A Harvest of Reluctant Souls
Fray Alonso de Benavides's History of New Mexico, 1630
Publication Year: 2012
The most thorough account ever written of southwestern life in the early seventeenth century, this engaging book was first published in 1630 as an official report to the king of Spain by Fray Alonso de Benavides, a Portuguese Franciscan who was the third head of the mission churches of New Mexico. In 1625, Father Benavides and his party traveled north from Mexico City to New Mexico, a strange land of frozen rivers, Indian citadels, and mines full of silver and garnets. Benavides and his Franciscan brothers built schools, erected churches, engineered peace treaties, and were said to perform miracles.
Benavides’s riveting exploration narrative provides portraits of the Pueblo Indians, the Apaches, and the Navajos at a time of fundamental change. It also gives us the first full picture of European colonial life in the southern Rockies, the southwestern deserts, and the Great Plains, along with an account of mission architecture and mission life and a unique evocation of faith in the wilderness.
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
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The late Calvin Horn, eminent Southwestern historian and publisher, was kind enough to provide me with a pristine copy of his 1965 reprint of the Ayer translation of Fray Alonso de Benavides’s Memorial as I began my work. It contains a very useful and clear photofacsimile of...
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I have attempted in this translation to treat Benavides’s History (the Memorial in the original) as one of the great early works of southwestern American history and narrative literature. There is no question of its unique nature. It is at the same time medieval and a tale of the...
Letter from Fray Juan de Santander to the King of Spain
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That, having in hand the narrative that was given me by Fray Alonso de Benavides, custodian of the conversions of New Mexico, this past year of 1626 on the 20th of June, concerning the great increases that those mission fields were undergoing and the lack of...
Letter from Fray Alonso de Benavides to the King of Spain
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The events and things of that Kingdom, or, better put, New World, which we have converted in these recent years and pacified for Our Lord God, are so many and of such nature that I cannot properly represent them to you briefly and in only one pass. The priests of my...
1. The Nations That Live Along the Road to New Mexico
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The kingdom and provinces of New Mexico are situated some four hundred leagues to the north of Mexico City, at 37 degrees north latitude. And though that is where the settlements are found, this district actually begins two hundred leagues to the south, in the valley of...
2. The Mansa Nation of the Río del Norte
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Having traversed these hundred leagues, we come to the famous Río del Norte, which gets this name from carrying its strong currents for so many leagues. You reach this river a hundred leagues before coming to New Mexico, and it is inhabited by a tribe we commonly call the...
3. The Beginning of the Apache Nation
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Proceeding, then, 30 leagues to the north of this Manso nation, we come upon the great Apache nation, which in these parts is known as the Apaches del Perrillo. One of their puppies discovered a spring—which is now of great importance along this road. Hence the name...
4. The Province and Nation of the Piros, Senecú, Socorro, and Sevilleta
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Once the traveler arrives in this region, the first settlements begin. The Piro province and tribe, with a large number of pueblos and adobe houses, one and two stories high, with covered terraces facing the plazas, are found here. The well-dressed people, subject to their captains...
5. The Mines of Socorro
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Well, all this land is full of great treasures—namely, very rich and prosperous silver and gold mines. As His affectionate chaplains and vassals, we customarily ask God for things like this. And applying a little diligence, as an intelligent person will do, we did indeed...
6. The Tiwa Nation
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Going up the same river1 seven leagues, the Tiwa nation begins. With fifteen or sixteen pueblos in a district of twelve or thirteen leagues, in which there are seven thousand souls breathing, all baptized, there are two friaries. These are those of San Francisco...
7. The Queres Nation
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There are three friaries with their very costly churches, each distinct, and next to each of these, of course, is its town. These Indians are quite clever at reading, writing, and playing all musical instruments—good hands at all trades. This comes from the tremendous industry of...
8. The Tompiro Nation
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Leaving the Río del Norte, and going from the aforementioned nation to the east ten leagues, the Tompiro nation begins with its first pueblo of Chililí. It extends onward from that point some fifteen leagues, with fourteen or fifteen pueblos. There are more than ten...
9. The Tano Nation
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Turning once again to the north some ten leagues, we run into the first and principal pueblo of the Tanos nation, which stretches onward ten leagues with five pueblos and four thousand baptized souls. In this pueblo there is one very good rectory and church. The...
