Welcome to Episode 6 of the Time Travelin’ Texican show, a Clash of Cultures.
So far we’ve talked about the state of the world in the 1500s, the first Spanish expedition in Texas in the 1530s, and we’ve touched a little on the people who were living in Texas at that time.
Today I talk about something that many folks try to avoid, and that is the clash of cultures that occurred when the Spanish first entered into the region. I discuss their interactions with the tribes they encountered, and some of the consequences of those interactions.
In the early days of the 16th century, life among the various tribes was taking place much like it always had. Whether they were the Caddos, the Karankawas on the coast, or the migrating Apaches, their social lives and structure were somewhat similar. Even though each group had access to different types of resources, their societies were not completely alien to each other. They were not savages or barbarians and they all had complex political, religious, and social frameworks that regulated behavior and were put in place to help guarantee the survival and advancement of the community. Main spirits were worshiped, they conducted meaningful ceremonies, and relationships between individuals created families, and leadership of the group were mostly the bravest and brightest. While they did have conflict with each other, mostly when one would intrude on another’s territory, they usually did not attempt to exterminate each other.
Unfortunately, at this time the peoples would come into contact with a culture from Europe that was focused on expanding their power and wealth. In addition, unfortunately, they found themselves unprepared to deal with a new world the Europeans brought; especially in regards to weaponry.
The winter of 1528, might be considered the start of the first people’s winter of discontent. The Karankawas had met Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his shipwrecked castaways, survivors of the ill-fated Spanish expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez.
This was the first encounter of this clash of cultures, two completely different cultures, each of which was based in beliefs and tradition. While the first encounters occurred around 1528, it was after the Coronado expedition of the 1840s that this culture clash became so virulent that the native peoples where almost (and in some cases were) eventually made extinct.
The tribes lived a life based on coexisting with the world around them, of taking what the land gave, and not focusing on accumulating wealth. Even the agricultural tribes had to be able to relocate their campsites, so the value of things that could not assist in day-to-day living was not necessarily a focus.
The Spanish on the other hand, were exploring focusing on three areas, God, Glory, and Gold. The Spanish weren’t the only Europeans to focus on the three G’s, but they seemed to be the most determined.
It’s important to understand the Spaniards saw this new land through glasses that were colored by the medieval world. Since Spain was a heavily Catholic nations many of them were influenced by St. Augustine, who had devoted an entire chapter of his writing The City of God questioning if the descendants of Adam and Noah had ever produced monstrous and bizarre offspring which might exist in other lands. As a result, in their explorations, many Spanish captains searched for mythical and fabulous creatures. Their interest in finding these new creatures and potential wealth where also helped by very real discoveries of enormous wealth within the Aztec and Inca Empires. When the Spanish encountered the native people, they were under orders from Spain that they were to do their best to convert them into Christians. After all, according to the Spanish belief at that time, the natives were savages, who had to be saved.
Most of the native Texas tribes had little interest in adopting Spanish culture, and they also suffered greatly diseases that the Europeans introduced into their midst. While most of the natives did not want to convert, they did look to the Spanish to help provide protection from the Apaches and Comanches, two of the more warlike tribes that had recently entered Texas.
The Spanish struck at the Apache and their attacks extracted a heavy toll of lives and were also very ineffective in halting the raids. The intensity of the conflict was at its peak from 1771 to 1776 when in Chihuahua and Coahuila “1,674 Spaniards were killed, 154 were captured, over one hundred ranches were abandoned, and over sixty-eight thousand animals were stolen.” Many of the “Spaniard” deaths recorded were probably mestizos and Christian Indians. Apache casualties were also heavy. In October and November 1775, a Spanish military operation headed by Hugo Oconór in New Mexico killed 132 Apache and took 104 prisoners. This type of warfare would continue even after the Spanish gave up control of Texas to Mexico; and when Texas became independent, and even up through its annexation into the United States.
The Spanish treatment of the Native Peoples can only be considered harsh and in many cases barbaric. One example, which took place in New Mexico, is referred to as the Acoma massacre. The Spanish leader Don Juan de Oñate who had been granted permission from King Philip II to colonize Santa Fe de Nuevo México, the present-day New Mexico planned to conquer the Acoma Pueblo. The Acoma tried to negotiate peace, but the Spanish refused. Upon their attack on the Pueblo, the leader of the expedition and eleven of his men were killed and upon hearing of this Onate decided on revenge. He ordered a large attack on the Pueblo and after a brief and intense battle; over 500 male warriors were killed along with 300 women and Children.
The Spanish too some 500 people as prisoners and later sentenced to a variety of punishments. Don Oñate ordered that every male above the age of 25 would have his right foot cut off and be enslaved for a period of 20 years. Males between the age of 12 & 25 were also enslaved for 20 years along with all of the females above the age of 12. Many of the natives were dispersed among the residences of government officials or at Franciscan missions. Sixty of the youngest women were deemed not guilty & sent to Mexico City where they were “parceled out among Catholic convents”. Two Hopi men were taken prisoner at the pueblo; after each had one of his hands cut off, they were released to spread the word of Spain’s resolve. This was perhaps one of the more obvious clashes of culture that would occur until what are called, “the indian wars during the 17 and 1800s”. The interactions between the Spanish and the Tribes are a perfect example of what happens when two cultures come together and the more dominant culture decides it does not have to learn or adapt to the other. It shows what occurs when force is used and when one people are not prepared to deal with a new reality.
Chipman, Donald E. Spanish Texas, 1519-1821: Revised Edition (Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage Series) (Kindle Locations 703-704). Kindle Edition.
La Vere, David. The Texas Indians (Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University) (pp. 53-54). Texas A&M University Press. Kindle Edition.
Schmal, John P. “Indigenous Chihuahua: a story of war and assimilation” http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/374-indigenous-chihuahua-a-story-of-war-and-assimilation
Texas State Historical Association – https://www.tshaonline.org/home/