Genízaros were Native American slaves who served as house servants, shepherds, and in other capacities throughout what is today the Southwest United States well into the 1880s. By the late 18th century, the Genízaros and their descendants, who were often referred to as Coyotes, comprised nearly one-third of the entire population of New Mexico.[1] In 2007 the Genízaros and their contemporary descendants were recognized as indigenous people by the New Mexico Legislature.[2][3] Today, they comprise much of the population of the South Valley of Albuquerque, and significant portions of the population of Northern New Mexico Including Espanola, Taos, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas in Eastern New Mexico.


Genízaro is a Spanish word that evolved from the English word janissary, which was adapted from the Ottoman Turkish word yeniçeri. This referred to slaves who were trained as soldiers for the Ottoman Empire. In New Mexico, the term Genízaro was used to describe Native American slaves and servants. It also was used to describe many Pueblo Indians who were living in the Spanish settlements such as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Belen.


Beginning in 1692 Young Indian captives were sold into slavery in New Mexico. Many of the captives complained of mistreatment and were settled in land grants on the periphery of Spanish settlements according to a policy established by the Governors. These settlements became buffer communities for larger Spanish towns in the event of attack by enemy tribes surrounding the province.[6] The following description of the Tome-Valencia settlements by a Spanish Religious official (Fray Menchero) in the 1740s provides insight as the politics of the settlement of Genizaros on land grants:

They were baptized but often mistreated and sometimes left the church if they could escape from the Spanish. After the missionaries complained about mistreatment of the Indians to the governor, officials established a policy to settle the baptized Indians on land grants on the periphery of Spanish settlements. They generally supported slavery, believing the "redeemed" captives were better off after being educated and converted to Christianity.[4] These settlements became buffer communities for larger Spanish towns in the event of attack by the enemy tribes surrounding the province.[5]

The following description from the 1740s of the Tome-Valencia settlements by a Spanish religious official, Fray Menchero, provides insight as to the politics of the settlement of Genízaros on land grants:

"This is a new settlement, composed of various nations, who are kept in peace, union, and charity by the special providence of God and the efforts of the missionaries,... the Indians are of the various nations that have been taken captive by the Comanche Apaches, a nation so bellicose and so brave that it dominates all those of the interior country...They sell people of all these nations to the Spaniards of the kingdom, by whom they are held in servitude, the adults being instructed by the fathers and the children baptized. It sometimes happens that the Indians are not well treated in this servitude, no thought being given to the hardships of their captivity, and still less to the fact that they are neophytes, and should be cared for and treated with kindness. For this reason many desert and become apostates. Distressed by this, the missionaries informed the governor of it, so that, in a matter of such great importance, he might take the proper measures. Believing the petition to be justified,...he ordered by proclamation throughout the kingdom that all the Indian men and women neophytes who received ill-treatment from their masters should report it to him, so that if the case were proved, he might take the necessary measures. In fact a number did apply to him, and he assigned to them for their residence and settlement, in the name of his Majesty, a place called Valencia and Cerro de Tome, thirty leagues distant from the capital to the south, in a beautiful plain bathed by the Rio (del) Norte. There are congregated more than forty families in a great union, as if they were all of the same nation, all owing to the zeal in the father missionary of Isleta, which is a little more than two leagues from there, to the north. This settlement dates from the year 1740. The people engage in agriculture and are under obligation to go out and explore the country in pursuit of the enemy, which they are doing with great bravery and zeal in their obedience, and under the direction of the said father they are erecting their church without any cost to the royal crown." [6]

The settlements of Tomé and Belén, just south of Albuquerque, were described by Juan Agustin Morfi as follows in 1778:

"In all the Spanish towns of New Mexico there exists a class of Indians called genizaros. These are made up of captive Comanches, Apaches, etc. who were taken as youngsters and raised among us, and who have married in the province…They are forced to live among the Spaniards, without lands or other means to subsist except the bow and arrow which serves them when they go into the back country to hunt deer for food… They are fine soldiers, very warlike… Expecting the genizaros to work for daily wages is a folly because of the abuses they have experienced, especially from the alcaldes mayores in the past… In two places, Belen and Tome, some sixty families of genizaros have congregated."[7]

Tribal origins

Throughout the Spanish and Mexican period, Genízaros settled in several New Mexican villages such as Belén, Tomé, Valencia, Carnué, Los Lentes, Socorro, and San Miguel del Vado. 'Genízaros also lived in Albuquerque, Atrisco, Santa Fe, Chimayó, Taos, Abiquiú and Las Vegas. Most Genízaros were Navajo, Pawnee, Apache, Kiowa Apache, Ute, Comanche, and Paiute who had been purchased at a young age and worked as domestic servants and sheepherders.[8]

By the mid-18th century, the Comanche dominated the weaker tribes in the eastern plains and sold kidnapped captives from these tribes to Spanish villagers.[8] By the Mexican and early American period (1821–1880), almost all of the Genízaros were of Navajo ancestry. During negotiations with the United States military, Navajo spokesmen raised the issue of Navajos being held as servants in Spanish/Mexican households. When asked how many Navajos were among the Mexicans, they responded: "over half the tribe."[9] Most of the captives never returned to the Navajo nation but remained as the lower classes in the Hispanic villages.[9] Members of different tribes intermarried in these communities.

