Los Conquistadores

Not too long ago there was a posting on one of the local (small town) Facebook pages about people — Hispanic people — in the San Luis Valley being taught to disown their heritage.

This is true. The post was by a historian, and his assertion was that those bad guys, those Coronados, Cabeza de Vacas, those Ponce de Leons, all those Spanish explorers, the Conquistadors and their armies (many of whose men stayed here and started families who are still here, hundreds of years later), had been shoved under the bus of political correctness because they killed Native Americans.

The historian went on to make the point that these Spaniards had achieved something that would have killed modern humans. I think he’s right. I cannot imagine hundreds of modern humans piling themselves into a wooden ship, with horses, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep, AND priests, and setting sail across a recently understood ocean, (no sea monsters) to land in a place they’d never seen, populated or not (they weren’t sure) with people completely different from them who, in some cases, because of their face paint, haircuts and feathers, resembled paintings in (pre-America) European churches of Satan. All of this with plate armor AND the dangers of pirates, disease, storms at sea, wars.

We don’t even begin to have the skills to manage just the voyage. We forget the Americas WERE Terra Incognita.Β These guys killed Indians, but they also attempted to “save” them by bringing the “true faith.” In their minds it was the best thing they had. And the people — and their faith — are still here.

Some of their routes became our highways.

Old Spanish Trail Map

Northern Routes


Southern Routes


Right now I’m living in the middle of their world (21st century). The people around me are the descendants of these Spaniards (and Native Americans) and they speak an antique Spanish mixed with Ute and Navajo words. From time to time archeologists dig up a Clovis point below a disintegrating Spanish helmet. Personally, I think it’s amazing. I completely agree with William S. Burrough’s essay, “It Is Necessary to Travel…” Here’s the whole thing.



Featured photo: Marker for the Old Spanish Trail outside Monte Vista.


10 thoughts on “Los Conquistadores

  1. Americans tend to deny people their heritage. My ancestors came from Sweden and were forced to change their name to find a job. I didn’t find out I was part Swedish until last year!

    • Most immigrants had to Anglicize their names (or their names were Anglicized for them). The British actually made colonists from countries other than England swear an oath of allegiance to the king of England. There’s also the reality that a lot of immigrants were all to glad to leave the old country behind and just hoped, somehow, to fit in or find a place here. Then there was the later mistrust of new immigrants by old immigrants. People just have a hard time coping with anything new, different or complex. πŸ™‚

  2. Translation of Marcel Proust –
    The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.

    It is up there with your quote, “History is just one horror story after another. πŸ™‚ “

    • Proust was right. Those poor Conquistadores had a very hard time seeing with new eyes — but I think they were probably terrified a lot of the time. It really would have been beyond culture shock. What’s interesting is that a lot of secret Jews came with them and stayed. It was a way out. By then they were mostly converts, but strange converts. 600 year old Menorrahs have been used in some of the oldest churches in this area. Some of the Catholic customs and Jewish, and genetic diseases of Jews are common in the San Luis Valley. It’s a very strange reality here.

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