The Utes, the Spanish, and Silver

The Ute Indians, for whom the state of Utah is named, had an aboriginal homeland which included much of the present-day states of Colorado and Utah as well as portions of New Mexico and Arizona. The Utes were never a single, politically unified tribe, but were made up of about a dozen politically autonomous bands. The Utes first became aware of the European invasion in the seventeenth century when they began to acquire trade items from the Spanish in New Mexico.

The Spanish moved into New Mexico after their conquest of Mexico and Peru, where they had discovered great wealth in the form of gold and silver. As they moved north, they continued to look for gold and silver and to pursue any rumors about these precious metals.

In 1765, Don Juan María Antonio de Rivera was commissioned to lead an exploring expedition to search for silver deposits in the mountains north of Santa Fe and to verify the existence of the Colorado River and its canyons. The Spanish had heard stories from the Ute about silver deposits and in one instance a Ute man had brought a lump of virgin silver ore to the blacksmith at Abiquiú.

Since the Ute were sensitive to the appearance of Spanish military, the expedition had no armed escort and disguised themselves as traders.

On his first entrada, Rivera followed a trail known as the Navajo War Trail, or the Ute Slave Trail, which runs into present-day Colorado and Utah. Near the present-day town of Bayfield, Colorado they found ruins of an ancient town and what appeared to have been a smelter where gold was separated from ore.

Near present-day Durango, Colorado, they encountered a Ute camp under the leadership of a man they called El Capitán Grande. Here they talked with the daughter of the man who had taken the lump of silver to Abiquiú. She gave them directions to the location of the silver. However, the Spanish explorers were unable to locate the silver source.

With the guidance of a Ute whom they called Capitán Asigare, the Spanish traveled to the Dolores River near the present-day town of Dolores, Colorado. From here, Asigare had them send out a small party to contact the Payuchi Ute under the leadership of Chino. Chino told them that he would show them the river crossing if they returned in the fall.

The Spanish returned to Santa Fe and reported to the governor. In the fall they began the second entrada. They traveled back to Colorado and made contact with Chino. With their Ute guides, the Spanish started out to find the river crossing. Clell Jacobs, in an article in the Utah Historical Quarterly, reports:  “It is apparent the Utes wanted to make the trip so difficult and dangerous that Rivera would become discouraged and disheartened, give up his quest, and return to Santa Fe without finding the crossing and without making contact with the people on the other side of the river.”

The Ute guides led the Spanish on a circuitous and difficult route to the camp of the Tabejuache Ute under the leadership of Tonampechi near present-day Moab, Utah. Tonampechi attempted to discourage further exploration, but was unsuccessful. The expedition continued to the Colorado River. Two of the Ute guides were then sent across the river to contact the people on the other side and to invite them to trade. The guides returned with five Sabuagana Ute warriors who told them that some of the people were hiding from the Spanish because they feared Spanish reprisals for having killed some Spanish years earlier.

While the Spanish went back to New Mexico unsuccessful in their attempt to find mineral wealth in Ute territory, for the next two centuries the Utes would continually have to deal with European and American greed for gold and silver.

Spanish Missionary Efforts Among Florida Indians

( – promoted by navajo)


photo credit: Aaron Huey

When the Spanish exploration of Florida began with Juan Ponce de Leon (the conqueror of Puerto Rico) in 1513 there were an estimated 200,000 Native Americans living in what would later become the state of Florida. European diseases soon reduced this population. The Spanish expeditions which followed were motivated originally by greed and glory. In 1549, the Spanish launched their missionary efforts to convert the heathen natives.  

The first missionary effort was led by Fray Luis Cancer de Barbastro, a Dominican.  Fray Luis was an unusual missionary in that he felt that his primary hope in converting Indians lay in contacting people who had not been antagonized by the earlier Spanish show of force. He felt that Indians could be converted by kindness and good example instead of force.

With him were two other priests, a lay brother, and an Indian woman named Magdalena who was to serve as their interpreter. It is not certain if Magdalena was a Calusa who had been captured by an earlier Spanish expedition or if she was a Native Cuban who had been captured by the Calusa and learned their language. Trading trips to Cuba by the Calusa had been made regularly by fairly large numbers of Indian traders.

