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History of Pueblo Revolt Essay

“Every piece of written history starts when somebody becomes curious and asks questions.”[1] In Weber’s compilation he gathers several of these curious peoples works and binds their writings together to form a sort of continued discussion. Arguing from different sources and coming from different backgrounds, they indubitably arrive at different conclusions. From Garner to Gutiérrez and from Chávez to Knaut, they all are part of a continued dialogue on what that caused the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

By addressing the readings as a sum instead of individual accounts, one can gain a more detailed view. While some poke holes in others theories, most of the time, the writers simply offer different perspectives. The vast range of the arguments speak to the difficulty of the topic. Examining an event (or series of events, as the case may be) 300 years ago is an arduous task, but trying to determine causation of such events is even more cumbersome. Typically numerous factors exist and to give these factors any sort of rankings requires a fair bit of perspiration on the part of the researcher. This essay will attempt to evaluate this eclectic mix of commentaries to sift out the strong arguments from the weak.

In 1598, when Juan de Oñate arrived in northern New Mexico with a small group of colonists to Pueblo country, Spain demanded payment of tribute and the friars demanded allegiance of religion. For over 80 years Spanish lived with Pueblo before the revolt – multiple generations.[2] As Knaut points out, that as “colonists were isolated from the south in a land where indigenous inhabitants numbered in the tens of thousands”, meaning there was plenty of contact between the two groups.[3] Within that time families intermarried, and a large mestizo population arose, creating an intersection in the Venn diagram of early New Mexico. What Knaut argues in Acculturation and Miscegenation is not necessarily as hard as the others to prove who or what caused the revolt, but rather works in earnest to present what he sees as the creation of a mixed culture, with syncretism occurring on both sides. Perhaps in this essay more questions that answers are created… why after 82 years of living together would the Pueblos revolt?

Garner has a more direct answer to this question. He, unlike Knaut, does not spend as much time underlining the syncretism that occurs, but spends more time examining the relationship between Pueblo and Franciscan, and reigning in the perhaps unfair harshness of previous works in relation to the government. Garner believed that drought, famine and Apache raids caused the revolt, shedding the competing notions that religious incompatibility or having a suitable leader as primary causes.[4]

The two arguments in the proceeding articles before Garner – that religion was the primary cause – fall flat from Garner’s lens. In one instance, he cites the friction between Father Isidro Ordonez and Governor Pedro de Peralta as a result of the governments unfair treatment of the Indian. Peralta eventually decides to have Ordonez arrested, but the colonists (or ecomenderos) proceed to abandon the governor.[5] Garner goes on that governors of early New Mexico are interpreted in a negative light primarily because “documents are strongly biased against them.”[6] He explains that the reason that these documents are so biased is because of the natural tension between the writers of these records, the Franciscans, and those whom they wrote about, the governors.[7] Garner continues to impress that the Franciscans were the friend to the Indian and foe to the governor. He cites Scholes who states, “the religious and economic motives of empire were antagonistic if not essentially incompatible.”

Having earlier established a different relationship structure than what was typically seen, (a shift from the Hispanic-Pueblo dichotomy to a more complex relationship of priest-Indian-mestizo-colonist-governor) Garner then moves on to the crux of the issue – the cause of the revolt. “The kind of peace that had been pervading New Mexico was contingent upon relative prosperity,” writes Garner. The Spanish had used their organizational skills to create surpluses in the Pueblo economy – but the famine of 1670 was so implacable it essentially collapsed the system. The drought of the 1660s – the precursor to the famine – was so severe it caused “Indians and Spanish alike to eat hides and straps,” as written by Fray Francisco de Ayeta in an account to the King.

