The very words ‘United States of America’ exemplify the notion of unity and diversity in the nation. From its inception and ongoing history, there has been a striving for one nation with toleration of differences. Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, one of the 48 contiguous states of the Union is a city of rich diversity. It’s a melting pot of peoples, art and history. We set out to explore why this city has a special place in the heart of locals and visitors alike.
From the start the Culture Pass was an excellent purchase. The decision was economic as well as providing a focus for our explorations. The possibilities included Indian artifacts, possible space exploration sties, world-class folk art, dinosaurs and much more.
The Culture Pass provides entry to 15 museums and historic sites in New Mexico. Passes allow access for a year; an expiry date is written on the Pass at purchase. We decided to visit four possibilities within Santa Fe itself, mostly within walking distance of our accommodation. We got our Passes at the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors (unfortunately the later was closed due to renovations). The cost for the Pass was $30, which when you do the Math, is excellent value.
We subsequently used the Pass for entry into the New Mexico Museum of Art, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art and a little further afield, Jemez Pueblo site. Often a guided tour is offered. When it is, we jump at it. We enjoy the experience as it increases out learning and understanding. In the USA, the volunteer tour guide is called a ‘docent’, a term that might be unfamiliar to Australians. They are just wonderful, so friendly, knowledgeable and articulate.
On our guided tour of the New Mexico History Museum we struck gold. For some reason the docent didn’t turn up and the replacement we think, was a senior manager at the Museum. Whatever, she was fantastic and we got so much more out of our visit as a result.
The tour lasted an hour and a half as she took us through the history of New Mexico. First exhibit, a Native American sock and shoe made from the versatile Yucca plant common to this area. These artifacts dated back thousands of years but well preserved by the dry desert environment. The conquest of the New Mexico came with the Spanish governors, soldiers and missionaries in 1598. The first governor was Don Juan de Oñate.
Depending on your point of view, Oñate, could be seen through the lens of history differently. One viewpoint could see him, and the Spanish generally, in a positive light, bringing material progress and the promise of eternal life to the local population of New Mexico. The opposing view sees him as a conquistador, using brutal tactics to subjugate the local indigene. Scholars have evidence of atrocities that included the killing of 800 people in Acoma Pueblo to the west of Albuquerque. Many girls were separated from their families and sent to convents in Mexico City. In another act, Oñate cruelly ordered his men to cut a foot off at least 24 males captives; this act perhaps to deter messengers running from one Pueblo to another and possibly to head off a united revolt against the Spanish by multiple Pueblos.
But recent locals have displayed both short and long memories. In a recent commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Oñate expedition, a bronze sculpture of a heroic representation of Oñate was unveiled in Alcalde, just north of Santa Fe. However, it seems somebody took exception and using an electric saw amputated the statue’s right foot.
Puebloan suppression by the Spanish continued for decades until the summer of 1680. In August of that year a revolt lead by a shaman named Popé took place. In secrecy he coordinated an attack.
At the Museum, the guide showed us some string with knots tied into it. Popé wanted a coordinated uprising of the pueblos; he believed it would have greater chance of success. He came up with an ingenious tactic. He sent messengers out to Pueblos, each with a knotted string rope for the leaders of local Pueblo communities. Once delivered the recipient leaders were instructed to untie one knot each day. When the string had no knots left the uprising was to begin.
Ultimately, the uprising was successful. Part of the conflict included a siege of the Spanish in an enclave in the center of Santa Fe. Most poignantly for us, it took place not more than 100 meters from the Museum where our tour was taking place.
Four hundred and one Spanish settlers and soldiers were killed and the Spanish were routed in Santa Fe. There was a retreat and the Spanish abandoned New Mexico. Perhaps the significance of this rebellion has not received the acknowledgement it deserves. It was the first and only time in North American history that conquering Europeans were expelled from Indian Territory. This expulsion lasted 12 years.
After visiting the Museum we wandered to the near-by plaza where we thought the siege of the Spanish by the Puebloans took place. In the middle of this plaza stands an obelisk. It was erected shortly after the Civil War (1861-65) and on two sides are etched commemorations of some New Mexican battles. On another face of the obelisk reads the following:
TO THE HEROES
WHO HAVE FALLEN IN THE
VARIOUS BATTLES WITH _________________
INDIANS IN THE TERRITORY
OF NEW MEXICO
In 1974 the word ‘savage’ was redacted.