10. The Pecos Nation
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Some four leagues onward in the same northerly direction, you will come to the pueblo of Pecos, which has over two thousand souls. Here there is an elegant rectory and temple, of particularly fine and distinct architecture and construction, into which a priest put extraordinary...
11. The Villa of Santa Fé
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Turning from the preceding pueblo to the west seven leagues, there is the Villa of Santa Fé, the capital of this kingdom, where the governor and about two hundred and fifty Spaniards reside. Only about fifty can go about armed due to lack of weapons, and although...
12. The Tewa Nation
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Proceeding west toward the Río del Norte, which we had left previously, the Tewa nation begins. This province goes on for some eleven or twelve leagues, through eight pueblos, in which there are now six thousand souls...
13. The Jémez Nation
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Crossing the river and going on seven leagues, you come to the Jémez nation. These people had been scattered all about this kingdom when I arrived as custodian, and their lands were nearly deserted due to hunger and war. These two plagues were finishing them off. Then...
14. The Picurís Nation
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Returning, then, to the Tewa country that we left to visit the Jémez, and going upriver ten leagues, we come to the pueblo of the Picurís people. Here there are two thousand souls, now baptized, and a rectory and church, where people are well taught and instructed in...
15. The Taos Nation
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The pueblo of the Taos people lies some seven leagues onward in the same northerly direction. It is of the same nation as the Picurís, although the language varies somewhat. There are two thousand five hundred baptized souls, with a friary and church that have been established...
16. The Great Rock of Acoma
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Returning from Taos back to the land of the Queres nation, and going westward for twelve leagues from Santa Ana, its last pueblo, you will come to the Great Rock of Acoma. This place has cost the lives of very many Spaniards and friendly Indians, as much due to its...
17. The Zuni Nation
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Proceeding thirty leagues to the west, you will come to the Zuni province, where there are eleven or twelve pueblos in a district of nine or ten leagues. There are more than ten thousand converted souls here studying their catechism and undergoing baptism in two rectories and...
18. The Moqui (Hopi) Nation
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Traveling in the same westerly direction another thirty leagues, you will arrive at the province of Moqui. It has the same number of inhabitants as the preceding Zuni tribe—about ten thousand souls. The friars are busy catechizing and baptizing. Our Lord has...
19. The Rites of These Heathens
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These are the settlements that we have converted and baptized in this region, which we call New Mexico. From San Antonio Senecú, the first pueblo in the Piro province, up the Río del Norte to the pueblo of San Gerónimo de los Taos, the district runs on some one hundred...
20. How Well They Take to Christian Practices
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Today, to the honor and glory of Our Lord God, and thanks to the kind care that we clerics have exercised with the Indians, they are well taught in the doctrines of the church and are Christians. When we ring the bell for mass, they all come as well scrubbed and neat as can...
21. What That Kingdom Owes to Your Majesty
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This land and its inhabitants have been since God created them the subjects of the devil, and indeed his slaves until the present time. The entire country was full of the estufas of idolatry, where no one ever worshipped the holy name of Jesus nor indeed had ever heard...
22. The Fertility of the Land
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All this land is extremely fertile, yielding in great abundance from whatever seeds are planted. There are corn, wheat, beans, lentils, chickpeas, lima beans, sweet peas, squashes and pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, and cucumbers...
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The land also has many rivers in which there are fish in great abundance. There are salt marshes, too. In particular, the Río del Norte, which we can ford when it is flowing low, comes up to our saddles. When it flows during spring runoff, the current...
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There is seemingly an infinite abundance of game, including deer of many different species. Some are like big mules, and have tails like those of mules; others are as large as these, although their tails are like those of other deer. These tails are very furry, and look like...
25. The Rigorous Climate
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The climate is given to extremes. Winter is most rigorous, with many snows, much ice, and cold spells that cause all the rivers, salt marshes, and even the Río del Norte to freeze. These waters are frozen so hard that loaded carts can pass over them, as well as great mobs of...
26. The Great Apache Nation
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Everything said so far will help in understanding the nature of the pueblos of New Mexico, which lie on the banks of the Río del Norte in a district of one hundred leagues from one boundary to the other. It is surrounded everywhere by the great Apache nation, and...
27. The Beginning of the Conversion of the Apaches
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After the captain, his wife, and his children had been baptized, the people revolted. They wanted to kill this padre, who was instructing them in the Christian faith. They aimed their arrows at him, but in the end didn’t dare let fly. They fled the little settlement and left the padre...
