Silver, Resistance and the Evolution of Slavery in the West

Episode 8, Season 2

Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the forced labor and bondage of Indigenous peoples was integral to the economic and political history of what became the Southwestern United States. Historian and author Andrés Reséndez outlines the significance of silver mining, Indigenous enslavement and resistance in the history of New Mexico and Latin America. We examine how, as white settlers moved west, so-called “free soil” states like California continued to institutionalize coerced labor.


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Andrés Reséndez: The canonical history of the West is that California joined the union as a quote-unquote, "free soil state." But a coalition of Americans living in California, along with old Mexican ranchers who came to dominate the early politics of California, drafted the so-called Act for the Protection of Indians of 1850. I call it in my book a piñata of laws that enable people to exploit natives in different ways.

Meredith McCoy: That’s Dr. Andrés Reséndez, who we’ll continue to hear from in today’s episode. Dr. Reséndez’ comments about California remind me that the stories we were told as students—even stories that are viewed as "canonical history"—may not always tell the full story. The telling of history is not static, and how we remember history changes as we listen to different voices and perspectives.

Meredith McCoy: We live in a time when we as a nation are grappling with our memories of the past and their role in our future, particularly with regard to slavery and the Civil War. I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For decades, even before I went to Carolina, students had been fighting to remove Silent Sam, a Confederate statue strategically placed at the entrance to campus in 1913. After years of indecision from administrators, protesters removed the statue last year. And agree with their tactics or not, the statue was gone. The issue felt more or less resolved.

Meredith McCoy: And then this week, the UNC Board of Governors reached a private and questionably legal multi-million dollar settlement for the care of the statue with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate organization that has been covered by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog. UNC, like the nation, is wrestling with the implications of the memories we construct about the Civil War.

Meredith McCoy: When we teach about enslavement and the Civil War, we can help students develop critical thinking skills about how history gets recorded and told—and which stories are being left out. We can discuss how the stories we know about the past are constructed based on the perspectives and goals of people at particular moments in time, and how the telling of history might change based on whose voices we choose to hear.

Meredith McCoy: The same is true when we revisit colonial history we thought we knew through the lens of Indigenous enslavement. For example, students studying the Pueblo Revolt often learn how local priests forced Catholicism on Indigenous people. But there’s more to the story. As Dr. Reséndez shares in this episode, recent research reveals the role of enslavement as a contributing factor. These tensions in the curriculum leave us with choices to make about our classrooms. Adding more voices and more experiences to the conversation will necessarily change how we teach, and that includes telling the often untold history of Indigenous enslavement across the Americas.

Meredith McCoy: I’m Meredith McCoy, and this is Teaching Hard History: American Slavery—a special series from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This podcast provides a detailed look at how to teach important aspects of the history of American slavery. In each episode we explore a different topic, walking you through historical concepts, raising questions for discussion, suggesting useful source material, and offering practical classroom exercises.

Meredith McCoy: In our second season, we are expanding our focus to better support elementary school educators, to spend more time with teachers who are doing this work in the classroom, and to understand the often-hidden history of the enslavement of Indigenous people in what is currently the United States.

Meredith McCoy: Talking with students about slavery can be emotional and complex. This podcast is a resource for navigating those challenges, so teachers and students can develop a deeper understanding of the history and legacy of American slavery.

Meredith McCoy: Dr. Andrés Reséndez is the author of The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, and this is our second conversation between Dr. Reséndez and my co-host Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries.

Meredith McCoy: In this episode, we’re going to focus on the history of Indigenous enslavement in Latin America and the American West. We will learn how enslavement drove economic development in what is currently New Mexico, reshaping relations between native nations, and ultimately leading to the largest uprising in the Southwest. We’ll get to know historical figures like Juan de Oñate, James S. Calhoun and Po'pay. And we’re going to talk about the role of forced labor within the silver mines that were pivotal in the economic development of colonial Latin America.

Meredith McCoy: I'm so glad you can join us.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm really excited to welcome back Andrés Reséndez, who joined us for a previous episode, but now we get to dig a little deeper into the history of the other slavery, the enslavement of Native Americans and Indigenous people. Andrés, welcome back. So glad you could join us and spend some more time with us.

Andrés Reséndez: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Well look, I'm still taking in what we talked about during the last episode, in which we kind of explored the broad contours of the enslavement of Indigenous people, the other slavery, scale and scope, 2.5 million to five million people. And so here I want to dig a little deeper, if you will, and explore some of the details of what's driving Indigenous enslavement, how enslaved people rebel, and then what brings it to an end. So if we were to start at the beginning, you know, one of the things that students are taught a lot about is the gold rush in U.S. history. But there is a different kind of gold rush, a different kind of precious metals rush, that occurs earlier in time that is really serving as fuel for the emergence and development of Indigenous slavery in the Americas. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Andrés Reséndez: Absolutely. And I think the idea of digging deeper is very appropriate because indeed, we're going to be digging deeper into these metals. So Americans are especially familiar with the California gold rush. And to get some perspective, let's just talk a little bit, one minute about it. It is a phenomenon that attracted 300,000 people to California. It started in 1849, and it reached its peak only four years later. So in terms of duration, the California gold rush was pretty much over after 20 years, having attracted these 300,000 people.

Andrés Reséndez: The earlier silver rush that we are dealing with for comparative purposes was a much longer affair. It really started in the 16th century, it plateaued in the 17th century somewhat. And it continued to grow in the 18th century, reaching the highest watermark years at the very end of the 18th and early 19th centuries. So we are really talking about a metal rush that lasted for 300 years, and it came to encompass large areas of the new world. If we compare the number of kilograms of gold extracted from California during the gold rush to the number of kilograms of silver extracted from just northern Mexico during this period, I figure out that we are really talking about a sum that is 12 times larger.

