Taos, New Mexico
I have recently located to Taos, New Mexico from Ohio as some of you already know. I came out here on vacation in June and liked it so well I decided to stay. The climate is the main reason I stayed. I love the dry heat and it is much better for my health.
But, another reason I remained here was because of the cultural diversity of this town and the entire state of New Mexico.
Taos is located in the northern New Mexico desert in the valley of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (the Blood of Christ Mountains). They are named so because of the bright red sunsets that occur here. They are the southern most part of the Rocky Mountains.
Taos is a small town with a population of approximately six thousand that swells to between twenty and thirty thousand in the summer with the arrival of the tourists. Taos' main economy is the tourist economy as the town is an artist colony with much diversity, much history and different cultures that come together to make this town so interesting.
Another aspect of Taos is its complexity that stems from its history and the five different peoples and cultures that make up Taos: Native American, Spanish, Mexican, Anglo, and Genizaros.
Each culture has been important to what makes up the Taos of today; one where all the cultures still struggle to assimilate even though Taos is centuries and even a millennium old.
To understand this amalgamation of cultures and peoples of Taos, I have attended a lecture series through the University of New Mexico and Southern Methodist University to try to gain further knowledge so that I understand the people I live with here. Here is what I have learned
Taos, New Mexico
Taos today is the perfect example of multi-culturalism or cultural pluralism. Several cultures converge here to make up one town and it is this convergence that makes Taos so interesting, along with the ever changing colors of New Mexico, that makes this place so unique.
First, there is much influence of the native Americans here as they are the original inhabitants of all of North America. Many indigenous groups have settled here in Taos: Pueblos, Comanches, Navajos, Apaches and Genizaros.
Genizaros is a term to describe full-blooded native Americans that were captured by the Spanish and/or Mexicans and forced to live in servitude. Of course, their perspective is that they were forced into slavery.
They became de-tribalized and learned to speak Spanish and embrace Catholicism to survive. They intermarried with the Spanish and Mexicans. They were acculturated into Hispanic villages, and today, they are still a people "without a country," They are not considered full native Americans and therefore cannot have their own sovereign nation and yet they are not considered Hispanic.
They live in a limbo and don't have a native home. They have a space where they live from Ranchos de Taos down Rt 68 too Abiquiu, which they call their own. Since 2007, the Genizaros have been recognized as indigenous people in New Mexico, but they do not have a reservation of their own.
When Spain entered and claimed New Mexico for its own, Spain itself was one of the most diverse melting pots found anywhere in the world. From 2500 BC to 1492 CE Spain was a mixture of diverse people: Celts, Iberians, Greeks, Romans, Germans, Jews, and Muslim Moors.
This blending of people continued in the New World. The Spanish mixed with African slaves native Americans and Mexicans and their descendants became what we know today as Hispanic or Latino,
In this process of amalgamation the terms Mestizo and Mulatto were added to the mix. Today, these terms are no longer in use.
Then, came the Anglo Americans who were added to the mix during the American occupation and subsequent United States New Mexican territory and statehood.
And, today, the influx of Mexican immigrants adds new strength to the Spanish language, arts, food, music and cultural holidays.
So, take all these different cultures and people and put them together in one small town and inevitably conflict will arise. Because of what happened in New Mexican history each group holds prejudices seared into them from approximately four hundred years ago to the present. It is a testament to Taos and all of New Mexico that each group of people and their culture is celebrated and important to the whole.
Taosenos are loyal and patriotic Americans but are still the by product of their past and proudly retain their traditional cultural heritage from previous time periods.
So lets look at each of these groups of people and what they have had to deal with for about four hundred years.
The Tiwa people and the Spanish
It is believed the Tiwa people (puebloan) settled in the Taos Valley around 1000 CE. Archeologists tell us that they lived in circular homes built down into the ground. Eventually they built storied adobe pueblos and around 1350 CE the Taos pueblo was built, therefore, Taos Pueblo is considered one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in North America. And it is considered only one of pre-historic structures still standing in the U.S. today.
Pre-history up to 1540 CE, when the Spanish arrived, is not part of the historical record because the past was not recorded. The Tiwa people were an oral society and still are today. Everything they know is passed down by word from generation to generation.
