HISTORY OR MOSTLY MYTH? CAVEAT LECTOR!

DISCREPANCIES IN SCHOLARLY ACCOUNTS
OF THE CHAMUSCADO EXPEDITION, 1581-1582

As someone who has spent thirty-six years as a professor of French and Spanish Literature and scholar of the sixteenth century in France and the Golden Age in Spain, I am not, strictly speaking, a historian. However, scholarly research has led me to become one, and my post-retirement activity as novelist of Renaissance France and of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico has confirmed me in my intense interest in the history of my native state, New Mexico.

At the moment, I am writing a novel-The Seven Cities of Mud-about the so-called Chamuscado Expedition, the second expedition up the Rio Grande from Mexico in 1581 and 1582, forty years after Coronado’s. As I did preliminary research for this work, I found amazing, often imaginative discrepancies in historical accounts of the entrada. For the sake of clarity, I will now give you a summary of what I think to be an accurate account of the events of 1581-82.

Forty years earlier, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, with hundreds of soldiers and servants, a vast herd of food animals and spare horses, had explored the Rio Grande valley. He returned empty-handed with a head injury, dying in disgrace for having wasted vice-regal funds without having discovered the expected Cíbola, the Seven Cities of Gold. He had, however, enraged the pueblo Indians with his demands and had burned at least one pueblo along with many of its inhabitants after a prolonged battle.

The scribal account of Coronado’s expedition had not yet been published when the Chamuscado Expedition was conceived. A Franciscan Friar, Brother Augustín Rodriguez–persistently called Fray Ruiz in early accounts–heard reports of the wonderful Indian cities in the north, where the inhabitants cultivated the soil, grew corn, cotton, beans, and squash, and where they wore handsome cotton clothing–unlike the local natives who went about naked. Fray Agustín served the mission in San Bartolomé, a mining town near the northern outpost of Santa Barbara on the Conchos River. He conceived the idea of bringing the Gospel to the souls in those northern cities, since they were obviously worthy of salvation.

Fray Agustín traveled hundreds of miles down to Mexico City to obtain an official permit from Viceroy Lorenzo Suárez de Mendoza, Conde de Coruña, to mount an entrada. His purpose was to evangelize the natives and to assess the number of priests it would take to Christianize the region. He was authorized to recruit other priests and was given adequate funds to hire as many soldiers as he thought necessary for their protection, and to buy food animals (goats, sheep, and cattle), horses, and supplies. He was given a commission to bestow on one of the soldiers whom he considered worthy of becoming the captain of the little troop. He persuaded two priests, Fray Francisco López, whom he named Superior, and Fray Juan de Santa María, a mathematician and astronomer, to accompany him. He chose Francisco Sánchez to be captain, nicknamed El Chamuscado (the Singed) because of his red beard. In addition, he (or Chamuscado) recruited eight soldiers, including Hernán Gallegos, scribe, Pedro de Bustamante, and Hernando Barrado, who became prominent later because of their accounts of the expedition. Together with their servants, the party numbered thirty-one people with a herd of six hundred head of stock, ninety horses, provisions and trade goods.

The expedition followed the Conchos River and then the Rio Grande, past present-day El Paso, finally beginning to find highly developed pueblos somewhat south of what is now Socorro. They continued northward through a thickly settled area clustered with pueblos which they labeled Tiguex. Prominent among these pueblos was Puaray, now thought to be in the vicinity of today’s Bernalillo. They explored the Santa Fe River, finding several pueblos, returned to the Rio Grande and continued northward, turning back south somewhere near Taos, then went east along the Galisteo, finding magnificent stone pueblos. They went east as far as the Pecos and buffalo country, then explored west as far as Zuñi.

Sometime after they had left Puaray, Captain Chamuscado usurped leadership of the expedition, disregarding the friars’ intent to missionize and convert the Indians. The soldiers’ chief concern was, of course, gold. They forced their entry into one pueblo after another by firing their arquebuses and intimidating the inhabitants. But they found no gold.

Fray Juan de Santa María left the party sometime during their trek eastward and went south alone. According to Hernán Gallegos, the friars and all the soldiers begged him not to go because of the extreme dangers he would face, but he insisted, saying he intended to find a better route to reach Santa Bárbara and Mexico, and to report to his superior and to the viceroy what they had seen and done. He was killed east of the Manzano Mountains on the third day out, in September, 1581.