Andrés Reséndez: So what we have to imagine is 12 California gold rushes strung out throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to get a sense of the scale of what we are talking about. Whereas the California gold rush happened at a time when there was widespread transportation across the oceans, and news and communications were relatively easy, this earlier silver rush occurred at a time when the Spanish crown essentially blocked anyone but Spaniards to go to the silver districts. So this had to be worked on the basis of what was available around here, mostly Indian labor. So not surprisingly, the first peoples inducted into this powerful, long-lasting silver rush were the natives who were living in and around the silver mines. And once those sources of labor were depleted, the Spanish crown and the silver barons went farther afield, eventually getting their laborers from a catchment area that came to include parts of what is now the American southwest: Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona and so forth. So that gives you a sense, again, of the enormous necessity of labor for the extraction of silver during these centuries.

Andrés Reséndez: The silver mines are absolutely central to the story of the other slavery. The miners resorted to a variety of different labor regimes in order to extract this enormous wealth that is in the ground. So side by side in the mines you would have Indian slaves, you would have African slaves as well, and you would have salaried workers. In fact, some of the best paid workers may have been even of Indigenous extraction who had some skill in mining. So in that sense, the silver mines appeared like the harbinger of free, salaried work. And some scholars have looked at the mines in these ways. But at the same time, these salaried free workers were rubbing shoulders with African slaves. There were also people from either the Philippines Archipelago or from the Indian subcontinent. They were known as "Chinese slaves," quote-unquote. And of course, there were Indian slaves. They had a place because they were a lot cheaper than African slaves. Whereas in the 17th century in a mine like Parral in Chihuahua, a skilled African slave would be worth anywhere between 400 and 600 pesos. You could have an Indian slave for 50 to 100, 120 pesos. So if you were on a shoestring budget, you would be better off getting Indian slaves into your mine. And of course, this vast differential also affected the way you organize your workforce in the mines. So many of these very valuable African slaves, some of whom had mining experience, could be put on above-ground operations, safer operations. So they could be preserved, and you would funnel your more expendable, cheaper labor like Indian slaves into the more dangerous underground operations having to do with the refining of the silver by using toxic reagents.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Could you say a little bit about the kind of work involved in silver mining?

Andrés Reséndez: Yes, that's an excellent point. Gold mining involves some superficial digging and sifting through sand, especially along riverbeds. In contrast, silver mining was a lot more involved. Silver usually was amalgamated with other metals, a fact that made it a lot more challenging to extract. The way it worked is that you would find some outcroppings of silver, and then you would follow the vein. And these veins usually went way down, such that some of the big silver mines in northern Mexico at the time when they were completed, I'm thinking of the silver mines in Guanajuato, for example, turned out to be the deepest man-made shafts made in the world. If you consider that, at the very beginning of this process in the 16th and 17th centuries, there were no explosives, following the veins down had to be done with hand tools, no explosives, nothing else. So just digging up these shafts was enormously taxing. So the usual work day was from sunup to sundown. These tools, moils, crowbars, etc. were extremely heavy. It would be hard to imagine for us to carry one of those things, let alone wield that the entire day, a 12-hour day.

Andrés Reséndez: And digging the hole was just the beginning. Then you had to bring up the ore to the surface. Then you had to crush that to a fine powder, and then you had to mix that with other toxic reagents, and especially mercury. The way to isolate silver was by mixing it with mercury, which is a very heavy metal, and it would amalgamate with the silver. Crushing of the ore was another major task. And the purifying of the silver was a highly-toxic process that involved oftentimes in some of the mines that I have read, instead of using tools they used natives who were forced to walk on this toxic sludge in order to mix it thoroughly to get the silver to amalgamate with the mercury. And once that was done, the mercury was vaporized. Again, a very highly toxic process. So those prisoners or the slaves who were devoted to mixing the sludge, they would not last more than two or three years. Mercury attacks the nervous system, so they would die horrible deaths, shaking uncontrollably because of the action of the mercury on the nervous system.

Andrés Reséndez: There were other dangers along the way. So bringing the ore up from these deep shafts was always made by hand. So basically, a specialized kind of worker would fill up bags made out of fiber, and they would dangle these bags from their foreheads. And the idea was that the arms of the carrier would be free because they had to use them to climb through essentially logs that had notches—chicken ladder, so to speak. And so they would be climbing up through these logs, carrying bags full of stones weighing 50 or 70 pounds dangling from their foreheads all the way to the top. So that's a brief image of what that work entailed, lasting for 300 years with a method to process the silver that changed virtually very little from when it was introduced in the mid-16th century.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm really struck by, not only the physical intensity of the work that's being required of those who are trapped in this work environment, but then as you mentioned, the toxic sludge and the use of mercury that will have a lasting impact not only on the individuals but on the environment as well. I imagine these silver mines are really taking a toll not only on individuals, but on space and place as well.

Andrés Reséndez: Exactly. There were hundreds of these mines. Some of them were flash-in-the-pan activities, but others were very substantial mine concerns lasting for centuries. And they are all over what is now Mexico, and indeed all over the New World. They are the economic backbone of colonial Latin America.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And you can easily imagine, because this industry is so labor-dependent, is constantly tapping into and exhausting these populations of Indigenous people. What is silver being used for?

