This article is the first in a series about how Pueblo has incorporated the chile pepper as its official symbol that has become part of our identity. It was written by professor Terrence W. Haverluk, who outlines how Chile was commonly consumed in trading days and was brought back by the chamber and area farmers who started in the 1990s successfully creating new local food consumption patterns based on chiles, linked to marketing Pueblo as a Southwestern town, promoting food and seasonal events more in tune with the original, multi-ethnic Fort Pueblo.
The author divides the history of chiles and their impact on the community into three historical epochs. This is his story about Pueblo’s frontier epoch directly from his extensive 59 page study: Pueblo began as a border trading post linked economically and culturally to Mexico. During the Fort Pueblo epoch the chile pepper was an important symbol of civilization and its links to the Southwest.
In 1842, five Anglo-Americans—Matt Kinkead, Ed Conn, John Gantt, Bob Fisher, and George Simpson—established a trading post on the north side of the Arkansas River where it meets the Fountain River. In 1842, the Arkansas River marked the boundary between the US and Mexico, south of the Arkansas was Mexico and the Arapahoe Nation; to the West the Ute and Cheyenne Nations.
The founders hoped to enrich themselves by trading whiskey to Indians, manufactured goods to Mexicans, and furs to Anglos. Each man had experience with the Santa Fe Trail trade and all but Kinkead married a Mexican woman from the Taos area of New Mexico.
These “mountain-men” were typical of Hispanicized (Hispanization is the process by which a person or place absorbs characteristics of Hispanic culture and society). Anglos on the border—they took Mexican wives, learned Spanish, converted to Catholicism, built adobe homes, and ate “Mexican.” Ed Conn and Matt Kinkead became Mexican citizens, and Ed was baptized “Francisco.”
The “Fort” was constructed in the traditional Mexican style and was really a trading post unable to withstand a frontal assault or siege. The founders hired Taos masons to build an eight-foot high, ten-foot wide adobe square with several adjoining rooms in which each family lived. The square opened onto the central plaza and a few adobe ovens or hornos where the women prepared meals. The slightly pitched roof was supported by pared logs or vigas, whose ends protruded from the front wall of the house where Fort Puebloans hung chiles to dry.
Outside the fort were a series of small adobe walls protecting irrigated fields. Fort Puebloans grew the standard Southwestern crops of corn, squash, melons, and chiles. They ate corn green, or when ripe, ground into corn to make tortillas. Making tortillas was exclusively women’s work. Only Mexican women, who had learned the skills from Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, could turn corn kernels into tortillas.
Mexican woman had her own mano y metate, a stone grinding tool upon which she crushed the corn, and then added water and lime to make tortillas. Mexican women crushed dried chiles in a molcajete and used them to spice dried meat, in tamales, and atole (a thin soup of water, lime, and corn).
Meals were eaten communally on the floor, the men served first. The men sat on buffalo robes surrounding a poncho. In the center of the poncho was an earthen bowl containing atole. After successful hunts a more substantial mixture of beans, meat, corn, onions, and chiles was served. No matter the meal, each man dipped his tortilla into the bowl, doubled between his thumb and fingers, and ate until full. After the men finished, the women ate.
Fort Puebloans grew their own chiles, but also traded with Taos, which generally had a surplus. Chile ristras hanging from the vigas to dry in the sun was one of the most important food symbols of early Pueblo. The ristra represented civilization and wealth in the Southwest just as peppers and spices did in Europe.
The early population of Fort Pueblo was primarily Mexican, with a few Ute, Comanche, and Arapahoe Indians, and even fewer Anglos. From 1842 until 1848 Fort Pueblo was integrated economically and culturally to Taos much more than to the US. When confronted with a contingent of Texans bent on invading and annexing eastern New Mexico, Fort Puebloans sided with the New Mexicans. The fort prospered until 1848 when the US invaded and annexed the area south of the Arkansas River.
After annexation, many more Anglos arrived. Newly arriving Anglos were unable to discern friendly Indian from hostile and they tended to shoot first and ask questions later. They didn’t speak Spanish, the lingua franca of the Pueblo area, nor did they understand Indian sign language. In 1847, the friendly Comanche chief Cinemo approached an Anglo wagon train. Anglo drovers quickly motioned him away, which to Cinemo meant “come.” When he neared, they killed him.
The new settlers were mostly Protestants imbued with the Black Legend who considered Catholic Mexicans and heathen Indians as burdens to material progress. It was common opinion that the priests were corrupt and their flock ignorant and superstitious.
Charles Bent wrote that “The Mexican character is made up of Stupidity [sic], obstinacy, Ignorance [sic], duplicity and vanity.” The exicans generally tended to ignore Anglo prejudices and probably harbored many of their own towards Anglos.
The Indians, however, saw the newcomers as a threat to their way of life and became hostile to all non-natives. In 1854, Ute Chief Tierra Blanca and 100 warriors killed all fifteen persons (mostly Mexicans) living in Fort Pueblo and the site was abandoned. By 1859, the US Calvary had resolved the Indian “problem” and Josiah F. Smith repopulated the fort, beginning the Anglo-dominated, industrial era.
Part I of a Series directly from a study “Chile Peppers and Identity Construction in Pueblo, Colorado” by Terrence W. Haverluk of the United States Air Force Academy, 2002.
Photos: Adobe oven, Mirasol peppers and Ristra hanging From restored Fort Pueblo by Terrence W. Haverluk.
Compiled by Jenny Paulson / Pueblo Independent