On Friday as I was driving to El Paso to meet up with my next Road Scholar Tour I stopped at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. This Monument includes three different sites. Between the late 1100’s and the 1300’s the Ancestral Pueblos Indians of the Salinas Valley became a major trade center and one of the most populous parts of the Pueblo world, with perhaps about 16,000 or more by the 1600’s . They were the middlemen in trade between the Rio Grande villages and the plains tribes to the east. They traded maize, pinon nuts, beans, squash, salt and cotton goods for dried buffalo meat, hides, flints and shells. They ate wild plants, raised turkeys, hunted rabbit, deer, antelope and bison. They wore breech cloths, bison robes, antelope and deer hides and made decorative blankets of cotton and yucca fiber. They made and traded turquoise and shell jewelry. They were skilled weavers, basket makers and potters, especially known for their black-on-white pottery.
By the early 1600’s the conquistadors coming north from Mexico had determined the riches claimed to be in North America were non-existent and returned to Mexico. But the Pope had charged Phillip II of Spain with Christianizing the natives in the New World. So the Franciscans, sent from Spain, established missions wherever there were Pueblo settlements. The local Spanish governors, although pretty much absent, and much too far from Spain to be regulated, attempted to extract tribute from the Pueblo tribes in exchange for military protection, aid and education to Indians, which the Indians didn’t want. The Franciscans were at odds with the Spanish governors for extracting too high a toll on the Indians and the Franciscans were also demanding tribute and labor from the Pueblo Indians as Franciscans maintained the churches and missions that again the Pueblo people did not want.
During the 1660’s and 1670’s the Salinas area was hit by and famine that killed 450 people at just one of the three pueblos. Epidemics further decimated the population and then the nearby Apaches, also affected by famine attached the Pueblos and the Spanish. By the end of the 1670’s the Salinas pueblos had been abandoned, most of the remaining people fleeing to the pueblos further north in New Mexico or south to the El Paso area with the Franciscans. In 1680 the Pueblo people north of Salinas unified, revolted and expelled the Spaniards from New Mexico.
The ruins that have been excavated show how very large and well organized the Pueblo people were. They lived well, were comfortable and secure.
After visiting the Abo’ ruins site I drove the 25 miles south of Mountainair to the Gran Quivira ruins. I did not go the the third mission ruins, Quarai, which is 8 miles north of Mountair. The volunteer at the Monument headquarters said it was similar to the other two.