In fact, the Tiwa people did not call themselves pueblo people. That is the name the Spanish gave to them. When the Spanish saw their storied adobe homes, they called them pueblos from the Spanish which means 'town.' And that is how the natives up and down from Taos to Albuquerque became known as pueblo people.
So, the founding of Taos depends of different perspectives: Indigenous and European.
Of course, the native Americans consider Taos and New Mexico to belong to them because they are the original inhabitants and see the Europeans as interlopers. The Spanish considered Taos and New Mexico to belong to them because they conquered the native Americans and subjugated them to their rule.
The Spanish entered New Mexico in 1540-41 with the arrival of Hernando de Alvarado and Velasco de Barrionnuevo and they were the first Europeans to visit Taos. They visited but did not build any physical structures or make a permanent settlement. However, when the Spanish arrived, the written history of Taos began.
In 1598, with the arrival of Don Juan de Onate, the permanent Spanish colonization of New Mexico and Taos began. Taos continued to be part of the Spanish colonization through the 1600's until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Onate is the most hated man in Taos history by the Taos Pueblo because of his subjugation of the pueblo people. He was brutal, violent, tortured, mutilated and killed many puebloans. His violent subjugation of them nearly wiped out the pueblo culture. One of the leaders of the revolt, Po'pay, hid in Taos Pueblo while planning the revolt.
The Puebloans revolted in 1680 after years of subjugation of their culture and religion. They killed about a thousand of the Spanish colonists and Franciscan priests, to seek their revenge. They were able to run the Spanish out of New Mexico all the way to what is today El Paso, Texas, for about sixteen years.
During this time they eradicated all things Spanish and Catholic from their lives and re-instituted their pueblo ways and culture. This revolt saved their pueblo culture and religion from complete extinction and the puebloans today are very proud of being the only native people to rid New Mexico of the Spanish and they refer to this revolt as the "First American Revolution."
Taos Pueblo lived in relative peace for the next sixteen years.
Don Diego de Vargas began a reconquest of New Mexico from 1692-96. He was smarter than Onate and left the strategy of brutality and violence behind and peacefully reentered New Mexico and Taos to reinstated Spanish rule.
The Puebloans went along with the program and lived in relative peace with the Spanish from then on. But, hard feelings still remain between the two nearly four hundred years later.
Today, the puebloans keep their alloted land (105,000 acres) sacred and do not allow anyone on their land without an invitation. To this day, anyone on their land without permission is subject to their government laws set down by their war chief (yes, they still call him a war chief), their council, and their governor.
Blue Lake, their most sacred, spiritual and holy ground, up in Taos Mountain is hidden and only the puebloans know where it is. No one else is welcome there. The story is that the first Tiwa people emerged from the Blue Lake and that is how they came to be in Taos. No one has ever even seen a photograph of Blue Lake. The Taos puebloans keep their religious and spiritual life to themselves and do not share much with the rest of us.
So you can see that there are long and bitter memories on both sides, the Puebloans and the Spanish.
Spanish Land Grants
One area of contention between the native Americans and the Spanish were and are today the land grants issued by King Felipe II of Spain to the Spanish conquistadores and the Spanish colonists and their descendants. Everyone who lives east of the Rio Grande in Taos Valley resides on land which was or is part of the original land grants from Spain.
This has a complicated impact on land ownership, land tenure, land use, water rights, and irrigation patterns right up to the present.
If you have not seen the film, The Milagro Beanfield War, directed by Robert Redford, I recommend seeing it because it depicts exactly how it is out here in New Mexico with disagreements over land and water use.
The native Americans see their land as stolen by the Spanish while the Spanish see it as their land because they conquered the native Americans making the land theirs. The Spanish land grants were given to the pueblos, to individuals and to groups of families. Originally, there were sixteen patented land grants in Taos County, There are only eight land grands in Taos Valley today.
What happened to the other eight land grants? When the Americans (Anglos) came to New Mexico in the 1800's, there were unscrupulous land grabbers and speculators who stole the land from the Hispanics.
