Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Around Town

“Tumbleweed,” rescued as a newborn after his mother was killed in Placitas, nuzzles up to Ben Braden, a volunteer at The Stables at Tamaya at Santa Ana Pueblo.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Horses find special place at Santa Ana Pueblo

—Bill Diven

The young mare known as Tumbleweed earned her name the hard way when the newborn's mother died in a collision with a car on State Route 165 in Placitas more than three years ago.

When rescuers arrived, they found her huddled behind a tumbleweed. She was two or three days old. "They brought her up here in the front seat of a sedan, and we started bottle feeding her," said Ben Braden, a veteran volunteer at Tamaya Horse Rehab at Santa Ana Pueblo. "She's old enough and strong enough now, so we can begin training her."

Tumbleweed is one of sixty, or so, horses stabled in a quiet nook of the pueblo with the Rio Grande bosque in front and volcanic cliffs behind. The corrals and barns about a mile from the Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa and are home to both the nonprofit rehab program and the trail rides and other activities offered by the pueblo-owned resort.

Connie Collis, who owns the CWW Feed Store in San Ysidro, contracted with Hyatt to manage the stables and trail rides 12 years ago. Four years ago, she approached Santa Ana and the resort with a plan to help rescue horses.

That was just as the scores of free-roaming horses in Placitas were evolving into a community crisis and shortly before the car hit Tumbleweed's mother.

"For a while, when there was a lot of stuff going on, we took quite a lot of horses from up there," she said. "There was always a need… The only reason I can do it is because of the pueblo's generosity and Hyatt's generosity."

Other horses have been surrendered by owners who couldn't care for them or that been neglected or abused. One was left tied to a light post in the parking lot of a veterinary clinic.

Some have found new homes or become part of the riding program after going through training at Santa Ana.

Collis also credits her small staff and large cadre of volunteers who feed and water the horses and other animals, keep the area clean, and handle the training. Among the volunteers have been the resort's general manager Herb Rackliff who calls it a family affair that also involved his sons.

"The Tamaya Horse Rehabilitation Program is really the heart and soul of this resort," Rackliff said in an email to the Signpost. "It is symbolic of everything that the Hyatt and the Pueblo are trying to accomplish here… It’s about respecting history and nature and trying to give back to the land that has been so generous to us."

With the stables full and rescue horses no longer being accepted, work centers on training the stock to trust people and accept saddles. The Hyatt markets pony rides for different skill levels and horse-drawn carriages for special events under the brand of The Stables at Tamaya.

The riding program and other events are open to the public with arrangements made through the concierge desk at the resort. The stable stages family-friendly rodeos without bucking events in the summer.

Braden said trail riders often see wildlife like the recent spotting of baby antelope, a product of the wildlife-reintroduction program managed by the tribal Department of Natural Resources.

"Our guests really enjoy it," he said. "They can't believe what they get to see."

Beyond the appeal of a New Mexico experience, the stables and rehab program factor into national meetings and often lead to donations under the heading of corporate social responsibility. In 2015, Wells Fargo organized a leadership conference at the resort, bringing in two hundred employees. There was a tour of the stables and mandatory learning of its programs on the agenda.

“Coming together to help those in need really brings everyone together,” Adelle Heinz, a Wells Fargo vice president, told “Doing good builds team moral and creates similar experiences that teams can build off of.”

Being surrounded by tribal land and the Santa Ana culture enhanced the meeting which focused on diversity and inclusion, she added.

"People want to help when they know about these special things," she said. "The best part of it is we have an open relationship with the Hyatt and the pueblo, and that's what makes it happen. It's an incredible place."

Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza leads Tlaxcalans against Caxcanes at Xochipilla.

Macahuitl armed Mexica warriors. Image from Florentine Codex.

Mixtec warriors armed with atlatls. Image from Zouche-Nuttall Codex.
Photos credit: —Wikimedia Commons

Mesoamerican Auxiliaries in the Spanish Conquest of North America 

—Matthew J. Barbour, Manager, Coronado and Jemez Historic Sites

In the last two decades, the public has begun to realize that the Coronado Expedition to New Mexico consisted primarily of Mesoamerican Indians. Roughly three thousand strong, these men are often referred to by the Spanish as indios amigos (or friendly Indians). However, modern descriptions and depictions of these Nahuatl speaking peoples remain problematic. They are often referred to as porters or slaves. They are relegated to a passive role that satisfies the perception of an unrelenting Spanish hunger for glory. This is simply untrue, not just in terms of these Mesoamericans’ contributions to New Mexico, but rather their collective role in the conquests of the New World as whole.

Mesoamerican cultures at the time of the arrival of the Spanish were incredibly advanced. They included the Mexica, Purepecha (Tarascan), Tlaxcala, Mixtec, Zapotec, Huaxtec, and many others. These civilizations built cities that rivaled those in Europe and, like those cultures of the Old World, had a sophisticated hierarchy. Military institutions consisted not only of peasant conscripts, but a professional warrior class.

