by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint
"Tiguex [TEEwesh] is a provincia of twelve pueblos [on the] banks of a great and copiously flowing river, some pueblos on one side and others on the other. It is a broad valley two leagues in width." The preceding quote is a description written from memory in the 1560s by Pedro de Castañeda de Nájera, a former member of the Coronado expedition. From 1540 to 1542 the expedition spent approximately 14 months living among the Tiguex pueblos in what is today the Albuquerque-Bernalillo area of New Mexico. That area had been occupied by the ancestors of the Tiguex or Tiwa people for over 500 years. Even with the sprawling, modern urbanization now occupying much of it, the stretch of the middle Rio Grande Valley between the Sandia Mountains on the east and the basalt capped Volcano Cliffs on the west is easily recognizable in the chronicler's description.
All that now remains of the pueblos is the much more recent Sandia Pueblo and a series of inconspicuous ruins, many built over by modern construction. Complimentary work by historians and archaeologists has identified with fair certainty the locations of many of the 12 sixteenth-century pueblos and has suggested the sites of others. Attempts to positively locate remains of all of the now disappeared Tiguex pueblos, however, have been hampered not only by more recent construction, but also by differences among sixteenth-century witnesses as to how many pueblos there actually were. One reported as many as 20 and another 15, although most agreed that there were 12 or 13. As one of the members of the expedition wrote, "The [person] who states this saw twelve pueblos within a certain distance along the river. Others saw more."
The most recent in-depth effort to locate and identify the pueblos of Tiguex was made by University of New Mexico geographer Elinore Barrett in the 1990s. In the published results of her study she lists ten named ruins as probable sixteenth-century pueblos of the Tiguex area. They are, in geographical order from north to south, Kuaua, Santiago, Watche, old Sandia, Corrales, Puaray, Maigua, Alameda, Chamisal, Calabacillas, and Piedras Marcadas. All of these lie north of modern Interstate 40 and are situated on both sides of the Rio Grande. Only one site, Kuaua, is today accessible to the public. It makes up a large part of Coronado State Monument at Bernalillo.
In 1540 there were 12 or more inhabited and flourishing pueblos where now there is only one. To the Spaniards of the Coronado expedition, Tiguex was the "heart of the pueblos," the most densely settled, the most populous, and the most prosperous of the areas of indigenous settlement that the expeditionaries saw during the course of their travels. They heard about Tiguex first from the people of the Zuni area, known to the Spaniards as Cíbola. That information was expanded upon, when a group of emissaries from east of the Rio Grande arrived in Cíbola shortly after the expeditionaries had stormed and occupied one of the pueblos there. That diplomatic and trading party was led by a man the Spaniards nicknamed Bigotes.
Bigotes told Captain General Francisco Vázquez de Coronado about a very large river about 150 miles to the east (the Rio Grande) where there were many more people living in terraced adobe towns. As a result, a company of men under Captain Hernando de Alvarado and fray Juan de Padilla was dispatched, with Bigotes as guide and intermediary, to see the Rio Grande pueblos. When they reached the river, at one of the first pueblos they saw "the principales [leaders] and people came from twelve pueblos. [They came] in order, those from one [pueblo] behind the other. They walked around our tent playing a flute, and an old man [was] speaking. In this [same] way they came into the tent and presented me with food, mantas, and hides they were carrying."
Alvarado and Padilla were very impressed with Tiguex. From there they wrote a letter to Vázquez de Coronado, extolling its virtues: "This Río de Nuestra Señora [the Rio Grande] flows through a very wide, level, and fertile land, planted with cornfields. There are some groves of cottonwoods. There are twelve towns. The houses are made of earth [and have] two terraced stories. The people seem excellent, more like farmers than warriors. They have much food: corn, beans, melons, and [turkeys] in great abundance. They dress in cotton, [bison] hides, and long robes made of [turkey] feathers. They wear their hair trimmed short. It is the old men who have most authority among them." So much did Tiguex appeal to them that they advised "the general to come to that land to spend the winter."
Vázquez de Coronado accepted that advice, sending his maestre de campo, or field commander, García López de Cárdenas to Tiguex to arrange for winter quarters. When López de Cárdenas arrived in Tiguex, he "wanted to build straw huts, but the winter was so harsh that it was not possible to maintain the people there. The maestre de campo asked the Indians to provide quarters for him in the pueblo where they were, after which the Indians left it." Another member of the expedition reported more heavy-handed action by López de Cárdenas: "Since it was important that the natives see, I mean give up, a place where the Spaniards would be lodged, they were forced to abandon one pueblo and were given shelter in the other pueblos of their friends. They did not take [with them] more than their persons and clothing." Whatever the case, the expedition occupied at least one of the pueblos of Tiguex during the winters of 1540-1542.
That pueblo, known to the expeditionaries then as Alcanfor or Coofor was most likely the one now known as Santiago, within modern Rio Rancho. Although there were probably some hard feelings among the native people of Coofor as a result of their expulsion by the expeditionaries, for a while relations between the European-led expedition and the people of Tiguex were generally peaceful. But, as winter set in and it became clear to the expedition's leaders that both their food and warm clothing were in short supply, they set about trying to purchase such goods from the Indians of Tiguex. When purchases proved inadequate, the expeditionaries resorted to commandeering what they needed from the Pueblos.
