Fire on the Rio Grande

In Nuevo Mexico, the Spanish province farther from the king than any other, Father Philip, the only Jesuit north of the Rio Grande, received word of a new town in Germany full of time travelers. Just one article from the Britannica lights a revolt of the native population. Will it be the first colony to throw out European governance? Would it be the first American Revolution?


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It started with a letter. In Nuevo Mexico, the Spanish province farther from the king than any other, Father Philip, the only Jesuit north of the Rio Grande, received word of a new town in Germany full of time travelers. Just one article from the Britannica lights a revolt of the native population. Will it be the first colony to throw out European governance? Would it be the first American Revolution?

It started with Eduardo Bernal, born in Nuevo Mexico, sixteen years old, with a love for the countryside, and his native neighbors. Could he save them from the prejudice of Spanish colonists?

It started with young Teniente de Bances, arriving for the first time to the distant Province of Nuevo Mexico al Dentro. He was nineteen years old, and it had taken him three years to get there. Will one hundred fifty Spanish soldiers hold off attacks from nine thousand natives?

Chapel, Palacio of the Governors, Santa Fe
February 1634

This was the Provence of New Mexico, al Dentro, which meant The Interior. There was the Camino Real, the royal road that led from Mexico City to El Paso, the pass. And then it led from El Paso to Santa Fe. Of course, this royal road was a dirt track for most of its length.

The title of palace may have sounded grand, but that was not the case in Santa Fe. The town was laid out in a grid pattern around a central plaza, just as dictated by the Colonization Board, with the palacio on one side and other official buildings around the square. But when it was built, the first Governor General felt that the specified palacio was not grand enough or large enough. So he built it across one whole side of the plaza, blocking one of the regular streets. He had wanted it to show the local Indios the glory and majesty of Spain. But from the outside, the single-story pink adobe building with the small unglazed windows looked like what it was, a pathetic attempt at majesty.

It was unseasonably warm for February, and most of the snow around the plaza was melting. The sun above shone in an impossibly blue sky, and the trees around town, most of them native juniper, were all thick with yellow pollen. Weather aside, today was a great and marvelous day because mail had arrived from Mexico City. Word had been sent by swift couriers when the mail expedition reached Isleta, which allowed the notables time to arrive in Santa Fe.

All of the notables had assembled, seated on the benches of the chapel. The Governor General and his staff, with the Father President and his aides, were behind a table placed in front of the nave. The rest of the gathering was representatives from all the land-grant families of the province. They sat in the chapel, which was the largest room in the palacio. Here in the Provence of New Mexico, al Dentro, they were so far away, not only from Mexico City, but from Spain, that they only received mail sporadically, maybe once or twice a year. So they were all eager for news, gossip, anything interesting. Each piece of mail, no matter who it was addressed to, would be meticulously read aloud by the Father President’s clerk, Pedro.

Father Philip was the only Jesuit present, because he was the only Jesuit in New Mexico al Dentro. He had been here two years, working as he did as the clerk to Father Juan, secretary for the Governor General. The only reason he was there for the mail was to hand Father Juan the next piece to be read.

Letters to the Governor General and the Father President were read first, followed by news for the land-grant families. Father Philip was low on the precedence, even though he probably had more mail than anyone else. He always had an enormous amount of correspondence. The Society of Jesus so firmly believed in communication that some uncharitable types compared the Jesuits to a gaggle of old women gossiping in the marketplace. Because of that fact, the clerks always held his letters to the last.

Nevertheless, the Jesuit had anticipated this package of letters for months. Seven months ago, in the last group of letters to arrive in Santa Fe, several of his colleagues from the order had mentioned a strange new happening in Germany. It was something about a whole town from the future appearing in one day. These people from the future, called uptimers by many, were rumored to know things that will have happened over the three hundred sixty-six years of the future. Philip was very curious what else he would learn about these uptimers.

The morning wore to noon, and Pedro kept reading. Servants were in and out of the chapel with wine or fanning their betters to keep the flies at bay; not that there were many flies this early in the season, but if the servants were there fanning, they would hear the news as well.

Finally, around noon, Pedro turned and handed something to Father Juan, who gestured to Father Philip. “Father, this is your stack. The messenger said they needed a separate bag just for your mail. It’s like those Jesuits don’t do anything but write to you. It’s all letters, not a package in the lot. The others at least get something sent from home: lace, or food, for example.”

Father Philip just laughed as he took the bag. “Don’t worry about me, Father Juan. First of all, I have nobody at home to send me packages. And with the amount of time it takes to get things from Europe to here, I don’t think any food they could send would be very edible. And if it was something to drink it would be stolen along the way, I’m sure.”

They both looked in the bag, and Father Philip chose a thick roll of parchment. “Here, Pedro. Start with this one.” He chose it because it looked most likely to have something interesting for everybody.