Andrés Reséndez: Well, that's an excellent question. Between 1500 and 1800, the silver mines of the New World produced about 80 percent of all the silver worldwide. The standard story is that, of course, this is flowing to Europe. After all, these are Spanish colonies or French colonies or British colonies. And that is true nominally, but the real magnate of silver was China at this time. China in the 15th and 16th centuries had abandoned its paper money, and had introduced a tax reform that required silver as a form of payment. And so China went on and basically exhausted all the silver that was being produced in nearby Japan, and then turned to the silver mines of the new world for additional silver for the payments. So a lot of the silver that initially flowed into Europe through intermediation ended up going to China. And of course, there was also the Manila galleon, so a yearly ship going straight from Mexico to Manila and from there on to China. So basically, it was China's enduring and massive demand for silver that sustained ultimately these enormous businesses. It is hard to imagine the scale and the duration of these silver mines without China's persistent demand. China in the 16th century already accounted for about 25 percent of the world's population. And by the 18th century, it accounted for an overwhelming 36 percent of the world's population. So whatever China wanted then, it had ripple effects in markets all over the world, as we know all too well today. But it's something that was very clear already in the 16, 17 and 18th centuries.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: An early version of globalization and markets and demand and shifting populations. That's pretty astounding. You know, when we think about Indigenous enslavement, and as you just described, a global demand and global trade and traffic, it can become a little bit hard to wrap our minds around. But if we look at a particular place and case study, here I'm thinking about the work that you've done around present-day New Mexico, I think it becomes a little bit easier to make sense of it all. Could you say a little bit about why looking at New Mexico as a case study is a useful endeavor for drilling down to understand Indigenous enslavement?

Andrés Reséndez: New Mexico is a fascinating example. As we had mentioned earlier, during the colonial period, they did not find silver mines in New Mexico. However, silver barons and silver entrepreneurs washed up in New Mexico and were attracted to New Mexico precisely because of its particular population. New Mexico had a very significant sedentary population in the 16th century. It had 70 some so-called Pueblo Indians, Indians living in individual settled agricultural communities. And beyond that, they were surrounded by other semi-nomadic or nomadic groups: Apaches and later on others, Comanches, Utes, Navajos, who were also a part of this human landscape in New Mexico. And all of them could be brought into the silver economy that was developing further south in the state of Chihuahua, which is the Mexican state directly to the south of New Mexico.

Andrés Reséndez: In fact, this is exactly what happened. A very large, very significant silver mine called Parral that remained in function for centuries, opened up in southern Chihuahua in 1631. Even though it was a months-long travel to get from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Parral, it was still much easier to supply that mine from New Mexico than from further south in Mexico City, etc. So as a result, New Mexico turned into something of a supply center for the miners of Parral. And what that meant was everything from goods that had been produced in workshops in New Mexico on the basis of coerced Indian labor to the actual shipping of Indian slaves out of New Mexico. And by that I mean both Pueblo Indians and Apache Indians and others, Utes, Navajos eventually, to the silver mines of Parral. We have baptism records, for example, in Parral, in which we find the traces of this trade. We find records of merchants from New Mexico spending that month-long voyage from Santa Fe to Parral, bringing these captives, feeding them all along the way and defying all the dangers and the elements, etc., because they knew that once they got to Parral, they would be able to sell their human cargo at a very significant markup, and they would be able to obtain silver for them, which was extremely difficult to come by in New Mexico proper.

Andrés Reséndez: Technically, Indian slavery had been forbidden since the new laws in the middle of the 16th century. So Parral could not technically have Indian slaves, yet there were many ways to get around this prohibition. First of all, the viceroys of New Spain sometimes pleaded with the Spanish king to try to get an exception. They realized that the wealth of this colony hinged on silver, and that was being held back by the lack of labor. Here's one example of Mexican viceroys pleading for a special exception from the Spanish king. Here's the way it reads in my book: "As early as 1572, the Viceroy of Mexico, Martín Enríquez de Almanza, a capable administrator with personal knowledge of the mines of northern Mexico, wrote to the King of Spain and presented the owner's quandary in a remarkably lucid manner." And I quote him. "'For the mine owners, the key is to have workers. And the Black slaves are not enough. I have written already to Your Majesty about the importance of sending Indians to the mines and paying good wages to them. Many of them go on their own accord and earn enough to eat well. But the natives are lazy by nature, and do not persevere in any kind of work unless they are compelled. Without a direct order from Your Majesty, I do not dare to give Indians to the miners because it is a practice that is forbidden, although it would be very suitable.'" End of quote.

Andrés Reséndez: So Viceroys emphasize the convenience of allowing Indian slaves, even though it was prohibited to be a part of the equation. But even without an express royal permission, it was possible to resort to other subterfuges. For example, the entire Apache nation was deemed an enemy of the Spanish crown, and therefore any Apache apprehended could be legally enslaved in the sense that they would be criminals. They would be tried and sentenced to 10 years or 15 years of forced labor. And so they would sell not the person, but the service to which this person had been condemned. That was another way to get around the legal prohibition against Indian slavery. Another way was through debts. Many of the miners had been originally brought in as salaried workers, but many of these workers, either because of gambling or because everything was outrageously expensive in the mines, from food to clothing to tools, had been forced to go into debt. And once they were indebted, then they became a part of the inventory of the mine. And so we have instances of mines, silver mines being sold in which the workers that are indebted to the mine are sold along with the mines. And in indeed, one of the greatest selling points of the mine is the availability of these workers who are clearly technically not slaves, but in practice, they are held in place and they need to work to work off their debt.

Meredith McCoy: This is Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, and I’m your host, Meredith McCoy. Along with this podcast, you can find our new, first-of-its-kind K-5 framework for teaching slavery to elementary students, including: 20 age-appropriate essential knowledge sections, over 100 primary source texts, and six inquiry design models at Again, here is Andrés Reséndez.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: In The Other Slavery, you also introduce us to people who are on the ground, involved in the silver economy. And one person is Juan de Oñate. Could you say a little bit about his story?

