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While walking through Main Plaza / Plaza de las Islas on Christmas day we came across this engraved stone embedded in the pavement in front of the Bexar County Court House.

It says: Captain Toribio de Urrutia and Fray Santa Ana now determined to do their best to establish a permanent and lasting peace with the Apache nation. …this was a great day for San Antonio. After thirty years of depredations, the harassed settlement was about to secure, as was thought, a lasting peace. Early in the morning the plaza began to fill with an eager throng… First, a great hole was dug in the center of the plaza, and in this were placed a live horse, a hatchet, a lance, and six arrows, all instruments of war. Then Captain Urrutia and the four chiefs, joining hands, danced three times around the hole, the Indians afterwards doing the same with the priests and the citizens. When this ceremony was concluded, all retired to their respective places. Then, upon a given signal, all rushed to the hold and rapidly buried the live horse, together with the weapons, thus signifying the end of war…

The stone is one of 30 embedded in the Plaza when it was revitalized in 2008. Never noticed it before. Now I’m all for “burying the hatchet.” An American idiom, it means putting aside one’s grudges and making peace. As we approach a new year forgiveness is on my mind — a chance to reconcile broken relationships. So I mulled over the words on the plaque . . .

The first thing that struck me was that it was only Apache weapons of war that were buried. I didn’t see any canons or muskets, weapons of choice of the Spanish conquerors. And I was skeptical about the happily-ever-after ending as well. The end of war? So I did a little research . . .

According to the Texas Historical Commission: August 19: On this day in 1749, four Apache chiefs, accompanied by numerous followers, buried a hatchet along with other weapons in a peace ceremony in San Antonio. The ceremony signified the Apaches’ acceptance of Christian conversion in exchange for Spanish protection from Comanche raids, which had decimated the Apache population. Five years later Giraldo de Terreros established San Lorenzo, the first formal mission for the Texas Apaches, in the jurisdiction of San Juan Bautista in Mexico. When the Apaches revolted and abandoned the mission less than a year later, the missionaries argued in favor of a new mission closer to Apache territory. Construction of the ill-fated mission of Santa Cruz de San Sabá, in the heart of Apachería, began in April 1757; on March 16 of the following year, a party of 2,000 Comanche and allied Indians killed eight of the inhabitants and burned the mission buildings.

This is a different story. Far from being an reconciliation among equals, this version paints the “burying of the hatchet” as the subjugation of the Apaches. They sacrificed their freedom, their faith and their way of life in exchange for the Spanish protection from a mutual enemy. And it didn’t work. A year later they were at it again, a conflict that did not resolve itself for more than a hundred years.

There is a lesson here, although I need to think a bit more before I know what it is. What do you think? Can you recall any recent events that follow this pattern of forced conversion in exchange for protection?

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