Pedro opened the ribbon and seal with a flourish, and all those with drowsy eyes were pulled back to attention. “Father Philip,” he said as he handed a stack of papers to the Father, “this appears to contain some extra pages. And it says they are copies from something called an En-cy-clopedia. They have been hand-copied so that you would have the most accurate prediction of the future in our province.”

Father Philip took the papers from the clerk and briefly looked through them. He said, “Indeed, Father President, these are all a series of articles related to Spanish colonies in the Americas. But these articles are said to be from the future.”

The Father President, Xavier Bautista, held out his hand, and Father Philip handed over the roll. After a brief examination, he handed the papers back to Father Philip. “Interesting. What do they pertain to? I don’t understand.”

Philip looked over the papers again. “As you remember, Father President, I received news of this German city, Grantville, in our last bundle of correspondence. Last I had heard, it had not been decided whether it should be visited by the Inquisition for witchcraft. Does your order say anything more of that situation?”

The Father President frowned. “I do seem to remember a mention of it in one of my letters, but I paid it little heed. After all, it’s in the Germanies. What could it matter to us here?”

Father Philip bowed slightly in reverence to the Father President. “The note in this stack says that the decision has not been finalized, and there is some dissent as to the final solution. As it stands, Grantville is still as it was, and the war in Europe proceeds much as it has done for years. The Pope will not make this decision in haste.”

The Father President nodded. “I am certain you are right, Father Philip. What do these papers include?”

Father Philip skimmed the pages, but instead of having Pedro read them all, he handed different pages to different people, and everyone gathered around to see. Every man who got a piece of foolscap looked through the bit he received. The first thing everybody looked for was their name, but the articles were very vague about individual people.

The head of one of the families jumped to his feet. “That Portuguese upstart, Duke of Albuquerque, has given my land to someone else! This is outrageous!”

Another land-grant noble hurried over. “When does that happen, Ferdinand?”

“Hmm, let me see. It says it will happen in 1660. That’s less than thirty years from now. I see that he waits until I am dead and buried. I am already approaching fifty. Who knows how long I will last.”

When few names were found, everybody looked to see where to dig for gold. Most of the residents left Spain in hopes of finding gold. This area, discovered by Coronado, had been found when he was in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola, the cities of gold. But there were no cities, just small villages of Pueblo Indios, built of adobe on the mesas. And they had no gold. And so far, almost none had been discovered in this northern wilderness.

But no reference to gold was mentioned, or even silver. The most valuable substance discovered so far were big salt pans, which were scraped up, and the salt was sold back to Mexico. The farming was very good, and the cattle ranching was extraordinary, but none of that was worth any money in Mexico City. All that New Spain wanted was the salt and the native slaves that were sent back to die in the mines.

It took several minutes for the articles to be perused. Father Philip was enjoying the description of a new medical technique described by his counterpart in Venice when his superior, Father Juan, the Secretary to the Governor General, screeched. “This can’t be right! We were told it would never happen again.”

Everything else was forgotten as all gathered around the distraught little man. Governor General Francisco de la Mora Ceballos asked, “Father Juan, what’s the problem? Did something horrible happen to me?”

Father Juan looked up from the paper. “Sir, it isn’t you. It’s another Pueblo revolt. Not until 1680, but they will succeed. They drive us out and burn the city.”

Everyone fell silent as Father Juan read them the entire article aloud. It was clear that in forty-five years, all the natives would unite and drive the Spaniards completely out of New Mexico al Dentro. Hundreds would be killed, and everybody else would be exiled.

When Father Juan finished, Father Philip noticed how quiet everyone had become. He wondered if he could hear a pin drop. He had to admit, though, that it was frightening. The idea that they could be driven out touched some of the deepest fears of the colonists. There were only about two thousand Spaniards living in all of New Mexico al Dentro, compared to almost thirty thousand native Indios.

The Governor General said, “Give me that article and any others that may relate to the revolt. I’ve read the records of Oñate. I will not have a revolt in my tenure. We will decide in council how we’re going to stop this.”

The articles were gathered and handed to Father Juan, and the Governor General left with a rattle of his sword.

Thirty-six years earlier.

An encampment near San Juan, Provence of New Mexico al Dentro, New Spain.

December 1598

Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar, Governor General of the new colony, sat at his camp table fuming with anger, then slammed his fist. The tray with wine and cups tumbled to the floor. He

jumped to his feet and began to pace. “Those fools! Intemperate foolish natives, what did they think would happen? Those rebels in Acoma killed my envoy and all of his party. My nephew! The only survivors leapt from the top of the cliff and were saved by landing in the sand. Of course, we stormed their Mesa fortress, and now we must impose a punishment so terrible that they will never again rebel.”

