Most accounts of Esteban, the African-born slave whose exploits
helped establish the Spanish claim to what is now the southwestern
section of the United States, are written from the perspective
of the Europeans who sponsored his foray into the Zuni village
of Hawikuh in 1539. Ramon A. Gutierrez, however, attempts
to explain Esteban through the eyes of the Indian leaders
who encountered and were forced to kill him "so that
he would not reveal our location to his brothers."
In May of 1539, as preparations were being made to call
the katsina (ancestor spirit) to bring rain, the Zuni warriors
of Hawikuh spotted a black katsina approaching from the west.
The katsina was unlike any they had ever seen before. He was
large in stature, wore animal pelts, and was richly adorned
with large pieces of turquoise. He "wore bells and feathers
on his ankles and arms, and carried plates of various colors."
Many Pima, Papago, Opata, and Tarahumara Indians accompanied
the katsina. The called him Estevanico, a great healer and
medicine man. The men showered him with gifts, and the women,
hoping to obtain his blessings, gave him their bodies. All
along Estevanico's route, he constructed large prayersticks
(crosses) that he commanded everyone to worship.
Hawikuh's cacique awaited the arrival of the black giant
with great foreboding. While still a day's distance from the
village, Estevanico sent the town chief a red and white feathered
gourd rattle and a message that "he was coming to establish
peace and to heal them." When the chief saw the rattle,
he became very angry and threw it to the ground saying, "I
know these people, for these jingle bells are not the shape
of ours. Tell them to turn back at once, or not one of their
men will be spared."
Undaunted by what his messengers told him, Estevanico proceeded
to Hawikuh. The road to the village was closed symbolically
with a cornmeal line, and when the black katsina crossed it,
the pueblo's warriors took him prisoner and confined him in
a house outside the village. There, "the oldest and those
in authority listened to his words and tried to learn the
reason for his coming." The katsina told them that other
white katsina, children of the Sun, would soon arrive. The
cacique thought these words were crazy, and when Estevanico
demanded turquoise and women, he had him killed as a witch
and foreign spy.
The old men of the village huddled together in the kiva,
pondering the meaning of what had been said and done. Repeatedly
they asked, Who was this black katsina? Whence had he come?
What did he want? Would more katsina shortly arrive, as Estevanico
said. The old men were silent on these matters, as were the
ancient myths. The answers to these questions would be found
not in the Pueblo world but in a distant land across a sea
in a place the black katsina called Castile...
Source: Ramon A. Gutierrez, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers
Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846
(Stanford, 1991), pp. 39-40.
THE DEATH OF ESTEBAN
Although the death of Esteban at the hands of the Zuni Indians
is certain, the reason for his murder remains a mystery. Four
possible explanations appear below. The first is provided
by Fray Marcos De Niza, the second is from Captain Hernando
de Alarcon who sailed up the Gulf of California one year later
where he met Indians who were aware of Esteban's encounter
with the Zuni, the third is Francisco Vazquez de Coronado's
report to Governor Mendoza in 1540 after he had reached Hawikuh,
and the fourth, the narrative of Pedro de Castaneda, a member
of the Coronado Expedition.
Fray Marcos's account: As we were on our way, one day's journey
from Cibola (Hawikuh), we met two...Indians of those who had
gone with Esteban. They were bloodstained and had many wounds.
Upon their arrival, they and those who were with me began
such a weeping that they made me cry too, both through pity
and fear. They asked how they could keep still when they knew
that of their fathers, sons, and brothers who had gone with
Esteban, more than three hundred men were dead. They said
that they would no longer dare go to Cibola as they used to...
I asked the wounded Indians about Esteban and what had happened...
They told me that when Esteban was within a day's travel of
the city of Cibola, he sent his messengers with a gourd to
the ruler of the place, informing him of his visit and of
how he was coming to establish peace and to heal them. When
the emissaries handed the ruler the gourd and he saw the jingle
bells, he became very angry and threw the gourd to the ground,
saying, "I know these people, for these jingle bells
are not the shape of ours. Tell them to turn back at once,
or not one of their men will be spared." The messengers
went back very dejectedly,, and [told] Esteban. He told them
not to fear, that he would go there, for although the inhabitants
gave him a bad answer, they would receive him well.
So Esteban went ahead with all his people, who mush have
numbered more than three hundred men, besides many women,
and reached the city of Cibola at sunset. They were not allowed
to come into the city, but were placed in a large house, quite
a good lodging, which was located outside of the city. Then
the natives of Cibola took away from Esteban everything he
carried, saying that it had been so ordered by their lord.
"During the whole night," the wounded Indians said,
"they did not give us anything to eat or drink. The next
morning, when the sun had risen the height of a lance, Esteban
went out of the house and some of the chiefs followed him,
whereupon many people came out of the city. When Esteban saw
them, he began to flee, and we did also, They at once began
to shoot arrows at us, wounding us, and thus we remained until
night, not daring to stir. We heard much shouting in the city,
and we saw many men and women on the terraces, watching, but
we never saw Esteban again. We believe that they shot him
with arrows and also the others who were with him, as no one
except ourselves escaped."
Hearing with the Indians said, and in view of the poor conditions
for continuing my journey as I desired, I could not help but
feel some apprehension for their loss and mine... Thus I turned
back with much more fear than food...
de Alarcon's account: I asked [the chief] about Cibola and
whether he knew if they people there had ever seen people
like us. He answered no, except a negro who wore on his feet
and arms some things that tinkled. Your Lordship must remember
this negro who went with Fray Marcos wore bells, and feathers
on his ankles, and arms, and carried plates of various colors.
He arrived there a little more than one year ago. I asked
him why they killed him. He replied that the chieftain of
Cibola asked the negro if he had any brothers, and he answered
that he had an infinite number, that they had numerous arms,
and that they were not very far from there. Upon hearing this,
many chieftains assembled and decided to kill him so that
he would not reveal their location to his brothers. For this
reason they killed him and tore him into many pieces, which
were distributed among the chieftains so that they should
know that he was dead.
Coronado's account: The death of the negro is perfectly certain,
because many of the things which he wore have been found,
and the Indians say that they killed him here because the
Indians of Chichilticale said that he was a bad man, and not
like the Christians who never kill women, and he killed them,
and because he assaulted their women, who the Indians love
better than themselves. Therefore they determined to kill
him, but they did not kill any of the others who came with
Castaneda's account: After the friars and the negro Esteban
set out, it seem that the negro fell from the good graces
of the friars because he took along the women that were given
to him, and collected turquoises, and accumulated everything.
Besides, the Indians of the settlements they crossed got along
better with the negro, since they had seen him before. For
this reason he was sent ahead to discover and pacify the land
so that when the others arrived all they would have to do
would be to listen and make a report of what they were searching
When Esteban got away from the said friars, he craved to gain
honor and fame in everything and to be credited with the boldness
and daring of discovering, all by himself, those terraced
pueblos, so famed throughout the land. Accompanied by the
people who followed him, he tried to cross the uninhabited
regions between Cibola and the inhabited area. He had traveled
so far ahead of the friars that when they reached Chichilticale...he
was already at Cibola.
