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Española History and Culture

The history of Española is about the merging of three cultures; that of the Tewa, Hispanic and Anglo. The Tewa people are Native Americans who populated the northern Rio Grande valley from as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century. The Tewa people live in pueblo communities that relied both on farming and hunting for sustenance. Their culture is complex and beautiful with a great many ceremonies and dances and a great appreciation for art and nature. Four of the nineteen existing Tewa pueblos, Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque, Santa Clara and San Ildefonso are within a few miles of Española.

Spanish soldiers, exploring northward from Mexico reached the northern Rio Grande valley in 1540, however it wasn't until 1598 that an effort was made to bring Spanish settlers into the area. This effort was led by Don Juan de Oñate. After setting up a temporary headquarter, called San Juan de los Caballeros in the Tewa pueblo of Ohke (now Ohkay Owingeh) they moved seven months later a short distance away to an abandoned Tewa village and established the permanent settlement of San Gabriel. Thus this missionary villa, adjacent to current day Española, was the first European capitol city in what is now the United States.

The Spanish and Tewa had an ambivalent relationship. At the time of the Spanish arrival the Tewa had been subject for many years to attacks from Apaches and Commanches who presented a substantial threat to them. In that sense, the Spanish were an important military ally. On the other hand, cultural conflicts, and particularly pressures from the hundreds of Franciscan priests to convert the Tewa people to Catholicism, created a great deal of friction.

In 1680 a simultaneous and carefully planned uprising of the Tewa people, led by the Ohkay Owingeh medicine man, Pope, was successful in driving the Spanish out of New Mexico altogether. However, when the Spanish, led by Don Diego de Vargas, returned in 1692 the re-occupation of the Rio Grande valley was largely peaceful. Santa Fe was established as the capitol of the region and the next villa established was Santa Cruz de la Cañada which is within the city of Española.

The third culture to mix within the Rio Grande valley was that of the Anglos. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American war in 1846, New Mexico was quickly annexed by the United States. The new territory was problematic, though, because of the predominance of the Hispanic population with strong ties with Mexico and Spain. However, the United States government took early action, aided by the Catholic church, to create schools, hospitals and orphanages in the new territory and to begin to exert cultural influence in the area. With the railroad arriving in New Mexico in 1878 trade and migration from the eastern United States increased dramatically.

Española today is a city where the three cultures exist harmoniously with each other. Tourists and local residents visit the Tewa pueblos during Feast Days to watch ceremonial dances that have been passed down for hundreds of years. Crafts such as Tewa pottery are renowned throughout the world. The Hispanic traditions of Fiestas, posadas, and unique celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos are enormously popular, as is the unique cuisine and craftsmanship. Both of these cultures exist within a very American setting, alongside but not interfering. Visit, stay awhile, enjoy!


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