Francisco Sanchez Chamuscado and Agustin Rodriguez
By Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint
The journey made in 1581 and 1582 by Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado and Fray Agustín Rodríguez and a party of about 30 other men has been described as the "rediscovery" of New Mexico. Admittedly, though, they were acting on information that was then current in the mining area of Santa Bárbara, in what is now southern Chihuahua, Mexico. The sources of information about "more civilized" native peoples who grew cotton and corn and lived in permanent, stone-masonry cities are not identified in the surviving documents from the time. It has often been assumed that Sánchez Chamuscado and Rodríguez heard about the Pueblo world of New Mexico as a result of unauthorized prospecting and slave raiding expeditions, such as were common at the time. The expeditionaries themselves also referred to having read Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's relación, or report, that contained news about New Mexico, which had been published in 1542 and again in 1555.
Information also survived from the Coronado expedition of 40 years earlier. And, in fact, the Sánchez Chamuscado and Rodríguez party's use of the name Nuevo México in their reports argues that they were significantly influenced by memory of the Coronado entrada, perhaps filtered through the planners of a return trip to New Mexico proposed in the late 1550s and early 1560s.
It was oidor, or judge, Alonso de Zorita and his partner fray Jacinto de San Francisco who, 20 years before Sánchez Chamuscado and Rodríguez's journey, sought support for a major return expedition to the New Mexico pueblos. In 1561 Zorita, writing a request to the Spanish king for approval and funding, declared that he and fray "Cyndos," along with 100 Spaniards and at least twenty Franciscan friars, wanted to return to "the Tierra Nueva to which Francisco Vázquez Coronado went, and to Nuevo México." This is the earliest known use of the name by which the state is now known. The name was picked up from Zorita's plans by people on the northern frontier of New Spain, such as Sánchez Chamuscado and Rodríguez.
Since the end of the Coronado expedition in 1542, there had been many changes in the viceroyalty of New Spain. Very important among those was the discovery of silver at a place that came to be known as Zacatecas. That discovery shifted northward expansion of Spanish activity from the Pacific coast to the interior plateau. There, a succession of silver strikes were made in the years after 1547, at Indehe, Sombrerete, Santa Bárbara, and other locations. A number of the people involved in that northward thrust of mining settlement, notably the Oñates and Zaldívars, were descendants of participants in and supporters of the Coronado entrada and were thus heirs to their stories of New Mexico.
Obtained from whatever sources, memories, reports, hints, rumors, or hearsay, stories about the Pueblo people fired the imagination of a lay brother named Antonio Rodríguez at the Franciscan convent of San Bartolomé, just downstream from Santa Bárbara. In 1580, driven by the desire to convert the sophisticated northern people he had heard about, fray Antonio traveled to Mexico City to make formal application to lead a party to New Mexico. Approval came relatively easily, as missionary-led expansion was the ideal under the recently enacted Ordinances concerning New Discoveries.
A man in his early 50s and a native of Niebla in Andalucía, fray Agustín teamed up with a group of younger, ambitious laymen, veterans of several years experience in New Spain, to make his expedition possible. Historian John L. Kessell has suggested that the idea for the expedition, in fact originated with its lay members, with Rodríguez only a legally necessary adjunct. In any case, Spanish slaving activity in recent decades had raised the level of hostility among neighboring indigenous groups. It would have been fatal for a missionary, or even a group of unarmed missionaries, to attempt to traverse alone the at least 600 miles between San Bartolomé and the first pueblos of New Mexico.
Sometimes described as men-at-arms and at others as miners or prospectors, the friar's nine lay companions were Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado, Hernán Gallegos, Pedro de Bustamante, Felipe de Escalante, Pedro Herrera, Pedro de Sánchez de Fuensalida, Hernando Barrado, Juan Sánchez, and Pedro de Sánchez de Cháves. Sánchez Chamuscado was styled a captain, signifying that he led and organized, perhaps even partially funded the lay contingent of the expedition.
Additionally, fray Agustín recruited two more Franciscans, fray Francisco López and fray Juan de Santa María. Furthermore, the group included 19 Indian allies or servants, 600 head of livestock, and ninety horses. Taking along trade goods and gifts for Indians they would meet, the approximately 30 men set out from San Bartolomé valley during the first days of June 1581.
The expedition's route and relatively fast travel indicate that it had fairly accurate instructions about how to reach the New Mexico pueblos. With native guides in the lead, the company followed the Río Florido to the Río Conchos, which led them to the Rio Grande. Once at that great river, the men let it guide them upstream all the way to the pueblos.
For two and a half months, always sending messengers ahead to announce their approach, the expeditionaries traveled among peoples who wore little clothing and had no metal. People of one settlement, sometimes numbering several hundred, would accompany fray Agustín and his expedition to the next. On the Rio Grande above its confluence with the Conchos, the expedition met people who had seen Cabeza de Vaca and his companions. Then at last, in August 1581, they reached the first pueblo of New Mexico, which they called San Felipe de Nuevo México, south of modern Socorro. It was in ruins and had been uninhabited for some years.
