Ojeda, Bartolome de
by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint
Having been forced to flee Santa Fe in 1680 as a result of a massive Pueblo uprising, the Spanish colonists of the province of New Mexico and their indigenous allies established a new town in exile at El Paso del Río del Norte. They had suffered some 400 fatalities during the uprising. The exile colony at El Paso suffered severely from scarcity of food, clothing, and other supplies. Spirits were very low. Many colonists deserted El Paso in its first year of existence, migrating east, west, and farther south in search of a less harsh life.
Nevertheless, about a year after the establishment of a series of tiny, struggling settlements at and near the ford of the Rio Grande, Governor Antonio de Otermín mounted an attempt to return to Santa Fe. During the winter of 1681-1682 armed colonists, presidial soldiers, and a company of Pueblo allies made a raid as far north as Isleta Pueblo. Finding the Indian towns downstream from there abandoned, the colonial force set them afire. When the governor returned to El Paso without having attained his goal, he took with him 385 residents of Isleta, which significantly augmented the corps of Indians associated with the colony in exile.
When Otermín's successor, Domingo Jironza Petrís de Cruzate arrived at El Paso in August 1683, he also bore the hope of restoring Spanish sovereignty to all of New Mexico. He had even stated that he would do so shortly after assuming the governorship. Native uprisings in the Casas Grandes area and at the junction of Rio Grande and Río Conchos, though, sapped what energy there was in the exile colony. During 1684 the cabildo, or city council, of El Paso petitioned Jironza on three separate occasions to abandon the town and surrender the remnant of New Mexico. Although Jironza held firm against such a desertion, the planned reconquest was postponed.
In light of an easing of tensions with surrounding Indians in 1685, the governor intended to march to Santa Fe in October. Once again, however, the operation was put off. By the fall of 1686 the campaign of reconquest was taken up by the new governor, Pedro Reneros de Posada. So it was Reneros who lead a strike northward along the Rio Grande that reached Santa Ana Pueblo but no farther. There was fighting at Santa Ana, Pueblo captives were taken, four native leaders were put to death and ten more were sent into servitude for a decade. The armed force, however, retreated to El Paso once again.
Only a year and a half later, Reneros was replaced by Jironza, for a second term as governor of the capital in exile. It was now February 1689. He designated the symbolic date of August 10, the anniversary of the Pueblo uprising of 1680, to launch his own long-awaited reconquest. With about 80 Hispanos bearing arms and another 120 Pueblo allies, Jironza marched out of El Paso. Two and a half weeks later they had ascended the Rio Grande and the lower reaches of the Jemez River, as far as Zia Pueblo, neighbor to Santa Ana, which the colonists, under the command of Pedro Reneros de Posada, had attacked in 1686.
The returning exiles and their Pueblo auxiliaries arranged themselves for battle, while the people of Zia prepared to meet their attack. A fierce and bloody battle ensued, during which a reported 600 Pueblos died and others were taken captive. Among the prisoners was a critically wounded Zia war captain who bore the Spanish name Bartolomé de Ojeda. Suffering two wounds and thinking he was near death, Ojeda, who had been baptized into the Catholic Church in the years before the 1680 uprising, called for a Franciscan friar to hear his confession and give extreme unction.
But the Zia leader did not die. Instead, he survived and was transported south to El Paso with the rest of the captives and wounded colonists. Fifty of the eighty Hispanic attackers had been wounded at Zia, and was surely decisive in Jironza's decision to withdraw again to El Paso. Although he claimed a great victory at Zia and was subsequently commended for it, he had once again failed to restore the Spanish colony among the Pueblos. Jironza anticipated following up his success in 1689 with a triumphal return to Santa Fe in May of the next year. Once more, however, Indian hostilities closer to El Paso and decisions regarding the governorship, made thousands of miles away in Spain, unexpectedly intervened. Jironza found himself relieved of his office before his triumphant return to the north could be undertaken.
Before Jironza’s replacement, Diego de Vargas, reached El Paso early in 1691, Jironza conducted an inquiry among the captives he had taken at Zia, in order to gather intelligence. Bartolomé de Ojeda, recovered from his wounds, turned voluble witness, providing testimony about deteriorating inter-Pueblo relations that later would prove invaluable to Governor Vargas in planning the definitive reentrance into the Pueblo world. Ojeda revealed discord among the various pueblos and the likelihood that some native leaders could be enlisted in the Spanish cause. Only the Tewa pueblos and Picurís, it appeared, retained allegiance to the confirmed anti-Spanish leader, Popé (Popay).
Ojeda provided sensational details of the deaths of seven Franciscans in the 1680 revolt. His testimony helped to inflame the Hispanic colonists' ardor for reconquest. Ojeda, himself of mixed Indian and Hispanic descent, even told how his grandmother, who had converted to Christianity, had been stripped naked and killed along with two friars at Acoma Pueblo. In El Paso in 1690, such reports served to incite the emotions of those who longed for the restoration of the New Mexico colony.
