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The peaceful conquest

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Modified: 07-10-2017
4 minutos

In 1573, the King of Spain Philip II approved a package of laws known as the Ordinances of discoveries, new population and pacification of the Indies that changed the way in which the new lands of Las Indias had to be conquered and populated. Before violent conquest was allowed, now it could no longer be done this way, it had to be peaceful and under the control of religious that contained the impulses of the conquerors. This is a magnificent thing morally speaking, but it made the already arduous task of conquering and consolidating new territories much more difficult.

Under these new premises and laws, the Spanish crown continued its expansion process through the North American lands, organizing new expeditions.

In 1581 the Viceroy of Nueva España authorized the Franciscan friar Agustín Rodríguez and the captain Francisco Sánchez to colonize in New Mexico. They organized an expedition of 8 armed horsemen, a hundred Indian cowboys, yes, Indian cowboys, 600 head of cattle and 90 horses. They took a northeast direction to river Grande and after visiting several Indian tribes, where they were well received, they founded the King of San Felipe at the height of El Paso and established a base from which they made several small expeditions through the zone of Taos and Tiguex to access the large central plains. In early 1582 Captain Francisco Sanchez and his men thought it was convenient to return to Nueva España to inform the viceroy of what happened in that expedition, but the Franciscans did not want to return and they stayed and founded a small mission in Puaray, near Bernalillo. They tried to convince them of the danger of such a decision, but they ignored it and eventually stayed there. With this expedition it was demonstrated that it was not necessary to organize great conquering and populating missions but that a few men with provisions could explore and conquer for Spain large plots of land just getting along with the natives without resorting to violence.

After some time in Nueva España, no news was received from the two religious who stayed in New Mexico, which started to worry a lot. A Franciscan priest, Bernardino Beltrán, pressed to organize an expedition to find out about their fate and if it was necessary to help them with whatever was necessary. This is where the Cordovan Antonio de Espejo was presented, who after hearing the result of Francisco Sánchez’s expedition dared to try it himself and took advantage of the excuse of the two Franciscan Fathers to organize it.

They departed on November 10th, 1582 and followed the route of the previous expedition and when they reached Rio Grande, Espejo renamed it as North River and the surrounding territory Nueva Andalucía. They travelled through the territories of the Manso, Suma and Pueblo indians where they heard about the sad end of the two Franciscan Fathers. What would they do now? Bernardino Beltrán had no reason to go on, but for Antonio de Espejo, who had been told a legend of a lake of gold, there were reasons and he decided to continue while the religious returned to Santa Barbara, in Nueva España. This was in March 1583. Espejo entered Acoma and the Zuñi territory, in the current Arizona. Obviously he found nothing, but his ambition did not let him give up. He returned to Mexico where he exaggerated his report, trying to seek the viceroyalty’s support for a new expedition, but he was unsuccessful and resigned. He died in 1585 in La Havana when he was returning to Spain to ask for more support.

There were cases in which obtaining permits and licenses to undertake an expedition was a problem of paperwork, requirements and convincing senior officials so that some, knowing that they would not be accepted, organized the expedition and with any excuse they would go to unknown lands in search of wealth. It is the case of the Portuguese Gaspar Castaño de Sousa who, residing in the villa de San Luis, currently Monterrey in Nuevo León tired of trying to prosper in that city and equipped an expedition of 170 men and under the command of an Indian called Miguel left in 1590 for Rio Grande with the intention of founding a small colony near present-day Albuquerque. He did not have permission from the Viceroy or the Seville Contracting House, so his incursion into New Mexico without such permission was a crime. Gaspar surely thought that if he managed to find wealth and establish the long-awaited colony in such difficult lands, he would obtain the King’s pardon, but he was not accused of being illegally associated with a Jewishizer in Mexico and a military detachment of 20 men was sent to apprehend him. He was convicted and imprisoned in the Philippines Islands.

Another case of illegal expedition was that of the Portuguese Francisco de Leyva y Bonilla. He took advantage of an order from the Governor of Nueva Vizcaya, Don Diego de Velasco, who ordered him to head north to reduce the number of Indian groups harassing and attacking the Spanish border colonies. But the Portuguese could not have understood the orders well and what he did was to continue in search of gold and riches, reaching the camp of Quivira without finding anything. Come on, the usual. The same expeditionaries who accompanied him ended up killing him so that they could continue on their own and were finally massacred in the Great Plains.

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