Great was the stench of the dead. After our fathers and grandfathers succumbed, half of the people fled to the fields. The dogs and the vultures devoured the bodies. The mortality was terrible. . . . We were born to die! A memory of the Cakchiquel people after the coming of the whites.


YEAR 1518 1532 1548 1568 1585 1595 1605 1622 POPULATION 25.2 million 16.8 6.3 2.65 1.9 1.375 1.075 0.75

*Source: Woodrow W. Borah, Justice by Insurance (Berkeley, 1983), p. 26

THE EARLIEST IMMIGRANTS The first “Indians” in the Western Hemisphere came from northeastern and central Asia. They crossed the Bering Strait, the body of water that separates Siberia and Alaska, somewhere between 25,000 and 17,000 BC, a few thousand years before the end of the last Ice Age. These migrants were genetically related to the Chinese and


The Spanish and the Indians 1492-1848

Mongolian peoples of central Asia. They moved because over-hunting of local reindeer populations had led to food shortages that had devastated their homeland. The reindeer had nearly disappeared, forcing small communities of the hunters and gatherers to move east and north in search of new resources. After hundreds of years, small groups of hunting families had reached the northern Pacific Ocean coast. The Bering Strait was frozen, making an ice bridge that connected Siberia and Alaska. They crossed the bridge and became the first humans to reach the Western Hemisphere, where they found an untapped supply of animals to hunt. They kept coming until the ice bridge melted, about 12,000 BC, because of global warming. The melting of the glaciers prevented any new movement of people into the hemisphere for the next thirteen thousand years. Thousands of years of isolation had protected the New World peoples from many of the terrible diseases that killed millions of Europeans, Africans, and Asians. Thousands of miles of ocean prevented the germs that carried diseases such as smallpox, influenza, and whooping cough from spreading their killing power into the Western Hemisphere. With the coming of the Spanish in 1492, that separation ended, with devastating results for New World and its people. FIRST CONTACT Christopher Columbus was impressed with the people he found on Watling Island in the Bahamas where he landed in 1492. He wrote in his Journal:
As I saw they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force, I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted, and became wonderfully attached to us. Afterwards they came swimming to the boats, bringing parrots, balls of cotton thread, javelins, and many other things which they exchanged for articles we gave them, such as glass beads, and hawk's bills; which trade was carried on with utmost good will."

He called the people “Indians” because he thought he had reached India. In addition, he was equally wrong about the peaceful nature of the inhabitants. War and conquest were not unknown to these people, as he soon discovered.

The Changing Nature of Racial and Ethnic Violence They are all of a good size and stature, and handsomely formed. I saw some with scars or wounds upon their bodies, and demanded by signs the origin of them; they answered me in the same way, that there came people from the other islands in the neighborhood who endeavored to make prisoners of them, and they defended themselves.


Columbus brought six Indians (of the Carib people) back to Spain for observation by the Church authorities and the King. They all died in Spain. The King, however, upon observation of the Indians’ anatomy, was convinced that they were part of humanity and had been created in God’s image. SLAVERY, DISEASE, AND DEATH On his second voyage to the New World Columbus began enslaving native peoples. It was easy to do. His soldiers had guns and cannons and the Indians did not. Enslavement was necessary, the Spanish thought, because Indians were not used to working and preferred to spend their time in idle pleasure. They would not work for wages, since money was a concept they did not understand, so slavery was the answer. The system that developed was harsh and brutal. Slavery was one of the major causes of death for many groups of Indians. Within ten years of their first contact with the Europeans, almost the entire population (90 percent) of Caribs on the island of Hispaniola (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic) had died—mainly from overwork in the gold mines, but also because of disease and war. Among the diseases brought to the New World by Columbus’s crew and their successors were smallpox and influenza. New World Indians had been isolated from the rest of humanity for almost thirteen thousand years and had never before been exposed to these diseases, so they died quickly from them. THE ENCOMIENDA AND MITA The system of labor that the conquistadors brought with them resembled the traditional aristocratic system found in their homeland. There the poor worked and the rich played or prayed. It was beneath the dignity of Spanish nobles, government officials, and colonists to work in fields and mines; men of this class did not perform physical labor. Intense work was suitable only for lower beings like peasants and slaves. So, Native Americans were forced to work in the fields and mines.


