I Was Godfather to Them: Diego de Vargas and the Reconquest of New Mexico

The annual Santa Fe Fiesta lecture

Date August 8, 2012 at 2:19 PM

Author Editor

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Community Culture Education Lectures & Workshops

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From a New Mexico History Museum press release...

Diego de Vargas’s 1693 reconquest of Santa Fe did not create the peaceful Spanish province he needed for successful governance. To get it, he employed a series of strategies, including compadrazgo (godparenthood) of tribal children, divide-and-conquer, and a sweet helping of chocolate diplomacy.

State Historian Rick Hendricks will detail what Vargas did and how it worked in ”I Was Godfather to Them: Diego de Vargas and the Reconquest of New Mexico,” the annual Santa Fe Fiesta Lecture at the New Mexico History Museum at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5. The lecture is sponsored by the Palace Guard, and admission is free to its members; $5 others, at the door. Seating is limited.

“Vargas routinely stood as godfather to children of Indian leaders, thus putting into place the compadrazgo, the special, reciprocal relation existing among parent, godparent, and godchild in Spanish Catholic society,” Hendricks said. “At the same time, he was performing a social function familiar to Indian peoples of New Mexico within their own cultural context when he established this fictive kinship relationship with Native Americans.”

At his initial attempt at returning to Santa Fe in 1692, Vargas famously offered a chocolate drink to Luis Picurí, one of the Pueblo leaders.

From there, he worked a divide-and-conquer strategy, a familiar ploy of war and diplomacy. Different Pueblo peoples had their own reasons to welcome or oppose the return of Spaniards. Some wanted their material goods or had long-standing personal relationships with them. Others felt only animosity and resentment. For still others, maintenance of land was of paramount importance and threatened by the presence of the Spaniards. Finally, there were disputes over sacred and secular leadership.

In communities like Pecos and Taos, these issues rent the social fabric. They also divided speakers of the same language so that some Keresan-speaking pueblos, for example, allied themselves with Vargas, while others did not. Significantly, Vargas became a compadre of Bartolomé de Ojeda of Zia, Domingo of Tesuque, and Juan de Ye of Pecos. Without the support of these influential Pueblo men the war would surely have dragged on much longer.

Other Pueblo principles fought valiantly against Spanish reoccupation, earning both Vargas’s grudging admiration and his enmity. Cacique Diego Umviro of Pecos thought of Spaniards as a different species and justified killing them if they again invaded the Pueblos’ world. Lucas Naranjo, a Santa Clara war captain seeking to put himself at the head of a purge of Spaniards in 1696, died instead when a soldier’s musket ball struck him in the Adam’s apple and came out the nape of his neck.

Hendricks is a former editor of the University of New Mexico’s Vargas Project, which transcribed, translated, and annotated the New Mexico governor’s papers. He has also been a historical consultant for Sandia, Santa Ana, and Picuris Pueblos in New Mexico and Ysleta del Sur in Texas. He has written or collaborated on 19 books and 90 articles on the Spanish colonial period in the American Southwest and Mexico, garnering awards from the Historical Society of New Mexico, New Mexico Historical Review, El Paso County Historical Society, Border Regional Library Association, and Doña Ana County Historical Society. A native of North Carolina, he earned a doctorate in Ibero American Studies at the University of New Mexico. He also attended the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain.

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