New Mexico Episode 12: Tiguex and the Tiguex War Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Distant Echoes: Episode 12: Tiguex and the Tiguex War

Last time we left the main push of the expedition behind to follow Melcior Diaz and Alcaron to see what they had been getting up to. This time we’ll return to Coronado himself and see what he had been getting up to while Diaz was marching west.

While Alcaron was pulling his boats up the Colorado River, some representatives from Cicuique (Seekweekay), also known as Pecos, Pueblo came to see Coronado, telling him about the buffalo, called cattle by the Spanish, that Cabeza de Vaca had written about. Coronado immediately began to put together an expedition to investigate. He tapped Hernado de Alvarado to go east to Pecos and beyond to see what could be found there. At least two of these men would be men the Spanish would call Bigotes and Cacique.

They left on August 29, 1540 traveling to Acoma where they would write that the pueblo “was one of the strongest ever seen, because the city is built on a very high rock. The ascent was so difficult that we repented climbing to the top. The houses are three and four stories high. The people are of the same type as those in the province of Cibola, and they have abundant supplies of Maize, beans, and turkey like those of New Spain.”

Others that had accompanied the men wrote similar sentiments about how difficult it would be to asail the pueblo. However, for the most part, their interactions with Acoma would be peaceful at this stage.

They would pass the site where Laguna Pueblo would be built and continued on to the Rio Grande, arriving on September 7. Arriving somewhere in the vicinity of Isleta. They then followed the river north and made camp at another group of towns, the Spanish called this grouping Tiguex, although the exact organizatIon of this group of pueblos is unknown it was thought to be somewhat similar to Cibola and some mind of loose coalition of somewhere between 12 and 20 pueblos. While making camp here, they would meet with representatives of the area and travel as far north as Taos. He would then send a note back to Coronado that he thought this area would make a better location for a base than Cibola.

At this time it is estimated that the Rio Grande Valley had a population of about 60,000.


With his business taken care of, he would then travel on to Pecos. Here he would meet two men from the plains, one named Ysepote also called Sepote and another the Spanish would call El Turco. Ysepote was from a country the Spanish called Quivira somewhere in modern Kansas. They also talked about another country called Haraee even further beyond. Both of which had been sold as extremely wealthy countries.

Both Ysepote’s (EesophPehtay) and El Turco’s positions at Cicuique are complicated. Older histories tend to portray the two men as slaves, belonging to Bigotes, but it is also possible that the two were high value hostages exchanged for alliances. Cicuique would have trade and political ties with the Plains tribes for at least the next two centuries if not until abandonment.

Alvarado would continue on to the Canadian River where he would partake in some buffalo hunting. Writing: “within four days he came upon the cattle, which are the most monstrous beasts ever seen or read about. We availed ourselves of them, although with danger to the horses at first, until we had gained experience. There are such multitudes of them that I do not know what to compare them with unless it be the fish of the sea… because the plains were covered with them. Their meat is as good as that of the cattle of Castile, and some said it was even better. The bulls are large and fierce, although they do not attack very often. But they have wicked horns and they charge and thrust savagely. They killed several of our horses and wounded many others. We found that the best weapon for dispatching them was a spear for hurling at them and the arquebus when they are standing still.”

While out here, Ysepote and El Turco who had been acting as guides told the Spanish that they did not know the land to the east and should instead head northeast towards Quivira where they would find gold. The story as the Spanish recorded it: “in his land there was a river in a plain which was two leagues wide. There were fish as large as horses there. And [there were] a great many exceedingly large canoes with more than twenty rowers on each side, which also carried sails. The lords traveled on the poop, seated beneath awnings. On the prow [there was] a large eagle of gold. He said further that the lord of that land slept during siesta under a great tree, on which a great number of small golden bells hung. In the breeze they gave him pleasure. Further, he said that generally everyone’s common service dishes were worked silver.” Supposedly they even had proof. Bigotes had a golden bracelet from Quivira and had hidden it from the Spanish.

Making it almost to the Texas panhandle, Alvarado would finally decide to turn around and regroup with Coronado with the information he had obtained. Upon making it back to Cicuique, relations would get worse. Alvarado would try to get information about the bracelet from Bigotes, who denied knowledge of it. He would go so far as to put Bigotes and Cacique in chains. It isn’t said which, bit either El Turco or Sepote would disappear, or if the people of Cicuique had tried to hide the man hoping the Spanish would release their captured leaders, would escape and then be found again, and the leaders put in chains again.