The Spanish and the Indians 1492-1848

Spanish landowners, according to the law, owned the right to the labor of all peasants or serfs living on their estates. This was called the encomienda system in the Old World. In the New, Indians replaced serfs. The dons (landlords) also received tribute (taxes) from all families living on their huge land holdings. In New Spain, the taxes on Indians averaged about three bushels of maize (corn), and a cotton blanket or deer or buffalo hide, to be paid each year for maintenance of the lord’s army and castle. In times of drought and poor harvests, these payments were especially burdensome and deeply resented by the Indians. Native peoples also hated the compulsory labor (the mita) demanded of them by Spanish authorities. They were supposed to be paid for this work but most got nothing. The work was usually aimed at maintaining roads and government buildings and was supposed to last only a few days a month. However, in some places the natives were used as pack animals to carry logs and heavy mining equipment hundreds of miles across the desert. This kind of virtual slavery increased Native American hatred of the Spanish invaders and led to several violent revolts. THE QUESTION OF INDIAN SLAVERY The Spanish did not approach the idea of slavery without consideration of their religious beliefs, which in some places raised questions about its legitimacy. A long debate took place over the moral and legal right of Spanish conquerors to take land away from native peoples and then enslave them. The questions asked by lawyers, theologians, and defenders of the Indians included-- Were the natives truly part of humanity? Did they possess souls and therefore the potential for conversion to Christianity? Was the conquest of their lands and wealth justified by the fact that they were not Christians? Did some of the customs the Indians practiced, such as cannibalism and human sacrifice, mark them as children of the Devil? Francisco de Victoria, a Franciscan missionary writing in the 1530s, defended “the Conquest.” War against the natives was justified, he wrote, if they refused to let Spaniards live peacefully in the New World, or if they refused to hear the Gospel of Christ. The Spanish also had the right to intervene to save innocent people from cannibalism, which missionaries had reported existed among many New World people. It was the duty of Christians to protect fellow human beings from such “unjust kinds of death,” and one way to do that was to conquer native peoples and convert them to the teachings of Christ. Dr. Juan Gines de Sepulveda, a lawyer, also defended Spanish actions in the West, but he provided a racial defense of slavery. The

The Changing Nature of Racial and Ethnic Violence


native peoples were naturally inferior, he argued. They were “idolatrous and sinful,” as witnessed by their marriage customs—some men seemed to have more than one wife and they walked around naked. They were also afflicted with the sin of extreme laziness. They seemed very unaware of the concept of work. If making war against them and enslaving them would help teach them the benefits of hard labor and bring them to Christianity, then those practices were just and right. Even forced conversions were permissible. OPPOSITION TO SLAVERY Still, loud voices were raised against slavery in the Spanish colonies. Pope Paul III, a Spaniard, writing in 1537, rejected any defense of unfree labor. He decided, after interviewing several natives who had been brought to Rome, that Indians were “truly men,” with souls, and that they were capable of becoming Christians. They had all the physical characteristics of human beings, which meant they were created in the image of God and had souls. Hence, they could not be enslaved and had the right to hear the Word of God. Another voice that emerged to oppose the mistreatment of Native Americans was that of Bartolome de las Casas (1474–1566), a missionary and a historian. He defended the equality of Indians in his many-volumed Historia de las Indias, published in Spain in the 1540s. Las Casas opposed forced conversions and the enslavement of Indians. The “Apostle of the Indies,” as he was called, influenced the Spanish king to issue a decree providing protection for the Indians. One of these New Laws of 1542 abolished Indian slavery. However, so much intense opposition emerged in the New Spain that the law was never enforced. The New World was too remote. AFRICAN SLAVERY IN NEW SPAIN The arguments over slavery in Spain had little impact on life in its colonies. Conquest of the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central America, and most of South America in the 1500s had led to the enslavement and death of millions of Native Americans. The devastation of Indian cultures in the New World was almost total. Slaves died in such large numbers in the first half of the sixteenth century that by the 1550s traders had to turn to Africa for a new supply of unfree laborers. Large numbers of African slaves were brought to the coasts of Colombia and Venezuela, where they were put to work in mines and on sugar and tobacco plantations. Thousands of other innocent victims stolen from their homes in Africa labored on the sugar plantations of Cuba and doing farm work in the coastal valleys of Peru. Unfortunately, defenders of Indian equality were not as fervent in their protests against African slavery.


