Sub­texts Taos Po­etry Fes­ti­val

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Casey Sanchez

Only months af­ter the end of the Civil War, fed­eral agents were dis­patched to ter­ri­to­rial New Mex­ico with the task of abol­ish­ing the en­slave­ment of In­di­ans and mes­ti­zos in the U.S. ter­ri­tory. In June of 1866, Spe­cial In­dian Agent J.K. Graves ar­rived in Santa Fe, al­ready aghast that in just the cap­i­tal alone, more than 400 Na­tive Amer­i­cans were en­slaved or ef­fec­tively held in bondage as pe­ons. Amer­i­can slavers, un­der the guise of lead­ing ex­pe­di­tions, made fre­quent trips to In­dian lands in the New Mex­ico ter­ri­tory, to cap­ture adults and chil­dren, in or­der to traf­fic and sell them as hu­man chat­tel.

“In most cases, the cap­tives are sold at an av­er­age of $75 to $100 or held in pos­ses­sion in the prac­tice of slav­ery,” wrote Graves, in his scathing re­port rec­om­mend­ing that the Freed­men’s Bu­reau be dis­patched to New Mex­ico to lib­er­ate en­slaved In­di­ans. “Nearly ev­ery fed­eral of­ficer holds pe­ons in ser­vice,” he added, sin­gling out New Mex­ico’s su­per­in­ten­dent of In­dian Af­fairs, who owned six In­dian slaves.

These in­ci­dents come from the newly re­leased book The Other Slav­ery: The Un­cov­ered Story of In­dian En­slave­ment in Amer­ica by An­drés Resén­dez. A bor­der­lands his­to­rian at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis, Resén­dez has fo­cused much of his re­cent re­search on In­dian slav­ery in colo­nial New Mex­ico and the Span­ish Caribbean.

In­dian slav­ery was never on Resén­dez’s agenda. But the topic forced its way into his re­search while com­plet­ing his 2007 book A Land So Strange: The Epic Jour­ney of Cabeza de Vaca (Ba­sic Books). Ál­var Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was a Span­ish con­quis­ta­dor who ship­wrecked on the coast of Florida in the early 16th cen­tury. Af­ter sev­eral years, the con­quis­ta­dor and his fel­low sailors made their way back to Mex­ico City, but only af­ter be­ing en­slaved by sev­eral Gulf Coast tribes.

“It was a jour­ney book­ended by In­dian slav­ery,” Resén­dez told Pasatiempo. “Re­search­ing that book, I found con­sid­er­able re­search sup­port­ing wide­spread slav­ery among In­dian tribes and en­slave­ment prac­tices be­tween Span­ish colo­nials and Na­tive Amer­i­cans.”

While dig­ging through ar­chives, church records, and let­ters, the his­to­rian pieced to­gether a de­pic­tion of In­dian slav­ery that was both vast and vastly dif­fer­ent from the African slav­ery prac­ticed in the an­te­bel­lum South. Un­like the en­slave­ment of Africans, In­dian slav­ery was il­le­gal in Span­ish colo­nial ter­ri­to­ries, Mex­ico, and the United States. But In­dian slav­ery per­sisted out­side the law in the South­west, in­grained in both Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes and Amer­i­can set­tlers as a bru­tal cus­tom of forced hu­man la­bor. Slavers jus­ti­fied their prac­tices as nec­es­sary, ow­ing to the se­vere eco­nomic con­di­tions of the re­gion, or as the right­ful con­quest of bat­tles and skir­mishes.

“This is not a story in which we have guilty par­ties and vic­tims,” Resén­dez said. “Rather, it’s a story about hu­man na­ture, eco­nomic ra­tio­nale, and a harsh en­vi­ron­ment, a story in which In­dian tribes, Mex­i­can, French, Amer­i­can, and Span­ish cit­i­zens all prac­ticed the en­slave­ment of Na­tive Amer­i­cans.”

Some­times, this slav­ery took the form of debt pe­on­age, a sit­u­a­tion Resén­drez de­scribed as one “where peo­ple were forced to work for lit­tle to no pay, of­ten kept from mov­ing any­where for a life­time due to debts they owed for cloth­ing or food.” An­other form of slav­ery took place when tribes or An­glo slavers con­ducted slav­ing raids, cap­tur­ing women and chil­dren who were then forced to la­bor as do­mes­tic ser­vants for other tribes or for Euro­pean colo­nial­ists.

