Spain in the Southwest: A Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California

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Spain in the Southwest: A Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California. By John L. Kessell. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. Pp. VII, 462. Illustrations, preface, abbreviations, notes, glossary, works cited, index. $45.00.)

Can historians understand the motivations of people with languages, spiritual beliefs, and historical circumstances altogether different from our own? In our postmodern era, "human nature" is no easy concept to defend or even define, and respect for cultural differences has led historians to some of their best recent work. Yet without some belief that we can understand people vastly different from ourselves, historians could not interpret the actions of even the literate colonizers of the Americas, to say nothing of their neighbors-native, African, and European-who left no written or oral records.

John L. Kessell's Spain in the Southwest challenges the recent emphasis on difference and wonder in early cross-cultural contact. An emeritus professor of history at the University of New Mexico, Kessell argues not only that historians can understand colonial peoples but that they understood one another quickly and well, at least when they needed to.

Starting with sixteenth-century contact between Spaniards and Indians, Kessell guides his readers through early, faltering Spanish attempts at exploration, conversion, and settlement; the founding of Santa Fe in 1610; the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and subsequent war and reconquest; Comanche expansion in the mid-eighteenth century; gradual Spanish moves into Texas and California as other Europeans challenged Spanish dominance; and, finally, clashes between the Mexican and United States republics. Building on his own work, including the influential Kiva, Cross, and Crown (1979), and other secondary sources, Kessell reveals the imperial, religious, and individual motivations that drew Europeans and their descendants to what New Mexico governor Diego de Vargas called "this kingdom, at the ends of the earth" (p. 160).

While Spaniards occupy the center of Spain in the Southwest, Kessell integrates recent thinking regarding colonialism and Indian diversity and agency and reminds the reader of the vast Indian world beyond, including places like the upper Arkansas River valley, where Europeans had no power and little presence. Kessell's fluid and gripping narrative, interspersed with a rich variety of illustrations and maps, makes this complicated world comprehensible. …