The Spanish and the Indians 1492-1848

By 1800, about 3.5 million Africans had been sold into slavery in Spanish America and Portuguese America (Brazil). Many died within five years of reaching the New World. The horrors of slavery began early; the voyage across the Atlantic, the “Midpassage,” was devastating. A Spanish missionary visiting Lima provided a description of the arrival of a slave ship coming into port:
They arrive looking like skeletons; they are led ashore, completely naked, and are shut up in a large court . . . and it is a great pity to see so many sick and needy people, denied all care or assistance, for as a rule they are left to lie on the ground, naked and without shelter. . . . I recall that I once saw two of them, already dead, lying on the ground on their backs like animals, their mouths open and full of flies, their arms crossed as if making the sign of the cross . . . and I was astounded to see them dead as a result of such great inhumanity.

The majority of imported slaves were males between the ages of fifteen and twenty. Many of these young men lived a year or less after arriving in the New World. It was cheaper for their owners to work them to death—frequently slaves labored twenty hours a day—and then bring in a new supply of slaves than to treat them decently. Only about one in ten slaves was female, which led to a climate of intense sexual repression in slave communities. Only slave owners had free access to the small number of African women available, which made it very difficult for black mothers and fathers to lead a normal family life. Sexual exploitation led to the growth of a large mulatto (mixedrace) population, many of whom eventually became free either by running away or because they were granted independence by their fathers. Most slaves on plantations were black, however, and lived like prisoners. Their guards and their owners controlled everything they did. The treatment of Africans left a bitter heritage of hatred in Spanish America. THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST, 1539–1680 Spanish colonies north of the Rio Grande River included Texas, New Mexico, and California. This area, which now constitutes the southwestern part of the United States, has had human inhabitants for thousands of years. Many of the peoples in this largely desert region lived in pueblos (the Spanish word for towns), where they farmed, prayed for rain, and were governed by religious leaders. Even today, the many pueblos are distinct and separate from each other, though

The Changing Nature of Racial and Ethnic Violence


there are linguistic and religious ties that promote some harmony and cooperation among the peoples. LIVES OF THE ZUNI The Zuni lived in six pueblos widely scattered across the modern states of Arizona and New Mexico. They occupied communities of apartment houses built on the sides of or on top of mesas in very remote areas of the desert. The Zuni had no central government; each pueblo governed itself, practiced its own religion, and spoke a distinct language. The Spaniards first entered Zuni lands in 1539. They were drawn by the legend of the Seven Cities of Gold—the Cibola legend —which had spread through Spanish colonies in the New World three years earlier. Indians had told the story to Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, a Spaniard who had spent eight years wandering through Texas, living with the native peoples, after being shipwrecked during a hurricane on the Gulf coast. He related the myth to Spanish authorities in Mexico City and they decided to find out whether there was any truth to it. The governor sent an expedition to find Cibola under the command of a priest named Marcos de Niza. An African slave named Estavan accompanied him and served as an advance scout. He came upon a Zuni pueblo a few days before the priest. However, by the time Fray (Father) Marcos entered the pueblo, the Zuni had killed Estavan for “taking liberties” with their women. The priest returned to Mexico City and falsely reported that he had found the Seven Cities of Gold. This report inspired another, larger expedition. CORONADO’S EXPEDITION In the summer of 1540, the governor of Mexico City sent more than one hundred men, including several priests, to the north. Francisco Vazquez de Coronado led the expedition. After six months, the explorers reached the Zuni villages visited by Fray Marcos. They were greatly disappointed by the pueblo because it was not built of gold bricks as the priest had led them to believe. The Zunis, fearing that the invaders were looking for slaves, met the Spaniards before they entered the pueblo and warned that trying to enter would mean war. Coronado explained through an interpreter that he had come on a sacred mission to save souls for the true God. A priest then read the Requirement, a document that the King ordered read before any battle with “the heathen.” It warned Indians and other non-Christians that if they did not accept Spain’s king, Philip IV, as their ruler, and if they did not embrace Christ as their Lord, the men would be killed and their children and wives would be enslaved. The Zunis listened to the priest and responded with arrows, killing several conquistadors. In a