I say, then, that when the negro Esteban reached Cibola, he
arrived there laden with a large number of turquoises and
with some pretty women, which the natives had given him. The
gifts were carried by Indians who accompanied and followed
him through every settlement he crossed, believing that, by
going under his protection, they could traverse the whole
country without any danger. But as the people of the land
were more intelligent that those who followed Esteban, they
lodged him at a lodging house which they had outside of the
pueblo, and the oldest and those in authority listened to
his words and tried to learn the reason for his coming to
When they were well informed, they held councils for three
days. As the negro had told them that farther back two white
men, send by a great lord, were coming, that they were learned
in the things of heaven, and that the were coming to instruct
them in divine matters, the Indians thought he must have been
a spy or guide of some nations that wanted to come and conquer
them. They though it was nonsense for him to say that the
people in the land whence he came were white, when he was
black, and that he had been sent by them. So they went to
him, and because, after some talk, he asked them for turquoises
and women, they considered this an affront and determined
to kill him. So they did without killing any one of those
who came with him... The friars were seized with such fear
that, not trusting these people who had accompanied the negro,
they opened their bags and distributed everything they had
among them keeping only the vestments for saying mass. From
there they turned back without seeing more land than what
the Indians had told them of. On the contrary, they were traveling
by forced marches, with their habits up to their waists.
Source: George P. Hammond, and Agapito Rey, eds., Narratives
of the Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542 (Albuquerque, 1940)
pp. 77, 145, 177-178, 198-199.
RACE AND CLASS IN COLONIAL MEXICO
As the Esteban vignette, and those which follow, attest,
historians have taken great pains to establish the presence
of persons of African ancestry in the history of colonial
Mexico. The task before the next generation of historians
is to determine the quality of the life they led and their
interaction not only with the Spanish but with Indians and
the various bi- and multi-racial populations which emerged
in the region. In the following vignette R. Douglas Cope analyzes
the population of Mexico City between 1660 and 1720, and in
the process, suggests some possibilities for this next stage
of historical inquiry.
African slaves had accompanied the Spaniards from the beginning.
Before the century's end, tens of thousands more would be
imported. As foremen, managers, and skilled laborers, Africans
provided invaluable aid to the process of Hispanic colonization;
as slaves and thus potential insurrectionaries, they provoked
the fear and contempt of their masters. But for the Spanish,
Africans were the devil they knew. Still more troublesome
was the inevitable yet unexpected emergence of the castas,
products of miscegenation, new kinds of people for whom names
had to be invented: mestizos, castizos, zambos, and many other
The Spaniards, of course, had always been a minority in Mexico,
their scattered cities bulwarks against the indigenous countryside.
But by the early seventeenth century, the rapid growth of
the castas had created large non-Hispanic populations in Spanish
urban centers and mining campus and even in the Spaniards'
chief redoubt, Mexico City. How could the heirs of the conquistadors
sustain their rule over this multiracial melange without the
benefit of a standing army? Spaniards thought themselves superior
to the people they dominated. The trick lay in convincing
Africans and Indians of this tautological line of reasoning....
The Spanish monopolized political power and dominated the
elite occupations, thereby enjoying a grossly disproportionate
share of Mexico's wealth. In contrast, Indians, Africans,
and mixed-bloods languished in low-paying, low-prestige positions...
We should not [however] assume that subordinate groups are
passive recipients of elite ideology. Mesoamerican Indians,
for instance, demonstrated a remarkable ability to resist
cultural impositions...and indigenous structures and patterns
survived the conquest on a much more massive scale and for
a longer period of time than had seemed the case when we had
to judge by the reports of Spaniards alone...
We would do better, then, to view culture as a contested
terrain, in which people from all walks of life (and not just
the dominant group) engage in a continuous process of manipulating
and constructing social reality. In a multiracial society
such as colonial Mexico, ethnic identity itself became a prime
point of contention and confusion. Elite attempts at racial
or ethnic categorization met with resistance as non-Spaniards
pursued their own, often contradictory...self-definition...
Race, after all, was not the only dividing line in colonial
Mexico. Nor was it the only principle of social organization...
A mulatto marries a mestiza. Who can say what combination
of affection, sexual desire, family considerations, and economic
calculation went into that decision. We cannot know, from
the act itself, whether one partner exulted in an opportunity
or the other agonized over marrying "down." The
problem requires a more comprehensive...approach... What material
and social constraints shaped their world? What role did race
play? How did their beliefs compare with those of the elite?
And what kinds of relations existed between those two components
Source: R. Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination:
Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, 1660-1720 (Madison,
1994), pp. 3-7.
ISABEL De OLVERA ARRIVES IN NEW MEXICO
The 16th and 17th Century historical records of the U.S.
Southwest are replete with examples of persons of African
ancestry who accompanied Spanish explorers and colonizers.
The Juan de Onate party that established a colony along the
upper Rio Grande near Santa Fe, in 1598, included at least
five blacks and mulattoes, two of whom were soldiers. Most
of those explorers and settlers were men. However in 1600
one black woman, Isabel De Olvera of Queretaro, the daughter
of a black father and Indian mother, accompanied the Juan
Guerra de Resa relief expedition to Santa Fe to strengthen
the Spanish claim on the region. Her arrival predates by 19
years the first known landing at Jamestown, Virginia, of twenty
persons of African ancestry in British North America. De Olvera,
who was a servant for one of the Spanish women, was apparently
concerned about her safety and status in the frontier region
and gave the following deposition to the alcalde mayor of
Queretaro. To buttress her claim, Olvera presented three witnesses,
Mateo Laines, a free black man living in Queretaro, Anna Verdugo,
a mestiza who lived near the city, and Santa Maria, a black
slave of the alcalde mayor.
In the town of Queretaro in New Spain, January 8, 1600,
there appeared before Don Pedro Lorenzo de Castilla, his majesty's
alcalde mayor in this town, a mulatto woman named Isabel,
who presented herself before his grace in the appropriate
legal manner and declared:
As I am going on the expedition to New Mexico and have reason
to fear that I may be annoyed by some individual since I am
a mulatto, and as it is proper to protect my rights in such
an eventuality by an affidavit showing that I am a free women,
unmarried, and the legitimate daughter of Hernando, a negro
and an Indian named Magdalena, I therefore request your grace
to accept this affidavit, which show that I am free and not
bound by marriage or slavery. I request that a properly certified
and signed copy be given to me in order to protect my rights,
and that it carry full legal authority. I demand justice.
The alcalde mayor instructed her to present the affidavits
which she thought could be used and ordered that they be examined
in accordance with this petition and that she be given the
original. He so ordered and signed. DON PEDRO LORENZO DE CASTILLA.
Before me, BALTASAR MARTINEZ, royal notary.
Source: George P. Hammond, and Agapito Rey, eds., Don Juan
de Onate: Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628 (Albuquerque,
1953), pp. 560-562.
RACIAL MIXTURE IN COLONIAL NEW MEXICO
Like California and Texas, the Spanish-speaking population
of New Mexico was of diverse racial origins. In the account
below historian J. Manuel Espinosa, describes the emergence
of that population and one example of its consequence, the
role of blacks and mulattos in the famous Pueblo Indian Revolt
Among the colonists, those of predominately Spanish blood
dominated the patterns of social life and customs. In the
beginning there was clearly a considerable number of Spanish-born
citizens, with a handful of non-Spanish Europeans. By 1680
most of the population had been born in the province itself.
Over the years, blood mixture was inevitable in an isolated
community which lived as neighbors among sedentary Indians
who outnumbered them and on whom they were dependent economically.
Moreover, many of the first colonists were themselves mestizos.
The colonists, therefore, although a homogeneous group, were
made up of Spanish-born Spaniards, American-born Spaniards,
mestizos, and a variety of ethnic mixtures. The servants,
muleteers, farm and ranch hands, and menial workers were mestizos,
New Mexican and Mexican Indians, Negroes, mulattoes, and a
mixture of those in varying degrees of racial predominance.
There was a high proportion of lower-class elements and even
some fugitives from justice.
With the existence of a large proportion of persons of mixed
blood, some obtained prominence who were referred to as mulato
pardo, pardo, mestizo-amulatado, or mulato, including captains
in the Spanish military forces and at least one alcalde mayor.
