Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


During the eighteenth century, Indian slavery and the slave trade were important components in relations between the New Mexican Spanish and Native Americans of the Great Plains. Captives who had been acculturated and paid their ransom debt were discharged by their Spanish masters and entered Spanish society as genízaros. The term is from "janissary," which referred to Christian captives who entered Turkish service.

The genízaros, many of whom came from the ranks of such Plains tribes as Plains Apaches, Jumanos, Comanches, Kiowas, Pawnees, Wichitas, and possibly Crows, lacked legal and social status and land; consequently, they settled at frontier outposts from El Paso to north of Santa Fe, where they received land and protected the colony from surrounding Indian raiders–Apaches, Comanches, Navajos, and Utes. In time they developed civilian (trader, weaver, rancher, farmer) and military occupations. Many traded with Plains Indians during peaceful times. They continued as an unorganized military force known for their bravery and fighting ability, both as militia troops and scouts. Their economic status improved with the horses, livestock, and other goods that they were allowed to keep from successful campaigns.

The genízaro militia was officially recognized and formally organized in 1808 as the Tropa de Genizaro. It was commanded by a corporal from their own ranks and based in Santa Fe. They had an organized supply system, which provided the militia with equipment and expendable supplies. With the end of Spanish rule in 1821, the segregated genizaro troops disappeared as they merged with the regular Mexican militia.

See also HISPANIC AMERICANS: Genízaros.

Russell M. Magnaghi Northern Michigan University

Magnaghi, Russell M. "Plains Indians in New Mexico: The Genízaro Experience." Great Plains Quarterly 10 (1990): 86–95.

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