THE GOVERNOR’S PALACE OF SANTA FE (Continued)
Of all the traditions clinging round
the old Palace at Santa Fe, those connected with Don
Diego de Vargas, the reconqueror of New Mexico, are
best known and most picturesque. Yearly, for two
and a quarter centuries, the people of New Mexico
have commemorated De Vargas’ victory by a procession
to the church which he built in gratitude to Heaven
for his success. This procession is at once a
great public festival and a sacred religious ceremony;
for the image of the Virgin, which De Vargas used
when he planted the Cross on the Plaza in front of
the Palace and sang the Te Deum with the assembled
Franciscan monks, is the same image now used in the
theatrical procession of the religious ceremony yearly
celebrated by Indians, Spanish and Americans.
The De Vargas procession is a ceremony
unique in America. The very Indians whose ancestors
De Vargas’ arms subjugated, now yearly reenact
the scenes of the struggles of their forefathers to
throw off white rule. Young Mexicans, descendants
of the very officers who marched with De Vargas in
his campaigns of 1692-3-4, take the part of the conquering
heroes. Costumes, march, religious ceremonies
of thanks, public festival-all have been
kept as close to original historic fact as possible.
De Vargas, himself, was to the Southwest
what Frontenac was to French Canada-a bluff
soldier animated by religious motives, who believed
only in the peace that is a victory, put the fear
of God in the hearts of his enemies, and built on
that fear a superstructure of reverence and love.
It need not be told that such a character rode rough-shod
over official red-tape, and had a host of envious
curs barking at his heels. They dragged him down,
for a period of short eclipse, these Lilliputian enemies,
just as Frontenac’s enemies caused his recall
by a charge of misusing public funds; but in neither
case could the charges be sustained. Bluff warriors,
not counting house clerks, were needed; and De Vargas,
like Frontenac, came through all charges unscathed.
The two heroes of America’s
Indian wars-Frontenac of the North, De
Vargas of the South-were contemporaries.
It will be remembered how up on the St. Lawrence and
among the Mohawk tribes of New York, a wave of revolt
against white man rule swept from 1642 to 1682.
It was not unnatural that the red warrior should view
with alarm the growing dominance and assumption of
power on the part of the white. In Canada, we
know the brandy of the white trader hastened the revolt
and added horror to the outrages, when the settlements
lying round Montreal and Quebec were ravaged and burnt
under the very cannon mouths of the two impotent and
terrified forts. The same wave of revolt that
scourged French Canada in the eighties, went like
wild fire over the Southwest from 1682 to 1694.
Was there any connection between the two efforts to
throw off white man rule? To the historian, seemingly,
there was not; but ask the Navajo or Apache of the
South about traders in the North, and you will be
astonished how the traditions of the tribes preserve
legends of the Athabascan stock in the North, from
whom they claim descent. Ask a modern Indian
of the interior of British Columbia about the Navajos,
and he will tell you how the wise men of the tribe
preserve verbal history of a branch of this people
driven far South-“those other Denes,”
he will tell you. Traders explain the wonderful
way news has of traveling from tribe to tribe by the
laconic expression, “moccasin telegram.”
Whether or not the infection of revolt
spread by “moccasin telegram” from Canada
to Mexico, the storm broke, and broke with frightful
violence over the Southwest. The immediate cause
was religious interference. All pueblo people
have secret lodges held in underground estufas
or kivas. To these ceremonies no white
man however favored is ever admitted. White men
know as little of the rites practiced in these lodges
by the pueblo people as when Coronado came in 1540.
To the Spanish governors and priests, the thing was
anathema-abomination of witchcraft and
sorcery and secrecy that risked the eternal damnation
of converts’ souls. There was a garrison
of only 250 men at the Palace; yet already the church
boasted fifty friars, from eleven to seventeen missions,
and converts by the thousands. But the souls of
the holy padres were sorely tried by these
estufa rites, “pláticas de noche,”
“night conversations”-the priests
called them. Well might all New Spain have been
disturbed by these “night conversations.”