The Spanish and the Indians 1492-1848

brief, bloody battle, Spanish muskets and steel swords proved superior to the native weapons, chiefly bows and arrows. Coronado’s men then burned the pueblo and slaughtered hundreds of native women and children, taking only a few as slaves. The surviving Zunis fled, leaving behind corn, beans, turkeys, and salt, but no gold. The Spanish were furious. Coronado had crossed the desert in full armor (which weighed about two hundred pounds) and had been wounded during the battle but managed to survive. He concluded that Cibola must be somewhere else, beyond the horizon. Before continuing the search, however, he returned to Mexico City for reinforcements. THE FIRST MASSACRES Coronado’s next expedition did not leave Mexico City until 1598. After marching hundreds of miles through the desert, the explorers reached Acoma Pueblo (the Sky City, or, as the Indians called it), which was built on a four-hundred-foot-high mesa. It could be reached only by climbing a steep, hidden stairway. The Acoma Indians saw that the Spaniards were coming. They launched a surprise attack against the explorers, believing they were part of a slaving expedition, and killed many of them. The survivors retreated south. When news of the attack reached Mexico City, the governor sent another army north with orders to gain revenge. They did. The Spanish killed five hundred men and three hundred women and children. The rest of the villagers (about five hundred) were taken prisoner, tried for treachery, and sentenced to twenty years of slavery. Males over twenty-one had one of their feet cut off while younger children were given to priests as slaves. The Sky City was then burned to the ground. Dozens of Christian missionaries soon followed the conquistadors. By 1629, the priests had built more than fifty churches in the area of modern New Mexico and Arizona. Catholic Church headquarters were in Santa Fe, which became the largest city in northern New Spain. Indians built the mission churches, with women constructing the brick walls and the men doing the carpentry. Usually they were unpaid “volunteers,” as the Spanish thought nothing of enslaving the Indians. The priests, wanting all people to hear their message, sent eight missionaries into the desert. They received a friendly greeting and built several large churches. A year later one of the priests, Father Estavan de Perez, left his companions behind and headed even further into the Pueblo territory in search of more people to convert. He came to a village of about eight hundred people and they greeted him peacefully. His interpreter told the Indians that the Father had come to free them from slavery and the “darkness of idolatry.” The village was Hawikah—a pueblo near Acoma, the town Coronado’s men had

