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 V.14 No.46 | November 17 - 23, 2005 

Letters

History Lessons

Dear Alibi,

The article "Recasting New Mexico History" by Katy June-Friesen [Feature, Oct. 20-26] is excellent in many ways but defective in its basic history. We in the New Mexican Hispanic Culture Preservation League believe that few people are aware or knowledgeable in valid New Mexican history. We believe that too much cultural bias has been promoted as history. For example, American historiography consistently portrays Oñate (and most personalities out of Spain) as "cruel, greedy fanatics." This is standard, popular psychology but the historical facts don't support such a view. (For starters see The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest by Marc Simmons. The major work is Don Juan de Oñate: Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628 by Hammond and Rey.)

The Acoma war of 1599, which, along with the massacre euphemistically referred to as the "Pueblo Revolt," and unlike the Indian wars east of the Mississippi, still comes up with regularity despite the passage of centuries. In brief, the chains of events are as follows: A small number of Spaniards were invited up to Acoma to trade foodstuffs for metal tools. In reality the Acomas, led by Zutucapán, had prepared a Pearl Harbor-type assault and 13 Spaniards were killed. These were unprovoked murders, an undisputed historical fact, yet the Spaniards are often blamed for the war.

The small Christian community of some 500 people certainly didn't want a war in an area that contained between 40,000 to 60,000 Indians. But if the Acomas went unpunished would not the other Indian nations attack the "weak" Christian community? After serious deliberation a declaration of war was made against Acoma (much as did the USA after Pearl Harbor).

The Acomas had wanted to exterminate the newcomers but they now faced some 72 Spanish soldiers ready for war, not trade. Sheer numbers almost turned the tide of battle but the sons of Spain overcame the odds and vanquished the seemingly impregnable stronghold. Seeing that the battle was lost, the Acomas started killing their wives, children and themselves so they would not be taken prisoners. The Christians resumed the battle and saved some 500 Acomas from this suicidal effort.

The Spanish Christian victory complete, various Acoma warriors were put on trial. (The USA also did this after World War II and a number of German and Japanese leaders were executed for "war crimes.") No Acoma was given a death sentence but 24 warriors were sentenced to have puntas de pies, toes (not feet as is usually promoted) cut off and also to serve 20 years of servitude. Hammond and Rey have written that the sentence was carried out but Dr. John Kessell and his stable of professional paleographers with the Vargas Project have stated no document was ever found confirming that the sentence was actually carried out.

One must analyze historical reality for oneself. It is our opinion that Oñate passed the sentence with the intent of setting up the missionaries as Indian champions when the religious went to him and asked him to set aside the sentence. The missionaries would therefore gain tremendous status with the Indians, which would help their missionary work, which was a basic goal at the time. That is how Oñate worked.

Were feet cut off as reported by Hammond and Rey? Not a single observer of the day, and it should be pointed out that Oñate had many political enemies, ever recorded seeing a footless Indian in New Mexico. Missionaries would certainly have written about it because they worked with Indian communities first hand. Furthermore, if we consider the situation dispassionately, would you sentence someone to 20 years of servitude but first cut off his foot? To boot (no pun intended), by 1604 Acoma had been resettled so one can reasonably doubt that the sentences of dismemberment and servitude were actually carried out.

Historical facts notwithstanding, some have written that all Acoma males had a foot cut off, that orphaned children were sent off to Mexico, etc. This would be a worst case scenario (which we believe never actually happened, although it is promoted by various American writers) even in the brutal 16th century but how would it compare with Americans dropping atomic bombs on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? Contrast the end of the Acoma war with that of World War II and you will understand what is meant by cultural bias.

Oñate is being denigrated mostly because he is a figure out of Spanish New Mexican history. When he had to fight, he fought to win, and all wars are brutal, but he didn't exterminate the Acomas or any other group of Indians. Neither did he deport them. He even prevented the enslavement of Indian populations when some of his colonists demanded Indian workers.

Compare Oñate to any Englishman on the east coast or any American east of the Mississippi. Lord Jeffrey Amherst fought Pontiac's Indians with smallpox and referred to them as "an execrable race." President Andrew Jackson hated all Indians, whether friend or foe, and deported them to Oklahoma. Kit Carson led the destruction of the Navajo Nation yet there is a thriving memorial to him in Taos. But American writers choose to denigrate Oñate, a "safe" target. Indeed, what do you think would happen to groups protesting memorials to Kit Carson? How long would it take to see them in jail? But protests against Oñate are promoted everywhere, including the media. Cultural bias pure and simple.

New Mexican Hispanos preserved Native Americans and from 1700 on forged sterling alliances with the Pueblo and Comanche people, alliances that were unequaled anywhere else in the USA. Unlike other sections of the USA, Indian groups are alive and well in New Mexico. You don't believe it? What is contemporary Amerindian history in Virginia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, etc.? Investigate and you will find mostly extermination or deportation. Why not target that history? It's much too dangerous. Oñate is a safer target. The only problem is that valid history doesn't support the denigration.

We in the New Mexican Hispanic Culture Preservation League sincerely hope that the history requirement for graduation from high school will correct some popular though very erroneous perceptions.