From the mid-seventeenth century on there were Pueblo Indian
leaders who were mestizos, mulattos, coyotes (mixture of Indian
and mestizo), and lobos (mixture of Negro and Indian) and
there were ladinos among them who were quite proficient in
speaking, reading, and writing in the Spanish language. There
were some local admixtures across the whole spectrum. In general,
however, social distinctions were simpler than those in New
Spain. Certainly no difference was made between Spaniards
and creoles, and the position of mestizo in New Mexico was
apparently better than in the more densely settled areas of
* * *
Pueblo Indian medicine men, who were unwilling to give up
their traditional influence, backed by many of the Pueblo
Indian chiefs and warriors, were always a threat to the authority
of the friars at the missions by stirring up trouble among
peaceful mission converts. Some of the most troublesome were
a small group of renegades of racial mixture, including mistreated
mulattoes and Negroes, originally from New Spain, who had
gone to New Mexico from areas north of Mexico City in the
hope of escaping from a life doomed to lowly servitude and
who had taken up residence with the Indians....
J. Manual Espinosa, ed., The Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1696
and the Franciscan Missions in New Mexico: Letters of the
Missionaries and Related Documents (Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1988), pp. 11-13, 24-25.
MARRIAGE IN COLONIAL NEW MEXICO: THE RODRIGUEZ SAGA
In the following account historian Dedra McDonald introduces
both Sebastian Rodriguez Brito and provides a glimpse into
the fluid social relations of multiethnic and multiracial
Colonial New Mexico.
In 1689, Sebastian Rodriguez Brito, an African from Luanda
in the nation of Angola and Antonia Naranjo, daughter of a
New Mexico mulatto family, initiated marital proceedings in
the jurisdiction of El Paso del Norte. Their plans to wed,
however, soon faltered. Rodriguez's former employer, Governor
Pedro Reneros de Posada, claimed that Rodriguez had already
married a woman in Veracruz. In response, Rodriguez insisted,
"I am free and single," and that Reneros' allegations
were false. Rodriguez brought forward three witnesses to attest
to his bachelorhood.
Those witnesses, Juan Luis, Francisco Romero de Pedraza, Esteban
de Berdiguil, and Antonio Montoya, all living at El Paso del
Norte, did not help matters much. They could only repeat what
they had heard from Governor Reneros while working from him.
Juan Luis reported that Sebastian Rodriguez informed Reneros
of his plans to marry Antonia Naranjo and that Reneros expressed
pleasure at this news, "preferring this step to [Rodriguez's]
whoring around." A few days later, Luis explained, Reneros
told Rodriguez that he could not get married because he must
continue to work as Reneros' servant when he returned from
El Paso del Norte to New Spain. Francisco Romero de Pedraza's
testimony also provided little support for Sebastian's claims.
Romero had overheard Governor Reneros say that Sebastian was
married and that he should return to Mexico City... Romero
added that Reneros had summoned Antonia Naranjo's mother,
Maria Romero, to inform her of Sebastian's status as a married
man. The third witness, Esteban de Berdiguil, declared that
two Mexico City merchants claimed that Rodriguez had already
married and requested that he "be put in manacles and
returned to his wife." Finally, Antonio Montoya corroborated
the previous testimonies. The marriage did not take place.
Three years later, in May 1692, Sebastian Rodriguez proved
his status as a single man when a Franciscan testified regarding
a handwritten letter dated April 14, 1692, in which Governor
Reneros de Posada admitted that Rodriguez had not previously
married. Rodriguez, age 40 in 1692, had planned another marriage,
this time to widow Isabel Olguin, an espanola and 44 years
of age. With the matter of his marital status clear, Rodriguez
could and did marry Olguin. Their wedding took place June
Isabel Olguin died within four years of the marriage, which
brought Sebastian to initiate yet another marriage, this time
with Maria de la Cruz, mestiza and servant of Lieutenant General
Luis Granillo. This marriage may not actually have taken place,
for less than one year later, on May 2, 1697, Sebastian initiated
a fourth marriage, with Juana de la Cruz, coyota (the offspring
of parents of mixed heritages including mulatto, mestizo,
Indian, and Spanish) of Las Salinas. Their marriage took place
May 12, 1697...
Sebastian Rodriguez's fascinating life story provides more
than entertainment. Rodriguez, a free black African from Angola
whose parents were bozales, or African-born slaves, lived
and worked on the far northern frontier of New Spain in the
late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He intermarried,
or at least attempted to marry, women representing the spectrum
of racial categories that existed in colonial New Mexico.
Moreover, he exhibited economic mobility as he moved from
a position as a servant to drummer and soldier, as well as
landholder. In all of these aspects, Sebastian Rodriguez's
experience suggest that the history of colonial New Mexico
must include the stories of black and mulattoes, free and
enslaves, and that the region's geographical isolation allowed
them unprecedented economic and social opportunities.
Source: Dedra S. McDonald, "Black Drummers and Mulatto
Slaves: African Descendants in Colonial New Mexico,"
Unpublished paper presented at the Rocky Mountain Council
on Latin American Studies Conference, 1995, pp. 1-4.
SLAVERY AND FREEDOM IN SPANISH NEW MEXICO
In the following account by Dedra McDonald we see a snapshot
of slavery and at least one manner of exit from the institution
in 16th and 17th Century colonial New Mexico.
Enslaved blacks and mulattoes accompanied their masters
to New Mexico, assisting in both the seventeenth century colonization
and eighteenth-century recolonization of the region. High
prices and a shortage of slaves on the far northern frontier
made slave ownership prohibitive for all but the wealthiest
landowners, government officials and merchants. Eighteenth-century
El Paso de Norte slaveholders included the landowning Valverde
Cosio family, who listed eight slaves, four of them mulatto,
ranging in age from 14 to 31 years. Merchant Jose de Colarte
and his wife, Manuela Garcia de Noriega, owned six mulatto
slaves, ages 10 to 46, during the years 1760 to 1785... Even
clergyman Bachiller Telles Giron owned a mulatta named Jesus
and her child. The youth of several of these slaves suggests
that natural increase, along with outright purchase, added
to the slave population in northern New Spain.
Colonists residing to the north of El Paso also owned slaves.
Francisco Javier's mulatta slave, Maria Madrid...was captured
by the Picuris Indians when the Pueblo Revolt broke out in
1680. Diego de Vargas's forces liberated her in 1692... Some
slaves accompanied high ranking government officials as they
moved from one post to the next. Jose Manuel Reinoso, slave
of Governor Valverde Cosio, arrived in New Mexico with his
master prior to 1720. The son of don Antonio Reinoso and Maria
de la Encarnacion, who was a slave...Jose Reinoso married
Elena de la Cruz, native of Santa Fe, on February 6, 1720.
Reinoso's elite status, it seems, did not lead to manumission...
While not all New Mexicans could afford to own slaves, enough
colonists acquired slaves to make the institution of slavery
and interactions with African descendants a part of everyday
life in New Mexico.
The life story of Jose Antonio exemplifies the New Mexican
slave experience: slave trade; northward journey; frontier
life, intermarriage; and manumission. Jose Antonio began his
experience as a slave at the tender age of three years. Originally
from the Congo, he left Cabo Verde on the west coast of Africa
around 1738, arriving in the port city of Veracruz that same
year. Bought and sold five times, Jose Antonio accompanied
his fifth recorded owner, Sargento mayor Manuel Antonio San
Juan Jaquez de Valverde, on a journey through Chihuahua to
El Paso del Norte. Arriving in El Paso in 1752, Jose Antonio,
along with his master, became a resident of the area. Eight
years later, at age 23 he married an Apache woman named Marcela,
age 19. She had been reared and educated in the house of Javier
Garcia de Noriega, for whom she worked as a maid servant.