After the expedition had reached Zuñi, snow and extreme cold forced them to turn back. They arrived at Puaray, where, after a short stay, Chamuscado and the soldiers decided to return to Mexico. They left the two friars at the pueblo in order to carry out their real mission of evangelizing the natives, unprotected except for a few Mexican servants. They were both murdered shortly after the soldiers’ departure.

Chamuscado had been ill for some time. Thirty leagues (about ninety miles) north of Santa Barbara, his condition became acute and he was bled with a horseshoe nail. He died in camp from a combination of his disease (perhaps malaria) and his companions’ ‘cure.'(1)

Hernán Gallegos later requested that His Majesty, Felipe II, appoint him governor of Nuevo México, as he called the new territory, and his detailed, self-serving account forms the basis for most of what we know of the expedition.

I will provide a brief summary of the ways in which Gallegos differs from the above account. He gives short shrift to the friars and their role in the expedition. He ‘forgets’ to mention them in the beginning of his narrative, merely noting in passing that some Franciscan friars had come along. He speaks instead of their ‘leader,’ Captain Chamuscado who, according to him, makes all important decisions. For Gallegos, the friars come into prominence only three times: first, when Fray Juan the Foolhardy leaves for Mexico. His foolishness is to blame for his murder “by the Indians” three days later. Secondly, the friars play a role in quieting the Indians when a pueblo revolts against the expedition’s demands for food. The Indians had killed three horses and threatened the Spaniards. Third, the remaining friars are blamed for their own deaths, having foolishly stayed behind in Puaray instead of returning with the soldiers to safety in Mexico.

Otherwise, Gallegos’ eye-witness narrative follows the outlines I have already given. He provides much useful and fascinating information about the natives’ rain dances and their marriage ceremonies, about the number and names of pueblos visited along with some limited description of them, about the buffalo hunt and about the above-mentioned confrontation at one of the pueblos(2).

I will proceed to summarize several versions of the expedition, arranging them chronologically. The earliest is by William Watts Hart Davis from the nineteenth century, who wrote before Hernán Gallegos’ account became known. Until early in the 20th century, that document had been buried in the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, Spain.

Davis, in The Spanish Conquest of New Mexico, gives a fanciful account of the expedition. As he tells it, forty years after Coronado, in 1581, the Franciscan friar Augustín Ruiz applied to the viceroy, the Conde de Corunna, to enter the north country. He recruited Francisco Lopez and Juan de Santa María along with twelve soldiers.

They traveled up the banks of the “Del Norté” until they reached the pueblo of “Puara,” eight miles above Albuquerque in Bernalillo County. The soldiers deserted them at this point and returned to Saint Bartholomew, despite the friars’ pleas. The friars continued north to Galisteo, and, pleased with the peaceable and friendly reception they encountered, they decided that Juan de Santa María should return to New Spain to give information on what they had seen. The two brothers accompanied him some distance, then returned to Puara.

Fray Juan crossed the Sandía Mountains in order to pass by the Salinas and thence to take a direct course for El Paso del Norté, which was a shorter route than the one they had come by. On the third day, near San Pablo, he stopped to rest under a tree, where the Teguas Indians killed him and burnt his remains.

The other two friars lived for a time in peace at Puara, but one afternoon López retired about a league from the village to engage in his devotions, and while he prayed, he was attacked and killed by an Indian who wounded him mortally in both temples. The Puara Indians led Fray Ruiz to the burial site of Lopez’ body, which he disinterred and reburied in the pueblo with due rites. Ruiz, in deep mourning, now understood his mortal danger. The “war captain” of Puara tried to save Ruiz by moving him upriver to the pueblo of Santiago, but he was attacked there and his body thrown into the river, then in flood, as food for the fishes. “thus the Teguas Indians completed the work of blood…”

Davis’ account concludes, saying that “from that time down to the year 1629,” 34,650 Indians were baptized and that the friars had erected forty-three churches in New Mexico. “The body of Lopez remained buried at Puara for thirty-three years, when the … remains were disinterred and deposited in the church of the pueblo of Sandía with great ceremony, a number of priests marching on foot, dressed in full robes. It is related in the writings of one of the priests who was present that when the procession began to move, the saint in the church commenced to perform miracles.” (3)

Horatio Ladd, in 1881, repeats Davis’s version with a few embellishments, for example, that the Indians crushed Fray Juan de Santa María’s head with a stone and that they shot Fray Francisco López full of arrows.(4)

As late as 1945, Harvey Fergusson writes that, during the forty years after Coronado,

only a few Franciscan friars entered the northern country. Two of them accompanied Coronado and stayed behind to try to convert the Indians and later two lay brothers, named Rodriguez and Lopez, went in with a small escort and founded a mission at one of the pueblos called Puaray.

