33. Tabira—The Gran Quivira

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The Gran Quivira, as it has been called for over a hundred years, is by far the best known of the Salinas pueblos, and in fact is the most celebrated ruin in all of the Southwest. This is not strange, as it is altogether the largest ruin of any Christian temple that exists in the United States; and connected with it from the first, there has been the glamor of romance and the strange charm of mystery, which adds tenfold to ordinary interest.

How and when it first received its deceptive title of “Gran Quivira” we may never know; there are dozens of traditions and theories and imaginings. From the days of Coronado the name of “Quivira” had been associated with the idea of a great unknown city, of wealth and splendor, situated somewhere on the Eastern Plains; and it is not at all unlikely that when some party from the Rio Grande Valley, in search of game or gold, crossed the mountains and the wilderness lying to the east, and was suddenly amazed by the apparition of a dead city, silent and tenantless, but bearing the evidences of large population, of vast resources, of architectural knowledge, mechanical skill, and wonderful energy, they should have associated with it the stories heard from childhood

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of the mythical center of riches and power, and called the new-found wonder the Oran Quivira.

There were no descendants of its old inhabitants to tell its true name, and apparently no knowledge in the Rio Grande Valley of the fate of the cities of


the Salt Lake region or even any recollection of their existence.

So the new name went unchallenged; and when, after the American Occupation, historians arose like

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General W. W. H. Davis, and explorers, like Major Carleton, who had read of the march of Coronado to the Eastern Plains in search of the glories of Quivira and knew of the Gran Quivira ruins in the center of New Mexico, it was not strange that they should have been sorely puzzled to reconcile the geographical contradiction involved in the supposed identity of these two distant places. It required years to clear up this mystery and to show that the name of Gran Quivira was simply a mistake and misnomer, and that the Salinas ruin and the goal of Coronado's journey were hundreds of miles apart. To Mr. Bandelier more than to any other is due this disillusion.

Meanwhile the true history of Tabira,—the real name of the Gran Quivira,—was not difficult; but it was slow in being known. In reality it was not greatly different from that of the other Salinas pueblos with which we are already familiar. Tabira was the most southerly outpost of the Piros or Tompiros division of the Pueblo civilization, and in direct contact with the Jumanos and other Indians of the Plains. This region was first revealed to European knowledge at the end of the sixteenth century and opened to Christian influences by the Franciscan missionaries in the beginning of the seventeenth. A little more than half a century covers the whole portion of its history with which we are acquainted.

Its first Mission Church, the ruins of which are still perfectly distinct, was built about 1629 under the enthusiastic leadership of Padre Francisco de Acevedo,

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and for a while the mission was conducted as a visita of Abó, where the priest in charge resided.

Then, as its importance increased, and it became itself a center for missionary effort among the Jumanos and the Apaches, it had its own clergy, and


finally, not far from 1650, the foundations were laid of the great church and monastery, whose ruins are still among the wonders of the western world.

Then came with increasing violence the attacks on

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all the Salinas pueblos by the Apaches of the Plains; in 1675 they even penetrated to the Rio Grande Valley, carrying consternation and destruction among the Piros pueblos of that usually peaceful region. This was the beginning of the end; one after another of the Salinas towns was destroyed or abandoned, and finally even Tabira itself, with its great church still unfinished, became a victim to the violence and rapacity of the invaders.

From then until the present—much more than two hundred years—the great stone structures, monuments to the industry, the skill, and the devotion of the old inhabitants, have stood, in sunshine and in storm, exposed to the ceaseless disintegration of time and the elements, but by the massiveness of their architecture almost defying those agents of destruction.

There is no more impressive sight on American soil than the outlines of those great buildings, silent and alone, against the evening sky; and it is no wonder that stories of the marvelous and the supernatural should cluster around them.

Every traveler to the Southwest has almost exhausted language in their description; but we prefer to use again the plain words of Major Carleton, because they antedate the changes of more recent days, and also because to him belongs the credit of being, so far as this region is concerned, the first of American explorers.

He says:


“We found the ruins of Oran Quivira to consist of

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the remains of a large church, with a monastery attached to it; a smaller church or chapel; and the ruins of a town extending 900 feet in a direction east and west and 300 feet north and south. All these


buildings had been constructed of the dark blue limestone which is found in the vicinity.

“The church is 140 feet long, outside, with the walls nearly six feet in thickness. It stands longitudinally West 15 degrees South, with the great entrance

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in the eastern end. The altar was in the western end. Like the churches at Abö and Cuará it is constructed in the form of a cross. From the doorway to the transept it is 84 feet, 7 inches; across the transept it is 21 feet, 6 inches; and from thence to the head of the cross, 22 feet, 7 inches, making the total length inside 128 feet, 8 inches. The width of the nave is 27 feet; the length, inside of the short arm of the cross, is 36 feet. A gallery extended along the body of the church for the first 24 feet. Some of the beams which sustained it and the remains of two of the pillars that stood along under the end of it which was nearest to the altar, are still here; the beams in a tolerably good state of preservation, but the pillars very much decayed; they are of pine wood and are very elaborately carved.

“There is also what might be called an entablature supporting each side of the gallery and deeply embedded in the main wall of the church; this is 24 feet long, by 18 inches or two feet in width; it is carved very beautifully, indeed, and exhibits not only skill but exquisite taste in the construction of the figures. The beams are square and carved on three sides.

“The stone of which the great church was built was not hewn nor even roughly dressed, but the smoothest side of each piece was laid to the surface with great care. We saw no one piece in all the ruins over a foot in length. The walls of the church are now about thirty feet in height. It was estimated that originally the building was all of fifty feet in height.

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“The chapel is 130 feet from the church. It is 118 feet long, outside, and 32 in width; its walls are 3 feet, 8 inches in thickness; it is apparently in a better state of preservation than the church.”


The building called by Major Carleton the “chapel” is the old church built by Acevedo in 1629.

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