The tent was silent, and all the soldiers, aides and servants waited for the sentence. Oñate sighed and sat back down, then nodded at the scribe nearby. “Very well, write this down. I decree that every man over the age of twenty-five shall have his foot cut off. Every last person from that village must serve twenty years of personal service to the crown. Make them build their cursed village on the valley floor and burn to the ground that village on top of the Mesa.”

The Governor General’s Teniente said, “You might as well just call them slaves, sir. That’s what they’ll be after all.”

Oñate smiled grimly. “No, Teniente, they are condemned prisoners serving lawful sentence. Remember, the Viceroy told us that there was to be no slavery in New Spain.”

Santa Fe, Palacio Chapel

February 1634

After the Governor General departed, the Father President looked at Father Philip. His gaze was appraising, as if he were deciding if he could trust the Jesuit. “How much credence do you place in this Encyclopedia?”

Father Philip shrugged. “How is one to judge, your grace? Many of my order are amazed at the artifacts they’ve already discovered in this Grantville. These uptimers seem to be miracle workers. They really could be from the future, and nobody has yet to find that they are running any kind of falsity. There are more than three thousand of the uptimers, and it would be difficult to maintain that kind of fraud for almost three years. And besides, as to the revolt, how much could the natives do? They are divided. They have five separate languages and at least twenty villages along the great river, broken into family and tribal groups. And you know how they are constantly in conflict with each other.”

The Father President nodded thoughtfully. “That is so. We have not had so much as a whiff of revolt for more than thirty years.”

Father Philip smiled. “I’m sure it continues because of your skillful political maneuvering, Father President. I don’t think we have anything to worry about. As my grandmother always told me, less said, sooner mended, right?”

When the Father President left in a flourish of robes, he had a brooding look in his eyes. The others in the chapel left in ones and twos until Father Philip and Pedro were alone. With a little help from Raymundo, Father Philip was able to carry his correspondence to his scriptorium. It was a tiny cell in the palacio, which was also where he slept. It was covered with papers from top to bottom. He had a small table where he sat to write letters. The only place to put the new mail was on his bed.

Father Philip looked at the pile of letters he hadn’t touched yet and settled contentedly into his chair. Finally, he was alone with his sack of letters. That was delightful and would keep him occupied for days to come. But he couldn’t help think that there was trouble ahead. The Governor General and the Father President were both angry.

Socorro, Facing the Jornado del Muerto, Journey of Death

March 1634

Captain Fernando Gonzalez shifted in his saddle, working his upper body as he tried to settle the armored breastplate more comfortably on his frame. Steel refused to grow to fit the man, and over the years the captain’s gut had become more and more imposing. Without finding a comfortable spot, he motioned to one of his men. “How many do we have left and how much are they carrying?”

Teniente Marcos Doñato came up to the Captain, making his salute. “We have about seventy men left, about half of what we started with in the Jemez mountains. Their burdens have increased correspondingly. Each one of the natives is now carrying about one hundred and twenty pounds of salt. The ones we have left are the strong ones, that is, the ones who have not yet been ripped by the salt and had their skin cracked off their bodies.”

Gonzalez nodded. He knew what killed the natives: if it wasn’t the direct burden of the salt, it was from inhaling the salt dust. “Doñato, sometimes I think we get as much for the slaves as we do for the salt. The Franciscans say we do this to save their souls. I don’t care about souls. I just want to get rich and go home.”

Doñato shrugged again. “Captain, who cares about their souls? Anyway, they probably won’t survive until Mexico City to be saved.”

Gonzalez grinned. “Well, at least we get to visit Mexico City, don’t we? I have wanted this since I arrived in this godforsaken territory.

Doñato laughed. “I know a little cantina on the south side of town. I’ll take you there when we arrive.”

The Garrison of Santa Fe
September 1634

Don Miguel Quezada, the grizzled military commander, glared at his assembled captains and lieutenants. “I am concerned. I expected more action against the Indios before this. It is far too quiet. Five days ago, after the Inquisition tortured them, the tribal elders somehow escaped from prison. You tracked them to Bernalillo, and you engaged in battle, but then left empty-handed. And since then, nothing has happened for the past three days. Something should have happened by now. Teniente Ramirez, what do your scouts report?”

He was interrupted by another messenger. The man hurried into the garrison, out of breath, and held out a folded paper he took from his shirt. “Sir, a message! It came from your spy in the village of Tesuque. He says they are going to attack in two more days.”

Don Miguel grabbed the dispatch. “Who’s attacking? Tesuque?”

Fear was foremost on the messenger’s face. “No, Don Miguel. The Indios. All of them. They have agreements to band together and drive us out.”

Teniente de Bances stood up. “Don Miguel, if we ride out now we can ambush them on the road.”

