Monday, February 2, 2009

Pueblos, Spaniards and the Kingdom of New Mexico

In his new book, John Kessell provides a short, readable and interesting history of the early years in New Mexico. Pueblos, Spaniards and the Kingdom of New Mexico should be part of the library of anyone interested in the complexities of New Mexico.
Kessell starts with a summary of the pueblo world before the Spaniards appeared in 1540 and in 185 pages brings the story to 1760. New Mexico's poverty is a recurring theme. So is coexistence. "Even while sharing blood and traits, Pueblos and Spaniards have chosen, or been forced, to recognize the cultural identity of the other—living together yet apart. Their intricate dance through time, especially passionate in the seventeenth century, bids us to look closer."
In the spirit even handedness, Kessell even challenges the received wisdom of a New Mexico story—the alleged mutilation of Acomas by Spaniards after the Spanish conquered Acoma in a five-day battle in January 1599. The sentence was that all Acoma men over 25 were to "have one foot severed and then be bound to personal servitude for 20 years." Kessell's questioning starts with the record. The Spanish were big on documentation, even when it reflected poorly on the Spanish. Kessell knows this. He has spent his career reading the record. The record supporting actual execution of the punishment is sketchy. Besides, he notes, mutilating one's slaves makes little sense. In any case, most Acomas had run off from the Spanish within a few years, a difficult task with only one foot. Kessell writes, "Spaniards may indeed have performed the maimings, but a close reading of the documents raises reasonable doubt." In a footnote, Kessell says his view has attracted severe critics.
Pueblos, Spaniards and the Kingdom of New Mexico has 23 pages of note and bibliography. The book is published by the University of Oklahoma Press ( and costs $24.95. One can order through the Web site or call 1-800-627-7377.

No comments: