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  • The Spanish Colonial Settlement Landscapes of New Mexico, 1598–1680 by Elinore M. Barrett
  • Jeffrey R. Parsons
The Spanish Colonial Settlement Landscapes of New Mexico, 1598–1680. By Elinore M. Barrett. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012. Pp. xvi, 296. Maps. Tables. Appendix. Abbreviations. Preface. Notes. Index. $49.95 cloth.

This meticulously researched book focuses on the first eight decades of the Spanish colonization of New Mexico, beginning with the 1598 expedition under Juan de Oñate and ending with the pueblo Indian revolt of 1680 that violently overthrew Spanish authority and forcibly removed Spanish colonists for some dozen years. Barrett’s task is difficult because many archival materials—in particular land grant records that would have provided key information about Spanish administration, economy, settlement, and land use—were physically destroyed during the turbulent 1680s. Archaeological research, of which Barrett makes ample use, helps to identify and locate specific Spanish sites and fill many data gaps, but that research is itself still fragmentary.

New Mexico lay at the far northwestern frontier of Spain’s colonial domain of New Spain, whose principal administrative capital at Mexico City was hundreds of miles to the south across territories that were themselves often imperfectly subject to Spanish authority. Although several sixteenth-century Spanish exploratory missions had created interest in potential sources in New Mexico of wealth and new converts to Christianity, it was not until the 1598 Oñate expedition, comprised of some “500 people, 7000 head of livestock, and 83 carts and wagons” that a serious and sustained colonization effort was undertaken.

Barrett nicely documents the precarious footing of Spanish authority throughout the early decades of the colonization process, a period that saw many desertions by colonists as they realized the difficulties of living in this distant, arid, and resource-poor province whose direct links to far-off Mexico City were limited to three annual caravans. Their problems were compounded by serious conflicts with sedentary Puebloan Indians over access to scarce irrigable lands in the Rio Grande drainage, and raids from mobile Apache groups who quickly discovered new sources of booty in the scattered Spanish haciendas and estancias with their irrigated fields and flocks of introduced livestock.

Barrett shows how these external threats were compounded by internal contradictions within Spanish society itself, as the needs of settlers for Indian lands and labor in agriculture, salt mining, and textile workshops conflicted with imperial and church edicts that provided, however imperfectly, some measure of protection for native peoples. [End Page 346]

Early on, harsh conditions discouraged the immigration of Spanish women, and so there was increasing intermarriage between Spanish men and Indian women that blurred the ethnically based lines of hierarchy and authority and inheritance as time passed. Barrett shows how the term “Spanish” came to have a social more than biological meaning. Introduced diseases, especially smallpox during the late 1630s and early 1640s, were instrumental in reducing Indian population in the Rio Grande Valley from about 50,000 in 1601 to about 13,000 in 1680. The “Spanish” population during the same period—always tiny relative to that of the Indians—increased from less than 200 to about 1400.

The book consists in the main of detailed reconstructions of Spanish land holdings and profiles of landholders in the ten geographic subdivisions of the Rio Grande Valley in north central New Mexico that comprised the core of Spanish and Puebloan Indian occupation. These were San Gabriel, the initial Spanish capital; Santa Fe, the colonial capital after 1610; the Santa Fe River Valley; the Española Basin; the Far North; the Galisteo Basin and Pecos Jurisdiction; the Santo Domingo Basin; the Middle Rio Grande Region; the Estancia Basin; and the Southern Rio Grande Region. Barrett’s reconstructions, admittedly incomplete and necessarily speculative in places, piece together the fragmentary archival and archaeological data on how and where individual Spaniards acquired specific landholdings, how they lived on these holdings in scattered haciendas and estancias, and how the holdings were transmitted to heirs. These findings are complemented by a series of appendix tables that list individual Spaniards and their roles, as derived from a variety of surviving documents. The relative specificity and comprehensiveness of this painstakingly...


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