Taos Pueblo is one of New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos. It is considered the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States; recognized as a National Historic Landmark since 1965. The World Heritage Society recognized Taos as one of the most significant historical cultural landmarks in the world in 1992, on par with the Acropolis, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, etc. However, it is worth mentioning that there is local debate on the “oldest” claim, because Acoma Sky City has also been continuously occupied for almost 1000 years.
It doesn’t really matter which was settled first. Each community has deep-rooted connection to the land and impressive community and cultural continuity.
No Place Like Home
“Home” takes on a deeper meaning when your family has lived the same place for over 1000 years. Encompassing 99,000 acres at an elevation of 7,200 feet, Taos Pueblo is the final occupation site of Tiwa-speaking Puebloans. The dialect in Taos is related to the dialects spoken in Picuris, Isleta, and Sandia Pueblos. However, the dialects are distinct. Additionally, Spanish, and English are spoken, sometimes a mix of all three languages in one sentence.
The ancestors of Taos Pueblo established a settlement at the base of Wheeler Peak before Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. Constructed around 1300-1400 A.D., the impressive, four to five-story adobe structures are almost 1000 years old. In fact, what visitors see today is very similar to what the Spanish saw when Coronado and his expedition arrived in 1540 looking for “Cities of Gold.”
There have been renovations over the last several centuries, like installing doors at ground level. Originally the entryways were accessed through the roof, with ladders that could be pulled up when the village was attacked, which happened regularly.
The village consists of two main clusters of buildings, divided by a river. Residents rely on the river for drinking and cooking water. Though the river forms a heavy layer of ice in the winter, it never freezes completely. They break the ice as needed to gather water.
The north house is Hlauuma and the south house is Hlaukwima. The remnants of an old, defensive wall are readily visible. Based on archaeological analysis, residents constructed the two pueblos at about the same time. Based on the photos online, most visitors focus their camera on Hlauuma. It is the most impressive. The ruins of an older pueblo, “Cornfield Taos,” is east of the pueblo. It was established around 900 A.D. As an ancestral community, it is considered sacred, inaccessible to visitors.
The community has maintained these ancient structures through diligent maintenance and upkeep. Most of the homes are owned and maintained by families, with ownership passing from one generation to the next through the eldest son. Each family is responsible for “mudding” their home every year. They re-plaster the outside surfaces with thick layers of mud and coat the interior walls with thin washes of white earth.
Approximately 150 people live at within the Pueblo full time. However, there is no electricity or running water allowed within the Pueblo walls so many families own and maintain homes in the Pueblo for ceremonies, cultural activities, and gatherings, but they live in modern homes on tribal land outside the Pueblo walls. In total, there are approximately 1900 tribal members living on tribal land.
Puebloans figured out the merits of adobe design early, building North America’s first multi-family apartment complexes. Each pueblo structure includes multiple homes, with common walls, but no connecting doorways. Based on the fact that we are still emulating core components, it is safe to say adobe has withstood the test of time.
Adobe bricks are made by mixing dirt with water and straw (or other forms of vegetation prior to straw). The mixture is poured into forms to make sun-dried bricks. They used large timbers (vigas) harvested from mountain forests to support the roof of each level. Taos Pueblo had ample forest land in close proximity. Other Pueblos hauled timber from distant forests.
Small branches of pine or aspen were placed side-by-side on top of the vigas (latillas), with dirt packed into cracks and crevices. Often the earthen walls were several feet thick, which made the buildings relatively impenetrable and fire resistant. The use of packed earth kept rooms cool in the heat of the summer, while retaining heat in the winter.
Like Pecos Pueblo, Taos was an important trade hub, connecting the Pueblos on the Rio Grande with Plains Tribes. They hosted large trading fairs annually in the summer and fall. In fact, the harvest fair in Taos was one of the largest in the region, with traders attending from hundreds of miles away. The fairs featured an impressive variety of commodities, including turquoise, shells, buckskins, buffalo hides, seeds, copper, macaw feathers, salt, slaves, and more.
Trade is still an integral part of Taos Pueblo’s economy, with numerous small shops in the pueblo selling a variety of wares by local artisans, including mica-flecked pottery, hand hewn flutes, silver and turquoise jewelry, moccasins, boots, and drums. The artistic traditions go back centuries, passed from one generation to the next.
The Rebellion Starts Here
Taos Pueblo’s history of rebellion was consistent and ongoing, starting with the first attempts by the Spanish to colonize and convert. Taos received their first Franciscan priest, Father Francisco de Zamora, in 1598, shortly after Juan de Onate established San Gabriel, which was close to where Espanola is located today.
There were early indications that Taos Pueblo would resist Spanish influence. For example, when Father Benavides toured the province to provide a report to the Catholic Church in 1627, he reported that Taos Pueblo’s mission was under construction, but delayed due to the community’s lack of cooperation. That was almost 30 years after the first priest arrived and the animosity compounded over time.
Taos warriors killed a priest and several Spaniards in 1640, destroying the church. Knowing Spanish troops would retaliate, they abandoned the pueblo for several years. Additionally, tribal leaders sent the Inquisition in Mexico an official complaint accusing the priest of immorality in 1647. When villagers returned, the Spaniards assigned another priest and he led the charge to build another mission, which they completed in 1660. The church and the Spanish authorities became increasingly heavy-handed, demanding tribute and suppressing traditional religious ceremonies.
