History Timeline 1500s

Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s


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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1550

    1550 - Spanish colonies in northern Mexico attacked near Zacatecas, starting forty year Chichimeca War between natives of the Chichimecas Confederation and New Spain started over silver mines and encroachment on indigenous lands.

    Chichimeca War

    This would be a war started around the mines of silver, one of the minerals that the Spanish valued so highly in their New Spain colonies across the Caribbean into Mexico, and into the lands of the American southwest when lost cities of gold had been searched for in the decade prior by Fernando Vasquez de Coronado from 1540-1542. Now, the Chichimeca tribes, were mad about the encroachment of Spanish soldiers and silver miners in the area of central to northern Mexico after a find had been made on September 8, 1546 near today's Zacatecas, founded because of the silver rush on January 20, 1548 by Conquistador Juan de Tolosa. It was then known as Cerro de la Bufa. Over the next four years, the Spanish were fervent in their search for the mineral, building the mines of San Martín, Chalchihuites, Avino, Sombrerete, Fresnillo, Mazapil, and Nieves. They crossed Chichimeca ancestral lands to build them. They captured Chichimeca men as slaves to mine them. As reported by Friar Rodrido de la Cruz, in 1550, four hundred slaves were in forced servitude in the Spanish mines.

    The tribe numbered thirty to sixty thousand men and women at the time, separated into four groups; Guachichiles, Pames, Guamares, and Zacatecos. They were not pleased with the intrusion, and despite the loss by the Caxcanes in the area in 1542 in the Mixtón War to the Spanish, and the defeat by Cortes of the Aztec, the Chichimeca, particularly the Zacatecos, were ready for war. By the end of 1550, what had started out as raids of the caravans to the mines had escalated. The Zacatecos attacked the colonists south of the city, and in 1551, raided the outpost of San Miguel de Allende, now aided by the Guamare and Guachichile, killing fourteen soldiers. The outpost was abandoned. Another town was attacked, Tlaltenango; of its six hundred and twenty-six residents, it was reported that one hundred and twenty were killed.

    The war was difficult for the Spanish to contain as the Chichimecas were nomadic and spread around a large area. They continued their sporadic raids of Spanish caravans in 1553 and 1554. At Ojuelos Pass in 1554, sixty wagons were attacked, and despite an armed escort, were overtaken, with thirty thousand pesos worth of cargo stolen. Within the first decade of the conflict, an estimated three thousand Spanish soldiers and colonists were killed.

    The War Escalates

    For the first fifteen years of the Chichimecas War, the Spanish attempted a two pronged approach. They would battle when necessary, but also negotiate and trade with the tribe in order to keep the supply routes to the mines open. By 1567, that strategy was altered; an all out attempt to destroy the Confederation, or enslave its people, was now in place. Twelve presidios were built, and additional colonists were encouraged to settle in the areas around them. This did not deter the Chichimeca. The Viceroy of New Spain encouraged the King of Spain, Felipe II, that he needed more soldiers. They were sent, but the Chichimecas Confederation continued its effective military strategy through the next decade. By 1574, the Dominicans had come to the conclusion that the enslavement of the Chichimecas had caused the war, and combined with the fact that the continued conflict was diminishing the Spanish treasury, the authorities of New Spain changed tactics again in 1584. They would try to buy peace.

    The Bishop of Guadalajara proposed new towns, priests, conversion to Christianity; Viceroy Alvaro Manrique de Zuniga, who became the seventh Viceroy of Mexico on October 18, 1585, began to pull Spanish soldiers from the frontier and halt military excursions and the enslavement of the tribe by Spanish soldiers. He began to negotiate, stating that the Spanish would provide food, clothing, and other materials in exchange for peace. On November 25, 1589, in a report to the King, Alvaro Manrique de Zuniga stated that his Purchase for Peace program was a success and the roads to Zacatecos safe. In 1591, new Viceroy Luis de Velasco persuaded four hundred families of the Tlaxcalan, a tribe friendly to the Spanish and already converted to Catholicism to build eight settlements in Chichimeca territory. The goal, to show an example that conversion to Catholicism and the ability to farm, now augmented by new priests sent into the territory, would give the Chichimeca a better life. Over the next decades, most of the Chichimeca were absorbed into Catholicism and New Spain's version of sedentary existence.

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    Letter to Velasco from Zuniga 1590

    "The matter that required most attention was the war against the Chichimecas. Even though I knew from the time of my arrival here that the Spaniards participating in this war were also the cause of it, I received so many contrary opinions that I was obliged to ignore my own. Thus, this war had to continue as under my predecessors until my own experience showed me that the very soldiers who were squandering their salaries were the ones making the war, irritating the Indians and provoking them to hostility."

    Image above: Statue of a Chichimeca Warrior in the Santiago de Querétaro, 2005, Adamt. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Photo below: Montage of (left) Viceroy Alvaro Manrique de Zuniga, unknown painter; and (right) Viceroy Luis de Velasco, 1607, unknown painter. Both courtesy Museo Nacional de Historia via Wikipedia Commons. Source info: "The Indigenous People of Zacatecas," 2003, John P. Schmal; "Indian Slavery in 16th Century New Spain: The Politics and Power of Bondage, 1519-1600," 2003, Daniel Garcia Ponce; Wikipedia.

Chichimeca War

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