The present Hispanic community, as well as the native Americans, believe they have suffered an injustice as they have lost ancestral land claims that were ceded to their ancestors in the 17th century. So resentments still stand today about land rights between the Hispanics, Taos Puebloans, and the Anglos.
Land here in Taos is a contentious topic with continuing efforts by land heirs to reclaim the land and resolve disputes over it. Throughout the Taos area today you will see official signs designating the original land grant land you driving through; that is how important the Spanish land grants are to the original Spanish families in Taos.
The Mexican Period 1821 - 1846
Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 and the Mexicans moved into New Mexico to govern it. They were no different than their Spanish counterparts before them.
They treated native Americans as an underclass and with violence and brutality. They ran a corrupt and incompetent government as Mexicans ruled and those around them were bound to their will.
Interestingly, with the Mexican takeover of New Mexico trappers and traders from the eastern U.S. began to trickle in to New Mexico. Taos became a major trading post in northern New Mexico. Immigrants from the American colonies began to come in and in 1821 the Santa Fe Trail was opened up and part of it ran from Taos to Santa Fe.
But, the Mexicans continued to dominate all those around them. The raising of taxes by the Mexican government on Hispanics and native Americans was the last straw and class politics also factored in the Revolt of 1837.
Hispanics, Mexicans, and Puebloans were struggling farmers in rural New Mexico and the raising of taxes for a corrupt and incompetent Mexican government caused all three groups of people to revolt. Taosenos participated in this revolt.
Native Americans from Santo Domingo Pueblo murdered Governor Perez and all puebloans suffered the consequences of that act.
The Mexican government was replaced and Jose Gonzales, a mixed blood Genizaro and Taoseno with ties to Taos Pueblo, was made interim Governor of New Mexico. He appointed mostly native Americans to government posts and expropriated the properties of former Mexican leaders Manuel Armijo and former Governor Albino Perez.
Armijo and Perez remained loyal to Mexico and raised a militia to resists Gonzales. Pablo Montoya, a Taoseno and part of the Taos militia, marched on Santa Fe (the capital) and was defeated by Armijo who was supported by three hundred troops that arrived from Chihuahua, Mexico.
Armijo suppressed the revolt and executed Jose Gonzalez. Armijo was reinstalled as governor, but continued with a chaotic, unstable, and mismanaged Mexican government.
The Mexican Period did nothing to stop the contentious times or bitter memories of the Hispanics and Puebloans and all this laid the ground work for the American occupation of New Mexico.
US Sovereignty and Manifest Destiny 1846 to present
With the signing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 began the American doctrine of Manifest Destiny. It was the 19th century doctrine that said the expansion of the U.S. throughout North America was both justified and inevitable. It included the extending and enhancing of America's political, social and economic influences on that expansion.
During the Mexican - American War, Stephan Watts Kearney marched into New Mexico with an "Army of the West" and occupied New Mexico with the purpose of claiming it for the U.S. He and his army were on the quest of Manifest Destiny. Representing the U.S. Government, they believed it was their right to be there.
U.S. sovereignty became official two years later when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848 to end the Mexican - American War.
Six months later, January 17, 1847 Taos was the location of the Taos Pueblo Revolt. It was a resistance to the American occupation. The revolt was lead by Taos puebloans, Tomasito Romero and Pablo Montoya.
Their reasons for revolting were many. They resented the arrival of the mountain men because it gave them competition at the Taos trading post. The native Americans were in opposition to the continual land grant schemes and theft. They were against the smuggling practiced along the Santa Fe Trail trade, and they wanted to avoid the paying of import duties on that trade.
They were dismayed that now they had Americans as overlords and that their land did not revert back to them when the Mexicans pulled out.
Governor Charles Bent, in Taos, was scalped and beheaded along with some other Americans by the Puebloans lead by Romero and Montoya. Colonel Sterling Price, U.S. Army, in retaliation attacked the Catholic Church at Taos Pueblo, burned it down, killing many puebloans.
Why Colonel Price attacked and burned the San Geronimo Church at Taos Pueblo where insurgents took refuge is still a mystery today. The Church would have been considered a sanctuary and not to be touched.
The insurgents were executed swiftly and without trials by the United States Military and this was the last Pueblo Revolt anywhere in New Mexico.