The following day they reached an inhabited pueblo, but its residents had fled before the expedition arrived. There, the expeditionaries found turkeys, cotton, corn, and "many curious articles...more neatly wrought than those of the Mexicans when they were conquered." With pacific gestures and the offer of gifts, the Pueblo inhabitants were lured back to their homes. By means of signs these Indians communicated about others who lived still farther north. The expeditionaries understood that there were 100 pueblos along the river and in the adjacent lands.
Now calling the great river the Guadalquivir, after the principal river of Andalucía, Sánchez Chamuscado and Rodríguez proceeded upstream, moving from the territory where one language was spoken to those of others. They showed mineral samples to the Indians and tried to elicit information about possible sources of metal. The Pueblos, in turn, brought pieces of ore, which the miners among the expeditionaries assayed, finding some to be moderately productive. In the neighborhood of a pueblo they called Malpartida, the expeditionaries were shown working mines, probably the prehistorically exploited deposits of lead and turquoise in what are today the Cerrillos Hills.
Hearing about abundant bison that grazed the vast plains east of the Rio Grande, the expeditionaries decided to go see them. As Gaspar Castaño de Sosa and his colonists would a decade later, the Chamuscado-Rodríguez party followed a route to the eastern plains that ran through Cañon Blanco, which drains what is today known as Glorieta Mesa. Following that canyon, they struck the modern Pecos River, which they called the Santo Domingo. Not far down that river they encountered a tent encampment of many Indians who lived by hunting bison.
Friendly gestures by fray Agustín were reciprocated. But the following day, when the expeditionaries seized one of the bison hunters to serve as a guide, his companions threatened to fight. The incident, however, passed without violence. With their involuntary guide leading the way, the company found and shot many bison. Hernán Gallegos later wrote that "there were days when we saw upward of three thousand bulls." Although they heard about the immensity of the plains and large rivers flowing there, the expeditionaries decided to turn back to the Rio Grande.
Now in need of provisions, the expedition abandoned its previously benign behavior toward the Pueblos when they refused to provide supplies voluntarily. Sánchez Chamuscado, despite being ill with an unknown malady, armed himself and joined the other men-at-arms in threatening the people of a town they called Piedrahita, probably the pueblo later known as San Cristóbal. After warning shots were fired by the expeditionaries, the residents of the pueblo agreed to provide cornmeal. When word of this intimidation spread through the Rio Grande area, the other pueblos sullenly also provided supplies in like quantity.
Having understood that there were other pueblos to the west, the expeditionaries journeyed to Acoma and Zuni pueblos. At Zuni they heard about more towns even farther west, the pueblos of the Hopi people. Winter weather, though, prevented travel there, and the expedition returned to the Rio Grande.
At this point, against the advice of his companions, one of the friars, Juan de Santa María, insisted on returning to San Bartolomé. Whether he objected to the laymen's heavy-handed treatment of the people of Piedrahita and other pueblos is not known. Reluctantly, Sánchez Chamuscado allowed fray Juan to leave with two Indian servants. After only two or three days of travel, however, the friar was killed by Indians. His former companions on the expedition accounted for his murder as an effort by the Pueblos to prevent fray Juan from bringing Spanish reinforcements back with him.
Soon after, in retaliation for the killing of three horses by the Pueblos, the expeditionaries attacked one of the towns, capturing two prisoners. They sentenced the Indians to death "as punishment for them and as an example to the others." Fearing reprisals by the Pueblos, the expeditionaries decided on a ruse. As planned beforehand, just as the two men were about to be beheaded, the two remaining friars rushed out and interceded on their behalf, pretending to save the Indians from certain death. It was hoped that such play-acting would earn the friars the goodwill of the Pueblo people.
Given the increasing animosity of the Pueblos toward the expedition, the decision was made, in February 1582, to return south in order to make a report to the viceroy and seek permission for a larger follow-up expedition. The expeditionaries were prepared to report, as Pedro de Bustamante later testified, that they had found "five mining areas which seemed good to them." Fray Agustín and fray Francisco argued that they could not abandon such a promising field for conversion. After heated discussion with the lay expeditionaries, the two Franciscans resolved to remain behind at a pueblo they knew as Puaray. Like their fellow missionary, fray Juan, the two were killed within a short while by the people they had hoped to convert.
Meanwhile, the lay expedition retraced its steps to Santa Bárbara. Along the way, Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado again became very ill and died. The remaining eight lay expeditionaries reached Santa Bárbara in mid-April 1582. They continued south to Mexico City, where they testified before Viceroy Lorenzo Suárez de Mendoza. Although the expedition member Hernán Gallegos was not awarded a license to mount a return expedition to New Mexico, as he requested, such an expedition was launched late in 1582, led by Antonio de Espejo.
Flint, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint, eds. and trs. Documents of the Coronado Expedition, 1539-1542: "They Were Not familiar with His Majesty, nor Did They Wish to Be His Subjects. Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 2005.
Gerhard, Peter. The North Frontier of New Spain, rev. ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.
Hammond, George H. and Agapito Rey, eds. and trs. The Rediscovery of New Mexico, 1580-1594: The Explorations of Chamuscado, Espejo, Castaño de Sosa, Morlete, and Leyva de Bonilla and Humaña. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1966.
Kessell, John L. Kiva, Cross, and Crown: the Pecos Indians and New Mexico, 1540-1840. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.
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