In­dian slav­ery’s roots in New Mex­ico are cen­turies old, ac­cord­ing to the his­to­rian’s re­search. In a chap­ter ex­plor­ing how the forced servi­tude of Pue­blo In­di­ans by church clergy con­trib­uted to the 1680 Pue­blo Re­volt, Resén­dez un­earths a pat­tern of In­dian en­slave­ment that trou­bled the colo­nial gov­ern­ment.

As early as 1659, New Mex­ico gover­nor Bernardo López de Men­dizábal wrote a rep­ri­mand­ing let­ter to lo­cal clergy and Span­ish of­fi­cials, claim­ing that the ter­ri­tory’s mis­sion­ar­ies had forced “all the In­di­ans of the pueb­los, men as well as women, to serve them as slaves.” The gover­nor goes on to de­scribe how both Span­ish colo­nials and Catholic fri­ars con­spired to or­ga­nize raid­ing par­ties to pro­cure Apache slaves while forc­ing lo­cal In­di­ans to haul salt and la­bor inside locked tex­tile sweat­shops.

While not dis­count­ing the ma­jor role that re­li­gious re­pres­sion and famine among Pue­blo In­di­ans played in the years lead­ing up to the re­volt, Resén­dez hopes that his book demon­strates how an un­der­stand­ing of this sys­tem of bru­tal hu­man servi­tude could ex­plain many de­vel­op­ments in the his­tory of ini­tial con­tact be­tween Euro­peans and in­dige­nous Amer­i­cans. For in­stance, in chap­ters on Colum­bus’ en­slave­ment of In­di­ans in His­pan­iola, Resén­dez pushes his ar­gu­ment even fur­ther, claim­ing that mass slav­ery be­gan to dec­i­mate the tribal pop­u­la­tion of the Caribbean nearly 50 years be­fore small­pox and other Euro­pean dis­eases were even doc­u­mented in the re­gion.

With his new book, Resén­dez joins a small but grow­ing group of his­to­ri­ans re­ex­am­in­ing the scope and na­ture of slav­ery in the South­west and Na­tive Amer­ica. These in­clude works such as Cap­tives & Cousins: Slav­ery, Kin­ship and Com­mu­nity in South­west­ern Bor­der­lands (Univer­sity of North Carolina Press, 2002) by the his­to­rian James F. Brooks as well Al­lan Gal­lay’s The In­dian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Em­pire in the Amer­i­can South, 1670-1717 (Yale Univer­sity Press, 2002).

Though not as bru­tal or vast as African slav­ery in the Deep South, In­dian slav­ery in the South­west played such a deep role in the re­gion’s cul­ture, econ­omy, war­fare and in­tereth­nic re­la­tions, that it is as­ton­ish­ing that the sub­ject is only be­gin­ning to be prop­erly re­searched. It’s a topic ab­sent from high school his­tory text­books of the state and re­moved from most New

Mex­i­cans’ per­sonal un­der­stand­ing of their state’s his­tory. But lest there be any con­cern that In­dian en­slave­ment is an ex­ag­ger­a­tion of re­vi­sion­ist his­to­ri­ans, Resén­dez would re­fer you to the doc­u­ments of fed­eral In­dian agents them­selves, from an era where Amer­i­cans were pre­dis­posed to think the worst of in­dige­nous tribes.

Here is Spe­cial In­dian Agent Graves writ­ing once again in 1866 on New Mex­ico’s pe­on­age sys­tem, which he sur­mised, based on in­ter­views with ter­ri­to­rial of­fi­cials, had been in place for at least a cen­tury. In his words, cap­tive In­dian la­bor and the forced pe­on­age of In­di­ans and mes­ti­zos in New Mex­ico was, “the uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized mode of se­cur­ing la­bor and as­sis­tance, and the re­sults of that sys­tem were iden­ti­cal to that of Ne­gro slav­ery as for­merly prac­ticed in the South­ern states.”

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