Thursday, February 21, 2013

In Which My Kids Take Over My Blog

The photo on the right is of his painting of Enkidu.
I am sharing some stuff with you today just because I think it's cool. This falls into the category of "what I'm up to" rather than deep thoughts.

This year, to my great delight, I've been teaching my sons history. My second-grader is currently departing Ancient China for Ancient Africa, and we've traveled a long way already—from Çatalhöyük to Egypt, from the Indus Valley to Mesopotamia. I read him a chapter in his history book while he takes notes on what I say. Then he gives me a narration (tells the story back to me) while I write down his words. We find the area on a map, mark it on a timeline and an add illustration to his own history book of the ancient world. He usually gets to do a craft, and I photograph that to put in the book as well. By the time we've finished  he'll have created his own living history book of the ancient world.

My seventh-grader is in New Mexico this year. Our focus has been on slowing down the relentless slog through time he's used to and setting a while with a place and time so we can really get to know it. He is learning to see how history reaches out its skeleton hand from the grave and shapes events as they happen now. He recently did an assignment called a flash-draft. The idea comes from What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher, which anyone who is either a writer or a writing teacher must go buy right now. In this assignment, the object is to create a character who will allow you to convey some expository information that you are supposed to learn. He has studied Oñate and the Massacre of Acoma, and I told him to create a character that was there. "And I want to be there. I want to be able to smell it," I told him. 

I am very, very proud of what Devin did with this assignment. He asked me to post it here and I am more than happy to share it with you. He worked hard on it, and maybe it will interest you to see how my kid writes. (His older brother once got this privilege, too.) You get a prize if you can tell me where Devin borrowed the first line from.

Battle on the Butte by Devin Cantua


In 1595 the Conquistador Don Juan de Oñate was granted permission by King Phillip II of Spain to colonize Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico, the present day New Mexico. The Acomas and Spaniards had been peaceful with each other for decades, since they first met in 1540. In 1598, the Acoma leader, Zutacapan, learned that the Spanish intended to conquer them. They planned to defend themselves when the Spaniards came.

Don Oñate sent his nephew, Captain Juan de Zaldivar, to the pueblo to consult with Zutacapan. When Zaldivar arrived on December 4, 1598, one of the first things he did was take sixteen of his men up the mesa, on which the pueblo was located, to demand food from the natives. After being denied the Spanish attacked some of the Acoma women. A fight raged, leaving Zaldivar and eleven other men dead. When Oñate learned of the incident, he ordered Juan de Zaldivar’s brother, Vincente de Zaldivar, to go punish the Acoma. Taking about 70 men, he left for the pueblo…This is what happened next.


Nervous! Very, very dreadfully nervous! What will the Acomas have planned for us when we attack? Whatever they might have, I’m ready! I have to be ready, or I won’t survive.

“Ok men, let’s start making our way towards the base of the butte. Once we get there I will give you further instructions!” said Oñate.

“Yes sir!” we all screamed.

Only few of the men got to be on horses—the higher ranked men, of course. I myself was only one of the lowest ranked men there. I had to keep pace with the horses. I don’t think that I am one of the better soldiers, but Oñate only picked the men he thought were sufficient. So why—

“Ok men, I will take half of you guys up the path where the Acomas will see us and we will distract them with friendly talk. We will do this while the other half of you will climb up the back of the butte and set up the cannons and rifles. Then when I give the thumbs up symbol you guys will fire, Capiche?”

“Yes sir!”

Some more men and I sneaked around the back of the butte and started climbing to the top. I was surrounded by the musky scent of man and awfully disturbing noises. This was hell for me. Just imagine being in a bone dry desert, climbing up the side of a cliff, surrounded by the smell of a month old road kill. Sweaty men who haven’t bathed in weeks smell awful. Plus it was about -12⁰ Celsius with no snow, with the sun shining brightly in the sky. I’m not used to this weather yet.

Once we got to the top we started setting up the cannons and rifles. There were only two cannons, but it was tough. I glanced across the top of the butte and saw the Acomas captivated in Oñate’s “friendly” talk. This was going to work out.