Tensions between the Pueblos and the Spaniards boiled over in the 1670s. Popé, religious leader from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, moved to Taos after being arrested and beaten by the Spanish. He collaborated with tribal leaders in Taos and other neighboring pueblos to plan and orchestrate a coordinated uprising against the Spanish on August 10, 1680. It was the first time the pueblos had united against a common enemy. They successfully drove the Spanish from the territory and kept them out for 12 years, an event known as the Pueblo Revolt.
The alliance fractured when those leading the revolt tried to assert authority over all the pueblos. For example, the leaders of the revolt wanted to eradicate all aspects of Spanish influence, which included burning missions, killing livestock, and destroying orchards, but a lot of people had become fond of sheep, pigs, cows, horses, peaches, apples, etc. They didn’t want to destroy those resources. Additionally, raids on the pueblos increased in frequency and intensity in the absence of Spanish troops.
Don Diego de Vargas returned to reconquer the province in 1692. His meager army of 400 was supported by warriors from several pueblos, but not all. Taos Pueblo continued to resist until 1696.
After the reconquest, priests were reluctant to return to Taos. The didn’t associate the post with longevity. However, the Church eventually assigned a new priest in 1706 and he rebuilt the San Jeronimo Mission in 1726. It survived longer than most, until 1846, when it was destroyed by the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War. The ruins of the church can be seen on the northwest side of the pueblo. The walls of the former mission enclose the cemetery. The current incarnation of the church was built in 1850.
When the Americans declared war on Mexico, they installed an American, Charles Bent, as governor. Local Native American and Mexican dissidents in the Taos area killed him, taking refuge in San Jeronimo mission when the U.S. Army was dispatched to suppress the revolt.
The first day the soldiers attacked with cannons, but the cannon balls stuck in the adobe bricks of the mission like small marbles hitting a mud wall. Thud. On the following day, the American troops set the roof on fire to create a distraction. They hacked through the adobe walls with axes during the chaos.
120 Veterans Highway
Taos, New Mexico 87571
Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.
2020 was the 50th anniversary of the return of Blue Lake and 48,000 acres of ancestral land seized by the U.S. Government in 1906. Numerous celebrations commemorating the event were cancelled due to covid.
Taos Pueblo Hours & Admission
Late winter to early Spring the Pueblo closes for about ten weeks. Please call ahead if you’ll be visiting during this time
Monday – Saturday 8 AM – 4 PM
Sunday – 8:30 AM – 4 PM
Adults: $16 per person
Groups (8 or more Adults): $14 per person
Seniors: $14 per person
Students: $14 per person
Children 10 and under: Free
Taos Pueblo offers guided tours year around. The tours are available hourly starting at 9 AM. The tour lasts approximately ½ hour. Tour guides rely on gratuities. Many are college students from Taos Pueblo. For private tours or large tour groups, call or email ahead of time to make arrangements.
Rules and regulations apply. All photos are for personal use only. Commercial, documentary, educational and/or artist renderings MUST have prior approval. Additional fees apply. No photos of tribal members without permission. They don’t allow photography in the church.
Taos Pueblo Feast Days
The Spanish introduced feast days to celebrate the Patron Saints of the Catholic religion. Feast Days coincide with traditional Pueblo celebrations, allowing the community to practice both the Catholic and Pueblo Religion simultaneously.
Feast days are open to the public, but don’t walk into homes uninvited. That may sound like peculiar, and obvious advice, but it happens. The dances are part of the ceremony. It is not a performance or entertainment. Therefore, when a dance is over, don’t applaud. They don’t allow photography or recording devices during events and ceremonies.
Jan. 1 Turtle Dance
Taos Pueblo will open to the public by 9 AM. Dances may last all day dependent on weather. They don’t allow cell phones and/or recording devices allowed. (FREE ADMISSION)
Jan. 6 Deer or Buffalo Dance
Dependent on which dance, this is the tentative schedule: Deer dance will start 1 pm (approximately), lasting all afternoon. Buffalo dance will start 11 am (approximately), lasting 2 hours or so.
June 13 San Antonio Feast Day
June 24 San Juan Feast Day
Annual Taos Pueblo Pow-Wow | Second Weekend of July
July 25 Santiago Feast Day
July 26 Santa Ana Feast Day
Sept. 29 San Geronimo Eve Vespers
Sept. 30 San Geronimo Day
Traditionally this was a trade fair. The pueblo holds footraces in the morning. Visitors are welcome to come and share in the day of family, friends, and feast. There is an open market with a variety of vendors.
Dec. 24 Procession of the Virgin Mary
Mass will start at 5 pm (approximately). Procession proceeds after mass, as well as the burning of the bonfires (ACTUAL luminarias…the candles in the bags are actually farolitos). The entire process takes about 2 hours. Get there early. Limited parking. Dress warm. There is no reserved handicap parking.
Dec. 25 Deer or Matachina Dance
Dependent on which dance here is the tentative schedule: Deer dance will start at 1 pm (approximately), lasting all afternoon. Matachina dance will start at 11 am (approximately), lasting all day. (FREE ADMISSION)
Distance & Travel Time
Albuquerque 135 mi. / 2:15
Amarillo 302 mi / 4:30
Austin 764 mi / 12:00
Colorado Springs 230 mi. / 3:45
Crested Butte 271 mi / 4:15
Dallas 682 mi / 10:30
Denver 300 mi / 4:30
Durango 208 mi / 3:15
El Paso 400 mi / 6:00
Oklahoma City 558 mi / 8:15
Phoenix 568 mi / 8:30
Purgatory 233 mi / 3:45
Santa Fe 72 mi / 1:15
Telluride 324 mi / 5:00
Tucson 569 mi / 8:30
Vail 276 mi / 4:30