The Pageant of America: A Pictorial History of the United States - Vol. 1

By Clark Wissler; Constance Lindsay Skinner et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVIII
SPAIN IN THE SOUTHWEST

DURING the hundred years following the defeat of the Armada, years when the English were planting colonies on the Atlantic seaboard and the French explorers from Quebec and Montreal were penetrating the hinterland, Spain steadily declined. She had banished the Moors and Jews, two important factors in her economic structure. Treasure-seeking in the New World had diverted the energies of many of her people from productive activities. As the flow of treasure slackened, the impoverishment of national resources became increasingly apparent. Wars with the Dutch and with England sapped the Spanish military strength. One after another Spain's possessions in Europe slipped from her. Spanish power in the Netherlands, the Rhineland and Italy was curtailed or disappeared altogether. In 1640, Portugal revolted and became once more independent. With Portugal, Spain lost Brazil and the Portuguese colonies in the Far East.

But the same years that saw the waning of the Spanish power in Europe witnessed the growth of New Spain in America. Steadily the Spanish viceroys spread the laws and language of Spain and the faith of the Catholic Church over peoples and lands more and more remote from the Mexican capital. Explorers made their way northward across the dry country of northern Mexico. Missionaries and colonists followed them. In 1609, two years after the English planted their first permanent colony at Jamestown, Santa Fé was founded. From New Mexico the Spanish frontier in course of time pushed into Texas. The eighteenth century saw a Spanish advance in another direction. A foothold was first won on the peninsula of Lower California. Then Spanish missions and presidios (forts) appeared in the valleys of California.

Almost always the missionary was to be found leading the advance. The wild tribes that lay to the west and north of the seat of the Aztec power offered little to the seeker of gold; hence the seeker for souls for a time had a free hand. The missionary taught the gospel and trained the Indians to be self-supporting in a rudimentary civilization. Wandering tribes were gathered into pueblos beside the missions and sometimes held there by force. Close on the heels of the mission came the presidio or fort, which marked the establishment of military and political power. Both mission and presidio were looked upon as transitory. The officials of New Spain looked forward to a day when their holdings would be consolidated and when New Spain would take on something of the settled quality of the motherland.

714 Old Pecos Mission near Glorietta, N. M., photograph by the Department of Roads, Washington

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