28. The Conversion of the Gila Apaches, and the Notable Hieroglyphic of an Apache Captain
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He himself had preached in his own small hamlets, and by this means everyone living there had also been converted. Little by little the other hamlets subject to him were being converted as well. Today we have a cleric there who is instructing them in the ways of the church...
29. The Conversion of the Apaches de Navajó
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Leaving, then, this province of the Gila Apaches, we proceed in the same direction along the western border of the settlements. Bearing north more than fifty leagues, with the country full of the tiny hamlets of the Gila Apache country, we come to the province of the...
30. The Vaquero Apaches of the Buffalo Herd
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Leaving behind this province of the Apaches de Navajó, and turning right toward the east, the province of the Vaquero Apaches begins. It runs along the eastern edge of the settlements for more than 150 leagues until it comes to the lands of the Apaches del...
31. The Miraculous Conversion of the Humana Nation
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Leaving behind all this western part, and leaving the Villa of Santa Fé, the center of New Mexico, which is at 37 degrees north latitude, we cross the land of the Vaquero Apaches for more than one hundred twelve leagues to the east. Here the land of the Humana...
32. The Kingdom of Quivira and Aixaos
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This voice also reached the Kingdom of Quivira and that of the Aixaos, who lived 30 or 40 leagues to the east of the Humanas along the same route. They sent their ambassadors to the padres to ask them to go and teach their own people as well, and baptize them. They said that...
33. The Holy Tasks with Which the Friars Keep Themselves Busy
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The exceptional journeys and many works of the friars of my Father Saint Francis while in the service of Our Lord God may well be inferred by everything I have said to this point. Not only has the devil been relieved of his dominion over these souls, which he certainly...
34. The South Coast
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Having said something of all the lands we have pacified for Your Majesty and converted for Our Lord God in this northern area, it is only just that Your Majesty should know of another treasure. It has been saved for you for more than seventy years. After it was discovered and...
35. The Valley of Sonora (Señora)
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Well, as I say, the traveler leaves this province of Chiametla and goes eighty leagues to the north, always staying close to and journeying along the South Sea. This route comes to the Valley of Sonora, some seventy leagues in length and ten wide, through the middle of...
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But the principal one, which is where the cacique of this kingdom lives in his house, has some three thousand very fine and attractive houses. And in this town, as in the rest, they have their idolatrous and showy temples, as well as sepulchers where important people are...
37. Sibola (Cíbola)
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Leaving, then, the last town of this Valley of Sonora and going on in the same northerly direction, along the same South Sea coast, the province of Cíbola appears after forty or fifty leagues. The principal city here is also called Cíbola, and it has along its borders another...
38. Tiguex (Tihues)
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Continuing in the same region another two days’ journey, you will run into the province of Tiguex. It has quite an advantage over the last province in the beauty and strength of its buildings. Coming from Cíbola, the first city—which should by rights be the great city...
39. A City
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Another city is half a league from this Tiguex and is also on the bank of the river. It holds some three thousand houses. A beautiful and strong city in the shape of a square, with houses of stone, it is where the king keeps his women. It has three plazas, and the smallest...
40. Marvelous Great Rock
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Leaving Tiguex and traveling not north but to the west for a two days’ journey (as was the case going to Tiguex), there is the strongest and best-fortified city in the world. There are more than two thousand well-furnished houses here, and there must be over seven...
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Following this same line toward the west to the coast of the South Sea, the province of Tuzayán lies some eighty leagues from Tiguex. It has about thirty pueblos with good houses, although not as good as those mentioned earlier...
42. Cicuyo (Cicuye or Pecos)
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Turning around to the north from the city of Tiguex and going on for three or four days’ journey, there is a plain some six leagues long. It is full of cultivated fields among stands of pines, which produce wonderful piñón nuts, and other large, graceful trees. Here on the flat...
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The Kingdom of Quivira lies fifteen short days’ journey to the west of Tiguex. Here there are numerous large settlements in which the houses are built of straw, as in New Spain, as the climate here is quite temperate. These people do not construct their buildings with...
Postscript: Letter from Fray Juan de Santander to the King of Spain
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This is the Memorial that the said Father Alonso de Benavides has compiled and brought to our attention. It includes things that he has experienced and seen in his time, as well as legal information and other authentic narratives sent to me by the padre who is Commissary...
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For Further Reading
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Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2012