Andrés Reséndez: Sure. Juan de Oñate is normally presented as a generic Spanish conquistador of New Mexico. He arrived in 1598 and apportioned Indians to his fellow Spanish conquistadors, etc. Hidden from view really, are all the mining connections. Oñate went to New Mexico first and foremost as a mining baron. Oñate was the scion of the most important silver baron in Mexico. His father, Cristóbal de Oñate had been one of the founders of the very significant mine of Zacatecas which was, at the time, the most important silver mine in Mexico. And so his purpose in going to New Mexico was to open new lands to Christianity, as he claimed, but also for the more practical reason to look for precious metals and obtain Indian laborers. So instead of thinking of New Mexico as this godforsaken province in which Spanish conquistadors went there and missionaries went there to convert souls, we really should think about the early history of New Mexico as a place that had been in the sights of early miners who were interested in prospecting for additional silver mines, as well as getting ahold of Indigenous labor that they could use in their own going concerns. So Oñate was a very clear example of this. He's well-remembered in New Mexico because he settled New Mexico for the Spanish. Definitely he entered the pueblos and subjected them to the Spanish crown, the Spanish authority. He apportioned the pueblos as encomiendas. An encomienda is a grant of Indian laborers to a Spanish overlord known as an encomendero, and the encomendero would look after the needs of the entrusted Indians and make sure that they got a Christian education. And in return, the encomendero would be able to get labor or tribute from his entrusted Indians. So that's how you can imagine the system of New Mexico operating, and then later on furnishing the silver mines further south in Chihuahua.

Andrés Reséndez: Those who did not submit to Oñate were sentenced to harsher punishments. So he is very well-remembered because he entered the pueblo of Acoma, and they resisted. And so he decreed that a leg would be amputated of the adult population of the Acoma Pueblos. And people still remember that in New Mexico very vividly. But lost in the shuffle is in addition to that, Oñate sentenced non-adults, both boys and girls, to sentences ranging between 10 and 20 years to forced labor. And so again, those Indians from Acoma were traded, were apportioned to Spanish colonizers, conquerors. Some of them were taken out of New Mexico to the expanding silver economy. And so that was the beginning of a system that we can continue to trace through the 17th century as New Mexico became settled. Without these mining connections, the history of New Mexico becomes almost incomprehensible. So here you have a few Spaniards going to this godforsaken northernmost province of the Spanish Empire in North America. And if you overlook these mining connections, then it becomes very difficult to understand why this expedition is taking place, why these conquistadors going with Oñate are apportioning Indians amongst themselves. Why are they so desperately and fervently prospecting for precious metals, and why eventually the story unfolded the way it did.

Andrés Reséndez: We know that that the leading developers were New Mexican governors. It's tempting to think of them as really bad men, but we need to understand the financial pressures that they were under. New Mexican governors had to purchase their office. They had to pay upfront in order to be named governor of New Mexico. That was a general practice under Hapsburg, Spain: the buying and selling of posts. So these governors had to recoup their considerable investments by exploring every avenue of economic enrichment, and the buying and selling of Indians was just one more economic avenue that they really needed to explore. There is plenty of evidence of successive New Mexican governors doing just that. They started by enslaving Pueblo Indians, but New Mexican governors early on discovered that it was extremely disruptive to enslave the Pueblos on whom they depended on a day-to-day basis and amongst them amongst whom they lived. So early on, they largely stopped enslaving Pueblo Indians and redirected their slaving activities to the outlying Indigenous groups, nomadic or semi-nomadic groups like we talked about, the Apaches, Utes, Navajos and others. So that's how we have the system evolving over time.

Andrés Reséndez: There were wars between Pueblos and these groups and amongst these outlying groups, and all of that only served to furnish the other slavery, as I call it. And even though the governors had the leading role in this business, they also invited other merchants to participate in the Indian slave trades, oftentimes going into convoys out of New Mexico to the silver mines further south.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And when you describe the encomienda system, you're really talking about one of these core components that could and should be classified under that definition of the other slavery.

Andrés Reséndez: Right. So again, we get to these very difficult definitional problems here, because in fact, even though the Spanish used the encomiendas as a way to get around the prohibition against Indian slavery, the actual functioning of the encomienda worked differently in different parts of the Spanish Empire. In central Mexico, for example, there were encomiendas. Agricultural settled communities in central Mexico were apportioned to Spanish overlords. And in that case, often it just amounted to an extraction of tribute. In other words, these Indigenous communities remained under their own traditional leaders. They were just required to give a certain percentage of their crops or whatever they produce, 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent to the encomendero. And that was it. So you can think of the encomienda as a sort of a tax on the Indians of Central Mexico. But the encomiendas elsewhere, especially in less-agricultural and less-settled areas, became a subterfuge for naked enslavement. Spanish overlords would go and subdue some Indians, then they would request these Indians as encomienda Indians to be under their protection. And because these Indians did not have an agricultural surplus that they could surrender to the encomendero, the only thing they could give was their labor. So basically, these Spanish overlords would develop mining camps or agricultural estates, and they would resort to their encomienda Indians.

Andrés Reséndez: These encomienda Indians often, as I said, were nomadic or semi-nomadic, which does not mean that they just wandered off whichever way, they actually followed very predictable circuits that enabled them to take advantage of different food sources that became available at different types of times of the year. And so the encomenderos knew exactly where to find their Indians at every certain point in the year. When it came time to harvest or planting, they would go out, get there encomienda Indians at gunpoint, bring them to their estates, make them do the work, and then release them again until they they needed them again. So in that case, the encomienda was like a cyclical form of enslavement, if you will. There were slightly different ways in which the encomienda unfolded. In New Mexico in particular, which is the case that we're talking about, in theory encomienda Indians could not be sold by the Spanish owner, but we have some evidence that some of the encomienda owners sold some of their Indians further south. And even if abiding by the regulations of the encomienda and not selling Indians and not treating them as slaves, they were able to make them work in workshops in order to produce goods, especially harvest piñón nuts, or to make textiles to supply the silver mines.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: In what ways did the Pueblo Indians respond to the encroachment of the Spanish into their territory in present-day New Mexico, and the imposition of these forced labor systems upon them?

