When I was a kid, the Conquistadors were heroes. Glamorous in their shiny armor adorned with bright feathers and ladies’ lacy tokens, they were handsome lads intent on furthering the kingdoms of God and of Spain. Then, I got a little older and realized that, hey, these guys were invaders! They weren’t heroes to the people they conquered!
Well, did the Conquistadors bring anything besides death and destruction? Why, yes they did! You can hardly blame the Europeans for all the diseases they brought, as devastating as they were to the native peoples. They didn’t know they were bringing diseases, so I don’t put that in the deviltry category. The religious coercion, one could argue, was sincerely meant, now and then, to save the heathens, as repugnant as that kind of hegemony is to us now. Other destructive influences are well known — conquer, usurp, use, exploit, and so on.
Now for the positives, and there are a few. When the conquistadors came to what is now the Santa Fe region in 1598 (about 60 years after Coronado), they brought wives and children and meant to stay. They also brought seeds for fruit trees the Puebloans had never seen. New kinds of seed corn. Sheep (wool! meat!), horses, cattle. All kinds of metal and the means to work it into tools like plows and hammers. Wood working skill to make wagons and wheels and furniture and barns. And a culture of difference. Any time two great cultures collide, there are sparks, difficulties, conflict. There are also new stimuli and new occasions to invent and adapt.
I’m sure any Puebloan of the time wished the Spanish would all just go away, and they suffered greatly at the harsh might of the conquerors. But it’s complicated, of course it is. Not every Spaniard who invaded the area had meanness in his heart, and no human ever had only one side to his character, good or bad.
My novel, Crimson Sky, is about that fateful year when the Spanish came to settle in what we call New Mexico. The book is now in re-issue with a gorgeous new cover, ready to draw you into the ancient world of the Puebloans.