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Interactive History Feature: 1628 Across the Continent

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Photo of pueblo
Pueblo housing structures in the American Southwest.
By 1628 the region of the northern Rio Grande Valley had been explored and colonized by the Spanish, ever in search of golden cities of riches. They also explored eastward, looking for the Atlantic seaboard, and westward, in search of a route to the Pacific Ocean. Franciscan missionaries were as successful in this region in the early 17th century, as they were in Florida. By 1628, friars had founded fifty missions throughout the Rio Grande Valley and the adjoining Pecos Valley. A year later they added missions in the Acoma, Zuni, and Hopi Pueblos.

Spanish conquistadors had traveled northward from Mexico in the 1500s to Zuni country in what is now western New Mexico and into the Rio Grande Valley. Led by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, they encountered diverse native peoples divided into at least 60 autonomous villages, speaking at least seven distinct languages -- Keresan, Prio, Tano, Tewa, Tiwa, Tompiro, and Towa -- but whom Coronado lumped together under the name Pueblo because of the compact adobe-brick villages they lived in. Looking for what they thought was a golden city, Quivera, inhabited by Witchita Indians, the Spanish crossed the Great Plains and parts of what is now Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

Photo of Grand Canyon
A view of the Grand Canyon.
Don Juan de Onate was the viceroy named to found the colony of New Mexico. In 1598 he led 500 colonists, including 129 soldiers and seven Franciscan friars into the Northern Rio Grande Valley, where they seized a pueblo as their own, evicting the native inhabitants.

Seventeenth-century New Mexico attracted few colonists -- largely those who were desperate or convicts. The southwest, with its contrasting grassy plains, desert areas, and steep mountains, was a harsh land, hard to prosper in, and the settlers were isolated. Government supplies coming from Mexico only came every three or four years and took six months to make the 1,500-mile journey. Although the native population was in decline as a result of European diseases, American Indians easily outnumbered European colonists in 1628.

Relations between church leaders and government officials, and between the missionaries and the colonists, were tense. There was competition over Indian labor and land. These feuds discredited the Spanish in the eyes of the Pueblo, culminating in the Pueblo revolt of 1680 -- the greatest setback that natives ever inflicted on European expansion in North America. After another revolt in 1696, both sides began to compromise. The Pueblo accepted Spanish persistence and authority while the Hispanics practiced greater restraint. Both sides also needed one another for protection against the nomadic warrior peoples of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.

-- Mica McCarthy

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