Quezada signaled for silence. “I understand that you all think we have better weapons and better protection than any Indio in the Valley, and that is true. None of them have our armor or weapons. And this is all true. But there are at best only two hundred of us, and there may be as many as five thousand of them. If we leave here to confront them, who will protect the women and children here in Santa Fe? We should prepare for them here. When they are weakened, then we will attack. Then we can ride out and break them. If we prepare for a siege, the hatred between the tribes should break up their alliance before we do anything. We just need to be patient. Start by barricading the plaza. And make sure the cannons are ready. Dismissed.”

The Second Day
Outside Santa Fe, early morning
September 1634

Father Philip stood outside the barn that was now a council chamber. The morning air was cool and dry, and to the east, the mountains glowed with the coming sunrise. The rest of the sky was clean, clear of cloud or dust. He watched as the sun peeped over the mountains, sending rays of light into the valley, waking the plants and animals. The dawn was so innocent, unaware of the conflict going on in the valley.

He sighed and stepped into the door. There, the leadership of the pueblos gathered to discuss the plans for the day. Yesterday, plans had gone much better than any had predicted. The Spaniards were driven from every village within twenty miles of Santa Fe. Word was arriving all the time about attacks in the outer villages and haciendas, and there was a steady stream of refugees hurrying into Santa Fe.

This barn was on the outskirts of Santa Fe, south and west of the palacio and in the oldest part of town. The sun was just lightening the building as the small windows above were spilling with sunlight.

Father Philip looked over the leadership of the uprising, sitting in a circle in the center of the barn floor. When they were gathered like this, he could see resemblances, as if he were attending a large family reunion. The people of the Pueblos in the Rio Grande valley were different than their neighbors, the Apache, the Navajo, or in the north, the Utes and Paiutes. All of these groups came through the area for trading, and girls were brought from those groups for wives. But these people were more alike than different. They wore loose leggings and fine shirts, and each had a wool blanket with the traditional weaving of their village or tribe.

He had been given permission to address them, So with Raymundo by his side, he stood and addressed them in Spanish with translation. “In spite of their anger toward the Spanish invaders, you must offer them the chance to surrender. Tell them you’ll let them leave, then fall behind them and push them out of the territory. It is not a good thing to execute all of them. The Great Father will not bless us if that is done.” Then he sat down.

Okuwa-oky, from Santo Domingo, waited for the priest to finish. He stood for his turn to speak. “Friend Blue-eyes, they have done many horrible things to us. The anger runs very deep. For over forty years, longer than many of the young men have been alive, they have trampled upon us and treated us like beasts of burden, stolen our young men, destroyed our sacred objects. The Great Father is not pleased with the Ironskins. Nevertheless, for the sake of those who treated me kindly, I say we give them a chance.”

Wa-tu stood for his turn. When he spoke, he pointed at Father Philip. “Friend Blue-eyes, You must go to the Spanish. You are well respected by the black-robes. You must make a demand. Tell them that if they leave peacefully, they will not die. Tell them that if they stay we will kill every one of them.”

At that speech, there were many nods, and grunts of agreement. But before Father Philip could stand to speak, another chief, Natoto-kwata, stood quickly and spoke. “But, Friend Blue-eyes, it is best if you make them talk long and loud. The longer they talk, the more men we will assemble here.”

Many laughed at Natoto-kwata. When Okuwa-oky could see that the council was in agreement, he stood to speak. “My slave name was Carlos, but I am again called Okuwa-oky, given me by my tribe. I say that if we can convince them to leave, many lives will be saved of the Tewa, the Tiguex, the Keres, and the Pecos. The Taos and the Piciru. These are lives we will spend if we must, but if they leave peacefully, we can live to old age.”

This brought shouts from the whole council. Father Philip could still see some anger, but for the first time, the council was in agreement. One by one, the chiefs of the villages sat and held up their war sticks. Each stick showed agreement.

Father Philip stood counting. “Eight, nine, ten,” Finally it was unanimous. If the Spanish would leave peacefully, the Indios would not attack.

Okuwa-oky stood with his stick on his arm. “We are in agreement. I will send another with Friend Blue-eyes to keep him safe. Make for me two crosses about the size of your hand make one white and make the other red. Then find some white cloth, and place it on the end of the lance. They will know that you come in peace, and that you want to talk.”

So that morning, Father Philip set out with a delegation of chiefs and warriors. They were all on horseback, except for Friend Blue-eyes, who straddled a burro. He was trembling but tried to keep a brave face. The truth was, he was not at all sure that either side would honor the white flag. And the Spaniards were just as likely to shoot him on the spot as they were to listen to him.

1 review for Fire on the Rio Grande

  1. William Scott (verified owner)

    A good look at Spanish/American Native conflict in southwestern North America and how the ROF ‘accelerates’ the OTL.

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