The subject bound under fearful oath of secrecy was
nothing more nor less than the total extermination
of every white man, woman and child north of the Rio
Some unwise governor-Trevino,
I think it was-had issued an edict in 1675
forbidding the pueblos to hold their secret lodges
in the estufas. By way of enforcing his
edict, he had forty-seven of the wise men or Indian
priests (he called them “sorcerers”) imprisoned;
hanged three in the jail yard of the Palace as a warning,
and after severe whipping and enforced fasts, sent
the other forty-four home. Picture the situation
to yourself! The wise men or governors of the
pueblos are always old men elected out of respect
for their superior wisdom, men used to having their
slightest word implicitly obeyed. Whipped, shamed,
disgraced, they dispersed from the Palace, down the
Rio Grande to Isleta, west to the city on the impregnable
rocks of Acoma, north to that whole group of pueblo
cities from Jemez to Santa Fe and Pecos and Taos.
What do you think they did? Fill up the underground
estufas and hang their heads in shame among
men? Then, you don’t know the Indian!
You may break his neck; but you can’t bend it.
The very first thing they did was to gather their
young warriors in the estufas. Picture
that scene to yourself, too! An old rain priest
at San Ildefonso, through the kindness of Dr. Hewitt
of the Archaeological School, took us down the estufa
at that pueblo, where some of the bloodiest scenes
of the rebellion were enacted. Needless to say,
he took us down in the day time, when there are no
The estufa is large enough
to seat three or four hundred men. It is night
time. A few oil tapers are burning in stone saucers,
the pueblo lamp. The warriors come stealing down
the ladder. No woman is admitted. The men
are dressed in linen trousers with colored blankets
fastened Grecian fashion at the waist. They seat
themselves silently on the adobe or cement benches
around the circular wall. The altar place, whence
comes the Sacred Fire from the gods of the under world,
is situated just under the ladder. The priests
descend, four or five of them, holding their blankets
in a square that acts as a drop curtain concealing
the altar. When all have descended, a trap door
of brush above is closed. The taper lamps go
out. The priests drop their blankets; and behold
on the altar the sacred fire; and the outraged wise
man in impassioned speech denouncing white man rule,
insult to the Indian gods, destruction of the Spanish
Of the punished medicine men, one
of the most incensed was an elderly Indian called
Pope, said to be originally from San Juan, but at that
time living in Taos. I don’t know what ground
there is for it, but tradition has it that when Pope
effected the curtain drop round the sacred fire of
the estufa in Taos, he produced, or induced
the warriors looking on breathlessly to believe that
he produced, three infernal spirits from the under
world, who came from the great war-god Montezuma to
command the pueblo race to unite with the Navajo and
Apache in driving the white man from the Southwest.
If there be any truth in the tradition, it is not
hard to account for the trick. Tradition or trick,
it worked like magic. The warriors believed.
Couriers went scurrying by night from town to town,
with the knotted cord-some say it was of
deer thong, others of palm leaf. The knots represented
the number of days to the time of uprising. The
man, for instance, who ran from Taos to Pecos, would
pull out a knot for each day he ran. A new courier
would carry the cord on to the next town. There
was some confusion about the untying of those knots.
Some say the rebellion was to take place on the 11th
of August, 1682; others, on the 13th. Anyway,
the first blow was struck on the 10th. Not a
pueblo town failed to rally to the call, as the Highlanders
of old responded to the signal of the bloody cross.
New Mexico at this time numbered some 3,000 Spanish
colonists, the majority living on ranches up and down
the Rio Grande and surrounding Santa Fe. The
captain-general, who had had nothing to do with the
foolish decrees that produced the revolt, happened
to be Don Antonio de Otermin, with Alonzo Garcia as
his lieutenant. In spite of no women being admitted
to the secret, the secret leaked out. Pope’s
son-in-law, the governor of San Juan, was setting
out to betray the whole plot to the Spaniards, when
he was killed by Pope’s own hand.
Such widespread preparations could
not proceed without the Mission converts getting some
inkling; and on August 9, Governor Otermin heard that
two Indians of Tesuque out from Santa Fe had been ordered
to join a rebellion. He had the Indians brought
before him in the audience chamber on the 10th.
They told him all they knew; and they warned him that
any warrior refusing to take part would be slain.
Here, as always in times of great confusion, the main
thread of the story is lost in a multiplicity of detail.
Warning had also come down from the alcalde at Taos.
Otermin scarcely seems to have grasped the import of
the news; for all he did was to send his own secret
scouts out, warning the settlers and friars to seek
refuge in Isleta, or Santa Fe; but it was too late.
The Indians got word they had been betrayed and broke
loose in a mad lust of revenge and blood that very
Saturday when the governor was sending out his spies.
