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The Spanish Entrada

     At the time of the Spanish entrada in the sixteenth century, the native people of the Southwest actively produced a wide range of textiles. The arrival of the conquistadors—and the sheep they brought with them—forever changed the ways of the original inhabitants. Despite the massive changes in everyday life, today Pueblo people still practice some remnants of their ancient textile tradition. Few spin or dye their own yarn; few weave their own mantas and sashes. But it is not at all difficult to find people who embroider “in the old way.” Why did embroidery persist, replacing all the earlier forms of textile decoration? This is a question without a precise answer.
       Although the indigenous people of the Southwest did some embroidery at the time of contact with the Europeans, it was probably not the most frequently used method of decorating clothing and other textiles. The Spanish conquest made embroidery more prominent by providing new materials and demanding labor and tribute.


      The Spanish colonizers levied a tax on their new subjects in the form of woven mantas. Producing sufficient garments to pay the tax placed a great strain on the Pueblo peoples. Before the conquest, men had woven cloth when they were not farming. Now, the time and effort previously spent providing clothing and ceremonial items for household members had to be devoted to producing tribute, and the locals did not benefit from their labors.


     The Spanish also brought sheep with them, and the new animal and its wool caused many changes in the daily life of the Pueblo people. The colonizers demanded that the men tend their sheep, forcing them to neglect the farming and weaving they usually did for their families. Until the late eighteenth century, the Spanish prevented Pueblo people from taking advantage of the meat and wool that sheep produced.


    The Spanish wanted urgently to convert the native people to Catholicism. They forced the Pueblos to give up the practice of their traditional religion, which was also closely tied to the established agricultural cycle. Along with the labor demands, the repression of the Pueblo religion disrupted the traditional economy and social order. In 1680, the Pueblos rose up against the Spanish and forced them out of the area. Although the invaders reconquered the Pueblos between 1692 and 1696, the two sides came to a tentative and partial accommodation that lightened the burden on the Pueblos and allowed them to follow their ancestral faith.


     Almost no textiles remain from the years between the Spanish invasion and the mid-nineteenth century. Written sources report textile production and detail the number of mantas required in tribute. They also note the importation of Spanish technology in the forms of floor treadle looms and spinning wheels and record what the Church needed in the way of cloth and clothing. Despite Spanish colonization and growing interaction with other native peoples, the Pueblos maintained many aspects of their own culture, including clothing and ceremonial dances. But of the textiles themselves, we have few traces.

The American Era

      The uneasy accommodation between Pueblos and Spanish (Mexican from 1821) colonization came to an end in 1848. In that year, Mexico signed the Treaty of Gaudalupe Hidalgo, reluctantly ceding its northern territories to the United States. Americans began to migrate into the Southwest in larger numbers and trade increased. Reports of the native peoples of the Southwest began to reach people outside the region, and the Smithsonian and American Museum of Natural History sent anthropologists to investigate. The splendid cliff palaces of the region soon attracted archaeologists as well, and they established a new program devoted to studying the ancient American past in Santa Fe.

   Beginning in the 1890s, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad and its caterer, the Fred Harvey Company, began to advertise the Southwest, and especially its Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo inhabitants, as a prime tourist attraction. The late nineteenth-century anti-modern vogue for the “vanishing Indian” was at its height, and thousands of Anglo tourists flocked to New Mexico and Arizona.
     Thanks to academic and tourist interest, Pueblo handcrafts came to be widely collected. Pottery and textiles were especially attractive to non-Pueblo people. By this time, the two basic methods of decoration were embroidery or loom-controlled twills. The other techniques of tie-dyeing, lace weaves, and fancy sprang had all disappeared.
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