Andrés Reséndez: Well, as we describe the human landscape of New Mexico as very intricate, so we have fiercely independent Pueblos. Each Pueblo oftentimes speaking different languages. So some Pueblos spoke linguistically-related languages, but interspersed between them, there were other Pueblos that spoke different languages from different linguistic families. So really, the diversity and the independence of the Pueblos was one important reason that facilitated their ultimate subjugation to the Spanish control. So we have early accounts of the Spanish entrada into New Mexico, and how they were able to appropriate food and appropriate the labor from the Pueblos. And that's how they were able to sell themselves in New Mexico initially, even if they didn't find any precious metals in the province. And once the silver economy of Chihuahua took off, then New Mexico became, as we said, a supply center for the silver mines further south. So that's how they were able to maintain control, and eventually participate in the wars between various nomadic Indians further north and further east and further west from the settlements of New Mexico.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So at a certain point, it seems as though the influence of the Spanish presence is manifest in the changing nature of warfare and conflict between the Pueblos?

Andrés Reséndez: Yes. So one of the most important factors to bear in mind is that the Spanish had an overwhelming warfare technological advantage over natives all over the New World. So they had both horses and firearms. And this was such an overwhelming advantage that they were able to prevail in just about any imaginable combat situation. You know, there are Spanish accounts of such feats all over the New World. But of course, eventually, as we will see, horses were diffused to native peoples and firearms as well. And so then the situation changed later on in the 18th and 19th centuries when we have the emergence of very powerful equestrian Indigenous societies.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And we see the fierce independent character of the different Pueblo groups. When I think about the Pueblo revolt, going into it with this sense of fierce independence as you characterized and described it, it makes the Pueblo revolt, this collection of diverse groups coming together to challenge to Spanish even more remarkable in my mind.

Andrés Reséndez: Right. Right. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 is the largest revolt that occurred in the American Southwest by far. It was a remarkable event. And it is usually explained as a result of Catholic zeal to convert the Pueblo Indians to Christianity. And there is certainly a point to that, and there is plenty of evidence about that, but in recent years, scholars have looked into other aspects of this story and more broadly have added perspective about Indian slavery. In many ways, we can recast that Pueblo revolt of 1680 and think of it as the greatest insurrection against what I call the other slavery. Even though these were over 70 independent communities, they had a clear numerical superiority over the Spanish presence. There were maybe 3,000 to 5,000 Spaniards. Because New Mexico remained a backwater, it failed to attract a significant Spanish presence. And in contrast, we had, I don't know, over 20,000 Pueblo Indians, and thousands more if we add other nomadic and semi-nomadic Indigenous peoples living in the area.

Andrés Reséndez: So the basic insight of the Pueblo revolt was if they could coordinate the different pueblos, and if they could organize and rise up on the same day, they would very easily overwhelm the much smaller Spanish presence and just completely get rid of the Spanish presence there. That's essentially what happened in the spring of 1680. The neural center of this movement was in the pueblo of Taos, which is in the far northeastern part of the New Mexican pueblo world. From inside Kivas, these are underground ceremonial centers, various Pueblos started holding secret meetings in order to put into place this audacious plan of liberation. They sent runners to Santa Fe, runners to Acama pueblo. We're talking about hundreds of miles. And they would basically negotiate with different pueblos. They would send messages. And finally, they would agree on a specific date in which they would all rise and topple their Spanish oppressors.

Andrés Reséndez: And so this is basically what happened. The Pueblo revolt succeeded. In some cases, it was very easy. Some pueblos had the bare minimum, maybe one or two Spanish friars, and overwhelming those friars and destroying their missions or churches was a foregone conclusion. In other places, there were a few Spanish families, ranches, in addition to the friars, and that would also be accomplished relatively easily. But in some of the pueblos, especially in southern New Mexico and above all in the Spanish capital of Santa Fe, this was a much more difficult, much more complicated situation, because Santa Fe had maybe a thousand Spanish people living in it. And in addition, there was a central plaza with a sturdy, you know, casas reales, a sturdy building capable of withstanding a siege. And this is exactly what happened. The local residents holed up in this structure and they were able to resist for a few days. Finally they were chased out by the Pueblo rebels and were allowed to go.

Andrés Reséndez: But what's really interesting about this whole episode is that before they left New Mexico, the Spanish authorities conducted a complete muster, a complete listing of all the different peoples that were retreating from New Mexico. And really, this is something that we don't have for any other Spanish province in the 17th century. In rough numbers, the muster includes 1,500 people. 1,000 Spanish holding about 500 servants. So that already, you know, the numbers already catch your your eye. What's really interesting is that the youth, maybe two-thirds of these were minors. And also the clans. So you had some very well-off New Mexicans who had four, five, two dozen, 40 servants, mostly Indian, but some African as well, and slaves. But even very poor New Mexicans also claimed one or two or three servants. And New Mexico was a place where convicts were sent to serve out their sentences. And some of these convicts also reported having one or two or three Indian slaves. Widows who took the muster, and the muster taker thought they were so poor that he had to record something to that effect. And the recorder noted that this widow was without shoes. And yet he also recorded her having three or four servants. You get a sense that the entire way of life of New Mexico in the 17th century revolved around or was very importantly concerned with the holding of Indians to service.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Which really speaks to the centrality of the other slavery, not just as a labor system, but as a social system as well.

Andrés Reséndez: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Explain to us the role that Po'pay plays in the Pueblo revolt?