Jose Antonio may have brought some education to his marriage,
as is indicated by his clear signature and fancy rubric on
In 1764, Sargento mayor Jan Juan drafted a will in which
his asking price for Jose Antonio's services [was lowered]
from 300 pesos to 200 pesos. Perhaps San Juan hoped to make
it easier for Jose Antonio to earn enough money to purchase
his freedom. His plan, however, fell through. Following San
Juan's death, Celedonio de Escorza purchased Jose Antonio
at the reduced rate of 200 pesos, destroying Jose Antonio's
opportunity to gain his freedom...
[One] path to freedom for enslaved blacks and mulattoes involved
the indirect process of racial mixture, occurring over time
and across generations. Slave men married free women to ensure
that their children would be free. Legal and social traditions
assigned slave or free status according to the status of the
child's mother. In New Mexico, the admittedly sparse evidence
suggests that slave men appear to have married non-slave women
more frequently than they married slaves. Out of fifty marriages,
only one took place between two slaves. Moreover, enslaved
blacks and mulattoes expanded their connections with free
persons through the daily relations of work, religion and
family. Networks linking slaves to free persons were frequently
noted through the structure of witnessing marriages...
In 1736, Guadalajara native Nicholas Joseph Antonio Morales,
mulatto slave on the Hacienda of San Antonio de Pauda, married
Apache servant Maria Isidra at Santa Maria de las Caldas,
a community in the El Paso del Norte district... Also in Santa
Maria de las Caldas in 1736, mulatto slave Pablo Jose Vanegas
married free mulatta Josefa Naranjo, age 16... Naranjo declared
that she wished to marry Vanegas and that she knew he was
enslaved, but her feelings for him "were born in her
heart." Don de Dios, mulatto slave of don Jose Garcia
de Noriega, married Bernarda, [an] Apache. Bernarda, age 32,
was the widow of Quitenio, a slave owned by dona Francisca
Garcia de Noriega... Finally, in 1776 in El Paso del Norte,
Pedro Joseph Chacon, black slave of militia captain Jose Garcia
de Noriega, married Manuela Jimenez, free mulatta born of
free parents... Through both spousal selection and social
networks, slaves attempted to gain access to freedom, if not
for themselves, then for their children...
In addition to the freedom of future generations guaranteed
by marriages of male slaves to free women of various ethnicities,
the documentary glimpses of the lives of blacks and mulattoes
portray colonial New Mexico as a multicultural meeting place,
where blacks, mulattoes, Indians, mestizos, and Spaniards
intermingled on the most intimate of levels--marriage, as
well as in society and the economy.
Source: Dedra S. McDonald, "Black Drummers and Mulatto
Slaves: African Descendants in Colonial New Mexico,"
Unpublished paper presented at the Rocky Mountain Council
on Latin American Studies Conference, 1995, pp. 11-28.
ANTTONIA LUSGARDIA ERNANDES FIGHTS FOR HER SON
Occasionally the records of Colonial New Spain reveal not
only numbers of blacks and mulattoes but some idea of their
status, and of relationships among the colony's Spanish-speaking
which crossed race, class and gender boundaries. In 1735,
for example, Anttonia Lusgardia Ernandes, a free mulatta in
San Antonio, [Texas] sued her former patron, Don Miguel Nunes
Morillo, for custody of their son. Morillo admitted paternity
but argued that Ernandes had voluntarily relinquished custody
to his wife. The court found otherwise and awarded custody
to the biological mother on the condition that she give her
son a "proper home." Her lawsuit petition appears
I, Anttonia Lusgardia Ernandes, a free mulatta residing
in the presidio, do hereby appear before your Lordship in
the best form according to law and my own interests and state
that about eight or nine years ago I entered the home of Don
Miguel Nunes, taking a daughter of mine with me. I entered
the said home without any salary whatever and while I was
working in the said home of Don Miguel Nunes Morillo I suffered
so much from lack of clothing and from mistreatment of my
humble person that I left the said house and went to the home
of Alberto Lopez, taking two children with me, one of whom
I had when I entered the home of the said Don Miguel and another
which I gave birth to in his home. Just for this reason, and
because his wife baptized the said creature, he, exercising
absolute power, snatched away from me my son--the only man
I have and the one who I hope will eventually support me.
He took him from the house where I live and carried him to
his own, I being but a poor, helpless woman whose only protection
is a good administration and a good judicial system. Your
Lordship will please demand that the said Don Miguel Nunes,
without the least delay, shall proceed to deliver my son to
me without making any excuses. I wish to make use of all the
laws in my favor, and of Your Lordship, as a father and protector
of the poor and helpless, as well as anything else which might
be in my favor.
Source: Vicki L. Ruiz, "Gendered Histories: Interpreting
Voice and Locating Power," in Clyde A. Milner, ed., A
New Significance: Re-Envisioning the History of the American
West (New York), p. 99.
SONORA y SINALOA: MADRE PATRIA CHICA DE LOS ANGELES
In the following vignette historian Antonio Rios-Bustamante
describes the particular role of the New Spain provinces of
Sonora and Sinaloa in the founding of Los Angeles.
Probably the least understood, most controversial aspect
of the early history of Los Angeles had been the significance
of ethnicity and origins of the founding pobladores and other
settlers. While it has long been acknowledged that the original
group of 11 families which founded Los Angeles was composed
primarily of mulattoes, Indios, and Mestizos, past interpretations
have erroneously indicated that they were atypical of later
settlers and presidial soldiers. Just the opposite is the
case; the original settlers of Los Angeles were racially mixed
persons of Indian, African, and European descent. This mixed
racial composition was typical of both the settlers of Alta
California and of the majority of the population of the northwest
coast provinces of Mexico from which they were recruited.
Since the majority of the settlers of Alta California came
from Sonora and Sinaloa, it is not surprising that people
in mid-nineteenth century California often considered the
Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa as "la madre patria,"
or motherland of California. Also important is the fact that
the basic social and cultural patters of Mexican society in
Alta California had been brought there from these states where
they had been developed during the previous 200 years of colonization...
Apparent from the 1793 census is the fact that a much larger
proportion of the population was of African descent than has
been previously admitted. Mulattoes, mestizos, and other persons
of mixed caste were not a rarity in Sonora, Sinaloa, or in
colonial Mexico. In Sinaloa in 1793, there were only 139 European
Spaniards and 18,394 espanoles Americanos, while there were
15,078 mulattoes, 2,671 persons of other mixed castes and
18,780 Indians. In Sonora the ethnic composition of the population
was similar, except that there were fewer mulattoes recorded
and more Indians. Also give the fact that most Africans had
entered these provinces about 100 years earlier, and that
their descendants were racially mixed by 1769, it is clear
that persons of African descent in Alta California were no
more atypical than the large number of mulattoes in the population
of Sonora and Sinaloa. The Los Angeles pobladores were simply
a fair cross-section of the laboring population of these provinces...
The [founders of Los Angeles] reflected the ethnic composition
of Sonora y Sinaloa from which most came. Eight of the twenty-three
adults were Indians, ten were of African descent, two negros,
and eight mulattoes. Records also show that one of the black
settlers, Luis Quintero, was the son of a black slave and
an Indian woman of Alamos. One was born in Cadiz, Spain; another
listed as an espanol americano...a person of Spanish descent
born in Mexico. One person was listed as a coyota, a coyota
or coyote, usually considered to be the child of a mestizo
and an Indian of the frontier, or a mulatto and an Indian
of the frontier. One person was a Chino, Chinese, which sometimes
meant an Asian and sometimes a person of mixed black Indian
descent. This was Antonio Miranda Rodriguez, who was probably
a Filipino, since records show that he was born in Manila,
the capital of the then Spanish colony of the Philippines.
