Saturday, July 19, 2014


El Morro, Cibola County, New Mexico.

The site of El Morro rock in Cibola County, in western New Mexico, has seen much history. This large rock outcrop has a permanent pool of water in that arid environment, and prehistorically had a pueblo built on top of the rock. Ancestral Puebloan rock art can be found on the cliffs and spires of El Morro, as can the inscriptions and names of later comers. Thus, El Morro is literally a history book of the region imprinted with those stories and messages from the past.

Ancestral Puebloan images, El Morro, Cibola County,
New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, June 1993.

One of these was the inscription of Diego de Vargas Zapata Luján Ponce de León y Contreras. “Diego de Vargas Zapata Luján Ponce de León y Contreras (born in Spain, 1643 – 1704), commonly known as Don Diego de Vargas, was a Spanish governor of the New Spain territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, today the US states of New Mexico and Arizona, titular 1690-1692, effective 1692-1696 and 1703 – 1704. He is most famous for leading the reconquest of the territory in 1692 following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. This reconquest is commemorated annually during the Fiestas de Santa Fe in the city of Santa Fe.” (Wikipedia)

Diego de Vargas - left (p.242), and the
de Vargas coat of arms - right (p. 243),
Kessell, Kiva, Cross, and Crown, 1979.

“Gov. Diego de Vargas, capable, cocksure, and visibly daring, on February 22, 1691, assumed command of the dispirited New Mexico colony in exile. He found El Paso a hole. The poverty, misery, and constant dread of Indian attack had driven many New Mexico refugee families to desert the El Paso settlements. A muster of men capable of bearing arms, counting not only the poorly equipped presidial garrison organized in 1683 but Indian allies as well, turned out scarcely three hundred in all.” (Kessell 1979:243) Yet in 1692 he had organized troops and colonists to begin the reconquest of New Mexico.

“Vargas made a dashing entrada, took Santa Fe, then occupied by Indians, without bloodshed, and granted forgiveness to the rebels. He made excursions to many pueblos on and near the Rio Grande, all of which tendered obedience, and at the end of October he struck out west for Acoma, Zuni and the Hopi pueblos. Submission of the pueblo of Acoma was obtained, without the use of force, and the expedition proceeded toward Zuni. The General’s journal entry for Saturday, November 8, 1692 records the arrival of the expedition at El Morro – “a large rock, very high and broad, at the foot of which is a cavity, like an orange, and in it water may be collected if there is any; there is no certainty of finding it supplied with water but God be praised at present there is great abundance. . . “” (Slater 1961:13)

De Vargas inscription,  El Morro, Cibola County,
New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, June 1993.

Near this tank (pool of water) is found the De Vargas inscription of 1692, which may have been inscribed by De Vargas or by one of his men, and which says:

“Aqui estuvo de General Don Diego
de Vargas, quien consuisto
a nuestra Santa Fe y a la Real
Corona todo el Nuevo
Mexico a su costa.
Ano de 1692.”  (

“Here was the General Don Diego
De Vargas, who conquered
For our Holy Faith, and for the Royal
Crown, all the New
Mexico, at his expense,
Year of 1692” (Slater 1961:13)

Close-up of De Vargas inscription,  El Morro, Cibola
County, New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, June 1993.

General De Vargas surprisingly was welcomed at both Zuni and Hopi and he returned to Zuni on November 27, 1692. They passed El Morro again on their way back to the Rio Grande and it is also possible that the inscription dates to this visit. (Slater 1961:14)

“De Vargas reconquered the Pueblo Indians after their bloody rebellion in 1680 and succeeded in bringing many colonists from Spain to take up homes in this country. He lies buried under the altar of the parish church in Santa Fe.” (

I will cover a number of the other El Morro inscriptions in future postings on RockArtBlog.


Kessell, John L.
1979    Kiva, Cross, and Crown, the Pecos Indians and New Mexico, 1540-1840, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington D.C.

Slater, John M.
1961    El Morro, Inscription Rock, New Mexico, The Plantin
           Press, Los Angeles.


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