It would take a book to tell the story
of all the heroism and martyrdom of the different
Missions. Parkman has told the story of the martyrdom
of the Jesuits in French Canada; and many other books
have been written on the subject. No Parkman
has yet risen to tell the story of the martyrdom of
the Franciscans in New Mexico. In one fell day,
before the captain-general knew anything about it,
400 colonists and twenty-one missionaries had been
slain-butchered, shot, thrown over the rocks,
suffocated in their burning chapels. Pope was
in the midst of it all, riding like an incarnate fury
on horseback wearing a bull’s horn in the middle
of his forehead. Apaches and Navajos, of
course, joined in the loot. At Taos, out of seventy
whites, two only escaped; and they left their wives
and children dead on the field and reached Isleta only
after ten days’ wandering in the mountains at
night, having hidden by day. At little Tesuque,
north of Santa Fe, only the alcalde escaped by spurring
his horse to wilder pace than the Indians could follow.
The alcalde had seen the friar flee to a ravine.
Then an Indian came out wearing the priest’s
shield; and it was blood-spattered. At Santa Clara,
soldiers, herders and colonists were slain on the
field as they worked. The women and children
were carried off to captivity from which they never
returned. At Galisteo, the men were slain, the
women carried off. Rosaries were burned in bonfires.
Churches were plundered and profaned. At Santo
Domingo, the bodies of the three priests were piled
in a heap in front of the church, as an insult to
the white man faith that would have destroyed the
Indian estufas. Down at Isleta, Garcia,
the lieutenant, happened to be in command, and during
Saturday night and Sunday morning, he rounded inside
the walls of Isleta seven missionaries and 1,500 settlers,
of whom only 200 had firearms.
What of Captain-General Otermin, cooped
up in the Governor’s Palace of Santa Fe, awaiting
the return of his scouts? The reports of his scouts,
one may guess. Reports came dribbling in till
Tuesday, and by that time there were no Spanish left
alive outside Santa Fe and Isleta. Then Otermin
bestirred himself mightily. Citizens were called
to take refuge in the Palace. The armory was
opened and arquebuses handed out to all who could
bear arms. The Holy Sacrament was administered.
Then the sacred vessels were brought to the Governor’s
Palace and hidden. There were now 1,000 persons
cooped up in the Governor’s Palace, less than
100 capable of bearing arms. Trenches were dug,
windows barricaded, walls fortified. Armed soldiers
mounted the roofs of houses guarding the Plaza and
in the streets approaching it were stationed cannon.
Having wiped out the settlements,
the pueblos and their allies swooped down on Santa
Fe, led by Juan of Galisteo riding with a convent flag
round his waist as sash. To parley with an enemy
is folly. Otermin sent for Juan to come to the
Palace; and in the audience chamber upbraided him.
Juan, one may well believe, laughed. He produced
two crosses-a red one and a white one.
If the Spaniards would accept the white one and withdraw,
the Indians would desist from attack; if not-then-red
stood for blood. Otermin talked about “pardon
for treason,” when he should have struck the
impudent fellow to earth, as De Vargas, or old Frontenac,
would have done in like case.
When Juan went back across the Plaza,
the Indians howled with joy, danced dervish time all
night, rang the bells of San Miguel, set fire to the
church and houses, and cut the water supply off from
the yard of the Palace. The valor of the Spaniards
could not have been very great from August 14th to
20th, for only five of the 100 bearing arms were killed.
At a council of war on the night of August 19th, it
was decided to attempt to rush the foe, trampling
them with horses, and to beat a way open for retreat.
Otermin says 300 Indians were killed in this rally;
but it is a question. The Governor himself came
back with an arrow wound in his forehead and a flesh
wound near his heart. Within twenty-four hours,
he decided-whichever way you like to put
it-“to go to the relief of Isleta,”
where he thought his lieutenant was; or “to retreat”
south of the Rio Grande. The Indians watched the
retreat in grim silence. The Spanish considered
their escape “a miracle.” It was a
pitiful wresting of comfort from desperation.