After all that climbing and sweating and building of cannons, my hands smelled like dirt covered in brass with a touch of gunpowder all mixed together. We were all ready; we were in our positions and ready to ambush. My friend Manuel lined up next to me and asked, “You ready mate?”

“After all that training how can I not be ready?”

We both chuckled, focused our attention to Oñate, then waited. We’ve been on the same path since we were little boys in Spain. We both wanted to move to Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico with the governor and help colonize the new world. And here we are today on the top of a mesa just outside of Santa Fe about to attack the Acomas with the governor—just like we wanted.

A little later he made the thumbs up symbol. We fired a cannonball and charged in with screams and yells to surprise the Acomas, the attack finally began!

The historic battle raged for three days, but by the end, hundreds of Indians lay dead. The ones who survived were enslaved, and the young men each had a right foot amputated. Just seeing the men crawl away in a pile of blood with a stub on the end of the leg… it left a mark in my head for ever. Turning around and seeing the pile of amputated feet on the ground made me feel nauseated for a while after.

I myself managed to escape with only minor wounds, a fractured wrist and a concussion, but my friend Manuel—he didn’t make it through the rough battle. My stomach tensed up like I was about to vomit. I felt that my stomach would burst and I would fall to my knees in tears, but I had to get over it and move on back to Santa Fe. If one of the generals, or Oñate, saw me tearing up they would think of me as a weak warrior; I had to keep cool.

Was what we did the right thing to do? After all these years are the Acoma people still mad at the Spaniards? I don’t know, but what I do know is that I followed my dream and that is most important to me.

“Wow!” the kids said in amazement.

“Will you tell us another one? Please Grandpa, please?”

“Sorry kids but I think we’re done for today.”

I sat in my chair as I heard the kids walking away saying, “When I’m an adult I’m gonna to follow my dream like grandpa, and I’m going to colonize the new world, too!”

“Well I’m gonna be the governor in the new world, when I’m older!” said Diego.

I just chuckled to myself and puffed on my pipe. I guess they’ll find out what it’s like when they get there.


  1. Wow! Good first person perspective! Way to go, Mom, too!

    1. Well, I've only been teaching him a few weeks. I'm going top have to credit his Aspen and LAMS teachers with a lot of his ability. And, obviously, him!

  2. I dont even get to pretend that I might win the prize! Am I that uneducated? But, hey, I have more than a couple of college degrees! (Proves my point from a few blog posts back, Tara) -
    but I love the piece that your son wrote! Follow your bliss! Grandpas know that but it sounds like your young son already knows that! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hint: Find the right raven and you'll be half-way there. (But only halfway.) I especially love his description of the smell of his hands. He's got a good temperament for a writer. He seemed to enjoy the revision as much as the original work.

    2. Quoth the Raven "Nevermore." That's the only Raven I know.... is it a match?

    3. Correct raven! That's the author, but the sentence is from a different piece, a short story. Many of us read it in middle or high school and you can find it brilliantly acted by Vincent Price on YouTube.

  3. Soon he'll be taking over your blog, Tara. This was fabulous narration, and I love the way you're teaching them history. I'm kind of envious of them. (:

    Thanks for linking up!

    1. I thought of you, Larissa, in publishing his piece. I think your parents must have done a great job with you, since you feel so empowered to write and have already developed your own voice. I would love to have any of my kids feel as comfortable with their writing as you do. And be as good.

  4. Excellent for a seventh grader! You have another writer in the family! Must take after his mother! It sounds like he enjoyed it, too, which is half the battle!

    1. He does like to write, which is really fun. He doesn't do it in his spare time, like I used to, but he enjoys it during school. My grandfather actually published ten books and my mother is a writer, so the genes run pretty strong.

  5. Replies
    1. Yay! You got it. We had just read it the week before, and he was dying to borrow the first line. I told him he could if he could make it fit.

    2. He did a great job. He couldn't have a better example of vivid description than Poe. We read it my daughter's senior year of homeschool - freaked her out!

  6. Peculiar article, exactly what I wanted to find.

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  7. He did a fantastic job. I love finding out what they've got in their minds, it's one of my favorite parts of being a mom.


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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License