The missionary group landed at Tampa Bay where the Indians quickly captured a sailor, the lay brother, and Magdalena. Determined to rescue the captives, Fray Luis sailed to Charlotte Harbor. The three priests went to an Indian village to obtain information about the captives. While they saw Magdalena, they failed to rescue her, but they did rescue a Spanish sailor who had been captured ten years earlier. The sailor told them that the other captives had been killed.

Fray Luis, however, still wanted to save the souls of the Indians. He again went ashore. As he waded ashore he was greeted by Indians who first snatched his hat from his head, and then hit him on the head with a club. They then killed him.  He thus became a martyr to his cause and a victim of Calusa hostility which had been incited by earlier Spanish expeditions.  

While this ended the initial Spanish missionary attempt, there were some unintended consequences of this contact. The Spanish and Magdalena who were captured by the Calusa brought typhus with them. The mortality rate from this epidemic was about 10%.  

Missionary attempts began again in 1566 when the Spanish governor of Florida requested that the Jesuits establish missions among the Indians. Three Spanish Jesuits-Father Juan Rogel, Father Pedro Martínez, and Brother Francisco Villareal-sailed for Florida, but their ship missed St. Augustine and finally anchored off the Georgia coast near St. Simons Island. Father Martínez and some sailors went ashore to ask directions. While they were ashore, a storm blew their ship away from land, marooning them. After ten days, the Spanish built a small boat and attempted to find St. Augustine. Father Martínez and three sailors were killed by Indians.

While this initial attempt did not bode well for the Jesuits, the following year they managed to establish a mission at the town of Calos, the capital of the Calusa nation.

In 1568, a group of 11 Jesuits led by Father Juan Bautista de Segura arrived in St. Augustine. The Jesuits were seeking to establish missions among the Tequesta and Calusa. They made few converts. In general, the chiefs and native religious leaders were openly hostile toward the Jesuits, viewing them as threats to the power of the native elites. The following year, the Jesuits admitted failure and abandoned their mission at Calos. In 1572, the Spanish Jesuits abandoned all of their missionary efforts in Florida.

In 1573, the Spanish governor of Florida arranged for the Franciscans to establish missions in the territories under his jurisdiction. Under Royal Orders, 18 Franciscans were to be sent to La Florida. By the end of the year, three Franciscans had arrived and were working with the Guale and Orista. The Franciscans baptized the chief and his wife of the main town of Guale. This was a major victory for the Franciscans as the chief was in line to become the head chief over a number of villages.

In 1575, the Franciscans decided that it was in their best interest to withdraw from the area because of conflicts with the Spanish colonial government.

In 1584, the Franciscans tried again. A group of Franciscans under the leadership of Father Alonso de Reynoso arrived in St. Augustine to establish missions among the Indians. However, the priest was accused of fraud and denounced for excessive card playing. Thus the Franciscans’ missionary effort ended almost before it had begun.

In 1587, Father Alonso de Reynoso brought nine Franciscan friars to help convert and pacify the Indians. Three years later, Father Alonso de Reynoso brought in another group of 12 Franciscan friars to work among the Indians.

In 1595, a group of 12 Franciscan friars under the leadership of Father Juan de Silva began missionary work among the Indians. This marks the beginning of successful Franciscan missionary efforts among the La Florida Indians. The Franciscans’ missionary efforts were carefully carried out within the context of Spanish colonial enterprise and against a backdrop of native depopulation. As a part of this missionary effort, the Franciscan Francisco Pareja began writing down the language of the Timucua.

In 1608, the Apalachee chiefs asked the Spanish to send them priests. The Apalachee have an estimated population of 50,000 living in 107 towns. At this time, the traditional chiefs were finding it difficult to control their people and felt that affiliation with the Spanish would reinforce their leadership through formal recognition of the leadership, gift giving, and military alliances. The Apalachee had been a Mississippian chiefdom in which the chiefs had considerable power. The native leaders in Spanish Florida were willing to abandon some traditional priestly power when it no longer reinforced their chiefly authority.

A Franciscan priest and an entourage of 150 Potano and Timucua traveled to the Apalachee town of Ivitachuco. The Apalachee cleared a wide road for the travelers and an estimated 36,000 Apalachee, including 70 chiefs, greeted the entourage.

In 1610, the Franciscans extended their missionary work to the interior of the Timucua territory. The Franciscan Francisco Pareja published a book in 1613 in Mexico City which contained sections on religious doctrine in both Spanish and Timucua.