Conchita Lucero, President
New Mexican Hispanic Culture Preservation League

History Lessons

Dear Alibi,

The article "Recasting New Mexico History" by Katy June-Friesen [Feature, Oct. 20-26] is excellent in many ways but defective in its basic history. We in the New Mexican Hispanic Culture Preservation League believe that few people are aware or knowledgeable in valid New Mexican history. We believe that too much cultural bias has been promoted as history. For example, American historiography consistently portrays Oñate (and most personalities out of Spain) as "cruel, greedy fanatics." This is standard, popular psychology but the historical facts don't support such a view. (For starters see The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest by Marc Simmons. The major work is Don Juan de Oñate: Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628 by Hammond & Rey.)

The Acoma war of 1599, which, along with the massacre euphemistically referred to as the "Pueblo Revolt," and unlike the Indian wars east of the Mississippi, still comes up with regularity despite the passage of centuries. In brief, the chains of events are as follows: a small number of Spaniards were invited up to Acoma to trade foodstuffs for metal tools. In reality the Acomas, led by Zutucapán, had prepared a Pearl Harbor type assault and thirteen Spaniards were killed. These were unprovoked murders, an undisputed historical fact, yet the Spaniards are often blamed for the war.

The small Christian community of some 500 people certainly didn't want a war in an area that contained between 40,000 to 60,000 Indians. But if the Acomas went unpunished would not the other Indian nations attack the "weak" Christian community? After serious deliberation a declaration of war was made against Acoma (much as did the USA after Pearl Harbor).

The Acomas had wanted to exterminate the newcomers but they now faced some 72 Spanish soldiers ready for war, not trade. Sheer numbers almost turned the tide of battle but the sons of Spain overcame the odds and vanquished the seemingly impregnable stronghold. Seeing that the battle was lost, the Acomas started killing their wives, children, and themselves so they would not be taken prisoners. The Christians resumed the battle and saved some 500 Acomas from this suicidal effort.

The Spanish Christian victory complete, various Acoma warriors were put on trial. (The USA also did this after WW II and a number of German and Japanese leaders were executed for "war crimes.") No Acoma was given a death sentence but twenty-four (24) warriors were sentenced to have puntas de pies, toes (not feet as is usually promoted) cut off and also to serve twenty years of servitude. Hammond & Rey have written that the sentence was carried out but Dr. John Kessell and his stable of professional paleographers with the Vargas Project have stated no document was ever found confirming that the sentence was actually carried out.

One must analyze historical reality for oneself. It is our opinion that Oñate passed the sentence with the intent of setting up the missionaries as Indian champions when the religious went to him and asked him to set aside the sentence. The missionaries would therefore gain tremendous status with the Indians, which would help their missionary work, which was a basic goal at the time. That is how Oñate worked.

Were feet cut off as reported by Hammond & Rey? Not a single observer of the day, and it should be pointed out that Oñate had many political enemies, ever recorded seeing a footless Indian in New Mexico. Missionaries would certainly have written about it because they worked with Indian communities first hand. Furthermore, if we consider the situation dispassionately, would you sentence someone to twenty years of servitude but first cut off his foot? To boot (no pun intended), by 1604 Acoma had been resettled so one can reasonably doubt that the sentences of dismemberment and servitude were actually carried out.

Historical facts notwithstanding, some have written that all Acoma males had a foot cut off, that orphaned children were sent off to Mexico, etc. This would be a worst case scenario (which we believe never actually happened, although it is promoted by various American writers) even in the brutal 16th century but how would it compare with Americans dropping atomic bombs on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? Contrast the end of the Acoma war with that of WW II and you will understand what is meant by cultural bias.

Oñate is being denigrated mostly because he is a figure out of Spanish New Mexican history. When he had to fight, he fought to win, and all wars are brutal, but he didn't exterminate the Acomas or any other group of Indians. Neither did he deport them. He even prevented the enslavement of Indian populations when some of his colonists demanded Indian workers.

Compare Oñate to any Englishman on the east coast or any American east of the Mississippi. Lord Jeffrey Amherst fought Pontiac's Indians with smallpox and referred to them as "an execrable race." President Andrew Jackson hated all Indians, whether friend or foe, and deported them to Oklahoma. Kit Carson led the destruction of the Navajo Nation yet there is a thriving memorial to him in Taos. But American writers choose to denigrate Oñate, a "safe" target. Indeed, what do you think would happen to groups protesting memorials to Kit Carson? How long would it take to see them in jail? But protests against Oñate are promoted everywhere, including the media. Cultural bias pure and simple.

New Mexican Hispanos preserved Native Americans and from 1700 on forged sterling alliances with the Pueblo and Comanche people, alliances that were unequaled anywhere else in the USA. Unlike other sections of the USA, Indian groups are alive and well in New Mexico. You don't believe it? What is contemporary Amerindian history in Virginia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, etc.? Investigate and you will find mostly extermination or deportation. Why not target that history? It's much too dangerous. Oñate is a safer target. The only problem is that valid history doesn't support the denigration.

We in the New Mexican Hispanic Culture Preservation League sincerely hope that the history requirement for graduation from high school will correct some popular though very erroneous perceptions.

New Mexican Hispanic Culture Preservation League

Letters should be sent with the writer's name, address and daytime phone number via e-mail to letters@alibi.com. They can also be faxed to (505) 256-9651. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium; we regret that owing to the volume of correspondence we cannot reply to every letter.

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