Letter to the Editor: Slavery was part of early settlement

The series of programs at Fort Garland Museum called Borderlands of Southern Colorado are among  many events I have missed with regret since age began to prevent my driving many miles from home. The presentation on March 7, entitled “The Other Slavery,” was one I especially regretted missing.

While reading the Bible, it is easy to see the role that subjugation and bondage of people played for thousands of years in the Old World. It still did in the San Luis Valley in the 1800s, when it was very much a part of the story of settlement, although most have preferred to sweep it under rug. Whether the system was called enslavement, indenturing, or adoption, it’s part of the story about how ownership of property and wealth and the statuses of social classes were gained and perpetuated. It’s not always a happy story.

The New World witnessed the enslavement of indigenous Indians by other hostile Indians long before Columbus was born or the Spaniards arrived. Then the aggressive, better-armed Spaniards acquired native captives and also brought some African slaves to Mexico in the early 1600s. North America’s Virginia colonists also brought some black slaves and acquired Indians in trade in the early 1600s. Meanwhile, different Indian tribes were taking captive the members of other Indians tribes and were actively engaging in trading. In New Mexico, Spanish-speaking colonists quickly began to acquire Indian captives and put them to work in their homes, fields, mines, and other undertakings. Among the most active tribes in this region were Apache and Ute Indians, who often brought in captives – especially Navajos – to trade fairs like Taos’s. Some of the Anglos in the 1800s also brought a few black slaves and welcomed an opportunity to acquire Indian captives to do with the toughest work.

Many of these slaves were baptized and given the names of the families who owned them, so it is not always easy to distinguish today which cultures or individuals were the good guys and which were the bad ones. Fortunately, the world is changing.

Virginia Simmons

Del Norte

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