Most Albuquerque-area residents know about Pueblo Indians. But what about the Faraon Apaches, whose base for many years was the Sandia and Manzano mountains?
Since the late 1590s, Spaniards called the Apaches of the Middle Rio Grande by the Spanish word “faraón” for pharaoh, a reference to Biblical Egyptians. Spaniards reported that the Faraon Apaches were allied with several pueblos against Spanish rule in 1692.
The new Spanish presence had disrupted much of the area’s traditional trading network, resulting in Faraones intensifying raid-and-trade at pueblos to obtain what they wanted or needed.
For Apaches too poor to buy horses – which were forbidden to them, anyway – the alternative was to steal them from Spanish herds at ranches and pueblos.
Spaniards and their Pueblo allies would deploy numerous campaigns against Faraon Apaches to punish them for thefts of horses and other livestock. One of the campaigns came after Faraon Apaches raided settlers around Bernalillo and Alameda.
Historian John L. Kessell wrote about how a campaign launched in 1704 would end with the death of Diego de Vargas, who had reconquered pueblo country after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Vargas led the punitive expedition, marching south from Santa Fe to Alameda with Spaniards and Puebloan allies. The force found Faraones with stolen livestock at the “watering place of Carnué,” which was how Tijeras Pass was known then, but the Faraones escaped. Vargas and several expedition members became ill, and Vargas was taken to a Bernalillo home, where he died at the age of 60.
In June 1706, the year of Albuquerque’s founding, the new villa’s first alcalde mayor, Martin Hurtado, wrote about a visit by “the pagan Indians of the Faraon Apache nation.” Hurtado reported that Faraones “have constantly come to trade and barter with the Spanish inhabitants of the said Villa of Alburquerque (sic) and the Christian Indians of the mountain passes and towns of this district.”
Spanish Gov. Francisco Cuerbo y Valdés had predicted troubles with these same Apaches when he founded the villa, writing: “For (colonists’) security, I decided that a group of 10 soldiers of this presidio should go in a squad, taking their families to escort and guard them, because (the place) is in the main frontier of the barbarous … Faraones.”
Pecos Pueblo residents told Gov. Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón in 1714 that Faraones “make their base in the Sierra de Sandia from which they sally forth to rob horses and cattle” from pueblos and colonial ranches. Two days later, Faraones took the horse herd at Picuris Pueblo.
Gov. Mogollón reacted by ordering a campaign against Faraones near Bernalillo and Albuquerque, where Vargas had gone 11 years earlier. The force set out in 1715 and searched for weeks without finding any Faraones. It was suspected that someone had warned the Apaches.
As late as 1754, Gov. Tomás Vélez Cachupín noted that raids by one or another Apache band posed a threat to ranches and pueblos around Bernalillo and Albuquerque. By then, the area was also suffering from deadly attacks by Comanches on horseback from the Great Plains.
Author and former Journal reporter Sherry Robinson said some mid-1800s maps still labeled the area from Sandia Mountain to the Pecos River as Faraon territory, although the Faraon Apaches seem to have merged with the Mescaleros by then.
Although on every colonist’s mind in the 1600s and 1700s, today’s memories of the Faraon Apaches of the Sandia and Manzano mountains have faded to obscurity.
Dennis Herrick is author of “Winter of the Metal People” and “Faded Pueblos of the Tiguex War.”