But at Isleta, the Governor found
that his lieutenant had already retreated taking 1,500
refugees in safety with him. It was the end of
September when Otermin himself crossed the Rio Grande,
at a point not far from modern El Paso. At Isleta,
the people will tell you to this day legends of the
friar’s martyrdom. Every Mexican believes
that the holy padre buried in a log hollowed
out for coffin beneath the chapel rises every ten
years and walks through the streets of Isleta to see
how his people are doing. Once every ten years
or so, the Rio Grande floods badly; and the year of
the flood, the ghost of the friar rises to warn his
people. Be that as it may, a few years ago, a
deputation of investigators took up the body to examine
the truth of the legend. It lies in a state of
perfect preservation in its log coffin.
The pueblos had driven the Spanish
south of the Rio Grande and practically kept them
south of the Rio Grande for ten years. Churches
were burned. Images were profaned. Priestly
vestments decked wild Indian lads. Converts were
washed in Santa Fe River to cleanse them of baptism.
All the records in the Governor’s Palace were
destroyed, and the Palace itself given over to wild
orgies among the victorious Indians; but the victory
brought little good to the tribes. They fell back
to their former state of tribal raid and feud.
Drought spoiled the crops; and perhaps, after all,
the consolation and the guidance of the Spanish priests
were missed. When the Utes heard that the
Spanish had retreated, these wild marauders of the
northern desert fell on the pueblo towns like wolves.
There is a legend, also, that at this time there were
great earthquakes and many heavenly signs of displeasure.
Curiously enough, the same legends exist about Montreal
and Quebec. Otermin hung timidly on the frontier,
crossing and recrossing the Rio Grande; but he could
make no progress in resettling the colonists.
Comes on the scene now-1692-98-Don
Diego de Vargas. It isn’t so much what
he did; for when you are brave enough, you don’t
need to do. The doors of fate open before the
golden key. He resubjugated the Southwest for
Spain; and he resubjugated it as much by force of clemency
as force of cruelty. But mark the point-it
was force that did it, not pow-wowing and parleying
and straddling cowardice with conscience.
De Vargas could muster only 300 men at El Paso, including
loyal Indians. On August 21, 1692, he set out
for the north.
It has taken many volumes to tell
of the victories of Frontenac. It would take
as many again to relate the victories of De Vargas.
He was accompanied, of course, by the fearless and
quenchless friars. All the pueblos passed on
the way north he found abandoned; but when he reached
Santa Fe on the 13th of September, he found it held
and fortified by the Indians. The Indians were
furiously defiant; they would perish, but surrender-never!
De Vargas surrounded them and cut off the water supply.
The friars approached under flag of truce. Before
night, Santa Fe had surrendered without striking a
blow. One after another, the pueblos were visited
and pacified; but it was not all easy victory.
The Indians did not relish an order a year later to
give up occupation of the Palace and retire to their
own villages. In December they closed all entrances
to the Plaza and refused to surrender. De Vargas
had prayers read, raised the picture of the Virgin
on the battle flag, and advanced. Javelins, boiling
water, arrows, assailed the advancing Spaniards; but
the gate of the Plaza stockade was attacked and burned.
Reinforcements came to the Indians, and both sides
rested for the night. During the night, the Indian
governor hanged himself. Next morning, seventy
of the Indians were seized and court-martialed on
the spot. De Vargas planted his flag on the Plaza,
erected a cross and thanked God.
One of the hardest fights of ’94
was out on the Black Mesa, a huge precipitous square
of basalt, frowning above San Ildefonso. This
mesa was a famous prayer shrine to the Indians and
is venerated as sacred to this day. All sides
are sheer but that towards the river. Down this
is a narrow trail like a goat path between rocks that
could be hurled on climbers’ heads. De
Vargas stormed the Black Mesa, on top of which great
numbers of rebels had taken refuge. Four days
the attack lasted, his 100 soldiers repeatedly reaching
the edge of the summit only to be hurled down.
After ten days the siege had to be abandoned, but famine
had done its work among the Indians. For five
years, the old general slept in his boots and scarcely
left the warpath. It was at the siege of the Black
Mesa that he is said to have made the vow to build
a chapel to the Virgin; and it is his siege of Santa
Fe that the yearly De Vargas Celebration commemorates
to this day. And in the end, he died in his boots
on the march at Bernalillo, leaving in his will explicit
directions that he should be buried in the church of
Santa Fe “under the high altar beneath the place
where the priest puts his feet when he says mass.”
The body was carried to the parish church in his bed
of state and interred beneath the altar; and the De
Vargas celebration remains to this day one of the
quaintest ceremonies of the old Governor’s Palace.