Our New Mexico trip last month was full of surprises. As a history buff, I was delighted to learn the state's intriguing history.

I have been writing about the Indians of California for years. I expected to find similarities between the stories of our state's Native Americans and those of New Mexico.

And I did, but the differences intrigued me.

Santa Fe became a capital city 200 years before Washington, D.C., was founded. The Spanish started colonizing New Mexico 100 years before California. Native Americans still make up almost 10 percent of the population of New Mexico. In California, less than 2 percent are listed as Native Americans.

And although the two states became part of the United States at the same time, it took New Mexico 62 years longer to achieve statehood.

The arrival of Europeans was disastrous to both states' Native Americans. The white man's diseases -- measles, smallpox, and diphtheria -- killed thousands.

California Indians were gatherers and hunters. When they had exhausted the resources of a place, they burned their rough wooden structures and moved on. The Pueblo Indians of New Mexico were farmers who grew corn, squash and beans. They built permanent houses of adobe in villages that had been in the same place for 1,000 years.


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The mission system in New Mexico was very different, but still cruel in its attempt to eradicate the ancient culture by destroying sacred artifacts and forcing a foreign religion on a deeply spiritual people. One priest boasted he had burned many sacred Indian masks.

The Pueblo Indians knew how to grow things. The Spanish conquerors demanded a tithe and confiscated many of their crops.

When the Spanish missionaries arrived in California, there were 300,000 Indians. By the time the United States took over in 1848, 150,000 were left. The great influx of people with the Gold Rush sounded a death knell for those remaining. By 1900, there were 15,000.

There are 19 self-governing Pueblo nations in New Mexico, where Native Americans keep their culture, traditions and language.

How did they manage to preserve their heritage? Perhaps it was because of charismatic leader Po'Pay, who brought together the different factions of his people to revolt against the tyrannical rule of the Franciscan priests and Spanish rulers. The Pueblo Indians -- armed with bows and arrows -- drove out their Spanish conquerors -- whose soldiers had guns and metal armor -- in 1680. For 12 years, the Pueblos were independent. In 1692, the Spanish regained control of the Pueblos, but this time they were more accommodating, allowing the Pueblos to keep their own spiritual practices as long as they also followed Catholicism.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.