The Spaniards realized this immediately and utilized these forces to great effect in their conquests. One could even argue that in the case of the Valley of Mexico, it was the Tlaxcala that conquered the Aztec Empire. Cortez simply sided with the winning side. The Tlaxcala had already won a decisive war with the Aztecs in 1515 and many more Tlaxcala participated in the fall of Tenochtitlan than Spaniards (by a magnitude of thousands).

However, while the Spanish were keen to tout their own military prowess, accounts of Native American contributions are severely limited, and in the case of the Coronado Expedition, relatively nonexistent. This said, we can construct much of how these indios amigos functioned on campaigns with the Spanish through a number of Mesoamerican pictorial books (codex) and the Spanish’s earlier accounts regarding their own conflicts with the Aztec and Tarascan Empires.

Utilizing the example of Coronado, were most of these indios amigos really porters? Mexica (Aztec) at the time of the European arrival mustered one porter for every two warriors while on campaign. If this was to hold true up into the 1540s, two of the three thousand indios amigos were warriors. While that number seems large, it is incredibly small. For example the contemporary Nahautl army Viceroy Mendoza led during the Mixton War was over sixty thousand strong. By this standard, the group with Coronado was not an army per se but rather a small expeditionary force.

These Native American men who accompanied the Spanish were armed with a variety of weapons. Here ethnicity may have played a role. The Tlaxcala are noted for their use of long bows approximately four to five feet in length. In some ways, this was akin to the English. The bow consisted of a single piece of hardwood with an incredibly powerful draw. Also like the English, emphasis was placed on volley fire into tight enemy formations.

Alternatively, the Mixtec appear to have preferred the atlatl, or spear thrower, while groups of Mexica tended to focus on the macahuitl—an obsidian edged war club or sword. Other weapons included a morning star like weapon fitted with obsidian blades, copper and stone mauls, slings, and the tepoztopilli—the Native American equivalent of the halberd. This last weapon is of particular importance, as many porters are depicted in the Native American codices also carrying this item. This could suggest that even a porter would be utilized in direct combat.

Armor was important to these Mesoamerican warriors. Front line soldiers were almost always equipped with   ichcahuipilli, or cotton vests. Some wore cotton helmets, but warriors of stature were given helmets of mahogany shaped into jaguars, coyotes, eagles, other animals and demons. Shields were round and made of wicker.

Often archers were unarmored, but there is a very clear exception. In most codex, the archers of Tlaxcala are depicted wearing the ichcahuipilli. For some reason or another, the Tlaxcala did not view the archer as a supporting role. For example, at the battle of Atlixco, the Tlaxcala archers dropped their bows and charged at the Mexica battle line causing them to panic. A victory over the Aztec followed.

In a traditional battle, warriors were organized in groups of one hundred if they were to be utilized on the frontline or four hundred if they were to serve as archers. Each group was identified by its own battle standard marked by the color and pattern of feathers. These were signaled and coordinated, at least initially by a Snake Woman Priest from a nearby hill or platform. However by the time of Coronado, this role had likely been taken over by the Spanish.

Fighting among these Mesoamerican forces was brutal. Traditionally, battles began with an archery duel, in which bows, atlatls, and slings were utilized, followed by melee. Macahuitls were used by the veterans on the frontline, while less experienced troops supported them with the tepoztopilli from behind. Both weapons could inflict fatal wounds and severed limbs, but in these traditional conflicts, death was not the principal objective. Instead, warriors were expected to injure and capture the opposing force for sacrifice.

This practice changed under the Spanish. No longer charged with the objective of capturing the enemy, the full might of these professional warriors was thrust on to their victims. These conflicts—such as the Mixton and Tiguex Wars—left large swaths of the countryside depopulated. No one was spared. These represent total war against the indigenous population.

However, this is not the worst. The Spanish accounts of their own indios amigos suggests that some of these groups ate the conquered dead. While accusations of cannibalism occur throughout history, they are most often used to dehumanize the enemy, not typically to express what your own allies were undertaking.

The take away from all of this is fairly haunting: while we may not often have specifics on the role that indios amigos played in the conquest of North America, these men had a long, complex, and successful military tradition on which the Spanish capitalized with considerable success. They represented the bulk of Spanish fighting forces of the time in the New World. Far from being simply porters and slaves, these warriors enabled the Spanish to be successful and contributed greatly to the conquest of the New World even if their contributions are largely overlooked today.

Artifacts at Coronado Historic Site

On January 15, at 2:00 p.m., Coronado Historic Site Ranger, Ethan Ortega will be giving a presentation on what he and his team of researchers have discovered this past year while working on Coronado Historic Site’s artifact cataloging and digitization project. Some of the boxes of artifacts from the 1930s “Coronado dig” had not been touched for 80 years.

Held at Sandoval County Historical Society Museum (DeLavy House), Highway 550 and Edmond Road, in Bernalillo. Cost of admission is five dollars (friends of CHS are free). For more information, call George at 771-9493 or visit

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