They were the only Spaniards the Indians did not fear and hate, says Fergusson.

Since they died alone among the Pueblos nothing certain is known about their deaths but a letter one of them wrote gives a probable clue to the fate of all. This man, left behind by Coronado, sent a message to say that he was winning the young people to Christ but that the old men were all against him and he had no doubt he soon would die. Doubtless these gentle priests, who wanted neither women nor wealth, would gather the boys and girls about them and gain a gradual ascendancy over some, telling them of another sacrifice of blood…. But to the elders of the tribe they were simply rival medicine men, winning the young to new Gods, threatening the ancient and necessary faith. In the secret counsels of the khiva, where the Gods of the earth were worshiped, their fate was decided. They preached that death was a road to glory and they were sent upon their chosen way.(5)

In 1974-75, the history class of Bernalillo High School under the guidance of their teacher, Deanna Olson, undertook an investigation of the history of the area. They produced a booklet entitled Viva el Pasado: a History of the Bernalillo Area(6). One of the students, Chris Miera, contributed an article, remarkable for its serious scholarship, entitled “Tiguex and Bernalillo,” in which he surveys the history of the area from 1539 to 1800. He gathers available data, including information about the Chamuscado Expedition, which he correctly calls the Rodríguez Expedition for Fray Augustín Rodríguez who initiated and organized it. Along the way, Miera–like many scholars twice his age and more–falls victim to the fallacy that a printed book is an authoritative source. He thus introduces some typical historical embroidery.

Relying on Earle Forest, The First Missions, a book I have been unable to lay hands on, Miera informs us:

Chamuscado along with two other [sic!] priests ventured into New Mexico. They stopped at Puaray Pueblo, the Village of the Worm, where they founded the first mission in the state on a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande River just in front of the present town of Bernalillo. ‘The padres named their church San Bartolme [sic!], but it is generally known as the Mission of Friar Ruiz, so called after Agustín Rodriguez, known as Friar Ruiz, the leader of the two.

After establishing the mission Chamuscado chose to leave. ‘However,… Fray Rodriguez and Fray Francisco Lopez… decided to remain at the Tiwa pueblo of Puaray….

The party was somewhat ignorant of the true nature of the Indians. They believed evil practices were carried out in the pueblo. They did not know that Indian customs were not evil but just a part of their tradition that offered faith and security for the natives.(7)

Miera inserts two passages from Hernán Gallegos’ account that he found in the New Mexico Historical Review of 1934, one describing the rain dance with serpents, the other the marriage ceremony. He concludes logically:

Rodriguez and Lopez continued to live with the Indians. The future of the mission at Puaray looked dim at the time because the Indians were now accumulating knowledge from the older people of the pueblo about what had happened when Coronado visited 40 years before. They learned about the mistreatment of the Indians…. We can then assume… that the Indians were now generally hostile…. Around this time Lopez and Rodriguez noticed unusual pueblo gatherings…. These gatherings were for the purpose of planning the killing of the two friars. It is most likely Rodriguez and Lopez were killed late in the summer of 1581 because in their last account they mentioned the change in the color of the leaves and how the days got shorter and how it was getting close to harvest time.(8)

As he writes of the Oñate Expedition, Miera writes the following:

In 1610 Oñate and a small party of men visited the pueblos of Tiguex. The party stopped at the pueblo of Puaray where they were well received. The walls of their rooms had been recently whitewashed and the floors had been swept clean. The next day, however, the whitewash had dried and the party was able to see scenes that made their blood run cold. There, pictured upon the walls, the party saw the details of the martyrdom of Fray Rodriguez, Fray Lopez, and Fray Juan de la Cruz [sic!]. The paintings showed how they were stoned and beaten by the Indians.