Similarly out of the 21 children, 19 were of racially mixed
descent, while two were Indios...
Antonio Rios-Bustamante, "Los Angeles, Pueblo and Region,
1781-1850: Continuity and Adaptation on the North Mexican
Periphery," (PhD dissertation, UCLA, 1985), pp. 56-59,
THE FOUNDING OF LOS ANGELES
In the account below historian Lonnie Bunch, III, describes
the establishment of Los Angeles and the role persons of African
ancestry played in its settlement.
Of the forty-four pobladores or settlers of the pueblo of
"Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula,"
twenty-six were either black or of mixed racial ancestry.
The site that would become Los Angeles was known to the Spanish
governors of Mexico as early as 1769. However, plans to settle
the area remained unclear until Felipe de Neve, the governor
of Alta California (literally the current state of California),
decided a civilian community was needed in the region between
the mission in San Gabriel and the Presidio of Santa Barbara...
Captain Fernando X. Rivera was charged with obtaining twenty-four
families of farmers, artisans and cattlemen. Rivera was ordered
to offer these families cash, supplies, tools, animals, clothing,
a limited period of no taxation, and access to land. Despite
these inducements, only twelve families agreed to undertake
the venture. Those individuals who did agree were recruited
from Sinaloa, Mexico, a less than prosperous area of the country
where one third of the residents were of African ancestry.
Many of the pobladores hailed from the city of Rosario, a
village where two-thirds of the residents were listed as mulattoes
in the census, many having resided as free men and women for
a long period of time.
This band of settlers...left Alamos, Sonora, with their military
escorts in February 1781. After months of travel, eleven of
the twelve families that left Sinaloa arrived at the mission
in San Gabriel that August. After a month's quarantine to
ensure that the settlers did not carry the smallpox virus,
the band of Indians, mulattoes, and Spaniards arrived in the
area of the planned settlement on 4 September...
The Afro-Mexican families that contributed to the establishment
of Los Angeles were a diverse group ranging from 1 to 67 years
of age. They included: Luis Quintero, a 55-year-old black
tailor accompanied by his mulatto wife Maria Petra Rubio,
40 and their five children. Quintero was born in Guadalajara,
Jalisco in 1725. Jose Moreno, 22, and Maria Guadalupe Gertrudis,
19, a recently wed mulatto couple, were both born in Rosario,
Mexico as were Manuel Camero, 30, and Maria Tomasa, 24, two
mulattoes also from Rosario. Antonio Mesa, 38, a Negro born
in Alamos, Sonora, his mulatto wife, Ana Gertrudis Lopez,
27, and their two children. Maria Manuela Calixtra, 43, the
mulatto mother of six and her Indian husband, Basilia Rosas,
67. Maria Rufina Dorotea, 45, also a mulatto, brought her
three children and her mestizo husband, 42-year-old Jose Antonia
These settlers...worked hard to maintain the colony. Los
Angeles was laid out in the typical pattern for Spanish colonial
towns: Each family was allocated a lot surrounding the rectangular
public plaza, with meadows, common grazing and farm lands
on the outskirts of the pueblo. Immediately after establishing
the town lots, the community built the zanja madre, a series
of channels created to bring water into the area. Within a
short time, the colony no longer relied upon supplies from
Mexico and its population grew to 141 residents, according
to the Estado taken on 17 August 1790...
[Los Angeles] prospered enough to become the largest Spanish
settlement in Alta California by 1800... As Los Angeles matured,
many of its citizens received large grants of land to encourage
the development of rancheros--large ranches that prospered
due to the cattle and tallow trades. Several Afro-Mexicans
received these grants from the Spanish colonial administration,
demonstrating the significant roles they were expected to
play in the affairs of the colony... The Pico brothers, Pio
and Andes, obtained land near Simi, while Francisco Reyes
controlled large areas of the San Fernando Valley and Lompoc.
Other landowners of Africa descent were Bartolo Tapia, whose
holdings were centered near the Topanga Canyon, and Manuel
Nieto in the eastern San Gabriel Valley... By 1820 Maria Rita
Valdez, a descendant of Luis Quintero...was granted Rancho
Rodeo de Las Aquas--now a quaint little village called Beverly
Source: Lonnie Bunch, III, Black Angelenos: The African American
in Los Angeles, 1850-1950 (Los Angeles, 1989), pp. 10-12.
BLACK SETTLEMENT IN SPANISH TEXAS
The following account provides a brief description of the
contrasting status of African Americans in Spanish\Mexican
and Independent Texas.
Blacks participated in the initial exploration and settlement
of Texas.... Esteban, an African who was one of the four survivors
of the Cabeza de Vaca expedition that shipwrecked on the Texas
coast in 1528, established the pattern of black involvement
in Spanish Texas. Blacks accompanied most Spanish expeditions
into Texas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and
they were part of the population of most Spanish garrisons
and settlements in Texas in the eighteenth century. Blacks
probably comprised between 15 and 25% of the population of
Spanish Texas in the late eighteenth century. Furthermore,
although the Spanish introduced slavery into Texas, the majority
of blacks residing in the province were free. For examples,
in the San Antonio area in 1778, 151 of 759 male residents
were black or mulatto, and only 4 of these were slaves. Free
blacks in Spanish Texas faced few, if any, restrictions on
their freedom. They were accepted socially and followed whatever
trade or profession that they chose. Census data lists blacks
or mulattos as farmers, merchants, teachers, shoemakers, carpenters,
miners, teamsters, laborers, and domestic servants. Several
of them owned land and cattle.
Most of the blacks who resided in Spanish Texas were born
there or even further south in what is present-day Mexico.
However, beginning in the early nineteenth century, an increasing
number came from the United States. This migration increased
after 1821, when Mexico won its independence from Spain. Free
blacks came to Texas because there was greater opportunity
and much less racial prejudice under Spanish and Mexican governments
than in the United States. Tex also attracted its share of
runaway slaves, especially from neighboring Louisiana. Under
Mexican rule, conditions that blacks faced in Texas were hospitable
enough for abolitionist Benjamin Lundy to seek official permission
to establish a colony of free American blacks there in the
early 1830s. The Mexican government endorsed Lundy's proposal,
but the project was dropped after Texas achieved its independence.
Despite the generally enlightened racial attitude of the
Mexican government, the situation for blacks in Texas began
to deteriorate under Mexican rule, especially when the government
opened Texas' borders to colonists from the United States.
When Moses Austin rode into San Antonio in 1820 seeking permission
to establish a colony in Texas, he brought a black servant
with him. Nearly all of the white settlers who followed Austin
into Texas either brought slaves with them or strongly supported
slavery. Mexican law prohibited slavery, and the Mexican government
periodically attempted to apply this law. Enforcement was
never effective, however, and Texas settlers rather easily
circumvented the law. Consequently, slavery flourished in
most Anglo communities in Texas. In 1825, for example, 69
of 1,347 residents of the Austin colony were slaveholders
who owned 443 slaves. As more Anglos migrated from the United
States, slavery grew; as a result, by the late 1820s slaves
outnumbered free blacks in Texas for the first time. The number
of slaves in the Austin colony grew to approximately 1,000
in 1835; in that year there were an estimated 5,000 slaves
in all of Texas. After independence the slave population increased
from 11,323 in 1840 to 58,161 in 1850 and then to 182,556
in 1860. Due to restrictions imposed by the Texas government,
the free black population in the state dwindled to less than
500 by the eve of the Civil War.
Source: Howard Beeth and Cary D. Wintz, Black Dixie: Afro-Texan
History and Culture in Houston (College Station, 1992), pp.