As if that were not enough by itself to fuel violent anger among the people of Tiguex, there were other incidents guaranteed to do so. European men assaulted a number of Pueblo women. And the expedition's large herds of livestock grazed with relish in the Indians' harvested fields, consuming the cornstalks that usually served as an important source of cooking and heating fuel for the Pueblos. Finally, depredations by the expeditionaries were too great to tolerate, and the people of Tiguex rose up in arms.
Writing shortly after the hostilities broke out, one of the members of the expedition summarized what happened this way: "One night they killed forty of our horses and mules which were roaming free in the countryside. [And] they fortified themselves in their pueblos. Immediately, war was waged against them. The first [to engage them] was don García López. He took [one pueblo] and inflicted punishment on many of them. When the rest [of the Tiguex people] had seen this they abandoned their pueblos, except for two. One [was] the strongest of them all, at which the expedition spent two months."
Those two months in the middle of the winter of 1540-1541 were spent in a protracted siege of the strongest of the Tiguex pueblos. The siege was punctuated by occasional skirmishes and negotiations. The Pueblo defenders were twice saved from dying of thirst when snow fell and replenished their cisterns. But they could not hold out indefinitely. As Castañeda de Nájera later wrote, "One day, before capture of [the pueblo] was complete, [the Indians] summoned [the Spaniards] to talk. It was learned that their request was [made] in order to say that they had noticed that we did not harm the women and children. For this reason, they wanted to give up their women and children because they were using up the water. It was not possible to conclude [an agreement] with them whereby they would come to peace; they said that we would not keep our word with them. Thus, they turned over [only] about a hundred persons, children and women, since more did not want to leave."
The standoff resumed until, in the dark of a cold night late in winter "[the Indians] decided to leave [the pueblo], and so they did. Taking the women in the middle [of the group], they came forth during the quarter just before daybreak. Forty horsemen were keeping watch during that quarter, and they gave the call to arms. The [men-at-arms] in don Rodrigo Maldonado’s camp attacked [the Indians]. The enemies knocked one Spaniard and one horse down dead and wounded others. But [the men-at-arms] happened to break through and work slaughter among them until, [when] [the Indians] were withdrawing, [the men-at-arms] attacked them in the river, which was flowing rapidly and was extremely cold. Since the troop from the real arrived very soon, those [Indians] who escaped death or injury were few."
Thus ended what has been called by modern writers the Tiguex War. As a result, "None of the twelve pueblos of Tiguex...was [re]settled during the entire time the expedition was there, despite the assurance [the Indians] were given." When the expedition returned to Tiguex the following fall of 1541, it had almost no contact with its native residents. The Pueblos stayed away, living with neighboring Pueblo groups such as the Tanos to the east and the Keres to the north and west. They kept the expeditionaries on edge by ambushing those who strayed away from their quarters alone or in small parties.
In the years that followed withdrawal of the Coronado expedition from New Mexico, the people of Tiguex returned to their pueblos and continued to farm their fields. In the 1580s, Tiguex was again beset by uninvited Europeans. The expeditions of Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado and fray Agustín Rodríguez, Antonio de Espejo, Francisco Leyva de Bonilla and Antonio Gutiérrez de Humaña, and Gaspar Castaño de Sosa all passed through Tiguex. Two of them in particular engaged in battle at the Tiguex pueblo of Puaray, inflicting injury once again on the people at the "heart of the pueblos." All of those expeditions found the number of the Tiguex pueblos and the size of their populations largely unchanged from the time of the Coronado expedition.
Similarly, when Juan de Oñate led the Spanish colonization of New Mexico in 1598, he saw a Tiguex land much the same. But, once the Spanish province was established, bringing regular, if widely spaced, contact with the large Hispanic population to the south in what is now Mexico, unfamiliar diseases ravaged all the Pueblo people, including those of Tiguex. Many, many native people died as a result, causing abandonment of pueblos and consolidation of others. By 1641, there were only five pueblos remaining in Tiguex, and by 1660, only four. Following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the entire region was abandoned, some of the Tiwas migrating to the Hopi pueblos in today's Arizona. Many of their descendants remain there in the village of Hano and intermarried into other Hopi towns.
Back in the Rio Grande Valley, Tiguex was very lightly resettled with the re-founding of modern Sandia Pueblo in 1748. Even then, there were only some 350 inhabitants. Nor did they all trace their origins to Tiguex before the Pueblo Revolt. They were mixed refugees from a number of Rio Grande pueblos. As anthropologist Elizabeth Brandt has written, "This must have given the pueblo a very different character from that before the Revolt, and may account for differences between Sandia and other Rio Grande pueblos."
Barrett, Elinore M. Conquest and Catastrophe: Changing Rio Grande Pueblo Settlement patterns in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.
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 Press, 2005.
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.
Riley, Carroll L. Rio del Norte: People of the Upper Rio Grande from Earliest Times to the Pueblo Revolt. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995.
Schroeder, Albert H. “Pueblos Abandoned in Historic Times.” Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest, edited by Alfonso Ortiz, 236-54. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979.
Schroeder, Albert H. "Vásquez de Coronado and the Southern Tiwa Pueblos." Archaeology, Art, and Anthropology: Papers in Honor of J.J. Brody, edited by Meliha S. Durán and David T. Kirkpatrick, 185-91. Albuquerque: The Archaeological Society of New Mexico, 1992.
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