In 1633, the Franciscans established a mission-San Lorenzo de Ivitachuco-among the Apalachee. At this time the native population was relatively large and dense. The Apalachee chiefs appeared to be enthusiastic about the Spanish and the Franciscans. Following the demographic and political collapse brought about by disease, the chiefs were scrambling to retain their authority. They saw the alliance with the Spanish Franciscans as a way to retain power.

In 1680, the Spanish Franciscans abandoned the mission at Santa Catalina which served the Guale. Four years later, the Franciscans re-established a mission among the Guale. The new mission was located on Amelia Island and was called Santa María by the Spanish.

In 1697, the Spanish sent a group of Franciscans to the Calusa. The Calusa were less than enthusiastic about the Franciscans. The friars were ridiculed and insulted. Calusa hecklers mooned the friars and sent them fleeing south down the coast toward Cuba in a small boat.

In 1743, the Jesuits returned to Florida and established a mission, Santa Maria, at the mouth of the Miami River. The mission was intended to serve the 200 people who comprised the remnants of the Calusa, Key, and Boca Raton tribes

In 1763, Florida was transferred from Spain to England, thus ending the Spanish missionary efforts.  

The Pueblo Revolt

Seventeenth century life under Spanish rule was not pleasant for the Pueblos in New Mexico. The Franciscans attempted to brutally suppress all vestiges of Native American religion: they burned religious paraphernalia, they whipped religious leaders, and they destroyed the kivas (underground ceremonial chambers). In 1680, the Pueblo spiritual leader Popé led a revolt against the Spanish. By coordinating and uniting several Pueblos, the Indians defeated the Spanish and drove them out of the area.  

Popé, a charismatic spiritual leader who had been whipped and humiliated by the Spanish, was a brilliant organizer. He brought together the war chiefs from diverse Pueblos and directed them in a coordinated action against the Spanish. The principal war chiefs who acted with Popé were El Jaca of Taos, Don Luis Tupatú of Picurís, Alonso Catiti of Santo Domingo, Luis Cuniju of Jemez, Antonio Bolsas the spokesperson for the Tanos Pueblos, Cristóbal Yope of San Lázaro, and Keres leader Altonio Malacate.

Following Popé’s instructions, the Indians first captured the Spanish horses and mules, thus making it impossible for the Spanish to communicate rapidly with one another. The revolt was also timed to precede the arrival of the caravan which brought supplies to the Spanish settlers from Mexico. At this time, the Spanish would be low on weapons and ammunition.

In their rage against Spanish Catholicism, the Pueblos killed the Franciscan friars, mutilated their bodies, and destroyed the churches. Of the 33 Franciscan friars in the territory, 21 were killed in the revolt. In addition, some 400 Spanish soldiers and colonists were killed. Most of the colonists, however, were given an opportunity to flee as the primary purpose of the Pueblo Revolt was to destroy the mission system.  The revolt was the act of a people determined to reject Christian civilization because it posed a direct threat to their integrated religion and culture. The Pueblos were not cultures which venerated war: they did not fight for war honors, but to repel the Spanish. They could have slaughtered all of the Spanish colonists, but they preferred a Spanish exodus.

Pueblo rage was focused on the Franciscans, not on the Spanish colonists. While the Franciscans had upset the Pueblos by their destruction of sacred objects, they would later ponder the causes of the Pueblo Revolt and conclude that the only thing they were guilty of was selfless love for the Indians.

Following the revolt, the Pueblos began to re-learn their traditions, which had been suppressed under the Spanish. There were, however, some changes. For centuries, Pueblo governments had been based upon a tradition of government by consent. Popé, however, began acting more like a European warlord than a traditional Pueblo leader.

Mission churches were torn down and the kivas (underground ceremonial chambers which had been filled in by the Spanish) were dug out once again. Popé forbade the use of the Spanish language and Spanish baptismal names and destroyed objects associated with Spanish Christian culture.  Popé declared that the Christian god had been made of rotten wood and was dead at last. All vestiges, all reminders of it had to be obliterated. To remove the taint of Christian baptism, a ritual washing with yucca-root was prescribed.

Among the Hopi in Arizona, the kivas were rebuilt using materials from the destroyed churches. The Hopi also began to use church bells in some of their ceremonies. The Hopis thus employed their own form of ‘superposition’ to reestablish their own religion’s predominance.

