Spain in the Southwest: A Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas,
and California. By John L. Kessell. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
2002. Pp. xvii+462. Illustrations, preface, abbreviations, notes, glossary,
works cited, index. ISBN 0-8061-3407. $45.00, cloth.)
Among border historians who emphasize the Spanish Southwest, John Kessell
occupies a distinguished place, earned through his extensive editing of primary
sources, most notably the journals of New Mexico's second Spanish conqueror,
Diego de Vargas, and through his mentoring of students and other scholars in
the field. Having remained close to the documents throughout his career, with
this volume Kessell moves in a different direction. He draws on his own empiri-
cal work on the Spanish Southwest as well as that of many other scholars to pro-
vide a narrative synthesis of the Spanish colonial history of today's New Mexico,
Texas, Arizona, and California.
This enterprise has been undertaken before, first by historians like Herbert E.
Bolton and John F. Bannon, who wrote primarily triumphal accounts of Spanish
conquerors, explorers, and missionaries, while ignoring indigenous cultures.
The Indian history of the Southwest was first addressed comprehensively by the
anthropologist Edward Spicer in Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico,
and the U.S. on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960 (University of Arizona
Press, 1963). Two recent overviews have contributed to continuing efforts to
make sense of the colonial past of the Southwest. One is David Weber's The
Spanish Frontier in North America (Yale University Press, 1992), which also
includes the eastern Spanish borderlands and focuses authoritatively on explain-
ing why Spain was unable to hold onto these territories. Weber also goes much
beyond Bolton and Bannon in his examination of indigenous cultures and
interethnic relations. Another survey was published about the same time as the
book under review here. James F. Brooks's Captives and Cousins: Kinshzp and
Community in the Southwest (University of North Carolina Press, 2002) offers a
bold explanation of a political economy that linked Indians and non-Indians
over centuries, resting primarily on the seizure and exchange of human captives
and livestock to produce and distribute wealth in a Southwest configured mainly
by New Mexico.
Kessell's narrative sweep of the Spanish Southwest makes a still different
imprint on the historiographical quilt. In its detailed reconstruction of the
exploration and conquest of the Southwest, it is reminiscent of the pioneers in
the field. Yet it diverges from them in its sensibility regarding Indian cultures
and peoples: "Initially, even though Europeans and Native Americans were
from worlds far apart geographically, in basic, acultural, human, terms, I think
they understood each other very well. Their ready, mutual comprehension of
military, ritual, and sexual power helps explain their alliances and misalliances"
(p. xi). In this reflection, Kessell is very close to Brooks's overall thesis;
nonetheless his narrative is much more heavily focused on the Spaniards who
crisscrossed the region. Yet here we find another twist in that Kessell gives us
snapshots of scores of Spaniards, Indians, and mixed-race peoples not usually
encountered in surveys of the Southwest, thereby enriching our understanding
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed April 18, 2015.