Modern history


Chapter 22


Narbona crouched in the scrub above Santa Fe, looking down upon the battlements and earthworks the Americans had constructed with such haste. He watched the soldiers marching, practicing their marksmanship, drilling in close order. He saw the glint of their guns and swords, the resplendent uniforms of the dragoons. He saw an unfamiliar flag flying over the Palace of the Governors, with crisp stars and bands of red and white. He saw the ambassadors of other Indian tribes trickling into the city to pay homage to the great general, Kearny. On the outskirts of town he could make out the legions of American conquerors quartered in smoky tent cities, erected in the pastures and cornfields of the Mexicans.

The American logic escaped Narbona: How could they make war with the Mexicans and in the next instant not only declare themselves friends with them, but vow to subjugate their enemies? Why would they willingly absorb another people’s war? What fickle spirits drove these men?

Then Narbona heard the explosions, the terrific booms of the American guns—the mountain howitzers and other cannons the soldiers periodically shot for artillery practice or for some sort of demonstration. The skies shuddered and the ground shook when these great guns fired. The barrels flashed and seethed smoke. The sounds were terrifying.

Many Native Americans at the time were said to have an overwhelming, irrational fear of artillery—according to one prominent Western historian, Indians often expressed a belief that these big guns “could shoot holes through the earth and kill on the far side of mountains.” Whether Narbona shared in this dread is not known, but clearly the howitzers made an impression on him.

Narbona realized that these were a different sort of people. The rumors were correct—their armies really did fire lightning bolts. He saw no point in fighting them, there was nothing to be won. He would make his way back to Navajo country and advocate a permanent peace with the Americans.

A corner had been turned, a fresh era had arrived, and New Mexico was now in the hands of an altogether different race. He called them, with an emphatic simplicity, “the New Men.”

Narbona was amazed and troubled by the implications of everything he saw—for if his old enemy had been so quickly and completely vanquished, what lay in store for his own people?

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