FREE BLACKS ON THE TEXAS FRONTIER
In the 1965 article George Woolfolk argues that although
Southern white settlers brought slavery to Texas, free blacks
nevertheless sought the province in the 1820s and 1830s when
it was still part of Mexico because the area represented a
"cultural frontier" where they could easily gain
land and were accepted by their German and Mexican neighbors.
Part of his article is reprinted below.
Free persons of color whose connections with white parents,
husbands or wives made their position untenable in Southern
society [moved to Texas]. In this group would be John Bird,
Negro [grandson] of General Bird of Virginia. John and his
son, Henry, had "emigrated and settled in Texas under
the belief that they would be received as citizens under the
colonization laws of the Mexican United States and entitled
as such to land. David (white) and his wife Sophia (Negro)
Townes fled to Texas with their children in 1827 where they
could be married legally under the Mexican regime. Samuel
McCullouch came....before the Texas Declaration of Independence
with Peggy and Rose, two women of color, "desiring [they]
should....remain free all the remainder of their lives."
More poignant still was the plight of the free persons of
color whose wives and children were slaves. When the master
moved to Texas, ties...pulled these husbands and fathers after
their own. Single men and women who were either emancipated
or bought their freedom in the old South [also] fled to Coahuila
and Texas to remain free. Nelson Kavanaugh, a barber freed
in Richmond, Kentucky was to find such sanctuary in Houston
as did Zylpha Husk and child, one of a number of extraordinary
Negro women who found both freedom and opportunity on this
Land hunger....pulled free persons of color to Texas....
Land was not only an item of wealth, but also a badge of citizenship.
Samuel Hardin and his wife came to Texas "under laws
that invited their emigration and acquired rights and property..."
William Goyens "accumulated considerable property in
land.... The fabulous Ashworth clan moved from Louisiana into
Coahuila and Texas, and, by taking advantage of every homestead
and headright provision, acquired vast holdings that reached
from Jefferson County on the Southeast to Angelina County
in deep East Texas. Both black and mulatto free Negroes brought
to the Texas cultural frontier the full range of [old South]
skills. Free Negroes....engaged in stock raising and serving
as herdsmen. A goodly representation of domestic servant,
artisan and diversified laboring skills were to be found in
this group; and there were a few professionals.
Few urban free Negroes chose the plantation areas of East
Texas. The Mexican area below the German barrier [area of
heavy German settlement] was the locale of the urban Free
Negro with the towns of Galveston, San Antonio, Brownsville,
and Austin being preferred. Free Negro farmers were concentrated
in the plantation area of East Texas running roughly from
Nacogdoches County to the Galveston-Jefferson County region.
Stock-raising Free Negroes tended to concentrate in Jackson
County, an old area for cattle. Artisans, servants and some
agricultural laborers also found the German-Mexican areas
of central-south Texas more hospitable and concentrated there....
Source: George R. Woolfolk, "Turner's Safety-Valve and
Free Negro Westward Migration," Journal of Negro History,
50:3 (July, 1965), pp. 193-196.
SANTA ANNA AND BLACK FREEDOM
While most histories depict the Texas Revolution of 1835-36
as the struggle of liberty-loving Texans against a brutal
Mexican dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the
black slaves of the province clearly understood that their
personal freedom rested with the success of the Mexican Army.
In the account below, historian Paul Lack describes the relationship
between the antislavery sentiments of Mexico and black liberation.
Mexico did not officially invite a slave rebellion. In fact
its army marched northward without a clear policy regarding
slavery. As late as February, 1836, Santa Anna queried government
officials in Mexico: "Shall we permit those wretches
to moan in chains any longer in a country whose kind laws
protect the liberty of man without distinction of caste or
color?" At the end of the month F. M. Diaz Noriega replied
that the contract system of Texas was an illegal pretext for
slavery. In fact, those "unhappy people became free solely
by the act of stepping into our territory," and he advised
recruiting blacks for the army so they could discover and
claim their own freedom.... Minister of War Jose Maria Tornel
wrote Santa Anna on March 18, agreeing that the "philanthropy
of the Mexican nation" had already freed Texas slaves.
He advised Santa Anna to grant their "natural rights,"
including "the liberty to go to any point on the globe
that appeals to them...."
Whatever hesitation may have been shown in published Mexican
policy, the Mexican army had an actual disposition toward
black freedom. The ranks of the first troops to arrive in
Bexar even included some black infantrymen and servants. Until
March the location of the fighting limited contact between
Mexican soldiers and slaves, but the army's basic attitude
became clear when Joe, a black servant of William B. Travis,
survived the slaughter at the Alamo, the only male to do so.
During the six week interval that followed this victory, the
Mexican army moved east of the Colorado and then the Brazos
River and thus into the region where most Texas bondsmen lived.
General [Sam] Houston attempted to secure the slave property
of those who fled but did not always succeed in preventing
blacks from "joining the enemy," as one observer
described it. Slaves often seized the opportunity of running
away, frequently in group ventures, and gained refuge with
the invaders. Fourteen slaves and their families became free
by fleeing to the command of General Jose de Urrea near Victoria
on April 3, 1836. Even in retreat the Mexican forces attracted
runaways: a Matagorda resident who returned to his home in
early May discovered that at least thirteen blacks had "left
my neighborhood" with the southbound army. He complained,
too, that many cattle and eight wagons loaded with provisions,
property that he valued at a total of $100,000, had been taken
by the enemy. According to General Vicente Filisola, at least
some of the plundered goods were taken by slaves who robbed
houses in their flights for liberty. The Mexicans found these
fugitives often ready to serve as well as to seek protection.
Blacks aided river crossings, acted as messengers, and performed
other chores for their liberators.
Source: Paul D. Lack, "Slavery and the Texas Revolution,"
Southwestern Historical Quarterly 89:2 (October 1985), pp.
THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS
While the vast majority of African American slaves in Texas
favored a Mexican victory over the Texas insurgents, at least
one black woman, Emily (West) Morgan, claims a place in ensuring
the opposite outcome. Morgan "occupied the attention"
of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the beginning of
the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 and according to some sources
accounted for the surprise victory of the Texans led by Sam
Houston over a much larger Mexican Army. The victory at San
Jacinto established an independent Texas. The vignette below
attempts to place Emily Morgan, and the state song she inspired,
"The Yellow Rose of Texas," within the larger context
of Texas and African American history.
I would venture to say that most Americans are familiar
with the folksong, "The Yellow Rose of Texas." If
they cannot recall all of the lyrics, there is still a resonant
quality about the song. I would also venture to say that few
of those Americans--Texans notwithstanding--have reflected
overly long on the implications of the fact that the song
is not just about a woman, but about a black woman, or that
a black man probably composed it. Scholars such as Martha
Anne Turner have linked the song to its contextual origins--that
of the Texas war for independence from Mexico in the 1830s
and a specific incident in 1836--and others have argued its
irrelevance to that event. It was only in 1989, however, when
Anita Richmond Bunkley published Emily, The Yellow Rose, a
novel based upon the presumed incidents that spawned the fame
of the yellow rose, that the fictionalized expansion of the
facts encouraged a larger and perhaps different audience to
become aware of the historical significance of Emily D. West,
the hypothetical "Yellow Rose of Texas." This publishing
event certainly re-centered the song and the incident in African-American
culture, for over many years and numerous versions, the song
had been deracialized. Bunkley, herself an African-American
woman, researched the complex history of another African-American
woman and imaginatively recreated and reclaimed it.