In the face of such an oppressive environment, Indians naturally began to question why Spanish controlled their food source. This, coupled with a new emphasis on nativism, turned up the heat and brought the already tense situation to a simmer. This movement towards nativism perhaps may have been a reaction to Indian culture sprouting up in both mestizo and Spanish life. Garner continues on this thread noting that Governor Lopez de Mendizabal was forced to “crack down on Pueblo religious and cultural activity.” While syncretism among the Pueblos was tolerable, among the Spanish it was viewed as inexcusable. These two factors were the foci of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.[8]

In contrast, the setting that Bowden and Gutiérrez attempt to construct in their essays is a religious clash, one that, while not noticeable immediately, was exacerbated by the droughts and famine. After introducing the essay, Bowden then discusses the similarities of the Pueblo religion, and then highlights some of the missteps the Franciscans took in their interactions and, most of all, the conversion process. First they insisted that the Pueblos should learn Spanish, and “almost without exception,” failed to make any attempt to learn native language. Also, they instituted mandatory mass attendance for all Indians – but strangely not all Spaniards. On top of this, leaders who continued practicing the previous traditions were whipped or executed.[9] (27-28)

Bowden raises a number of valid points – the Franciscans do not appear to be the same persons that protested against the injustices to the Pueblos by the Governor Peralta. Rather, they seem to be creators of an oppressive environment that was quite insensitive to the Pueblo people. However, if you note Bowden’s sources, he cites textbooks for his long diatribe. Garner, in contrast, relies heavier on topic specific articles written by respected names such as France V. Scholes and Jack D. Forbes. While Bowden’s sources are legitimate, he seems to be using information that is more generalized, and not as focused on the relevant issues.

Gutiérrez points to “loss of authority” among the Franciscans as the central reason for the revolt.[10] He notes that this gradual loss of power began in 1640s. Because of the uncertainty and unease that followed, the Friars pushed for more drastic measure to balance out this loss of power – a crackdown on syncretism and an emphasis on martyrdom.

But the connections that Gutiérrez makes are weak; he points to the loss of power in the 1640s, but does not cite any kind of example to support his point until 1655.[11] In addition, most of examples of this “loss of authority” do not come until the mid 1660s and the early 1670s in the midst of drought, quarreling among Spaniards and attacks by Athapascan raiders. And Gutiérrez’ examples of Franciscan brutality arise, interestingly enough, around the time that Garner points to heavy handed response by the Spanish to combat syncretism. Gutiérrez’ illustrations seem to support Garner’s idea of the Indians being “like children in a new world and entrapped in the struggle between the Franciscans and Hispanic community.”[12]

Angélico Chávez provides yet another take on the Pueblo Revolt. While Gutiérrez, Garner and Bowden all spend considerable time on relations, Chávez – as his title Pohé-yemo’s Representative and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 – puts much more emphasis on establishing a new leader as a primary cause of the Pueblo revolt. Chávez seems to avoid tackling the revolt squarely (like Knaut) partly because he devotes most of his time supporting his argument for Domingo Naranjo as the leader (arguably 21 of the 24 pages).

Despite Chávez lengthy narrative supporting Domingo Naranjo, the black leader with yellow eyes, many scholars reject this notion, because it seems to runs counter to what most sources suggest. Historian Stefanie Beninato agrees that Naranjo was a leader, but “one of several” as “the concept of a single leader is not viable in the theocratic social structure of the Pueblo world.”[13] Garner too, while recognizing Popé as instrumental, rejects the idea that he was a “unique Indian leader,” but rather he arose out of necessity, as opposed to the creation of necessity.[14] While, many critique Chávez’ uncommon interpretation, it reminds one to reexamine the mestizo and mulatto population in New Mexico. Naranjo, real or not, represents the truth that the black/white Pueblo/Hispanic definition was increasingly blurred in the years leading up to the revolt, and an entirely different culture had emerged. Pohé-yemo had multiple windows into this culture of multiplicity.

Garner’s essay seems to be built around the most logic because his essay points to lack of basic necessities as the true cause of the revolt. When there is enough food and prosperity people get along. When there is a shortage, it pushes groups to exceptional measures. Rarely has a revolt occurred without certain factors mitigating access to peoples’ basic needs. Garner also spends ample time with the battle itself, and provides plenty of evidence of to why it was a success; particularly because of the cultural coexistence with the Spanish.

Garner is not without flaw – he fails to address certain issues, notably that of the presence of a larger mestizo culture. While he acknowledges it somewhat, he seems more preoccupied with the Franciscan-ecomedero versus government dynamic. This oversight, however excusable, provides good reason for holding onto multiple sources while dissecting historical events such as these. In the absence of primary documents, the importance of rigorous scholarship is especially crucial. To hold the works of these “curious” scholars together stresses the value for careful thought and due diligence.


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