Friday, November 8, 2013

Most maligned Indian

The most maligned Indian of the Southwest has to be Turk — El Turco, as the Spanish chronicles refer to him.
     Once Indians found out that Spaniards wanted gold more than anything else, they repeatedly would say that, yes, there was lots of gold — it was far away in that direction, where it just so happened their native enemies lived. Spaniards would believe anything if gold was involved, and time after time the ploy worked to rid tribes of unwelcome Spanish invaders.
     As a captive of the Spaniards, the Pawnee Indian Turk came up with the same idea, either on his own or with Pecos Pueblo leaders who wanted Spaniards to leave.
     Turk told Coronado there was gold by the wagonloads if the Spaniards would just ride across the Great Plains to what we now know was the Mississippi River. Turk's hope was that Coronado and his men would perish on the trek.
     Coronado had Turk garroted after Turk admitted, under torture, that there was no gold. Turk was defiant and unrepentant to the end. Spanish chronicles called him a traitor to justify the execution.
     How a captive could be considered a traitor to his enemies defies logic. But Turk continues to be referred to by the Spanish labels of "traitorous," "scheming," "a liar," and worse in history books.
     A different view is at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. There Turk is honored as a hero. The center's exhibit tells how "our friend" sacrificed his life to lure Spaniards away from the pueblos — where Spaniards had been plundering, dispossessing, killing, and raping Puebloans.

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