Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The Abandoned Lands...A Journey Through the Colorado Plateau: The Rise and Fall of Empires...
Why? As any realtor will say, "location, location, location". Pecos overlooked one of the most important passes in the American Southwest. The Great Plains lay to the east of Glorieta Pass, while to the west there is the Rio Grande Valley and the Colorado Plateau, which in turn lead to the Gulf of California, Old Mexico, and lands beyond. Whoever controlled the pass controlled the migration and trade routes of a vast region.
The site has been occupied for thousands of years, but the fortress originated about 1450. It was encircled by walls and the buildings reached as high as five stories. The Pecos people controlled the trade between the Plains Indians and the Puebloans of the Rio Grande. Able to field an army of 500 warriors, they acted as a buffer to the occasional incursions of the Apache and other aggressive Plains Indians as well as the Spaniards, at least for a time.
The Pecos people also played a part in one of the greatest pranks in history when they encountered Europeans for the first time. Coronado arrived in 1540 seeking his seven cities of gold. Perhaps realizing their peril, the Pecos people told the Spanish of the incredible cities of gold that lay beyond the pass out on the Great Plains. The Spaniards took a Puebloan guide who led them as far as Kansas before the deception was revealed (and the brave guide strangled). The Spaniards subsequently returned to Mexico and did not bother the pueblos for another sixty years.
I had never really thought of New Mexico as an important Civil War site, but once again history and geography turned Pecos and Glorieta Pass into a critical prize. If the Confederacy could hold Albuquerque and Santa Fe, they could take control of Glorieta Pass. From there, a determined army could march into Colorado and move west to open up coastal trade routes that could not be blockaded by Union boats. The gold fields of Colorado and California could provide much needed cash reserves for the South.
The Confederate army invaded from Texas and took over Albuquerque and Santa Fe by 1862, and was preparing to move north into Colorado through Glorieta Pass. Well-supplied, and with high morale, they engaged the Union forces and caused the Federal troops to once again fall back. It looked like the Union was going to suffer a serious loss, but for one brilliant move on their part. The supply wagons for the Confederate forces were lightly guarded, and a contingent of Union forces climbed down a high mesa and in a surprise attack drove off the guard and destroyed the wagons and animals. The Confederate forces had more or less won the battle but lost the war. Without supplies, they had to retreat and return to Texas. They never threatened New Mexico again for the duration of the war (for a more complete version of a complex battle, check out this link: http://www.nps.gov/peco/historyculture/copy-of-battleofglorietta.htm#).