the narrative.

The general sent Hernando de Alvarado back to Cicúye to demand some gold bracelets which this Tm’k said they had taken from him at the time they captured him. Alvarado went, and was received as a friend at the village, and when he demanded the bracelets they said they knew nothing at all about them, saying the Turk was deceiving him and was lying. Captain Alvarado, seeing that there were no other means, got the Captain Whiskers and the governor to come to his tent, and when they had come he put them in chains. The villagers prepared to fight, and let fly their arrows, denouncing Hernando de Alvarado, and saying that he was a man who had no respect for peace and friendship. Hernando de Alvarado started back to Tiguex, where the general kept them prisoners more than six months. This began the want of confidence in the word of the Spaniards whenever there was talk of peace from this time on, as will be seen by what happened afterward. (45)

The Spanish were demanding gold, to know where these fabled cities of gold they sought could be found. The demanded at gunpoint, through the holding of hostages, and believed everyone lied to them when they denied knowledge of such a place. A place that did not in fact exist. So this little stratagem of the people of Cicúye seems pretty brilliant.

The general followed his guides until he reached Quivira, which took forty-eight days’ marching, on account of the great detour they had made toward Florida. He was received peacefully on account of the guides whom he had. They asked the Turk why he had lied and had guided them so far out of their way. He said that his country was in that direction and that, besides this, the people at Cicúye had asked him to lead them off on to the plains and lose them, so that the horses would die when their provisions gave out, and they would be so weak if they ever returned that they would be killed without any trouble, and thus they could take revenge for what had been done to them. This was the reason why he had led them astray…They garroted him… (74-75)

Cicúye was once a great center of trade, sitting here close to Glorieta Creek and the the Pecos River, commanding great visibility across the valley and sitting near Glorieta Pass, it was where the Indians of the plains, Apaches and Comanche came to trade with the Pueblo Indians, they would set up their camps outside the walls of the pueblo that rose three to four stories. This was a place of cultural encounter and exchange, a place of openness. A map of the pueblo, what has been excavated so far:


What is here now represents the curious melding of cultures that happened in the centuries after Coronado. Because of course the Spanish would not leave such a strategic village to their traditions and ways of life. By 1598 colonization had begun. They started to build this:

Pecos Ruins

The museum details a complex system of both tribute and forced labour demanded from residents of Pecos Pueblo, tensions between priests and landowners. The great pueblo uprising of 1680 defeated the Spanish — I am looking forward to learning more about this. They were forced from the countryside for over a decade. Clearly their reign wasn’t quite as benevolent as it feels from National Park Service descriptions.

But the Spanish returned. Rebuilt. Bigger.

Pecos Ruins

Pecos Ruins

I love, though, that a kiva exists even here, in the Spanish section of this settlement. It is unknown when or how this was built, if it was constructed as part of the church’s cooptation of native tradition or as resistance — perhaps there is more in the books written from the pueblo perspective.

Pecos Ruins

And so the Spanish continued there. Where there was once usually plenty of grain to trade with Apaches and others, there was no longer enough after the encomendero and their own survival — this is noted in the museum but its consequences not followed through. The Spanish presence, and the violence and disease and crushing taxes they brought with them, had surely destabilised everything. When there was no corn to buy, there was probably little left to do but raid or starve for traditionally nomadic tribes.

I don’t know, after this did they in fact build a peaceful community anew together with the Spanish? Was it one of equality and true faith? Was it just the raids and maybe some weather that forced people out? I am perhaps willing to believe this, people grow together sometimes, but not from just one source. Given the ongoing prejudice against dark skin, indigenous language and tradition, against anything indio, I am doubtful.

By 1838, the last residents of Pecos left the pueblo to the spirits of their ancestors, a living memory of the place that they made and their connection to the land there. They moved to Jemez Pueblo, where they continue to keep their traditions.

The death of a community, and it was not the only one. But another post for more on Quarai and Abó.

It remains, in spite of all of this white greed and empire building, in spite of the civil war battle of Glorieta Pass and proximity to the Santa Fe Trail a peaceful place, a good place. And it is still full of life.

Pecos Ruins