Noted Historian John L. Kessell to give Santa Fe Fiesta Lecture

“A Long Time Coming: The 17th-Century Pueblo-Spanish War”


Santa Fe, NM (Aug. 20, 2009) –John L. Kessell will give the annual Santa Fe Fiesta Lecture at 6:30 pm, Wednesday, Sept. 9, in the New Mexico Museum of Art’s St. Francis Auditorium. General admission is $5, on a first-come basis. Members of the Palace Guard and the Fiesta Council, co-sponsors of the event, are free.

Kessell’s lecture, “A Long Time Coming: The 17th-Century Pueblo-Spanish War,” will consider several questions. The Pueblo Indians had endured for three generations under Spanish rule before they threw off the colonial yoke. What took them so long? Why was war so long in coming?  Was the colonial regime really not so bad after all? Did the benefits of coexistence repeatedly undermine the urge to revolt?  Or were the Pueblos so deeply divided by pre-contact grudges and by the new promise of settling old scores through alliance with Spaniards that they simply could not rally themselves until 1680?  What did Esteban Clemente get wrong in 1670 that Pueblo Revolt leader Po’Pay got right in 1680?

Kessell, professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico, specializes in colonial Southwestern history. He has received numerous awards for his scholarship and has published widely, including his latest book, Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), an even-handed narrative of the tumultuous 17th-century Spanish colony.

No individual Spaniard figured more prominently in New Mexico’s long history than Madrid-bred Diego de Vargas (1643-1704), the refounding father whose legacy has been celebrated every year since 1712 in Las Fiestas de Santa Fe. (This year’s fiesta is Sept. 11-13.) The historical contributions of Vargas, twice governor of the kingdom of New Mexico, and other Spanish colonists have been largely ignored by the Eastern historical establishment in the United States, Kessell contends. Through his efforts, the Guggenheim Foundation, National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and National Endowment for the Humanities finally made a place for Vargas at the tertulia of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams.

As a result of their financial support, the long-term Vargas Project led by Kessell at the University of New Mexico, 1980-2002, published in English translation a six-volume scholarly edition of the Journals of Don Diego de Vargas, 1691-1704, thereby making available to students, scholars, teachers, and the public the principal archives of Vargas’ pivotal government.

Since his retirement from UNM in 2000, Kessell has continued to lecture to a variety of groups on topics relating to Spain’s presence in the American Southwest. He has repeatedly offered the Spanish background in seminars for high school teachers under the Teach America Program. Recently in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, he provided the third lecture to the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit “Jamestown, Québec, and Santa Fe: Three North American Beginnings,” placing Santa Fe’s unique history in its Spanish context.

Pueblos, Spaniards and the Kingdom of New Mexico sets aside stereotypes of Native American Edens and the Black Legend of unique Spanish cruelty, and offers a lively narrative of a tense but interwoven coexistence. Beginning with the first permanent Spanish settlement among the Pueblos of the Rio Grande in 1598, Kessell proposes a set of relations more complicated than previous accounts have envisioned and then reinterprets the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the Spanish reconquest in the 1690s.


Media contact:

Kate Nelson

New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors

(505) 476-1141