The presumed historical facts are simple and limited. Emily
D. West, a teenage orphaned free Negro woman in the northeastern
United States, journeyed by boat to the wilderness of Texas
in 1835. Colonel James Morgan, on whose plantation she worked
as an indentured servant, established the little settlement
of New Washington (later Morgan's Point). When Santa Anna
and his troops arrived in the area, he claimed West to take
the place of his stay-at-home wife in Mexico City and the
traveling wife he had acquired on the way to Texas. The traveling
wife had to be sent back when swollen river waters prevented
him from taking her across in the fancy carriage in which
she was riding. Santa Anna was either partying with West or
having sex with her when Sam Houston’s troops arrived
for the Battle of San Jacinto, thus forcing him to escape
in only a linen shirt and “silk drawers,” in which
he was captured the next day. West's possible forced separation
from her black lover and her placement in Santa Anna's camp,
according to legend, inspired her lover to compose the song
we know as "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Publicity
surrounding the hotel in San Antonio that was named after
Emily Morgan asserts that West was a spy for Texas. Other
historians claim there is absolutely no tie between West and
the events of the Texas war for independence from Mexico.
Still others claim that it was only West's heroic feat of
keeping Santa Anna preoccupied that enabled the Texas victory.
Broadening perceptions of how texts are created and the purposes
to which they are put provide the context, during the course
of this paper, from which I want to explore West’s story
and take issue with assigning heroic motives to her adventure.
Source: Trudier Harris, “The Yellow Rose of Texas:
A Different Cultural View,” in Francis Edward Abernathy
and Carolyn Fielder Satterwhite, eds., Juneteenth Texas: Essays
in African-American Folklore (Denton, 1996), 316-17.
YORK AND THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION
York, the personal servant of Lieutenant William Clark, accompanied
the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, the first Americans
to travel overland from St. Louis to the Pacific coast. Although
a slave to Lieutenant Clark, York proved to be an essential
member of the party before the expedition ended, as a hunter,
explorer, trader and scout. The following vignette, however,
suggest that York's actions occasionally generated problems
for the expedition, as during the party's 1804 encounter with
the Arikara Indians along the Upper Missouri in what is now
It was York who proved to be the center of attention [in
the Arikara village] that afternoon. The Arikaras were both
attracted to and terrified by his blackness. Having never
seen a black man, they were quite unsure if York was a man,
a beast, or a strange and powerful spirit being. Clark later
explained that Arikaras who had seen whites but not blacks
though York "something strange & from his very large
size more vicious than whites." On the other hand, those
Arikaras who had seen neither whites nor blacks were convinced
that all members of the expedition, regardless of color, were
possessed with extraordinary powers. York thoroughly enjoyed
his newfound celebrity status and had already "made himself
more turribal" than the captains wished. That afternoon
York and hordes of Arikara children had chased each other,
the black man bellowing at them that he was a wild bear caught
and tamed by Captain Clark. What may have worried the Captains
in this playful sport was York's boast that he ate human flesh.
The Arikaras practiced ritual cannibalism of their fallen
enemies, but that was a far cry from consuming village youth.
With Arikara chiefs embroiled in factional disputes and Teton
agents ready to use those tensions against the expedition,
Lewis and Clark did not need rumors drifting through the earth
lodges that the Americans kept a great he-bear ready to eat
In the notebook journals of the expedition, there were only
the most oblique references to sexual contact with Arikara
women. Clark claimed that Arikara overtures were rejected
while the expedition was at the village but implied that once
the party departed on October 12 it was quite a different
story. Clark recorded that on the evening of the 12th two
young women were sent by an Arikara man "and persisted
in their civilities...." Other travelers observed that
Arikara women usually initiated sexual encounters, and there
seems to be little doubt that the men in the expedition accepted
the offers. The only fully documented case of this involved
York. In the Arikaras' eyes, York was the central attraction
of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Airguns, gifts, and strange
doings with a sextant all paled in insignificance before York.
The black man fascinated Indian adults and terrified their
children. York's blackness was viewed by the Arikaras as a
sign of special spiritual power, and they appropriately named
him "the big Medison." To have sexual contact with
York was to get in touch with what seemed awesome spirit forces.
On one occasion an Arikara man invited York to his lodge,
offered him his wife, and guarded the entrance during the
act. When a member of the expedition came looking for York,
"the master of the house would not let him in before
the affair was finished."
Source: James P. Ronda, Lewis and Clark Among the Indians
(Lincoln, 1984), pp. 58-59, 64.
EDWARD ROSE AND THE OVERLAND ASTORIANS
York was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and
as such his loyalties to the expedition, and to EuroAmerican
interests were unquestioned. This was not the case with Edward
Rose, the black trader who became a "transfrontiersman,"
that is, he worked on behalf of his adopted people the Absaroka
(Crow) Indians of the Upper Missouri region. Wilson Price
Hunt, leader of the Overland Astoria Party feared that loyalty
during his brief encounter with Rose in what is now northeastern
Wyoming in the late summer of 1811. Here below is a description
of that encounter.
Heading southwest from their camp, the Astorians followed
a rough trail that cut across the headwaters of the north
and middle forks of Crazy Woman Creek. On August 29 hunters
reported fresh signs of Indians.... Indian sign became Indian
presence the next day when two Crows showed up at the Astorians'
camp. Their arrival signaled the beginning of serious trouble
between Hunt and a remarkable character named Edward Rose.
Rose had joined the Astorians at the Arikara villages. His
background and extraordinary personal history would soon set
him at odds with the entire Astorian enterprise.
There was little hint of impending trouble when a great parade
of Crows came to the Astorians' camp on August 31. Men, women,
and children--all mounted on fine horses--made a spectacular
entrance.... The Crow's welcome put [Wilson Price] Hunt at
ease and soon the Astorians were headed to pay a visit to
the Indians' camp... Perhaps using Edward Rose as an interpreter,
Hunt explained his journey to the Crow chiefs and gave them
gifts of cloth, powder, bullets, and knives... In the midst
of this good-natured swapping, Hunt began to hear rumors about
Rose. The trapper had been engaged because he was an experienced
mountain man... Hunt [later] described Edward as a "very
bad fellow full of daring." Perhaps it would have been
fairer to have marked him as a man who lived by his wits,
always ready to grab the main chance.
Rumor in camp had it that Rose's main chance would come when
the Astorians reached Crow country. As Hunt heard it in whispers
from others, Rose "planned to desert us,...taking with
him as many of our men as he could seduce, and steal our horses."
The expedition's leader vowed to watch Rose closely in the
days to come. Robert McClellan, always an advocate of direct
action, wanted to end the affair quickly by shooting Rose.
On September 2, with the Astorians traveling south along the
eastern foothills of the Bighorns, a second band of Crows
suddenly appeared. Hunt took their arrival as an opportunity
to confront Rose. Hunt had decided that it would be wiser
to bribe the trapper than force his outright expulsion from
the party. Pointing to the newly arrived Crows, Hunt suggested
that Rose join them. As an incentive, Hunt promised half a
year's wages, a horse, three beaver traps, and some trade
goods. Just what scheme Rose had in mind remains unclear,
but with Hunt determined to watch his every move, Rose decided
to clear out before the bargain got less attractive.
Rose's departure may have eased some fears about mutiny, but
it did nothing to smooth what was quickly becoming a treacherous
mountain passage.... By September 3 the expedition was laboring
to escape "precipices" in elevations of seven and
eight thousand feet. Stumbling horses and men gasping for
breath slowed progress to an agonizing crawl. When Edward
Rose suddenly reappeared on September 4, Hunt must have thought
his troubles had just compounded. But Rose brought salvation,
not discord.... The Crow chief whose band Rose had joined
realized that the Astorians had strayed off the main trading
path. Rose was not at Hunt's camp with accurate travel directions.