With the Pueblo revolt, Indians acquired their own horses. The Pueblos traded some of the horses with other tribes and the use of the horse began to spread north, leading to a new way of life for the Indians on the Great Plains.  

Following the Pueblo Revolt, a number of Pueblos became concerned about possible Spanish retaliation. Following earlier revolts, such as the 1649 revolt by the Jemez, the Spanish had brutally retaliated against the Indians. Thus, fearing Spanish reprisals, the pueblo of Sandia in New Mexico was abandoned and the people established the pueblo of Payupki near the Hopi village of Mishongnovi in Arizona. In Arizona, the Hopi village of Walpi, fearing Spanish reprisals from the Pueblo Revolt, moved from a lower terrace to a more defensive position on top of First Mesa.

Not all of the Pueblos joined in the revolt. The Tiwa-speaking pueblo of Isleta did not join the Pueblo Revolt and they allowed 1,500 Spanish settlers to take refuge in the pueblo before fleeing south into Chihuahua.

The first Spanish attempt to re-conquer the Pueblos came in 1681. With a force of 146 soldiers, they invaded Pueblo territory. At Isleta they found a thriving community with the church in ruins. The villagers told the Spanish that they did not want any visitors. The Spanish, however, were not deterred and forced their way into the pueblo. Here the pueblo leaders approached their guests peacefully. The Spanish response to the peaceful greeting was first to baptize the babies born during the past year. They then destroyed the masks, ceremonial clothing, prayer sticks, and kachina dolls by throwing them into a flaming pyre. The Spanish then sent messengers upriver to the northern villages with promises of pardon and demands for submission.

A Spanish force of about 70 soldiers under the command of Captain Mendoza then traveled north. They encountered about a dozen empty pueblos. They destroyed all ceremonial items and set fire to the villagers’ stores of winter food. At Santo Domingo, the Spanish were confronted by a band of Pueblo warriors. After some initial skirmishes, the two groups held council. Speaking for the Pueblos was Catiti, Popé’s assistant. Catiti promised to bring in the other villagers in a few days. The Spanish settled down in the nearby village of Cochiti. Here they discovered that Catiti’s promise was really a delaying tactic to give the warriors from the northern villages time to assemble. The Spanish hastily retreated south to warn the main body of Spanish soldiers.

The Spanish found that most of the people in Isleta had left the pueblo to join the northern warriors and so they burned the village, killed 385 people, and returned to El Paso.

In 1687, the Spanish attacked Santa Ana Pueblo and burned it. The survivors united with people from Zia Pueblo and established a village on Red Mesa.

In 1688, Popé, the spiritual leader from San Juan who masterminded the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, died. Tupatu assumed Pueblo leadership.

In 1688, the Spanish made a foray into Pueblo country to find out who led the 1680 revolt. The Spaniards failed to find out the names of the leaders, but they burned a number of Pueblo villages and carried out a policy of killing and plundering.

The successful Spanish re-conquest of the Pueblos began in 1689 with the capture of Zia. After a daylong attack, the Spanish overran the fortified Pueblo, sacked it, and burned it. Over 600 Indians were killed and 70 were taken captive. Among those captured was Bartolomé de Ojeda, a Pueblo war captain who had been educated by the Franciscans.

The wounded Ojeda was carried back to El Paso where he gave valuable testimony about the Pueblos. He then joined in the Spanish re-conquest as a leader of the Indian auxiliaries and an interpreter for the Spanish.

In 1691, Pueblo representatives from Jemez, Zia, Santa Ana, San Felipe, and Pecos asked the Spanish to return. This request was made in response to increased plundering by the Apache and Navajo who were now on horseback. Before the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, the Spanish with their guns and horses had deterred these raids.

The Spanish re-conquest of the Pueblos was completed in 1692 with the recapture of Santa Fe. The Spanish return caused more uprising among the Pueblos. However, the unity of the 1680 revolt was now gone and some of the Pueblos cooperated with the Spanish and some resisted them. The Spanish managed their re-conquest without losing a single man. In the end it was not Spanish military might against the Pueblos that led to the re-conquest, but rather the constant attacks by the Apache and Navajo which resulted in the Pueblo decisions to ask for Spanish help against these attackers.