Things get a little confusing at this point. Alvarado apparently takes a break from all of this to attack a nearby pueblo with the people of Pecos, even going so far as to release Bigotes. However this attack plan was then abandoned when both Ysepote and El Turco escaped and were captured again. At this point Alvarado continues to rendezvous with Coronado at Tiguex. But this also could have occurred before the Spanish put Bigotes in chains.

In the meantime, Coronado had sent Cardenas who had just returned to prepare a camp for the Spanish at Tiguex, acting on the information that Alvarado had relayed back to them. They would set out and initially try to set up a camp outside of one of the pueblos. But as the winter snows began to set in, he “convinced” one of the pueblos to be emptied so that the Spanish could move in. This was the southernmost pueblo of Alcafor, near present Bernalillo. Modern archeology has found crossbow bolts and lead balls at the pueblo believed to be this site, implying some force applied to vacate the pueblo. Shortly after this Alvarado arrived with the prisoners.

Meanwhile the rest of the army was making its way north, they would find that some of the buried Spanish that had died in the despoblado, and buried at one of the camps, had been dug up by foxes and coyotes. They got to Cibola in November getting caught in a brutal snowstorm the day before they arrived. As one of their orders was to take care of the Mexican allies they had brought from Mexico, who had not brought the right clothes for the climate, they tried to find shelter from the storm. Writing: “Great fear was felt for the allies, for, since they were from New Spain and most of them from warm regions, they sufferer excessively from the cold that day; so much, indeed, that next day there was plenty to do taking care of them and carrying them on horseback while others went on foot.”

They finally made it to Cibola, where Coronado left orders for them to rest for 20 days before they were to continue on to Tiguex. He would take 30 of the best men and continue on his way to their new headquarters. On the way, the snow would be brutal and they would deviate south to visit another pueblo called Tutahaco where he would leave Ovando to further explore.

At Tiguex he would get Alvarado’s report about Quivira.

Overall, El Turco’s descriptions were believed  “because of his straightforward manner in telling the story, and also because, when they showed him ornaments made of tin, he smelled them and said they were not gold, for he knew gold and silver very well, and cared little for other metals.” He may also have been believed because, again, so many members of the expedition had all their wealth riding on the expedition.

El Turco promised that he could get the golden bracelet assuming he could return to Cicuique without Bigotes. He was not allowed to return as the Spanish were worried he would escape or raise the pueblo in revolt. Bigotes continued to deny any knowledge of the bracelet. Finally, one day he was taken to a spot outside of Alcanfor, where dogs were set upon him and bit him on the arm or leg, apparently not a life threatening injury but one that would affect the man for the rest of his life. The setting of dogs was not an uncommon practice among the Spanish in the 16th century. Cardenas was not involved in this torture, but the four prisoners: Bigotes, Cacique, El Turco, and Ysepote were left in his care.

There is some controversy about who ordered the event. It is possible that Coronado himself ordered it as some would later claim, but it is possible it occurred before he arrived like he would later claim. Either way, this like other heavy handed Spanish tactics Just added to the list of grievances. These grievances included turning out livestock to trample the fields and using the drying corn stalks to try and build huts. Corn stalks were often used as fuel for the pueblos.

Cacique was not kept in chains as he was considered too old to try and escape.


Overall, the Spanish had started to wear out their welcome in Tiguex. While Cardenas was trying to set up the camp, some people from the pueblo of Aranel came to him and claimed that a Spaniard had assaulted one of the women of the pueblo. Due to the nature of communication between the Spanish and the party, there is an old story about it being confusing on whether the man was trying to rape the woman or if he was trying to take a blanket from her. But most of the modern scholarship I found fell firmly on the side that it was an attempted rape.


The story, according to the Spanish went as follows from Castaneda, who was not yet present,: “an outstanding person, whose name I shall omit, to shame his honor, left the Pueblo where the camp was located and went to a other a league distant, and, seeing a beautiful woman he called her husband down below and asked him to hold his horse by the bridle while he went up, and, as the Pueblo was entered from the top, the Indian thought the Spaniard was going to some other place. While the native remained there holding the horse a commotion occurred, after which the man came back, took his mount, and rode away.”

