Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands

By James F. Brooks | Go to book overview

3
LOS PASTORES
CREATING A PASTORAL BORDERLAND

Less than one month after Comanche captain Ecueracapa and don Juan Bautista de Anza affirmed their historic treaty in Santa Fe, some eighty Navajos gathered at a crossing of the Río Puerco to negotiate treaty terms themselves with the governor. Like the Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas of the Plains borderlands, Navajos and the Pueblo and Spanish residents of the Río Grande valley were enmeshed in enduring patterns of contention and accommodation. Building upon and intensifying a mixed economy of trading and raiding for foodstuffs and captives that had characterized precontact Athapaskan / Pueblo relations, Navajos and New Mexican colonists developed a new focus of contentious exchange in a colonial import: sheep. Whereas on the Plains bison and horses underlay much of the emergent political economy, during the century following the Great Southwestern Revolt, sheep pastoralism would emerge as the primary subsistence practice among many Navajos. New Mexican pobladores also began to place greater weight on sheepherding, since a burgeoning colonial population increasingly depleted irrigable farming lands in the Río Grande valley. But with these stepwise adjustments in subsistence practices came tensions within and without both societies. Pastoral wealth in sheep, and the dependent labor to manage those flocks, proved unequally distributed among Navajos and New Mexicans alike. The eighteenth century would see class tensions emerge within both groups and play themselves out across cultural boundaries. As the indigenous and colonial pastores sought to maintain cultural integrity while elaborating a common sheep culture, systemic patterns of coexistence and conflict were driven by relative access to three resources: people, livestock, and land. This borderland, too, had its making much earlier, in relations between the indigenous peoples of the Río Grande valley and those of the plateaus to the west.

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