The Changing Nature of Racial and Ethnic Violence


destroyed a generation earlier. Surprisingly, the Zuni allowed the priest to remain and build a church. It was completed three years later. Then a dispute broke out between Father Estavan and the traditional religious leaders of the Zuni. Called sorcerers and witches by the missionary, the Zuni priests urged their people to reject the new ideas brought by Father Estavan. The conflicts between the old beliefs and the new were many. In Zuni religion there were many gods, not just one, and the gods lived on the earth in trees, mountains, plants, and animals. Traditional Zunis prayed to water gods who made the corn grow and sustained life in the hot climate of the Southwest. (Water was as valuable to Zunis as gold was to the Spaniards. The Zunis claimed that gold was the true Christian god—Coronado supposedly had told them that the Spanish had a disease of the mind that only gold could cure.) On February 22, 1632, Zuni warriors inspired by their priests killed Fray Francisco Letrado, the missionary at Hawikah, while he was saying a mass. The Zunis, expecting retaliation abandoned the pueblo and did not return. Upon hearing of the killing, Governor Francisco de la Mora Ceballas sent a party of soldiers to find the Indians and bring them to justice. They found the Zunis hiding place and killed twelve of the four hundred Indians in retaliation for the priest’s murder. The others were enslaved. A few days later, Zunis killed another priest, Fray Martin de Arvide, at a pueblo fifty miles west of Hawikah. Two soldiers at the mission were also killed. The governor sent another military expedition to avenge the deaths, and a dozen Zuni were executed. THE REBELLION OF 1680 The Spanish had extinguished the Zuni uprising, though the missionaries ultimately abandoned their churches and did not return to the region until 1660. This time they remained until the Rebellion of 1680, the largest revolt in Spanish-Indian history. Spanish authorities tried to destroy Indian religion by arresting religious leaders and charging them with witchcraft. The punishment for sorcery was death by hanging or a public whipping. In 1675, forty-seven Indian leaders were arrested and brought to Santa Fe for trial. Four men were sentenced to death and the others were whipped before a large crowd of Indians forced to watch. Among those punished was Popyn (a Tewa name meaning “ripe squash,” though the Spanish called him El Pope because of his abilities as a religious leader). When he returned to his home in San Juan Pueblo, Popyn called meetings of other leaders to organize resistance to continuing Spanish injustices, including their harsh system of labor and their brutal attempt to “civilize” Indians by teaching them the Word of the Spanish God and his word alone.


The Spanish and the Indians 1492-1848

In 1680, all Pueblo villages joined in a revolt. Fighting spread throughout the Southwest and more than four hundred settlers were killed, including thirty-four missionaries. The remaining two thousand Spaniards fled the region and did not return for a decade. When they came back, in 1692, Spanish authorities abolished the worst abuses of the labor system, though the campaign to Christianize the native peoples continued. The revolt proved that native peoples could join together to fight. EXTERMINATION AND RESISTANCE Life in the Southwest was extremely harsh for men, women, and children, Indian or Spanish. The normal life expectancy for Spanish settlers, rich or poor, was about forty years. Death was everywhere. Indian attacks were a constant problem, especially when the Indios barbaros, as the Apache and Comanche were called, rode through the territory on hunting expeditions. These nomadic tribes were endlessly fighting their neighbors, whether Pueblos or whites. In 1780, Governor Jose de Galvez proposed a solution to this “Indian problem”: complete extermination. He sent his army out with orders to burn and destroy every Indian village they found. Through the use of these tactics, the Indios barbaros had been almost eliminated by 1810, and the policy was considered close to success. That same year, however, the Mexican War for Independence began in the southern part of the colony, and the Spanish government brought most of its troops back from the frontier to protect Mexico City from the army of independence. During this period of distress and political chaos, the Indians in the north staged a comeback. Their raids against Spanish settlements and pueblos in search of slaves grew in intensity and they gained control of almost the entire territory. ANGLO AMERICANS IN MEXICO The war with Spain lasted for more than a decade. The Spanish were not driven out of Mexico by the rebel army until 1821. The first Mexican government was formed that year under the leadership of Augustin Iturbide, who soon crowned himself Emperor Augustin I. During the war, life in the north was extremely dangerous; the government lacked the resources to defend settlers against the Comanche, Ute, Navajo, and Apache raiders. One solution proposed by the Iturbide government was to increase the white population in the region by encouraging citizens of the United States to settle in the area. One of these immigrants, Stephen F. Austin (1793–1836) brought three hundred families with him in 1821. Each family received five thousand acres of land from the Mexican government. In exchange, the immigrants agreed to obey Mexican laws, learn