Cardenas assembled the men so that the aggrieved husband could point out the perpetrator. He was unable to do so, but claimed he would be able to identify the man’s horse. He did so, and of course, the accused man denied the whole thing and in the end Cardenas sent the husband home without punishing anyone. Although he claimed that he would have punished the man if a better testimony could have been given. Later it would come out that the accused man was Juan de Villegas, the brother of a high official in Mexico. Most likely it was due to his connections that he got off scot free. Later on Coronado would deny knowledge of the incident and claim he too would have punished the offender had he been aware.

After Bigotes was set upon by dogs, the members of nearby pueblos would start to discuss resistance to the Spanish. Around this time the Spanish also started trying to get supplies from the local pueblos, including clothes and blankets. He sent a local leader, that the Spanish called Juan Aleman but who’s Tiwa name, or at least a fragment of it, could have been Xauian (Shahweeon), a leader from the pueblo of Moho, to arrange for the clothes of blankets. He said that such supplies would have to be negotiated with each pueblo.

Per Castaneda the commissioners Coronado would send did a poor job keeping the peace, they would arrive at the pueblos demanding the items immediately and not letting each pueblo discuss. Castaneda writes: Under the circumstances there was nothing the natives could do but take off their own cloaks and hand them over, until the number requested by the Spaniards was obtained.” The Spanish also complained about the quality of blankets and clothes they received and would just take them from the people of the pueblos if they thought they had better: “without any consideration or respect and without inquiring about the importance of the person despoiled.”

How much the Spanish paid for these goods is not recorded, he had orders to pay for them but that doesn’t make it a fair trade. It was the way they went about getting these goods that inflamed tempers too. Here’s an example on how the typical commissioner acted: “[the collector] arrived at [a] pueblo and immediately made the request to [the leaders], they had to deliver [the clothes right away] because [the expeditionary] had to have time to go on. In this situation they had no more time than to take off their outer fur robes and hand them over until the number they were asked for was reached. The collectors gave mantas and robes to some of the men-at-arms who went there [to Tiguex], who, if [the clothes] were not just so and they saw an Indian with another, better one, they exchanged with him without having greater respect and without ascertaining the rank of the [man] they were despoiling. So that [the Indians] were not a little angry over this.”

Additionally, men from the pueblos had been lurking around the Spanish camp at night, clearly looking for weaknesses.

Eventually it all came to a boiling point, these grievances including “expulsion from their homes, destruction of their winter fuel, torture of honored representatives of their neighbors, forced requisition of their food and clothing, rapes of the women, and possibly the picking of fights by the Mexican Indian allies”. One of the allies from Mexico that had been guarding the horses ran into the camp bloody. He claimed that he had been attacked by the pueblos and that his companions had been killed and stole the horses. Cardenas immediately responded, setting out with about 8 horsemen to investigate. They found some dead horses and followed the tracks back to the pueblo of Arenal, where the assaulted woman had been from. All but three of the Tiguex pueblos had been abandoned.


Finally he arrived at Arenal where they had enclosed the horses in the pueblo and were running them around the courtyard. Cardenas said that if they gave the horses back and continued to be peaceful, they would be forgiven. The Spanish offer was rebuffed, being seen as a sign of weakness. He then reported back to Coronado who called a council of war, the final result being “Fray Juan Padilla said it was not permissible for them to kill anyone, but he would approve and consider appropriate whatever the general might do.”

Cardenas was sent to try and make peace by reading the requerimiento one last time and deliver the news of war should the pueblos decline. They jeered at him and waved the horses tails as banners. Coronado had plans to head east and see Quivira, as a result, he could not leave a hostile force to his rear. Cardenas was sent out with 60 men to put the rebellion down.

He surrounded the pueblo and then attacked. Taking the first terrace by the end of the first day. 13-14 Spaniards were killed. The next day battle began again. He sent the wounded to Coronado and asked for further orders. While waiting he continued to attack, setting fires and smoking the pueblo out. Many of the defenders were slaughtered and more taken as prisoners. These prisoners would be the subject of a new atrocity of the Spanish from Castenada who arrived shortly after the battle: “Down on the ground the mounted men, together with many Indian allies from New Spain, built some heavy smudge fires in the basements, into which they had broken holes, so that the Indians were forced to sue for peace. Pablos de Melgosa and Diego Lopez, the alderman from Seville, happened to be in that place and they answered their signs for peace by similar ones, which consisted of making a cross. The natives soon laid down their arms and surrendered at their mercy. They were taken to the tent of Don Garcha, who, as was affirmed, did not know of the truce and thought they were surrendering of their own accord, as defeated men. As the general had ordered them not to take any one alive, in order to impose a punishment that would intimidate the others, Don Garcia at once ordered that two hundred stakes be driven into the ground to burn them alive. There was no one who could tell him of the truce which had been agreed upon, as the soldiers did not know about it, and those who had arranged the terms of the peace kept silent, believing it was none of their business. Thus when the enemies saw that their comrades were being tied and that the Spaniards had started to burn them, about one hundred who were in the tent began to offer resistance and defend themselves with whatever they found about them and with stakes which they rushed out to seize. Our footman stormed the tent on all sides with sword thrusts that forced the natives to abandon it, and then the mounted men fell upon them; as the ground was level, none escaped alive except a few who had remained concealed in the pueblo and who fled that night.”

