History intrudes on the present


When I heard radio news reports last April that Moslem extremists were threatening violence in London before the royal wedding as a protest against attacks by Christian crusaders in the 11th century, I was reminded of instances from New Mexico’s past in which episodes of warfare reverberated down through the centuries.

The Spanish kingdom of New Mexico was first settled in 1598 by soldiers and their families. These conquistadors brought memories of Spain’s centuries-long wars with Islamic Moors that ended in 1492 with the enemy’s final defeat.
Once established on the Rio Grande, the newcomers, animated by their crusading spirit, attempted to bring the Pueblo Indians into the Christian fold through peaceful persuasion, or if necessary, by force.
Warfare was already a way of life among the Pueblos, intervillage strife extending far back into the dim past, as proven by archeology. Most of the individual pueblos had war societies and a war priest.
Spaniards found in the l500s that Pecos Pueblo was a major threat to Native villages in its vicinity. One expedition reported that the Piro towns of the Socorro Valley in the early 1590s were making war upon the neighboring Tiwa province to the north.
Among the most belligerent people were the Acomas. Prior to advent of the Spaniards, they had waged destructive wars against other pueblos, sometimes in short-term alliances with Zunis and Hopis.
When Juan de Oñate settled the first colonists adjacent to San Juan Pueblo, they were welcomed. As one village elder told them, the Indians hoped these new arrivals might put an end to the bitter wars that plagued them.
That was not to be. In fact, the Acomas killed a dozen Spanish soldiers, causing Oñate to send a force to punish them. The warriors shouted from atop the high rock of Acoma that they intended to kill all the foreigners. Then they would march on the Rio Grande pueblos and annihilate those people for welcoming and feeding their enemies.
It was the Spaniards, though, who defeated the Acomas and took retribution that was reminiscent of the Spanish crusaders in their fights with the Moors.
Spain and other European nations, like Moslem countries and like Indian tribes, blended warfare and religion into a seamless and violent enterprise.
On the upper Rio Grande, the seismic upheaval of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt proved to be the pivotal example of a bloody clash between two religions. The Spaniards tried to impose theirs upon the Indians, who for their part in a massive uprising killed 21 Franciscan missionaries and almost 400 colonists.
Oddly, today most of the pueblos retain little or no recollection of their stunning victory in 1680. A few years ago, author David Roberts asked an Acoma official about it and was told that they “don’t have a clue about the Pueblo Revolt.”
Nor do there appear to be any authentic traditions among pueblos along the Rio Grande of colonizer Juan de Oñate. Still, during the 400th anniversary of New Mexico’s 1598 founding, some militant Pueblos denounced Oñate as a Hitler guilty of genocide.
An Associated Press story (Feb. 15, 1998) claimed that the same militants had been continuing a 400 year-old grudge against Spain for what Oñate did. But that’s not plausible since the documents that told of his activity here were not translated and published until the 20th century.
In somewhat the same manner, the London Moslems who hoped to march in protest prior to William and Kate’s nuptials wanted to express their outrage because crusaders long ago attacked their peace-loving ancestors.
In reality, by the time the crusades were launched to recover the Holy Land, Islam had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Spain.
One of their rulers, after capturing Jerusalem, had destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most sacred site in all of Christendom.
One wonders whether the British government did not have that bit of history in mind when it denied the Moslem request for a parade permit in advance of the wedding.
As a further safety measure, it implemented a huge security operation. Afterward the press noted that “the day went off without a hitch.”