Andrés Reséndez: As Pueblo Indians plotted their uprising in the spring of 1680, the figure that came the most to the fore was a man named Po'pay. Po'pay was a medicine man who had fled from the pueblo of San Juan and had found refuge in Taos, which had become the epicenter of this movement. But interestingly, he had a prior history, prior to the revolt of 1680. He had been imprisoned in 1675 during a witch hunt, literally. So the governor of New Mexico at the time was concerned that some Indigenous witches were using their power improperly. Several of them were rounded up, some of them were executed. One of them committed suicide pending his trial. Some others were given severe whippings and then turned loose. And one of them was Po'pay. Po'pay was originally from the San Juan pueblo, was accused of being a witch and tried and given lashes, and he returned to his pueblo for some time. But fearing for his life, he ended up going to the remote pueblo of Taos, where he plotted his revenge. He was the figure who became most associated with the Pueblo revolt five years later, in 1680.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: It's interesting that he had this prior history, because too often we think about resistance as being one or two incidents. We certainly do this in the context of the enslavement of African people, as opposed to something that is sort of ongoing. And that appears in the public record in different ways, but it is something that is really constant and consistent. And then those who find themselves in these various forms of bondage are probing for ways to ameliorate their experience, to find freedom, to lift the yoke of bondage off of their necks. And it sounds like we're seeing the same things in this Indigenous enslavement of native people, probing, finding, shifting and responding to the forms of unfreedom that they are being confronted with.

Andrés Reséndez: It's been very fascinating, because we have a very long history of trying to understand what prompted the Pueblo revolt. At the time of the revolt in the 17th and even in the 18th century, so in colonial years, the Spanish authorities had no doubt that the reason behind the Pueblo revolt had been the devil, basically. The devil was seen as this powerful presence that preyed on the weak all over the world. So it's not surprising also that there are many other witch hunts in Europe at the time in the 17th century, and of course, the Salem witch hunt would take place only a few years after the Pueblo revolts in the 1690s. The thought was that Satan was lurking around and he was tricking especially the most vulnerable members of society. So women, credulous women, as well as Indians. And so the Pueblo revolt was nothing but the wiles of the devil working their way through these figures like Po'pay. So that was the earliest explanation. Later on in the 19th century, when we have Americans coming into New Mexico and taking another look at the Pueblo revolt, they singled out the harsh treatment of the Spanish missionaries of the pueblos. They believe that the missionaries that came to New Mexico had been extraordinarily zealous and had essentially forced the pueblos into this massive rebellion.

Andrés Reséndez: But in recent years, we've come to reassess the reasons for this uprising. And certainly the religious motivation is there. At the time of the rebellion, it is very clear that the Pueblo Indians not only revolted in general, but there was a clear method. They destroyed churches. They defecated on altars. They destroyed images. They took new wives not given by God, but the ones that they desired. The idea was to do away with everything having to do with this Christian order. Clearly the religious motivation was there, but in the last few years, we've reassessed the role of labor coercion and how that may have played into the rebellion. And we have a few indications of that. For one thing, during the rebellion, for example, the Spanish had very few opportunities to learn about the causes behind the Pueblo revolt. They were able to interview some of the leaders even at the time of the revolt, and later on when the Spanish first tried to return to New Mexico, 11, 12 years later, they were able to apprehend some Pueblos and try them and ask them about the causes of the Pueblo revolt. And several of them stated specifically that the unbearable Spanish oppression and slavery had been one of the main or the main driver for this rebellion. So that's that's one additional indication that we have.

Andrés Reséndez: And we also have the interesting overlap between the regions where the Indigenous peoples revolted and the geography of enslavement. So typically, we call it the Pueblo revolt of 1680, but in fact, many other peoples beyond the Pueblos revolted. So there were basically two main regions that became involved in what some scholars call the Great Northern Rebellion. One area went from Taos and Santa Fe along the Rio Grande in New Mexico, all the way through what is now southern New Mexico, and right to the doorsteps of southern Chihuahua in what is now the mine of Parral. And there was another area of revolt in what is now northwestern Mexico in the state of Sonora. So if you look at a map and you trace the corridors of enslavement and then overlay the regions that became involved in this massive rebellion, you'll see that there is quite a bit of overlap. Of course, figuring out the mindset of peoples who revolted centuries ago is never an easy business, but clearly, all of these are indications that the enslavement of natives was one of the primary drivers behind this massive revolt.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The importance of connecting resistance, these revolts to the systems of labor in which Indigenous people found themselves trapped in, how they would understand those systems of labor and how exploitative they were and their desire to rebel against them, I think casts significant doubt on these sort of traditional explanations of the resistance of oppressed and marginalized people being sort of other-worldly. Whether it's the supernatural taking them over, or the hyper-religious, or in the case of many enslaved African Americans, some type of illness became them or overtook them that leads to them to resist. It seems that those explanations are consistent across these various cultures, and serve the useful purpose of saying that the problem isn't actually the system, the problem is these faulty people, if you will. As you were saying, the weakest among the population are susceptible to these outside undue influences.

Andrés Reséndez: Right. In contrast, what we see in the case of the Native Americans is that they are doing everything they can to extricate themselves from this terrible system, very quickly adapting to the legal system that the Spanish offered to them, and using the courts in order to gain a measure of relief, if not their outright freedom, to revolting in these massive uprisings as the Pueblo revolt. So we have a very empowered, very capable, very determined people trying to make the best of a really terrible situation, terrible system.

Meredith McCoy: This is Teaching Hard History: American Slavery. Understanding resistance and resilience helps our students see a more complete picture of the experiences of enslaved people. To learn about the numerous ways that enslaved African Americans incorporated resistance into their daily lives listen to episode six from our first season: "Resistance Means More Than Rebellion" with historian Kenneth S. Greenberg. Once again, here’s Dr. Jeffries and Dr. Reséndez.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: You mentioned earlier, the Spanish pushing up from present-day Mexico into present-day New Mexico. So they're moving north, if you will. But as we move into the 19th century, fast forwarding in time here, we begin to see white Americans pushing west. What are they encountering as they are moving from east to west in North America? And who are they encountering?

