19. Zuñi

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Although Zuñi is in many respects the most interesting of all of the pueblos, yet so far as the history of its Mission Churches is concerned, it is almost devoid of material.

As a pueblo, or a cluster of pueblos, it occupies by far the largest space in the early days of Spanish exploration and conquest. Long before any European had penetrated the interior of the continent, the fame of the Seven Cities of Cibola had reached the Mexican capital and inflamed the imagination of the Spanish adventurers. While even the geographical situation of those mythical cities was so entirely indefinite that the map-makers of the day located them wherever the passing thought or a conveniently vacant space suggested; so that on one map belonging to the writer they appear grouped in symmetrical form near the Gulf of California, and on another surround a circular lake where Denver is now located; yet the reports of a land of vast wealth, of gold and silver and precious stones, somewhere in the unexplored North, were not only persistent but constantly grew in their alluring extravagance, until Nuño de Guzman, the governor of New Galicia, made his unsuccessful attempt at conquest

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with 400 Spaniards and a vast concourse of Indian allies; and a few years later the expeditions of Friar Marcos and Coronado actually reached the coveted goal.

Estevan, the Barbary negro, who was one of the companions of Cabeza de Vaca and the guide of Marcos de Niza, was killed just outside of the first of the cities of Cibola; Friar Marcos only saw the town from afar, but dared not approach nearer; and the first Spaniards really to meet the people of Zuñi, were the soldiers of Coronado in 1540. The town reached was called by the natives Hawaikuh, and on approaching it, Coronado by signs made overtures of friendship; but the Cibolans seemed to understand that this meant conquest, and prepared to resist an attack. The Spaniards immediately rushed to the assault, charging with loud cries of “Santiago,” but were met with showers of stones, and even Coronado himself was struck to the ground. Still they pressed on, and soon the discipline of trained warriors and the advantage of firearms prevailed, and the Christians marched in triumph through the irregular streets of the first Pueblo town ever visited by a white man.

Coronado made his headquarters here for a considerable time, waiting for the arrival of the main body of his army, and sending out expeditions in various directions to explore the surrounding country. Thus Pedro de Tobar visited the Moqui region, and Cardenas was the first European to view the wonders of the Grand Cañon, the sides of which,

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with characteristic exaggeration, he described as being “three or four leagues in the air.” From here Alvarado was sent on a longer expedition to the east, which carried him to Acoma and the valley of the Rio Grande, and even as far as the distant pueblo of Cicuic, the modern Pecos.


On the retreat of the Coronado expedition, in 1542, it again rested at Cibola, and here a few of the Mexican Indians, pleased with the country, concluded to remain, while their comrades marched back to their homes in the South.

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Forty years passed, and then, in 1583, came Antonio de Espejo, with his little company, exploring westward from the Rio Grande, and was amazed to find three of those Mexican Indians still surviving after their long exile. Their names were Andres of Culiacan, Gaspar of Mexico, and Antonio of Guadalajara, and they had almost entirely forgotten their native tongue. Espejo also saw the crosses erected forty years before by Coronado and which the people had never destroyed; and in his report he gives the number of the Cibolan pueblos then existing as six, with about 20,000 inhabitants.

After the settlement of the territory in 1598 under Oñate, various attempts were made to Christianize the Indians of Zuñi; but the people were much more independent than those in the Rio Grande Valley, and while permitting missionaries to live among them, were slow in changing their faith from that of their forefathers. Now that we know, from the careful labors of ethnologists, something of the wonderfully elaborate mythology of these people, we need not be surprised that the Franciscans were often discouraged at their slow progress.

It can certainly be said, without question, that no nation of antiquity possessed such a remarkable variety of gods, demi-gods, and good and evil spirits of all degrees, as the people of Zuñi, and that their division into many clans, each with its own religious ceremonies, produced a variety of ceremonials and rituals far beyond anything of which we have any knowledge elsewhere.

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Every event of life, from birth to death, everything connected with the phenomena of nature and the occupations of man, has its religious connection; even the most trivial and constantly repeated acts of daily existence have some ceremony connected with them; all principles and qualities are personified into spirits which are to be propitiated or overcome. In these days of intense practical activity, when nearly every thought is devoted to material objects, it is almost impossible to appreciate the nature of a people with whom every act is a religious ceremony and every breath a prayer.