In just a few months, Ojeda had transformed from a violent foe of the Spanish provincial government to an agent of its reestablishment. Indeed, from the time of his recuperation, he seems to have worked consistently on behalf of Spanish reoccupation of the Rio Grande region. Presumably, his unanticipated and remarkable cure, under Franciscan care, had created an epiphany of in the mind of Ojeda. Or it may have been, as historian John Kessell has written, that "to save at least some of his people, he resolved to ease the Spaniards' inevitable reentry into the Pueblo world."
Armed with Ojeda's information and accompanied by him as an interpreter, Vargas departed from El Paso August 16, 1692, with a large armed force of Hispanos and Pueblo allies. The next four months witnessed military threats and ceremonial reassertion of Spanish political and religious control over the Pueblo people.
In late October, for instance, Vargas and his company reached Ojeda's home of Zia Pueblo, still in ruins after Jironza's attack on it three years previously. The people of the pueblo were now living on the rugged Cerro Colorado, in a defensive pueblo. Vargas sent them a message through an interpreter who spoke their Keresan language. When the Zia leader Antonio Malacate tried to excuse himself from meeting with the governor, Vargas dispatched Ojeda to talk with him. Through Ojeda's mediation, Malacate prepared a ritual welcome for Vargas when he arrived at Cerro Colorado. As the governor later dictated, the people of Zia "all had crosses in their hands and on most of the houses of the cuarteles of the plaza, where they had prepared a ground-level room for me."
In the wake of this reception, Ojeda interpreted, as Vargas swore in a new governor for the pueblo, one who agreed to return the people to their pueblo in the lowlands. As proof of the restoration of vassalage to both the Spanish crown and the Catholic Church, 123 men, women, and children of Zia underwent baptism. The reestablishment of peace was marked by the performance of native ceremonial dances and a pledge by Vargas to supply tools to aid in reconstruction of their ravaged pueblo.
With the assistance of Ojeda and other cooperative Pueblo intermediaries, Vargas was able to perform similar rituals of submission and possession at the other Rio Grande pueblos. By January 1693, Vargas was once again in El Paso, preparing to take up residence in Santa Fe later that year. That reoccupation would prove much more difficult and violent than had the tour of 1692. But unflinchingly committed to the benefits of life under Spanish rule, Bartolomé de Ojeda would be Vargas's dependable ally throughout the conflicts that ended organized Pueblo resistance to that rule.
After the people of Zia had formally submitted to Spanish sovereignty, Ojeda took up residence there. Having been educated by Franciscans as a child, Ojeda was literate in Spanish. Using that skill, he communicated with Governor Vargas by letter whenever urgent matters presented themselves. In January 1694, for example, Ojeda warned Vargas that the people of Jemez were planning either to attack the Spanish horse herds or to abandon their pueblos and flee from the area of Spanish control, to live with Apache Indians beyond the frontier. He repeatedly asked the governor for military assistance to defend Zia against hostile neighboring Pueblos. As at the mesa of La Cieneguilla, where the Cochiti people had taken refuge, Ojeda provided reconnaissance information to Vargas. In that case, he even led the key assault on the mesa from the rear resulting in the capture of 342 Pueblo people.
Under the Spanish regime, Ojeda became, as Vargas reported, "governor and principal captain" of Zia and Santa Ana pueblos. At Ojeda's instigation, an ambush was set in which several Jemez men were killed. Diego de Vargas having stood as godfather at the baptism of one of Ojeda's children, the two became compadres, close relatives by custom. Ojeda's actions in regard to Vargas and the returning colonists were not always those of full compliance. On occasion, he intervened with the governor on behalf of other Pueblo people. In at least one instance, he saved a Pueblo man from the execution that Vargas had ordered.
In much the same way, there were men and women from other pueblos who, like Ojeda, found it to be in their own and their people's best interest to lobby and even to fight on behalf of the Spanish authorities. Ojeda is today the best known. Others included Juan de Ye, Juan Jojola, and Felipe Chistoe. Vargas skillfully used the relation of compadrazco to cement ties with such sympathetic Pueblo leaders. Reestablishment of Spanish rule in New Mexico in the 1690s depended on the cooperation of Pueblo leaders like Ojeda. Without their consistent efforts to end violent Pueblo resistance and to reconcile natives and colonists, New Mexico might never have returned to the Spanish orbit.
Kessell, John L. Spain in the Southwest, a Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.
Kessell, John L. "The Ways and Words of the Other: Diego de Vargas and Cultural Brokers in Late Seventeenth-Century New Mexico" In Margaret Connell Szasz, ed., Between Indian and White Worlds: The Cultural Broker, 25-43. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.
Kessell, John L. and Rick Hendricks, eds. By Force of Arms: The Journals of don Diego de Vargas, 1691-1693. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.
Kessell, John L., Rick Hendricks, and Meredith D. Dodge, eds. Blood on the Boulders: The Journals of don Diego de Vargas, New Mexico, 1694-97. Two volumes. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.
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