Treasures Of Our Past



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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Americas: American Indian: Pottery: Pre 1700: Item # 164821

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Treasures From Our Past
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Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado became the first known European to lead an expedition into the USA when, in 1540, he with 335 soldiers and about 1100 settlers crossed the Mexican border near the Huachuca Mountains, site of the present day Coronado National Monument. Six months into the march he rode into a cluster of Zuni pueblos, Cibola, near present day Gallup. He attacked the Zuni at Hawikuh, taking over that principle town and its food stores for his famished soldiers. At Cicuye, later called Pecos, 150 miles east the reception was different. The Indians welcomed the Spaniards with music and gifts. A Plains Indian captive at Pecos told of a rich land to the east, Quivira, and Coronado set out in spring 1541 to find it. Wandering as far as Kansas he found only a few villages. His Indian guide confessed he lured the army on to the plains to die, and Coronado had him strangled. The expedition turned back. After a bleak winter along the Rio Grande the broken army went back to Mexico empty handed.

Colonizers and Missionaries

Nearly 60 years now passed before Spaniards came to New Mexico to stay. In 1581 explorers began prospecting for silver in the land of the Pueblos. Their failures foreshadowed a truth that determined much of Spanish New Mexico's history: that province held neither golden cities nor ready riches. But the fact that settlers could farm and herd there focused the joint strategies of Cross and Crown: Pueblo Indians could be converted and their lands colonized. Don Juan de Oñate was first to pursue this mixed objective, in 1598. Taking settlers, livestock, and 10 Franciscans he marched north to claim for Spain the land across the Rio Grande. Right away he assigned a friar to Pecos, richest and most powerful New Mexico pueblo. The new religion got off to a shaky start. After episodes of idol-smashing provoked Indian resentment, the Franciscans sent veteran missionary Fray Andrés Juárez to Pecos in 1621 as healer and builder. Under his direction the Pecos built an adobe church south of the pueblo, the most imposing of New Mexico’s mission churches.

War and Re-Conquest Decades of Spanish demands and Indian resentments climaxed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Indians in scattered pueblos united to drive the Spaniards back to Mexico. At Pecos loyal Indians warned the local priest, but most followed a tribal elder in revolt. They killed the priest, destroyed the church, desecrated symbols of the Catholic Church, and, symbolizing the discontent, built a forbidden kiva in mission’s convento itself. One of the most often desecrated symbols were the crosses, both those used in the churches as well as those marking graves. Twelve years later, led by Diego de Vargas, the Spaniards came back to their lost province, peacefully in some places but with the sword in others.

The Katchina Stone Cross

Coronado's group spent the winter of 1540 - 1541 at the Pecos Pueblo very near the town of Pecos New Mexico in the upper Pecos River valley. During this time many of the soldiers and settlers died not being able to withstand the winter. It is documented in the writings from the expedition that those who died were buried in graves each marked with a stone cross. As a result of the revolt in 1680 the Indians desecrated many crosses including those that marked graves. The cross offered here was found in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico east of Santa Fe, the same area Coronado wintered in 1540 and is consistent in form and size with known Conquistador grave markers. It measures 38.1cm tall, 19cm wide and 5.1cm thick and exhibits significant age and mineral deposits on the reverse. As a result of the desecration of the cross, there is a deep inverted triangle inscribed above the cross member forming the face of the Katchina. Attached just below this first triangle is a second inverted, more shallow triangle, which forms the breast of the Katchina. Descending from the second triangle is a vertical inscribed line which extends to the bottom edge. The two horizontal extensions of the cross each exhibit a deep grove which forms the arms of the Katchina. In addition the upper triangle forms the face and has indentations which form the eyes, nose and mouth - these are clearly evident in the photographs. Both triangles have an ancient olive-green paint which was applied most likely to set off the body of the Katchina. Overall the front of the cross has significant "hand patina" which could only have formed over a long, extended time thus attesting to the age of the piece. During all periods excluding the Pueblo Revolt years Catholic icons were held in high esteem and would not have been desecrated or altered in any way by the Indians. This is without question a historically important piece from the now famous time period known as The Pueblo Revolt.