Tiguex War – the first war

The Tiguex War was the first named war between Europeans and Native Americans in what is now the United States, although the De Soto expedition fought numerous battles earlier. It was fought in the winter of 1540-41 by the expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado against the twelve or thirteen pueblos of Southern Tiwa Indians as well as other Puebloan tribes. These villages were along both sides of the Rio Grande, north and south of present-day Bernalillo, New Mexico, in what was called the Tiguex Province.


The Coronado expedition had the primary motivation of finding the silk and spices of the Indies as well as gold, silver, and land for forced-labor encomienda estates. The Coronado expedition was huge in size, with about 350 Spaniard men-at-arms, a large number of spouses, slaves, and servants, and as many as 2,000 Mexican Indian allies, mostly warriors from Aztec, Purépecha, and other tribes from central and western Mexico. The expedition also brought thousands of livestock, including horses, mules, sheep, cattle, and perhaps pigs.

As soon as Coronado entered present-day New Mexico, he attacked and conquered the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh, also known as Hawikku, Cíbola, or Cibola. He was visited there soon after by a delegation from Pecos Pueblo (now Pecos National Historical Park). One of the leaders of this delegation, after exchanging gifts, offered to guide the expedition to Pecos and the buffalo herds of the Great Plains. He had a mustache, which was unusual for a Native American, and so the Spaniards called him Bigotes (Spanish for “mustaches”). Coronado sent Hernando de Alvarado as commander for the journey.

Alvarado’s reconnaissance

Alvarado was one of 200 soldiers who had used their bodies to protect the fallen Coronado at the battle of Hawikuh, saving him from being bludgeoned to death by stones dropped by the Zuni defenders. Bigotes guided Alvarado and twenty-three other Spaniards and an unknown number of Mexican Indian allies east, past Acoma and into the Rio Grande valley. There they found a cluster of Tiwa pueblos they called the province of Tiguex, named after the occupying Tiwa Puebloans.

They then traveled north along the river as far as Taos, claiming for Spain the land of several pueblos along the way. They finally arrived at Bigotes’s community of Pecos. This was the easternmost of the pueblos with a well-developed commerce with the plains Indians. Alvarado journeyed another five days easterly to see the vast buffalo herds that Bigotes had earlier described to Coronado. He returned to Tiguex at about the same time an advance party led by Field Master García López de Cárdenas also arrived.

The Tiguex Province was described as the most prosperous area the expeditionaries had seen, with the Rio Grande flowing through a wide, level, desert with vast irrigated cornfields. Alvarado notified Coronado that the expedition should move there for the oncoming winter.


Spanish abuses against the Puebloans

To establish a headquarters, Cárdenas commandeered a pueblo the Spaniards renamed as Coofor, forcing the Pueblo inhabitants out with nothing but the clothes they wore. Although Spanish accounts imply the Puebloans left Coofor voluntarily, archaeological excavations in the 1930s prove that an unreported battle took place there.

Coronado used Coofor as a military base from which to demand supplies from the Tiwas and also the Keres and Tewa pueblos north of Tiguex. The expedition traded beads and trinkets for food and clothing for their winters in Coofor from the Tiguex pueblos at first. But as provisions became scarce for the pueblos, they resisted further trades. Then Coronado ordered his men to simply take what they needed. In the winter of 1540–41, at least one of the pueblo women was raped, and the expedition’s livestock consumed much of the post-harvest cornstalks normally used by the Puebloans for cooking and heating fuel during the winters.

Retaliation by the Puebloans

In December 1540, Tiwans retaliated for the abuses by killing 40 to 60 of the expedition’s free-roaming horses and mules. As a result, Coronado declared a war of “fire and blood and guts and blood and more blood,” which became the Tiguex War.

The virtually unknown Tiwa leader who opposed Coronado was Xauían, usually referred to in the chronicles by the Spanish nickname of Juan Alemán. Xauían was from the Tiwa pueblo of Ghufoor (also Coofor or Alcanfor), which Coronado commandeered for his headquarters in the winters of 1540-41 and 1541–42.

Massacres at Arenal and Moho

Coronado sent Cárdenas with a large force of Europeans and Mexican Indian allies to conquer a Tiwa pueblo the Spaniards called Arenal. All of Arenal’s defenders were killed, including an estimated 30 Tiwas who the Spaniards burned alive at the stake. The Tiwas abandoned their riverside pueblos and made their last stand in a mesa-top stronghold the Spaniards called Moho. There may have been a second mesa-top stronghold as well, but Spanish accounts differ on its existence.

Coronado was not able to conquer the stronghold by force, so he laid siege to Moho for about 80 days in January–March 1541. Finally, Moho’s defenders ran out of water and attempted to escape in the night. The Tiguex War ended in a slaughter when Spaniards heard the escapees and killed almost all the men and several women. The women survivors would spend the next year in slavery as captives.


Coronado then set off on his 1541 foray across the Great Plains to central Kansas in search of the chimerical riches of Quivira. Upon his return, the Towa Indians of Jémez and Pecos had decided the Spaniards were enemies and turned hostile, resulting in a battle and siege against Pecos.

The Tiwas had abandoned all pueblos until the expedition left for Kansas, then abandoned them again upon the expedition’s return. The Tiwas waged guerrilla warfare from their mountain sanctuaries throughout the second winter of 1541–42. Coronado withdrew back to Mexico in April 1542, and the Spaniards would not return for 39 years.


By the time of the next Spanish expedition led by Juan de Oñate in 1598, the pueblo people in the Tiguex Province had reestablished themselves. But during the period of colonization, pueblo peoples were ravaged by disease. Franciscan missionaries also consolidated most Towa, Tiwa, Keres, and Tewa pueblos from south of Albuquerque to north of Santa Fe, reducing the number of pueblos. After the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and reconquest in the 1690s, the only remaining Tiwa pueblos in the old Tiguex Province were Alameda and Isleta. The Sandia Pueblo land grant was created in 1748 for several Puebloan refugees who had fled Spanish domination by living several decades with the Hopi in western Arizona.

Sandia is now the only Tiwa pueblo community existing within the boundary of that part of the Tiguex Province that Coronado waged war against, although 15 other Tiwa, Keres, Tewa, and Towa pueblos still remain on or near the same sites where Coronado found them in 1540.

Popular culture

The only book-length treatment of the Tiguex War is in the historical novel, Winter of the Metal People (2013).

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