This cannot be enlarged upon here, but all interested in such subjects should read the twenty-third volume of the Reports of the Bureau of Ethnology, which is entirely devoted to the discoveries made at this pueblo of Zuñi by Mrs. Stevenson, the eminent ethnologist who gave the best years of her life to this most interesting work.

In the celebrated report of Benavides, written in 1629, he describes the province of Zuñi as being thirty leagues west from Acoma and containing ten or eleven pueblos, extending over nine or ten leagues and containing 10,000 souls; and states that it possessed two churches and conventos.

In that very year an interesting inscription was made on the famous Inscription Rock, which stands near the old road from Acoma to Zuñi, which records that “Governor Francisco Manuel de Sylva Nieto, who has accomplished the impossible, passed to Zuñi, 1629, and carried the faith there.” Probably

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he was conducting the new missionary, Fr. Francisco Letrado, who had just arrived from Mexico with a new party of Franciscans, to the scene of his future labors. We are told that Fr. Letrado begged to be sent to Zuñi because it was considered the most difficult and discouraging of the missions. He was regarded as one of the most devoted and fervent of all of the friars; and perhaps those very qualities hastened his martyrdom; at all events, history tells us that before a year had rolled around, on a Sunday in Lent, in February, 1630, he was awaiting his congregation of converts in the church; but they did not appear. At length he went out to learn the cause of the delay, but on his urging those whom he met to attend, they all refused; and when he reproached them with their lack of religion, they became angry. Then, convinced that they intended to do him harm, he fell on his knees, and holding a crucifix in both hands, was soon pierced by innumerable arrows.

Fifty years afterwards, in the great Rebellion, the priest then in charge also became a martyr. His name was Juan del Val, from the town of El Val in Castile where he was born. He had been missionary at Zuñi for about nine years, but fell a victim to the Indian hostility on the very first day of the revolt, being the tenth of August.

Yet it seems that in some respects the people of Zuñi were not as vindictive in their hatred of Christianity as some of the other Pueblos; for when the reconquest took place and De Vargas marched to

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Zuñi, on October 30, 1692, it was found that instead of burning and otherwise destroying the sacred vessels and other property belonging to the Church, as was done in the Rio Grande towns, they had preserved them with care, and delivered them to the governor, who sent them all to El Paso to the custodion


of the Franciscan province. We read that on this occasion the whole people were restored to loyalty and Christianity, and nearly three hundred children were baptised. The real difficulty at Zuñi seems to have been that the people attached very little importance to this nominal conformity. What

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they most desired was to be left alone; and when the governor came on a visitation, or an expedition was sent to accompany a new padre, they treated them hospitably and joined in the accompanying ceremonies; but as soon as it could be conveniently accomplished, managed to get rid of the padre in some way.

Of course this condition of things was not favorable to church building, and so, though we read of two churches being erected before 1629, yet there has never been at Zuñi any large and imposing structure, such as were the central objects in many much less important pueblos. The two illustrations which we present show the exterior and the interior of the dilapidated building which was the last Christian church in Zuñi, as they now appear.

At the same time the ceremonies of the Ancient Faith continue to be performed with scrupulous fidelity. While most of the Pueblo towns contain but two estufas, and some have only one, Zuñi is satisfied with no less than six, and its spectacular festivals are of unexcelled interest. Those familiar with Southwestern ethnology will remember that the Pueblo Indians recognize six points of the compass instead of four; adding to the north, south, east, and west, the zenith and the nadir; and the six estufas are dedicated to these six points. They are not circular and half excavated in the ground, as is usual; but are like ordinary large rooms and entirely above the surface.

The remarkable Shaleco dance or drama, which

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takes place every year in the latter part of November, is one of the most unique ceremonials to be found in any country. It is always attended by many tourists, writers, and artists, and well repays a journey from the Atlantic or even from Europe. So, also, the sacred shrine, Hep-ah-teen-ah—“The Centre of the Earth”—around which are woven volumes of folk-lore, is of remarkable interest. This whole subject is a most alluring one, but cannot be considered here further than to say to all travelers, “Come and see.”

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