The Changing Nature of Racial and Ethnic Violence


Spanish, and convert to Catholicism. Because of this offer of free land, the English-speaking population in what later became Texas grew rapidly. By 1830, there were twenty-five thousand Anglos and only four thousand Mexicans living in the territory. Cultural conflicts grew as language, religion (very few Anglos actually converted to Catholicism), politics, and ethnicity separated the Anglo and Mexican communities. About three-fourths of the North Americans had come from the slave-owning South and many had brought their human property with them, even though slavery was illegal under Mexican law. THE TEXAS REPUBLIC In 1832, a new government in Mexico outlawed future immigration from the United States. After this policy was announced, Sam Houston (1793–1863) organized a movement to break away from Mexico, and three years later, the Texas War for Independence broke out. On March 6, 1836, the first major battle of the war took place. The Battle of the Alamo was a tremendous victory for the Mexican army, ending with 187 Texans, including six Mexicans, dead. A few weeks later, the Texans killed 600 Mexican soldiers at the Battle of San Jacinto and essentially won their independence. The victorious Texans were still severely divided by language, ethnicity, and religion. Thus race relations in the Texas Republic, as the new nation was called, were very tense. The new Anglo (Englishspeaking) government took the land of the Spanish-speaking Texans and treated them as an alien people. The new white leadership wanted to drive all Mexicans out of Texas; the resulting violence almost reached the level of a race war. Many Mexican American families, fearful for their lives, fled to their old homeland south of the Nueces River, the recognized border with the United States. THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR (1846-1848) Texans wanted badly to become part of the United States, but antislavery forces in Congress refused to add another slave state to the country. Another factor slowing annexation was that Mexico had threatened to go to war if Texas became part of the United States. In 1845, Congress finally voted to annex Texas, and the Mexican government began to prepare for war. In his inaugural address, newly elected United States President James K. Polk proposed adding another Mexican province, California, to the United States. He sent a diplomat to Mexico City to negotiate a price, but the Mexican government rejected all his offers to buy California. President Polk then decided to provoke a war with the Mexicans and take California and its excellent ports by force rather than through negotiations.


The Spanish and the Indians 1492-1848

The opportunity for war came after Polk ordered the Army to protect “United States territory” south of the Nueces River, the historic border between Mexico and Texas. Polk claimed that the true border was 150 miles further south, at the Rio Grande River. He refused to settle the border dispute through arbitration by a group of neutral nations, as the Mexican government had proposed, and sent in troops instead. When the American army entered the disputed territory, Mexico declared war. Less than one-year later United States forces had occupied large areas of Mexico. At one point during the war, the United States Senate debated whether to annex all of Mexico. A majority rejected that idea because, as prominent senators argued, total annexation would have added too many non-English-speaking Catholics and Indians to the country’s largely Protestant population. Hostility against Catholics was extreme throughout the United States in the 1840s and early 1850s. The intensity of this religious prejudice is illustrated by an incident during the war. Several hundred Irish Catholics in the U.S. Army—the “St. Patrick’s Brigade”—deserted to the Mexican side and fought against their former comrades. The Irish fled to the enemy to get away from the anti-Catholic taunts and hatred they received from Protestant soldiers. The war ended when Mexico, which had lost fifty thousand soldiers to the United States’ eight thousand, signed a peace treaty on February 2, 1848. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo, Mexico lost almost one-half of its territory, including California. The population loss was less severe, as only about 10 percent of the Mexican people lived in the lost provinces. Mexico’s territorial losses were among the greatest suffered by any nation in the history of warfare. According to the treaty, Mexicans were allowed to move south of the border (the Rio Grande River, as the winners mandated). About two thousand of the hundred thousand Spanish-speaking residents of the region made that move. Those who remained north of the border were supposed to receive “all rights of citizens of the United States,” regardless of what language they used or what religion they practiced. The war brought an end to more than three hundred years of Spanish rule in the American Southwest. In some of the new territories, such as south Texas, the change of government led to a renewed war aimed at driving all remaining Spanish-speaking residents out of the United States. Thousands of Native Americans in the newly acquired territory now came under the authority of the government of the United States. The policy of dealing with the Indians remained the same, however— extermination and removal. The number of Indians coming into the Union was never counted. Why bother? They would never be allowed

The Changing Nature of Racial and Ethnic Violence


to become citizens. They were too savage and warlike in the view of many whites.

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