The next day the Astorians struck that path, found a pass
over the main divide of the Bighorns, and came down on the
west side of the range just east of present-day Ten Sleep,
Source: James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire (Lincoln, 1990),
WILLIAM A. LEIDESDORFF AND JOHN A. SUTTER
Historian Albert Hurtado in his book on California Indians
described the correspondence between William A. Leidesdorff
and John A. Sutter, revealing an extensive business relationship
involving the exchange of trade goods for Indian labor. The
correspondence also shows that the Indians were considered
little more than slaves by both Mexican and non-Mexican residents.
Sutter probably did not know of Leidesdorff's African ancestry.
Examples of the relationship between these two pre-Gold Rush
Californians appear below.
[John A.] Sutter tried to make sure that his Indian workers
were clothed with at least cotton shirts, but his goal was
not always met. In 1845 Sutter wrote to William Leidesdorff
requesting some brown manta cloth for his "boys and girls
of the house, about 100, who are nearly all in rags and naked."
He was concerned because "when strangers come here it
looks very bad...."
Sutter sent Indian workers to many whites in northern California
including Antonio Sunol, John Marsh, Henry Delano Fitch, Charles
Weber, Vicente Peralta, John Coppinger, and William Leidesdorff.
The surviving financial details of these transactions are
sparse, but among the manuscripts in the Leidesdorff Collection
at the Huntington Library is a statement of Sutter's financial
dealings with Leidesdorff from August 1844 to January 1846,
showing that he owned Leidesdorff $2,198,10. To help pay his
debt, Sutter charged Leidesdorff for Indian labor as well
as other goods and services. After giving himself credit for
all these items, Sutter reckoned he owned only $114.90. By
Sutter's figures, $716.05 of his charges to the merchant were
for Indian labor and associated expenses. In other words,
Sutter was able to liquidate nearly one third of his debt
by supplying Leidesdorff with Indian workers.
The account shows that the value of Indian workers varied
according to their skills and that Sutter charged higher rates
for short terms of service. For example, he received two dollars
per day apiece (or the equivalent of sixty dollars per month)
for Indian boys kept for only three days. On the other hand,
Sutter received eight to ten dollars per month for Indians
whom he sent to Leidesdorff for two months or more. A vaquero
equipped with two horses returned three dollars per day. This
account also indicates some dissatisfaction among the Indians
who went to Leidesdorff, since six of them ran away. Two others
"left previous" to the date that this document was
executed, but no reason was reported.
The Sutter-Leidesdorff correspondence reveals other characteristics
of the traffic in Indian people. In the spring of 1846 Leidesdorff
requested nine Indians, including a girl, but Sutter could
not supply them because he did not have enough workers for
his own rancho. Several weeks later Sutter begged off again,
claiming he only had a few new hands from the mountains. He
promised to send the merchant ten or twelve "selected
Indians...which will be of some service to you," as well
as "6 new hands for Vicente Peralta, and five Sawyers
and Shingle makers to Denis Martin." In the meantime
he sent Leidesdorff "two Indian Girls, of which you will
take which you like best, the other is for Mr. Ridley, whom
I promised one longer as two year's [sic] ago." Sutter
added, "As this shall never be considered an article
of trade [I] make you a present with the Girl..." Sutter's
blacksmith, John Chamberlain, reported that it was "customary
for Capt Sutter to buy and sell Indian boys and girls at New
Helvetia." Evidently, Sutter did not commit to writing
some details of the New Helvetia Indian trade.
In any case, Leidesdorff not only accepted the Indian girls
from Sutter but gave one of them to Mrs. William G. Rae, widow
of the Hudson's Bay Company representative in California.
Since William Buzzell, Leidesdorff's Sacramento Valley ranch
overseer, occasionally sent Indian children to Yerba Buena
(San Francisco), he also participated in the trade in native
Source: Albert L. Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California
Frontier (New Haven, 1988), pp. 58-61.
JAMES BECKWOURTH: MOUNTAIN MAN
James P. Beckwourth is one of the most remarkable individuals
to emerge in a region of exceptional African Americans. Born
in Virginia of a white father and slave mother in 1798, Beckwourth
lived and worked throughout the West as a fur trader, trapper,
Army Scout, and erstwhile entrepreneur for nearly sixty years,
residing at various times in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah,
California, New Mexico and Colorado and roaming over much
of the rest of the region. Easily persuaded that his life
was significant, Beckwourth told his story to New York writer
Thomas Bonner who "ghost wrote" his 1856 autobiography,
one of the few book-length primary sources detailing the lives
of mountain men. The vignette below describes Beckwourth's
discovery of the mountain pass and valley in the Sierra Nevadas
that bear his name. Although the autobiography appeared when
Beckwourth was 58 years old, it does not cover the last decade
of his life where he became in 1859 one of the first residents
of Denver, and where one year later he married Elizabeth Lettbetter,
the only African American woman of his four wives (the other
two were Native American women and Louisa Sandoval, a "young
Spanish girl" he wed in Santa Fe in 1840). Nor does it
chronicle his witnessing the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 and
his subsequent testimony before a military commission which
investigated the slaughter. Because the massacre "revolted
him," Beckwourth, now widowed, abandoned Denver and returned
to the Montana-Wyoming Montana where he died among the Absaroka
Indians in Montana in 1866
The next Spring  I engaged in mining and prospecting
in various parts of the gold region. I advanced as far as
the American Valley, having one man in my company, and proceeded
north into the Pitt River country... While on this excursion
I discovered what is now known as "Beckwourth's Pass"
in the Sierra Nevada... On my return to the American Valley,
I made known my discovery to a Mr. Turner, proprietor of the
American Ranch, who enthusiastically [endorsed my plan to]
divert travel into that road; he thought I should be a made
man for life...
I immediately went out to [Northern Nevada] to turn emigration
into my newly-discovered route. While thus busily engaged
I was seized with erysipelas, and abandoned all hopes of recovery;
I was over one hundred miles away from medical assistance,
and my only shelter was a brush tent. I made my will, and
resigned myself to death. Life still lingered in me, however,
and a train of wagons came up, and encamped near to where
I lay. I was reduced to a very low condition, but I saw the
drivers, and acquainted them with the object which had brought
me out there. They offered to attempt the new road if I thought
myself sufficiently strong to guide them through it. The women,
God bless them! came to my assistance, and through their kind
attentions and excellent nursing I rapidly recovered from
my lingering sickness, until I was soon able to mount my horse,
and lead the first train, consisting of seventeen wagons,
through "Beckwourth's Pass."
In the spring of 1852 I established [my home] in Beckwourth
Valley, and finally found myself transformed into a hotel-keeper
and chief of a trading-post. My house is considered the emigrant's
landing-place, as it is the first ranch he arrives at in the
gold state, and is the only house between this point and Salt
Lake. Here is a valley two hundred and forty miles in circumference,
containing some of the choicest land in the world. Its yield
of hay is incalculable; the red and white clovers spring up
spontaneously, and the grass that covers its smooth surface
is of the most nutritious nature. When the weary, toil-worn
emigrant reaches this valley, he feels himself secure; he
can lay himself down and taste refreshing repose, undisturbed
by the fear of Indians. His cattle can graze around him in
pasture up to their eyes, without running any danger of being
driven off by the Arabs of the forest, and springs flow before
them as pure as any that refreshes this verdant earth... There
is no place in the whole state that offers so may attractions
for a few weeks' or months' retirement; for its charms of
scenery, with sylvan...sports, present unusual attractions.
During the winter season my nearest neighbors are sixteen
miles away; in the summer they are within four miles of my
house, so that social broils do not disturb me.
Source: James P. Beckwourth, The Life and Adventures of James
P. Beckwourth: As Told to Thomas D. Bonner (New York, 1856),