Who actually ordered the burnings is not known. It could have been an accident or it could have been an order.

Around this time, Arellano continued on to meet with the main army after resting at Cibola. He would leave some canons there for the time being. Because of the weather, the Spanish were forced to only try suing for peace at the moment rather than end the Tiguex War. After the pueblo of Arenal was taken some Spanish may have taken up residence there as well as an additional pueblo of Alameda.

Cardenas would go to Moho to talk peace.

Upon arrival, Xauian-Aleman would agree to peace assuming that he and Cardenas could meet unarmed with no guards. The Spanish would describe the event as such: “Even though they were at war, they [the defenders of Moho) ended up talking to him. They told [Lopez de Cardenas] that if he wanted to talk either them, he should dismount, and they [would] come to him to talk peace. [They also said] that the horsemen should go off to one side, and they would have their people move away. [Then] Juan Aleman and another captain from the pueblo came to him.

It was done just as they requested. [Lopez de Cardenas] was close to them, and they said that since they were not carrying weapons, he should remove his. With the desire he had to bring them go peace, Don Garcia Lopez did so, in order to give them more assurance. When he reached them, Juan Aleman came forward to embrace him. As he did that, the two [others] who came with him withdrew two small clubs they were secretly carrying behind their backs and struck him on the helmet, two such [powerful] blows that they nearly stunned him. Two men-at-arms on horseback were nearby (since they had refused to withdraw even though they were ordered to) and attacked with such speed that they snatched him from [the Indians’] grasp.”

This would be the start of a two month siege of the pueblo.

First they tried to break the wall and found that it had been reinforced with large logs. They had brought their own ladders and started to put them to work to take the terraces. The pueblo had left some of the terraces open to the sky, making it even harder to take each level while rocks rained down on them. Poisoned arrows would eventually drive the Spanish from the terraces, killing five or six. Water would be scarce for the puebloans who tried to dig a well, which would collapse, killing those digging said well.

Snow would allow the pueblo to have some water at least. Finally on February 20, 1541 Coronado would attack again and one man would be beaten to death after being seized while crawling through a hole. The pueblo would hold out against battering rams and log cannons that the Spanish tried. Eventually, the pueblo would surrender their women and children. In the end, about 100 women and children would be surrendered to the Spanish, becoming servants or slaves which was not uncommon treatment for three time. But the exact deal of the surrender is unknown.

Coronado obviously needed supplies, he was able to get some from the pueblo of Zia, also called Sia or Chia. More supplies would arrive from Zia in the future. However as spring approached, the puebloans needed to plant their corn or else they would not survive the next winter. Sometime in March the pueblo would attempt a breakout. Making their escape in the middle of the night, they would kill two Spaniards before alarm was raised and the Spanish gave chase.

To also maintain good relations with Cicuique the prisoner Cacique would be returned to his home.

The Spanish would begin to cut down the escaping puebloans and they would run for the icy Rio Grande. At least 200 would die although some would escape across the river. Those who survived the icy night would be captured the next day.

The remaining three prisoners would witness the burning of Moho to see Spanish “justice” in case they had been lying about the gold at Quivira. Supposedly around this time another dog chasing incident occurred, this time accidental, and those harmed by the dogs were released upon their return to camp.

Another pueblo was burned and Tiguex would be abandoned for the remainder of the expedition, instead bands of warriors engaged in a guerilla campaign. With this the Tiguex War finally came to an end. An unknown but probably large number of Puebloans would meet their death in this conflict. By the end of this, Zia was the only pueblo in the area that was still friendly.

But with this, we’ll call it an end for this episode. Next time we’ll watch as Coronado begins to set out to the east in search of the ever grander Quivira and kingdoms of the east.

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