Today their descendants comprise much of the population of Atrisco, Pajarito, and Los Padillas in the South Valley of Albuquerque, and significant portions of the population of Las Vegas in Eastern New Mexico.[4]

19th century

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and New Mexico became a state of the First Mexican Empire. The Treaty of Córdoba enacted by Mexico decreed that indigenous tribes within its borders were citizens of Mexico. Under Spanish rule, Genízaros and Pueblo Indians/Natives had often been treated as second-class citizens, although they were protected by the Laws of the Indies.[10] Officially, the newly independent Mexican government proclaimed a policy of social equality for all ethnic groups, and the Genízaros were officially considered equals to their vecino (villagers of mainly mixed racial background) and Pueblo neighbors. During this period, the term Genízaro was officially dropped from church and government documents.[11][page needed] In practice however, Mexico was far from egalitarian. Most Genízaros remained at the bottom of Mexican society.

Economic and social conditions under Mexico were so bad that in 1837, the Pueblos, Genizaros, Coyotes, and vecinos revolted against the Mexican government. Rebels cut off the head of Albino Perez (the Mexican Governor), and killed all of the Mexican troops in Santa Fe. They formed a new government and elected José Angel Gonzáles, a Genízaro of Taos Pueblo and Pawnee ancestry, as governor.[12] [11] The revolt was often referred to as the Chimayoso Revolt, after the community of Chimayó in Northern New Mexico, which was home to José Angel Gonzáles and many other mixed-blood Indians.[12] The Chimayoso revolt was one of many against the Mexican government by indigenous groups during this period, which included the Mayan revolt in the Yucatán.



  • Hackett, Charles W." Historical Documents Relating to New Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya, and Approaches Thereto." Page: 395.Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institute, 1937)

Further reading

  • Avery, Doris Swann, "Into the Den of Evils: The Genízaros in Colonial New Mexico", Master's Thesis, University of Montana, 2008.
  • Bailey, L.R. Indian Slave Trade in the Southwest. Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1996.
  • Brooks, James F. Captives and Cousins – Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands. Williamsburg: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
  • Brooks, James F. “This Evil Extends Especially to the Feminine Sex: Negotiating Captivity in the New Mexico Borderlands." Feminist Studies 22 (Summer 1996): 279-309.
  • Brugge, David M. Navajos in the Catholic Church Records of New Mexico, 1694-1875. Window Rock, Arizona: Research Section, Parks and Recreation Dept. Navajo Tribe, 1968.
  • Demos, John. The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).
  • Ebright, Malcolm. "Breaking New Ground: A Reappraisal of Governors Vélez Cachupín and Mendinueta and their Land Grant Policies." Colonial Latin American Historical Review 5 (Spring 1996): 195-230.
  • Ebright, Malcolm and Rick Hendricks. The Witches of Abiquiú: The Governor, the Priest, the Genízaro Indians and the Devil. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.
  • Gallegos, Bernardo, "'Dancing the Comanches', The Santo Niño, La Virgen (of Guadalupe) and the Genizaro Indians of New Mexico," In Indigenous Symbols and Practices in the Catholic Church: Visual Culture, Missionization and Appropriation. Kathleen J. Martin, Editor. United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishers, 2010.
  • Gallegos, Bernardo, "Literacy, Education, and Society in Colonial New Mexico, 1693 to 1821." Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 1992.
  • Gallegos, Bernardo, "Performing School in the Shadow of Imperialism: A Hybrid, (Coyote) Interpretation." In Performance Theories and Education, Power, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Identity. Alexander, B., Anderson, G., & Gallegos, B., Eds. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 2005.
  • Gandert, Miguel; Lamadrid, Enrique; Gutiérrez, Ramón; Lippard, Lucy; and Wilson, Chris. Nuevo Mexico Profundo: Rituals of an Indo-Hispanic Homeland. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press; Albuquerque: National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico, 2000, p. 58.
  • Head, Lafayette. "Statement of Mr. Head of Abiquiú in Regard of the Buying and Selling of Payutahs, 30 April 1852." Doc. no. 2150, Ritch Collection of Papers Pertaining to New Mexico, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
  • Horvath, Steven M. Jr. "The Genízaro of Eighteenth-Century New Mexico: A Reexamination." In Discovery: School of American Research (1977): 25-40.
  • ________. “Indian Slaves for Spanish Horses.” In The Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly 143 (Winter 1978): 5.
  • ________. “The Social and Political Organization of the Genízaros of Plaza de Nuestra Señora de Belén, New Mexico.” Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, 1979, pp. 130–33.
  • Jones, Sondra. The Trial of Don Pedro Leon Luján: The Attack Against Indian Slavery and Mexican Traders in Utah. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000, pp. 132–33.
  • Magnaghi, Russell M. "The Genízaro Experience in Spanish New Mexico," In Spain and the Plains: Myths and Realities of Spanish Exploration and Settlement on the Great Plains, edited by Ralph Vigil, Frances Kaye, and John Wunder. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1994, p. 118.
  • Rael Galvan, Estévan, "Identifying and Capturing Identity: Narratives of American Indian Servitude, Colorado and New Mexico, 1750-1930." Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 2002.
  • Simmons, Marc. "Tlascalans on the Spanish Borderlands." New Mexico Historical Review 39 (April 1964): 101-10.
  • Swadesh [Quintana], Frances. "They Settled by Little Bubbling Springs." El Palacio 84 (Fall 1978): 19-20, 42-49.
  • Pinart Collection, PE 52:28, Governor Tomás Vélez Cachupín, Decree, Santa Fe, 24 May 1766; PE 55:3, 1790 Census for Abiquiú.
  • SANM I: 85, 183, 494, 780, 1208, 1258.
  • SANM II: 477, 523, 555, 573.

External links

  • Indio-Hispano Legacy
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