Sandoval Signpost


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View of the Sandias from Coronado Historic Site portal
Photo credit: —Sharon Walker

Fray Alonso de Benavides and the Tiwa Nation, AD 1630

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

Fray Alonso de Benavides arrived in New Mexico in 1626. He was a Franciscan Priest of Portuguese descent. Charged by his order as Custodian (head) of the missions and agent of the inquisition, Benavides toured New Mexico extensively overseeing the conversion and management of all Native American peoples in the province before departing in 1629.

Upon his return to Spain in 1630, Fray Alonso de Benavides published his report, entitled History (or Memorial) of New Mexico. It was originally addressed to King Philip IV of Spain, but was later revised and expanded for Pope Urban VIII. In many ways, in addition to being a history, the report was a geography and ethnography regarding Native American people in the region. It highlighted their nations and traditional culture practices—albeit from the perspective of European outsider—and discussed, at some length, the changes that were occurring amongst the Pueblo and Apache peoples due to extended contact with Spanish settlers.

Among the groups discussed were the Southern Tiwa, known to Bendavides as the Tiwa Nation. By 1630, the Southern Tiwas dwelled in approximately “fifteen to sixteen pueblos in a district of twelve or thirteen leagues” (36 to forty miles). Benavides estimates the population at “seven thousand souls breathing, all baptized.” This number—even if inflated—is likely much lower than the number of Native American peoples living in the region at the time of the Coronado Expedition (1540-1542).

Disease, warfare, and migration away from the area had likely taken their toll, but these impacts are not addressed by the friar. Instead, he focuses on the Franciscan Missions within the region citing the presence of two friaries: San Francisco de Sandia and San Antonio de la Isleta. These are known today as the Pueblos of Sandia and Isleta respectively. The remaining pueblos were listed as having “remarkable churches,” but likely did not have a full-time friar or were administered by priest outside of the Franciscan order.

Benavides only mentions two of these non-mission pueblos in any detail. The first is known as “Tiguex” or “Tihues” and has been suggested to be the site known today as Kuaua Pueblo (Coronado Historic Site). The other is only referenced as “a city” and may be the Alcanfor/Santiago Pueblo (Bandelier’s Puaray) made famous as the place where the Coronado camped during both winters of his journey. However, these linkages are speculative at best. They are largely based upon Benavides limited geographical reference points which include the fact that the village of Tiguex had access to gypsum and that a modern gypsum mine exists near Kuaua today.

The description of both places by Benavides is rather fanciful. As translator Dr. Morrow notes, Benavides descends into “wobbly hearsay and fabrication.” The friar declares that Tiguex should be “the great city of the king of this province.” It has “four thousand or more houses” and is “enclosed by rock walls.” The other “city” also has stone construction and is the place “where the king keeps his women.” It includes three plazas and “more than twenty” kivas.

Archaeological evidence does indicate that Kuaua Pueblo was occupied into the seventeenth century. Stranger still, Benavides’s description of the layout of the city where the “king keeps his women” matches surprisingly well with excavation maps made in the twentieth century of Kuaua Pueblo, possibly suggesting that Kuaua was the unnamed city not Tiguex as implied by Dr. Morrow. However, neither Kuaua or Puaray were built of stone or had stone features that can be identified on the landscape today.

Given the fantastic descriptions, Benavides had likely never visited either place. It is possible the locations are fictional, but this seems improbable. He follows descriptions of these places with a clearly exaggerated account of “the marvelous great rock” readers can recognize as Acoma Pueblo. Whether fictional or not, why mention these pueblos in the first place?

Benavides takes more time in his account to describe “Tiguex” and “a city,” than he does the mission villages of Isleta and Sandia or the other thirteen to fourteen other unnamed Tiwa Pueblos clustered along the Rio Grande. This suggests these two places are of some importance. Given that few—if any—contemporary secular documents refer to these villages, it is possible that these places were of historic importance, but had fallen into disuse. Perhaps the mentioning of these places is in reference to Coronado’s Expedition nearly a century earlier. Conversely, could these villages have maintained a traditional spiritual role? The citing of more than twenty kivas could suggest the Pueblo was still heavily involved in kachina worship or other ceremonial practices. This might explain why the friar never visited them or indulged in such fantastical accounts.

The passages concerning the Tiwa Nation offer plenty of room for speculation. The truth may never be fully discerned. To learn more about Alonso de Benavides and develop your own opinions on early seventeenth century New Mexico, pick up a copy of A Harvest of Reluctant Souls: Fray Alonso de Benavides’s History of New Mexico, 1630, translated by Baker H. Morrow. It is available now from the University of New Mexico Press:

After browsing on the shoulder of State Road 165, four of the free-roaming horses of Placitas wander up a road farther into the western part of Placitas village.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Court rejects appeal of Placitas horse lawsuit

~Bill Diven

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has rejected an attempt by advocates for free-roaming horses in Placitas to keep alive a lawsuit against the state livestock agency.

In late 2016 an Albuquerque District Court Judge, Valerie Huling, dismissed, for the second time, the lawsuit filed by the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) against the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB). The February 2014 suit alleged the NMLB was violating a state law protecting wild horse descended from Spanish mustangs by treating them as stray livestock suitable for auction if no owner could be found.

On the first appeal, the appellate judges overturned the dismissal and sent the case back to Huling's court. But in the process, the appeals court interpreted state livestock law to exclude undomesticated, unowned horses, thereby removing them from NMLB jurisdiction.

The NMLB, backed by a group of Placitas residents who intervened in the lawsuit, then argued the appeals court had cleaned up the conflict making the case moot—that is: leaving no issues to continue the case. WHOA, however, argued unsuccessfully that the case should be reopened to investigate new issues.

Huling dismissed the case again, WHOA appealed again, and Judge Jonathan Sutin in the appellate decision wrote, "We cannot conclude that the district court erred in concluding that the issues related to the Placitas horses are moot."

WHOA's attorney did not respond to a query from the Signpost about whether he and his client would appeal the new decision to the state Supreme Court.

Los Penitentes in Placitas?

~Bob Gajkowski, Placitas History Project

From an annotated 1940s hand-drawn map at the University of New Mexico Zimmerman Library we learn that a “morada” or meeting house of the religious society known today as “Los Penitentes” stood at the heart of the Village of Placitas. The Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, today more commonly known as the Penitentes, is a lay Catholic confraternity that became active in Central and Northern New Mexico and southern Colorado after 1821.

From the meeting houses, or moradas, the brotherhood practiced acts of charity and memorialized the spirit of penance. During Holy Week, the society’s central devotion to the Passion and Death of Jesus often included private acts of self-flagellation and reenactments of the Crucifixion. Such practices drew much attention and severe criticism from those outside the brotherhood. The society was driven underground. Not until 1947 did the Catholic Church recognize and sanction Los Penitentes and bring it back into the Church’s world.

On November 11, Robert J. Torrez, former New Mexico State Historian, will return to the Placitas Community Library to discuss the Penitente Brotherhood. Torrez emphasizes in a recent email, “I do not speak on the brotherhood’s behalf, nor can I speak to their practices beyond what is in the public record. I can speak to their history and theories on how the organization came to be in the context of New Mexico history.”

Join this free presentation on November 11, at 2:00 p.m., at the Placitas Community Library, 453 Highway 165.

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