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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 Grande.

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 ceremonies.

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 ruler!

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.