Marc Simmons: The art of Indian diplomacy
"Shortly before Juan de Oñate departed southern Chihuahua with a caravan on his way to settling New Mexico in 1598, his expedition underwent a review by a royal inspector.

Its purpose was to establish that Oñate had acquired the proper supplies for the important task ahead. His inventory included a long list of items as gifts for Indians.

They ranged from butcher knives, scissors, thimbles and thread, Flemish mirrors, cloth hats, toy trumpets and flutes for children, glass earrings, awls and tobacco to more than a thousand religious medals made of alloy.

In the beginning, missionaries handed out such gifts as they attempted to win over the native people. But by the 1700s, that duty had been delegated to soldiers and governors.

The reason was that the distribution of gifts to nomadic tribes had become a key feature in making peace and preserving it. The finest gifts, usually presented to Indian leaders, had the effect not only of honoring them, but also of confirming their high status and nourishing a new loyalty to the Spanish government."

Get the Story:
Marc Simmons: Trail dust: Gifting and the art of Indian diplomacy (The Santa Fe New Mexican 11/23)