This last story is drawn from Gaspar de Villagria’s 1610 history of New Mexico.(9)

Two of Miera’s trusted sources betrayed him: Earle Forest, with the elaborate account of the doings of the two friars during their lengthy stay at Puaray, which, in actuality, lasted a matter of days, and the testimony of Villagria regarding the paintings underneath the whitewash on the Puaray pueblo walls. The account of the manner of the friars’ death differs from the eyewitness report to the viceroy in 1582, and the group of friars being stoned and beaten includes Fray Juan de la Cruz, who had accompanied Coronado forty years earlier! (Perhaps the friar Villagria meant was Juan de Santa María?) Chris Miera’s laudable effort is flawed by sources whose unreliability he had no way of judging. For ‘mature’ scholars, the lesson is–or should be–clear: caveat lector!

The first informed and serious account of the Chamuscado expedition–that I have discovered, at least–is the article by J. Lloyd Mecham, “The Second Spanish Expedition to New Mexico,” published in NMHR in July, 1926. In 1917, Mecham had written his master’s thesis on the Rodriguez-Chamuscado Expedition, and he tells us “It was the writer’s good fortune to be the first to make a detailed study of the expedition with which they [Hernán Gallegos and Baltasar de Obregón] deal.” He had discovered their accounts in the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla.(10) Mecham also believed Brother Rodríguez to be a priest, but he is otherwise accurate and informative. The main thrust of his article is to try to make sense of Hernán Gallegos’ list of pueblos the entrada visited as compared to the archaeological and scholarly work of Adolph F. Bandelier. He labors mightily over this task, but ends inconclusively, and the exact correspondence between Gallegos’ account and presently known ruins of pueblos of that era is still in doubt.

Charles Coan, in 1925, had written an accurate five-page summary of the Rodriguez-Chamuscado Entrada and the Espejo rescue expedition. Coan most likely based himself on Mecham’s master’s thesis or upon the Gallegos report, which was becoming more widely disseminated.

Lansing B. Bloom, in 1933, also writes an accurate and highly readable account of the expedition, also basing himself on the recently unearthed Gallegos account.(11) Bloom focuses mainly on the hostilities the expedition encountered after the death of Fray Juan de Santa María. The soldiers had earlier convinced the Indians that they were sons of the sun and immortal, but the death of Santa María proved otherwise, and the natives began plotting to kill them. Bloom quotes Gallegos on how the small exploring party extracted needed food from the pueblos without making excessive demands, and how the soldiers, intent on returning to San Bartolomé in the dead of winter, tried to convince the two remaining friars to come with them, to no avail. Bloom recognizes a major internal problem among the members of the expedition: Who was in charge? It should have been Fray Rodríguez, yet Gallegos speaks of Chamuscado as “the leader.” Bloom’s next question, how the expedition was financed, has since been answered by investigation of vice-regal documents. The viceroy, in the name of King Felipe II, footed the bill, a very modest one by comparison to Coronado’s, forty years earlier.

Subsequent brief accounts of the expedition by Maurice G. Fulton and Paul Horgan in 1937, by Warren Beck in 1962 and by Felix D. Almaraz, Jr. in 1998 follow the general outlines of the Gallegos report.(12)

Later scholars, such as Hammond and Rey, in 1966, Fontana in 1996, and Maureen Ahern in 2001, call into question the subtext of Gallegos’ report that had been taken as ‘gospel’ by earlier historians. Hammond and Rey point out the conflict between the friars with their mission of evangelization and conversion, and the soldiers, who used violence and intimidation to extract information from the Indians about the location of gold and silver. Maureen Ahern especially examines one incident in the Gallegos report and casts doubt upon the scribe’s truthfulness.

Here is Gallegos’ version: As the expedition made its way back from buffalo country, three horses were stolen by Indians during the night and killed. The Spaniards knew by that time that Fray Juan de Santa María was dead and that the Indians probably knew that they were not really sons of the sun and certainly not immortal. The soldiers decided to attack the pueblo they suspected of harboring the horse-killers. They entered the pueblo and fired their arquebuses. The Indians fled into their houses and barricaded the doors. The Spaniards forcibly searched each house until they found horse meat in two of them, although the inhabitants had escaped. The soldiers rode to the center of the plaza, waving the chunks of horse meat and demanding the surrender of the killers. A couple of Indians tried to flee, and were run down by the men on horseback and made prisoners. It was decided to hold a mock execution–beheading the two in the center of the plaza–but the two friars would rush out and halt the proceedings. According to Gallegos, this charade was carried out, and the two Indians were saved by the friars, who were treated as heroes by the natives with feasting and dancing. The purpose of the charade had been to demonstrate that the Spaniards could show mercy, and that the friars could be trusted and loved. The effect of the action had only a brief duration, however.

