Marc Simmons: Captive Indians left to live among Spanish

Author Marc Simmons discusses a historical group of Indians who were captured in their youth and struggled to live among the Spanish in New Mexico as adults:
Anyone who reads much on the history of colonial New Mexico will sooner or later run across the word genízaro. It was a true “localism,” a term used in its own way, with a special meaning to the people of the Rio Grande Valley.

During the Spanish era, government officials or priests who used the word in their reports to superiors in Mexico City took pains to define it, knowing that outsiders were unfamiliar with the local usage.

For example, in 1778, Father Juan Agustin de Morfi gave this definition: “In all the Spanish towns of New Mexico, there exists a class of Indians called genízaros. 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.”

Genízaro is the Spanish word for Janizary, which originally was the name for guards and elite troops of the Turkish sultan in the old Ottoman Empire. Spaniards probably picked up the word in their wars with the Turks, and they gave it a new meaning: “A person begotten by parents of different nations.”

That sense of mixed parentage was carried over to New Mexico where, as Father Morfi says, genízaro referred to individuals of various tribes who grew up in Spanish society. At every opportunity, the Spaniards would ransom child captives, taken by Indian groups in raids upon their neighbors.

Get the Story:
Marc Simmons: Trail Dust: Class of Indians once called ‘genizaros’ in New Mexico (The Santa Fe New Mexican 1/18)

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