This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program,
EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about one of the most famous rivers
in North America, the Rio Grande.
(Photo - National Park Service)
The Rio Grande is the fifth longest river on the North American
continent. It forms the border between the southwestern state
of Texas and Mexico. The Rio Grande been has important in the
history and development of the United States and Mexico. However,
the river has a different name in Mexico. It is called Rio Bravo
The Rio Grande begins its three-thousand kilometer trip to
the Gulf of Mexico high in the Rocky Mountains in the state
of Colorado. It begins almost four-thousand meters up where
the river is fed by melting snow.
Soon, other small streams flow into the river, increasing its
size as it flows generally south through the state of New Mexico.
Its waters flow through deep mountain canyons. Some of them
are more than five-hundred meters deep. It continues across
great flat plains areas, and deserts, feeding rich agricultural
areas along the way.
The Rio Grande flows south to the cities of El Paso, Texas,
and Ciudad Juarez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Then it
turns in a southeast direction. Here it becomes the border line
between the United States and Mexico for two-thousand kilometers.
From this point in the most western part of Texas, the Rio
Grande flows east to where the river empties into the Gulf of
Mexico. Along its way, the river flows through or past the cities
of Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico, by El Paso, and Ciudad
Juarez. The last cities it touches are Brownsville, Texas on
one side of the border and Matamoros, Mexico on the other.
On its long trip to the sea, the Rio Grande expands as a number
of rivers flow into it. In the United States, those rivers include
the Pecos, Devils, Chama, and Puerco rivers. In Mexico, the
Conchos, Salado, and San Juan rivers provide waters to the Rio
In some places the river is more than ten meters deep. But
in many places on the river, there is not much water flowing.
This lack of water is a sign that much of the river is used
for growing crops and providing water supplies for the expanding
This is not a new use for the Rio Grande. There is much evidence
that the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico used
water from the river to grow crops for thousands of years.
The Pueblo ancestors arrived in the southwest of what is now
the United States about two-thousand years ago. Although their
food mostly came from hunting, they grew some crops for food.
The Pueblo civilization went through a number of changes over
time. Some of those changes were caused by invasions by other
Indian groups such as the Navajo and Apache Indians. A severe
dry period more than six-hundred years ago also affected the
Pueblo civilization. The weather is believed to be one reason
some of the great cities of the southwest area were left empty
as the Pueblo ancestors moved closer to the Rio Grande. A major
change for these people began soon after the first Europeans
came to the Rio Grande.
In the early Fifteen-Hundreds, Spanish ships sailed to the
mouth of the Rio Grande. They first were looking for a way to
the Pacific Ocean. Soon they were more interested in searching
for riches such as those captured by Spanish explorer Hernando
In Fifteen-Twenty-One, Cortes conquered the great Aztec Empire
in what is modern Mexico. Cortes seized huge amounts of gold
and jewels from the Aztecs.
Many Spanish explorers heard the stories about the wealth of
the Aztecs. They hoped to find similar wealth among other Indian
groups in North America.
Some explorers hoped that the Rio Grande would lead them to
Indian nations that also possessed gold and jewels. The most
famous explorer of the Rio Grande territory was Francisco Vazquez
de Coronado. He arrived at the Rio Grande in Fifteen-Forty.
Earlier explorers of the Rio Grande area said they had heard
of great Indian cities on a river in the north. The stories
they heard were about cities that had treasures of costly stones,
such as turquoise and emeralds.
The Spanish explorers also believed there was gold, silver,
iron and copper in the mountains to the north. Spain had already
taken great wealth from the Incas of Peru and the Aztecs of
Mexico. Why not also take the riches of the Indians cities north
So, the Spanish viceroy of Mexico gave an order which would
change the history of North America. He asked Coronado to lead
an army of Spanish soldiers to the north. They were ordered
to conquer new land for the king of Spain -- land that the Spaniards
Coronado and his soldiers did not find the cities of gold that
they were seeking. Instead they found many Indian towns with
tall houses and rich fields full of corn and other plants. The
people were peaceful farmers. They did not remain peaceful.
The Spanish soldiers did things to the Pueblo Indians that
made them angry. So, the Indians decided to push the Spaniards
out of their land.
The Spanish soldiers won the battles with the Pueblo Indians
and destroyed many of their towns. Then the Spanish searched
for gold and silver. They found none. They returned to Mexico
with nothing to show for their struggles in the areas of the
Rio Grande River.
Coronado died in Mexico City in Fifteen-fifty-four. He was
forty-four years old.
After Coronado left the Rio Grande country in Fifteen-Forty-Two,
the area again belonged to the Indians. Again the Spanish tried
to establish a colony in the area. They tried four times and
failed each time.
In Fifteen-Ninety-Eight, a large Spanish army marched north
from Mexico. The King of Spain ordered that a colony be established
on the river north of Mexico. The name of the new colony was
to be New Mexico.
Traveling with this army were many families, Roman Catholic
priests, and thousands of cattle. They established a colony
on the river where some Pueblo Indians already lived. The Spanish
called it San Juan. The Indians seemed to accept them. But the
peace did not last. Suffering and tragedy spread through the
land as the Spanish and Indians fought.
The Spanish priests and the settlers in San Juan began to protest
against the cruel treatment of the Indians. It would be better,
they said, not to have any Spanish colony in New Mexico than
to built one on such crimes against the native peoples.
Finally, in Sixteen-Six, the King of Spain ordered the end
of the colony at San Juan. The Spanish settlers left but the
Indians remained at what is now San Juan Pueblo. The Spanish
would be back.
In Sixteen-Ten, a new governor of New Mexico arrived. A new
capital was built, called Santa Fe. It still is the capital.
This time the goal of the Spanish government was to spread
the Christian religion among the Indians. The Brothers of the
Order of Saint Francis were not like the earlier Spaniards.
At first the Indians resisted them. But, over time, they understood
that these men did not want to oppress them. The Franciscans
wanted to teach the Indians about Jesus Christ.
The Franciscans helped the Pueblo Indians build many beautiful
churches throughout the area. The churches were built with local
materials. They did not look like the traditional churches of
Europe. Some of these churches still stand today. They are very
popular with artists.
The Spanish government and the Franciscans argued about how
to treat the Indians. The government wanted to use them as slaves.
The Franciscans wanted the Indians to be protected. The Indians
were not sure who they should obey.
While this dispute was taking place there was a long dry period
that caused people in the area to starve. Then, the disease
smallpox began taking the lives of many Indians and Spanish
settlers. There was a violent rebellion by the Pueblo Indians
and the Spanish were forced to leave the Rio Grande area. Yet,
they were not to be pushed out for long.
This Special English program was written by Oliver Chanler.
This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for the second
part of this EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.
This V-O-A Explorations Report is published
courtesy of VOAnews.com