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Witches of Abiquiú, Book by Rick Hendricks, PhD

Taos County Historical Society
Taos County Historical Society’s April program features author Rick Hendricks, PhD., talking about his book The Witches of Abiquiú. Join us on Saturday April 1st at 2:00 PM at the Kit Carson electric coop boardroom, 118 Cruz Alta in Taos.

The Witches of Abiquiú tells the story of the little-studied and little-known outbreak of witchcraft that took place at Abiquiú between 1756 and 1766, less than a century after the Pueblo Revolt and symbolizing the resistance by the Genízaros (hispanicized Indians) of Abiquiú to forced Christianization.
The Genízaro land grant at Abiquiú was the crown jewel of Governor Vélez Capuchin’s plan to achieve peace for the early New Mexico colonists. The Pueblo Indians’ resistance to Christianization and the raids by the nomadic indios bárbaros threatened the existence of the colony. Governor Vélez Capuchin’s strategy involved establishing peace with the Comanches and Utes and allowing the Pueblo Indians to retain their religious ceremonies.

The Spanish and Indian belief systems were polar opposites except for a common belief in magic and sorcery. Into this cauldron of nonconforming and even heretical practices stepped Father Juan José Toledo in 1756 as the sole representative of orthodox Christianity in this Genízaro settlement. In 1760 he commenced a cascade of reports to the governor about the pervasive witchcraft and sorcery rampant among the population, including charges that the Genízaros had bewitched him as well.

After trials and much deliberation, the case was ultimately forwarded to the Inquisition in Mexico City. The conclusion was anticlimactic. Father Toledo was chastened for his overzealous desire to confront the Devil, Governor Vélez Capuchin’s handling of the affair was vindicated, and the punishment phase of the Abiquiú witchcraft proceedings was relatively benign. The Genízaros themselves eventually became part of Spanish society, no longer marginalized, no longer set apart as neither Spanish nor Indian, and the Abiquiú Pueblo land grant survived and flourished.

The Witches of Abiquiú is the story of a polarizing event in New Mexico history equal in importance to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, marking the last major example of a phenomenon that began in Europe and was imported to the New World.

Taos County Historical Society presents its April Program on Saturday, April 1 at 2:00 pm at the Kit Carson Electric Co-op Boardroom at 118 Cruz Alta Road in Taos. Join us!

Rick Hendricks was the New Mexico state historian from 2010 to 2019 and has been the New Mexico State Records Administrator since 2019. He earned his doctorate from UNM in 1985 in Ibero-American Studies. He is the former editor of the [Don Diégo de] Vargas Project at UNM. He is the author or co-author of several books and has written numerous reviews and scholarly journal articles.