Maureen Ahern calls the whole account into question, hypothesizing that, since much violence had already been admitted by Gallegos, it might be possible that the expedition did behead the two victims. They might have burned the pueblo as well. In any case, the Indians did take their revenge by killing the two friars who stayed behind in Puaray, and they fought violently against the later Espejo expedition, trying to take vengeance for past abuses.

All is not what it seems: caveat lector! Hernán Gallegos desperately wanted to be named viceroy of the new territory of Nuevo Mexico, and he therefore put the sweetest possible face on the soldiers’ doings.

One incident has appeared as an unsolved mystery in the story of the Rodríguez/Chamuscado Expedition: the actions and fate of Fray Juan de Santa María. Gallegos insists that he left to return to Mexico to report what they had seen and done to his ecclesiastical superior and to the viceroy, and to map out an easier and quicker route to and from New Spain. He left alone. He must have been conscious of the tremendous risk he was taking, since his brother Franciscans and the soldiers had emphatically pointed that out to him. What would have motivated him to take such a risk? In my opinion, he was furious at Chamuscado for usurping the leadership of the entrada, for using force against the Indians, and in brief, spoiling any possibility of success in the real purpose of the mission: to evangelize and convert the natives. It seems clear to me that Fray Juan was on his way to denounce Chamuscado and his men. Bernard (Bunny) Fontana bears this out, stating flatly, “Fray Juan de Santa María parted… to report the insubordination of their military escort–Chamuscado and the others having long since foregone the pretense of following Fray Rodríguez–and to bring back more Franciscan missionaries.”(13)

Juan was killed by the Indians on the third day out. Even Fontana buys into this. But, who gives us that report? Gallegos and his companions. Who had a real motive for killing the friar on his way to denounce Chamuscado and his men? In my opinion, the ‘Indians’ were a party of the soldiers, or maybe only the two who had the most to lose, Gallegos and Bustamante, who were willing to sacrifice their reputation among the Indians as immortal in order to stop a denunciation that would have ruined any chance of future rewards of lands and titles.

Of course, to this and to the mystery of the exact manner of death of the other two friars, we will never know the answer. Only a novelist like myself can supply one!
1. My account is drawn from various sources: George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds., The Rediscovery of New Mexico, 1580-1594 (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1966), which includes Hernán Gallegos’ own account of the expedition, and Bernard L. Fontana, Entrada: the Legacy of Spain and Mexico in the United States (Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1994).

2. See Hammond and Rey for Gallegos’ narrative.

3. W. W. H. Davis, The Spanish Conquest of New Mexico (Doylestown, PA, 1869), pp. 234-239.

4. Horatio O. Ladd, The Story of New Mexico (Boston: D. Lothrop, 1891).

5. Harvey Fergusson, Rio Grande (New York: Tudor Publishing Col., 1945), pp. 44-45.

6. Southwest History Class, Viva el Pasado: a History of the Bernalillo Area (Bernalillo: Southwest History Class, 1974-75)

7. Viva el Pasado, p. 19.

8. Viva, p. 21.

9. History of New Mexico, 1610, tr. Gilberto Espinosa (Los Angeles: Quivira Society, 1933), p. 142.

10. Mecham had written an earlier article: “The Martyrdom of Father Juan de Santa María,” The Catholic Historical Review, VI (April, 1920-January, 1921), p. 308.

11. Lansing B. Bloom and Thomas C. Donnelly, New Mexico History and Civics (Albuquerque: The University Press, 1933) pp. 65-72.

12. Maurice Garland Fulton and Paul Horgan, eds., New Mexico’s Own Chronicle: Three Races in the Writings of Four Hundred Years (Dallas: Banks Upshaw, 1937); Warren A. Beck, New Mexico: A History of Four Centuries (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962); “Transplanting ‘Deep, Living Roots’: Franciscan Missionaries and the Colonization of New Mexico-the Fledgling Years, 1598-1616,” in Thomas J. Steele, S.J., Paul Rhetts, and Barbe Awalt, eds., Seeds of Struggle/Harvest of Faith: The Papers of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Catholic Cuatro Centennial Conference (The History of the Catholic Church in New Mexico) (Albuquerque: LPD Press, 1998).

13. Fontana, p. 52.

Florence Weinberg, Ph.D.,
(Professor Emerita, Trinity University)
331 Royal Oaks Drive
San Antonio Texas, 78209