Andrés Reséndez: Well, this became a very important source of evidence for me as I was trying to chart the ebbs and flow of the other slavery as I call it, because here you have a group of Americans who are, by the 19th century, primarily familiar with African chattel slavery, and they are moving by the millions across the West. So that's a very significant percentage of the overall U.S. population. I think 40 percent are living in the Western states by 1850. So we have this massive spilling over of the Americans who were priorly confined to these coastal states, washing over the entire land. And again, we find very telling letters and records telling us about the operation of the other slavery in these new lands that they encountered. They are tested in their beliefs. They are tested in the human activities that they see in these new territories. And precisely because they had been so used to the African chattel slavery, I find some of their commentaries very interesting, because sometimes they compare very specifically what they grew up with at home with what they encountered in the West.

Andrés Reséndez: One of the individuals that I follow closely is a man called James Calhoun. He was appointed the first Indian agent of the territory of New Mexico. And he had grown up in Georgia, where he combined a successful career in the shipping business along with a successful political career. And he had never set foot in the West when he was appointed Indian agent of the territory of New Mexico. Even before going to New Mexico, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the superintendent of Indian affairs to learn a little bit about the Indians that he would encounter in the territory of New Mexico. And the superintendent told him that really they know precious little about the Indians that he would encounter, and that basically they would be relying on him to furnish any information he would have. And so he traveled to New Mexico. He very quickly realized that the job that he had been appointed for was far more formidable than he had ever imagined. There were tens of thousands of Indians in New Mexico, some of them openly hostile to the United States. And yet there were just a few hundred U.S. soldiers stationed in New Mexico. And so his job was quite formidable.

Andrés Reséndez: But he came to understand these systems. You know, earlier we were discussing about the particular human landscape of New Mexico. Calhoun was one of the first to describe it very clearly. He said that there are there is a people in a circle consisting of Pueblo Indians, American residents and Spanish residents, and they were surrounded by what he called the four wild tribes. So Utes, Navajos, Comanches and Apaches. So he very clearly laid out the system. He also believed that, of the four wild tribes as he called them, the Navajos were the ones who would be able to live on their own. The Navajos had very thriving crops. They also had sheep. They wove some of the finest fabrics in the west. And so they could make a living on their own. But the other three wild tribes, as he call them, his estimation was that they basically lived off of plundering, as he called it. Plundering both horses from each other and captives and selling captives from each other. So it would take a major military U.S. build-up in the region in order for the United States to stop these three wild tribes from their plundering ways, so to speak. So that was his very initial assessment of New Mexico.

Andrés Reséndez: And Calhoun also had very telling passages about the system of bondage that he encountered in New Mexico. He very early on noticed that New Mexicans didn't call their slaves "slaves," they called them peons. But he went on to note that really what these people called peons is what we in the old South know as slaves. It's just a matter of terminology, and if there is any difference is that Southern slaves are confined to one race of the human family, whereas peons encompass everybody. It could be different Indian groups or it could be even Mexicans. He even noted that Mexicans could have other Mexicans as slaves, and this didn't cause any problems. Or some Indians would have other Indians, and this didn't seem to have any problems. So anyways, we have a very rich description of the system that operated in New Mexico, and indeed in many other places of the American West.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And it seems that persons like James Calhoun, who have this experience in the American South, have an experience with enslavement of African people, when they journey west, they recognize what they see.

Andrés Reséndez: Yes. Calhoun wrote a lot about the system. He was taken aback by the sophistication of the slave system in New Mexico. He was one of the first to note how female peons or female Indian slaves were worth 50 or 60 percent more than adult males, for example. And he interviewed many children who had been held as peons or slaves in New Mexico, and wrote pithy notes about them. Now interestingly enough, he documented the practice widely, but he never did anything to stop it. His main problem was that, by virtue of the treaty between Mexico and the United States at the end of the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-48, the United States had to return any Mexican slaves held unlawfully in the United States by Indian tribes or by other peoples in the United States. And when he encountered that situation, he would try to procure those slaves and return them to Mexico. But notice that he basically would pay the owners in order to get these slaves to return to Mexico, thus validating the system ultimately. So in other words, he never questioned that this was illegal or anything like that, this was just the way it worked. And just worked with the system in order to abide by the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The perceptions of people like Calhoun, white Americans who are venturing west, white Americans who had been out west for a while, their perceptions aren't merely attitudes. They become part of the way in which the West becomes governed. Could you say a little bit about how, in 1850, for example, the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians passed by California's state legislature complicates the history of the West during this moment?

Andrés Reséndez: The canonical history of the West is that California joined the union as a quote unquote, "free soil state." But early American authorities in California warned that there were Indians held to service, and exhorted the population not to view California Indians in the light of slaves. But none of that really mattered. As you were mentioning, the coalition of Americans living in California, along with old Mexican ranchers who came to dominate the early politics of California, drafted this act of 1850 that essentially, I call it in my book a piñata of laws that enable people to exploit natives in different ways. So one of the most obvious provisions of that so-called Act for the Protection of Indians of 1850 was that any native who is able to work and yet has no visible means to support themselves could be denounced by a white settler, and then he would need to be imprisoned and sold to the best bidder for a term that could not exceed four months. So essentially, natives who didn't have any visible means to support themselves could be turned into slaves for a period of four months. This was one way to do it. Another way to do it was that Indigenous children could be inducted into apprenticeships, as they were called. That is, a white person could go before the justice of the peace, and with the agreement of either the child's parents or a friend, quote-unquote "friend," and this is a technical term here, that that child could be inducted into this apprenticeship system, which essentially was servitude for multiple years. So there are different scholarly estimates, but the numbers are in the thousands, maybe 20,000 Indigenous Californians affected by this act of 1850, mostly used as domestic servants or also in agricultural enterprises.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: As we move from mid-1800s to the Civil War, 1861-1865, and then eventually to emancipation, 13th Amendment, I'm really struck by the descriptions of what is allowable under California law, and what would be allowable in many of the Southern states for the treatment of freed men and freed women, formerly enslaved African people. So the apprenticeships, I mean, we see that happening immediately after emancipation of children who are of young age. And of course, this also mirrors what would happen with gradual abolition in the Northern states after the American Revolution. But then you also have vagrancy laws. The same thing: sweeping up able-bodied men and women, arresting them and then leasing them out for periods that sometimes will be four months, very often even longer to mines, not the silver mines that we described earlier, but the iron mines the ore mines in Birmingham or the turpentine fields in Florida. So you really see, in a sense, as we move towards emancipation, particularly on the emancipation side of ending African enslavement, it can also be seen not solely as an end, but as a beginning; replicating the experience moving forward, something that was existing at the same time. And that is this other slavery, the enslavement of Indigenous people.

