The 1700s were a period of extraordinary change for New Mexico. After New Mexico
was settled by the Spanish in 1598, the colony became essentially a government subsidized
Franciscan mission for the Pueblo Indians. Following the Pueblo Revolt and reconquest,
the authority of the Catholic Church was reduced substantially, and because of the
expanding influence of the French, English, and Russians in North America, the Spanish
government held on to New Mexico principally as a defensive buffer against these
enemies of the Spanish Crown.
One of the most significant modifications of Spanish policy occurred as a direct
result of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. On that fateful August morning, the Pueblos
were on the verge of losing their cultural identity due to the suppression and exploitation
they had endured since New Mexico was colonized by the Spanish in 1598. While the
revolt succeeded in only temporarily expelling the Spanish from New Mexico, it did
force changes in Spanish attitudes which enabled the Pueblos to maintain their language
end ancient religious practices. After the reconquest, it became apparent that the
Spanish would have to demonstrate tolerance towards Pueblo religious and cultural
ceremonies and cooperate with their neighbors in order to defend the colony against
the various tribes which besieged New Mexico from all directions.
The eighteenth century was an incessant cycle of raids on Spanish settlements
and Pueblos by the various nomadic Indian groups which inhabited New Spain's northern
frontier, and of Spanish retaliatory campaigns against these raiders. To fully understand
the scope of this problem, it is necessary to realize that New Mexico was quite
literally surrounded by hostile tribes. Along New Mexico's northern and eastern
frontier were the Comanche and Jicarilla Apache. To the north and northwest were
the Utes, who constantly fought with the Comanche, and often allied themselves with
the Spanish, but they, too, raided the Spanish towns and Pueblos of the upper Rio
Grande when it suited them. To the northwest and west were las provincias de Navajo,
or navajo territory; and to the southwest, south and southeast, the various other
Apache tribes. It is not difficult to see why Indian relations dominated New Mexico
during this period.
While each of these tribes presented New Mexico with problems at various times
during the century, it was the Comanche who posed the greatest threat to the colony's
survival. By 1750, this tribe had extended their power throughout much of what is
now eastern Colorado, northeastern New Mexico, and western Texas. Spanish archives
tell of Comanche attacks on many New Mexican communities throughout the century.
In the 1770s, the Spanish government developed an aggressive policy designed
to defeat and obtain peace treaties with the various unfriendly Indian tribes in
northern New Spain. Juan Bautista de Anza, who was appointed Governor in 1778, realized
that in order to establish peace with the hostile tribes which threatened New Mexico's
frontiers, he first had to break the power of the Comanche. To accomplish this,
he decided to deal decisively with Cuerno Verde (Green Horn), the most powerful
In 1779, de Anza launched a daring military campaign in which Cuerno Verde was
killed and his tribe defeated in a decisive battle near present-day Pueblo, Colorado.
But despite the defeat, Comanche raiding New Mexico did not stop immediately. Ironically,
the effort to follow up and force the Comanche into peace negotiations was hindered
by the subsequent diversion of Spanish resources to support the American colonies'
rebellion against England. The Spanish government finally entered into a formal
peace treaty with the Comanche in 1786. This treaty ended their raids on New Mexico's
settlements and gained the Spanish a valuable ally. The Comanche honored the agreement
for several decades, allowing a beleaguered New Mexico to divert attention and resources
to other matters.
Despite constant raids by and campaigns against the various tribes, New Mexico
managed to expand its settlements during the eighteenth century. In 1695, a new
villa, or seat of government, was established at Santa Cruz de La Cañada,
north of the capital at Santa Fe. In 1706, the villa of San Felipe de Alburquerque
(present-day old town in Albuquerque) was established to accommodate the expanding
population along the middle Rio Grande.
As New Mexico grew, there was an urgent need to establish communities further
from the Rio Grande Valley and out into the frontier. Much of this expansion was
made possible through a system of land grants which awarded tracts of land to individuals
and groups who agreed to establish settlements and cultivate land along the frontier.
Santa Rosa de Lima to the north, San Miguel del Vado to the east, Cebolleta to the
west and Belen, to the south, are examples of communities established along New
Mexico's frontier during this period. This system of land distribution differed
greatly with the oppressive encomienda which characterized New Mexico prior to 1680.
Prominent among those who shouldered the burden of frontier settlement and defense
were the growing mestízo, or mixed blood, population of the province. Among
the least recognized of these groups are the genízaro. The genízaro
were Indians from various tribes, who had, for a variety of reasons, lost their
tribal identity. Many of them were captive children, who had been raised in Spanish
households and been baptized, had assumed Spanish surnames, and had eventually become
Hispanicized. Genízaro settlements such as those established at Abiquiu and
Tomé, bore a significant portion of New Mexico's frontier defense well into
the 19th century. Despite many struggles, the growth of these communities made possible
the subsequent development and expansion of New Mexico.