But, more important, bitter feelings were established this time between the Puebloans and the Anglos.
Territorial Period to Present
With the Compromise of 1850, New Mexico became a U.S. Territory. This time period was characterized by violence and turf battles over land and power.
There were conflicts and range wars between sheep farmers and cattlemen. There were never ending disputes over land grants.
And, the last of the nomadic Native American Wars between the U.S. Government and the Navajos, Apaches and Comanches were quite brutal and violent during this time. The U.S. Government was responsible for protecting the settlers of New Mexico, but they also betrayed the native Americans again and again.
This was just more hatred built up between native Americans and Anglos.
Taos, during this Territorial Period, was in a state of conflict and uproar. During the Civil War, the Confederate Army invaded New Mexico and specifically Taos from Texas.
Kit Carson, trapper, scout, and soldier, and one of the leading citizens of Taos, aided in the native American wars with the government and helped to push out the Confederates in the Battle of Valverde.
To add more confusion and chaos in this area was the gold discovery in Taos Mountains. Mining played a minor role in the Taos economy for a short time as not much gold was there.
Then came the Broken Wheel Episode and more Anglos came as Taos was established as an art colony.
Two artists, Ernest Blumenshein and Bert Phillips, were traveling west in 1898 when the wheel to their wagon broke. Blumenshein dragged the wheel into Taos to be repaired. He fell in love with the town and the beauty of the Taos Mountain. He was intrigued with Taos Pueblo and its native life and culture. Phillips joined him in Taos and they both stayed to paint the beauty of the mountains, the Pueblos and their way of life.
They put Taos on the map as an artist haven and other artists followed to paint the natural beauty around Taos, the mountain light, and culture and tradition of the natives.
In 1912, New Mexico statehood was established and in 1915 Blumenshein, Phillips, and other artists established the Taos Society of Artists. They began to promote Hispanic and native American art and architecture. This helped to bring interest to the area and also raised the awareness of the native American and his plight. For the first time, people were really interested in native Americans and Anglos and their money poured into Taos.
At the turn of the century, Taos became a cash economy and within fifty years tourism, art, and recreation became the economic basis for Taos.
In conclusion, through Taos' history and the different cultures who have fought for and lived here since the 1500's, Native American, Spanish, Mexican, Genizaros and Anglos have worked to live together in peace, but still hold resentments over land, power, and class.
Each group who came here aspired to preserve their unique culture. Hispanic art and drama was revived and revitalized in the 1920's with the arrival of more artists. This continues to thrive today.
The architecture of adobe homes and buildings here in Taos has helped to continue the native American and Hispanic culture.
The native population is expanding outward by participating in city, state, and national affairs. Tribal members are campaigning for positions on local school boards and are running for legislative offices.
Today, the group that is looking for the most recognition within the cultural diaspora of Taos are the Genizaros. They want to be recognized for their culture and contributions to the Taos areas and recognition that their native ancestors were Hispanic captives sold into servitude and slavery. They want to be included with the other native Americans.
At one of the lectures I asked a Genizaro speaker a very simplistic question, "Why can't we just all be Americans?" His answer was that his ancestors were full blooded native Americans and then captured by the Hispanics and a type of ethnic cleansing had happened to them. Again, very bitter memories from years past and they want to be recognized as the native Americans they are and recognized for the ethnic cleansing that happened to them.
Everyone just wants to be heard and recognized.
Taos is learning to preserve the old alongside the new. The natives and Hispanics have a deep rooted culture and tradition that the Anglos do not have. Therefore, the Anglos tend to represent modernity and the future more than the cultural and traditional past.
Today, the Puebloans are trying to change Columbus Day, October 12, to Indigenous Day. They want us to recognize them and their culture as people subjugated by the Spanish which began with Columbus and his founding of the West Indies in 1492. Albuquerque has already changed their Columbus Day to Indigenous Day and the Taos town council is expected to vote on it here in the next month or so.
In 2006, Congress established the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area to recognize the approximately four hundred years of "coexistence of the Hispanics and native peoples in New Mexico and their place in the U.S."
Taos is one of those examples.
Taos and surrounding area
© 2016 Suzette Walker