Andrés Reséndez: That's right. That's a fascinating observation. The end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments are often seen as the end of slavery in the South. But as you point out, the system evolved in such a way that it came to resemble very similar to the kinds of bondage systems that existed in the West. So that many of the natives of the Western states of the United States would find very familiar the practices that took hold in Reconstruction-era South. And so if slavery ended in the aftermath of the Civil War, the other slavery just got started there.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And it's not something that's new. I mean, it's new in terms of its applicability to this particular population group, but it's something as you point out, that's centuries old, that then becomes adopted as you have white Southerners desperate to replicate labor control systems as close to the former slavery as possible. They obviously know they can't do having lost the Civil War, but what we see with the other slavery is that it provides this model, and certainly becomes replicated in many ways to a large degree in many of these places. I think it's an interesting, fascinating and historically-relevant point of intersection and overlap between the enslaved African experience and the enslaved Indigenous experience.

Andrés Reséndez: And it also points to the enormous difficulty of ending slavery more broadly. I mean, in the course of this conversation, we've seen how the Spanish crown tried to end Indian slavery as early as 1541-42, and it couldn't be done. It went into this anti-slavery crusade in the late 17th century and it failed. The Mexican government made Indians born within the territory of Mexico technically free and liberated everyone, yet Indian slavery remained in Mexico after that, and in some ways intensified. And in the aftermath of the Civil War, we find the 13th Amendment that ended slavery as well as involuntary servitude, a formulation that was deemed broad enough to end things like Indian slavery or Chinese coolies or peonage, etc., and yet it did not do so. It remained a vibrant institution in many places through the rest of the 19th century, and in remote places well into the 20th century.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So thinking about the ways that this system of the other slavery is shifting and responding to legal space and legal limits, which would include, for example, the criminalization of whole groups of people, like outlawing the Apache, for example, right? You are then able to put them into coercive labor systems. Thinking as a historian, is there an end point? Is there a time, a chronological moment when we can say on the back end that this other form of slavery sort of comes to an end? Knowing that coercive labor systems would still be in play, but is there a moment where we can say, okay, this looks like now an end point, and that something different is beginning afterward?

Andrés Reséndez: That's a very fascinating question, and an extraordinarily difficult one to answer. In some ways, the other slavery continues to this very day. We see reports about the so-called "new slavery," which I don't think it's anything new, but telling us that there are 40 million people around the world in more than 160 countries subjected to some quote-unquote, "New forms of slavery." The emphasis here is that no longer are we really dealing with a particular race, but we are really dealing with a host of mechanisms very compatible with what we are talking about: debt systems, debt peonage or convict leasing, prostitution, etc. So in some ways, the system never went away, and you can trace a line that is ongoing to this day.

Andrés Reséndez: In some other ways however, you can look, for example, at the overall percentage of slaves in the world. So when I say 40 million people today, that is a very high absolute number. But in relative terms it's—given that we have billions of people, this is a relatively small percentage that we are talking about. And so the question is, when did the percentage of people held in all kinds of bondage systems decline? If you believe that, say, in the Roman times, there were 25 percent of people were slaves, etc., again, this is something that I did not actively research in my book, but it seems that the percentage comes down sometime in the late 19th century, around that time. And again, I don't know exactly why, I have not actively researched that, but it might be an interesting turning point to look into.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Well, it gives us more food for thought, and especially around these notions of the continuation, even into the modern moment of coercive forms of labor. And that which we see today certainly isn't new, but is a lengthy part of human history and the human experience. Andrés, I can't thank you enough for joining us for this second episode and really bringing us into the modern moment, and helping us better understand the scale and scope but then also the importance and significance of what you term the other slavery, the enslavement of Indigenous people. Thank you so much, Andrés.

Andrés Reséndez: Thank you so much, Hasan. It's been a pleasure being here with you.

Meredith McCoy: Andrés Reséndez is a professor of History at the University of California-Davis. He is the author or several books—including A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, and The Other Slavery, which was National Book Award finalist and winner of the Bancroft Prize.

Meredith McCoy: Teaching Hard History is a podcast from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center—helping teachers and schools prepare their students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Teaching Tolerance offers free resources to educators who work with children from kindergarten through high school. You can find these online at

Meredith McCoy: Most students leave high school without an adequate understanding of the role slavery played in the development of what is currently the United States, or how its legacies still influence us today. Now in our second season, this podcast is part of an effort to provide comprehensive tools for learning and teaching this critical topic. Teaching Tolerance provides free teaching materials that include over 100 texts, sample inquiries, and a detailed K-12 framework for teaching the history of American slavery. You can also find these online at

Meredith McCoy: Thanks to Dr. Reséndez for sharing his insights with us. This podcast is produced by Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer, with additional support from Robin Wise and Barrett Golding. Gabriel Smith provides content guidance, and Kate Shuster is our executive producer. Our theme song is "Different Heroes" by A Tribe Called Red (featuring Northern Voice), who graciously let us use it for this series. Additional music is by Chris Zabriskie.

Meredith McCoy: If what you heard today was helpful to you, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And then let us know what you thought. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We always appreciate your feedback.

Meredith McCoy: I’m Dr. Meredith McCoy, assistant professor of American Studies and History at Carleton College.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University.

Meredith McCoy and Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And we’re your hosts for Teaching Hard History: American Slavery.


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