15. How to Enslave the Land if You’re Spanish: a Guide for Colonists

Every culture approaches slavery in its own way. If you are Spanish in the North American West, the vulnerability of your body and self in an absolute monarchy within a vast, uncontrolled region of civilized nations is going to be paramount.

The first contact of the Caxcanes and other indigenous peoples of the northwestern Mexico with the Spanish, was in 1529 when Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán set forth from Mexico City with 300-400 Spaniards and 5,000 to 8,000 Aztec and Tlaxcalan allies on a march through Nayarit, Jalisco, Durango, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas.[3] Over a six-year period Guzmán, who was brutal even by the standards of the day, killed, tortured, and enslaved thousands of natives. Guzmán’s policy was to “terrorize the natives with often unprovoked killing, torture, and enslavement”.[4] Guzmán and his lieutenants founded towns and Spanish settlements in the region, called Nueva Galicia, including Guadalajara in or near the homeland of the Caxcanes. But the Spaniards encountered increased resistance as they moved further from the complex hierarchical societies of Central Mexico and attempted to force natives into servitude through the encomienda system.

Here’s a 19th Century romantic take on it all:

Coronado Sets Out to the North, by Frederic Remington, 1861-1909.

The encomienda tradition was a form of tribute brought over from Spain. A conquered community was forced to provide a certain number of workers to their conqueror, as well as tributes in agricultural produce, such as maize. When the system was outlawed and the Spanish moved north, the whole thing became even more brutal. Here’s a summary of Andrés Reséndez’s documentation of the process. Here he is again, to refresh your memory:

Send an expedition into indigenous territory to secure a colonial claim and maybe find a deposit of silver. There is no available financing because all money flows to the King of Spain. No-one is getting paid in cash.

Attack a village. When its inhabitants resist, consider that an act of war. Take prisoners of war. That’s completely legal.

Essentially, this is the process by which land and people are separated. This is not “colonization as settlement.”

Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images

Kill the men and all boys over the age of sixteen as violent combatants, as they’re liable to resist violently and, besides, the most valuable prisoners are 1. Girls and 2. Women.

A Slave Girl in the Southwest, with a wounded soul and broken face.

Incorporate the village site into New Spain, as war booty.

Distribute the prisoners as payment among the expedition’s men, rope them together around the neck, and lead them back to town. There is, of course, no food or water, so many are liable to die along the way. It is a brutal way of asserting dominance. In the Similkameen Valley, a region under a Canadian claim, where Indigenous people remain the property of the government under the Indian Act, oral history places a group of Spanish Conquistadors, taking slaves until their destruction in an ambush outside of Keremeos:

Penticton Museum Curator Dennis Ooman studies a sword believed to be Sri Lankan in origin, possibly evidence of an unrecorded Spanish incursion into the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys in the mid 1700s.


Here’s a bit of a summary:

This image. It is far from conclusive, as it was painted at two different times by two different hands.

Mind you, two separate layers of painting fits with the notion of oral history, too, so that’s not precisely negative evidence, either.

And, to complete the Spanish pattern:

Back in town, either sell the new slaves for cash or keep them as property and labour, including as sexual partners.

This was not a tradition with roots in settlement, and it was not suited for producing the settler culture that the French, with their homesick ties to families in their bush farms along the Saint Lawrence, and their homesick ties to France on which they were founded, created in Oregon or the American and Canadian version that rose out of it and replaced it in the Pacific Northwest. This was colonization by force. Still, the clash between these two approaches was going to play out in the life of the missionary Charles Pandosy, claimed as the White Father of the Okanagan by realtors and Chamber of Commerce boosters since 1898. It is this path we are following.


Next, the American method.

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