The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was one of the most significant events in New Mexico’s history. The revolt wasn’t successful in terms of permanently driving the Spanish from New Mexico. It was successful in terms of curtailing the cruelty and exploitation exhibited by the Spanish prior to the revolution. It was not the first act of resistance. There were constant uprisings in the northern pueblos in response to Spanish exploitation, abuse and oppression, with the Coronado expedition establishing a precedent for the atrocities that followed.
The Coronado expedition was dispatched to the region in 1540 to look for gold, silver, the silk and spice routes of the Indies, and land that could be used for forced-labor encomienda estates, a common and profitable practice in the Spanish controlled provinces of Mexico. The expedition was a commercial enterprise, privately funded by Viceroy Mendoza in Mexico City and Coronado’s wife. Two thousand troops, a mix of Spanish soldiers and their Indian allies from Mexico, traveled to the Zuni village of Hawikuh, attacking and seizing the city. There was no gold.
Coronado hadn’t anticipated the harsh conditions. Marching across the arid terrain of southern New Mexico depleted their food supplies. By the time he reached Hawikuh Coronado’s troops were starving and increasingly mutinous when they realized the reports of wealth and abundance in the northern lands were lies.
The Zuni were already aware of Spanish exploits in Mexico. Word travels fast on the north-south trade routes. The Zuni had relocated their women, children, and elderly to the impregnable mesa top sanctuary on top Dowa Yalanne by the time Coronado arrived. The Zuni warriors tried to repel the invaders, but the Spanish had greater numbers and superior weapons.
For the next several months Coronado occupied Hawikuh, putting an enormous strain on the Zuni’s food supply. Representatives from Pecos Pueblo traveled to Zuni to meet with the Spanish. They offered to guide them to wealthy tribes in the east. Pecos relied on trade with both the pueblos and the plains. Raiding parties from eastern tribes were a persistent problem and dispatching the Spanish to deal with them probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Also, the Spanish had really interesting things to trade, things they had never seen before, like horses, sheep, and steel.
Coronado’s emissary encountered the Tiguex communities farming the fertile flood plains of the Rio Grande near present day Bernalillo while traveling to Pecos. Given the rapidly dwindling food supply in Zuni, Coronado decided to set up his winter camp in one of the Tiguex pueblos, advancing with his troops to seize the community in the fall of 1540.
Coronado’s troops summarily evicted the residents of Kuaua Pueblo with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Whereas many accounts imply that the villagers left peacefully, archaeological evidence discovered in the 1930s suggests there was a battle. That seems more likely.
Coronado used the village as a military base. He demanded supplies from the Tiwa pueblos, as well as the Keres and Tewa pueblos north of Tiguex. The Spanish traded with the neighboring pueblos for the first few months, but provisions became scarce and the pueblos refused to give up more of their food, because they needed it to survive the winter.
Coronado ordered his men to take what they needed by force. The post-harvest cornstalks, normally saved for cooking and heating fuel during the winter, was fed to the Spanish livestock, leaving the pueblos both hungry and cold. Spanish soldiers raped women in the pueblo. The Tiwas retaliated in December, killing some of the expedition’s horses and mules. Coronado responded by declaring a war of “fire and blood,” which is known as the Tiguex War. He dispatched a large force of soldiers to attack a neighboring Tiwa village, Arenal. They killed all of Arenal’s warriors, including burning 30 men alive at the stake.
The Tiwas abandoned their community on the river banks, retreating to a mesa-top stronghold. Coronado couldn’t breach their defenses. He laid siege from January – March of 1541 until the Tiwa ran out of food and water. The Tiwa tried to escape, but the Spanish soldiers caught them. The conquistadors killed all of the men and most of the women. The soldiers enslaved the remaining women for the duration of Coronado’s occupation. Though Coronado left in 1541, and it would be 39 years before the Spanish returned, he devastated the Tiguex communities. They never recovered.
The Spanish created the Sandia Pueblo land grant in 1748 for Puebloan refugees who fled Spanish occupation by living with the Hopi in western Arizona. Sandia Pueblo is the only Tiwa community remaining in the area Coronado attacked, although 15 other Tiwa, Keres, Tewa, and Towa pueblos remain on or near the same sites where Coronado found them in 1540.
Juan de Oñate
When Juan de Oñate returned to colonize the region in 1598, he brought both settlers and a pack of Franciscan padres. Though the purported purpose of ecclesiastical involvement was to ‘save souls,’ the underlying motives were control, subjugation and exploitation of the indigenous people; deliberate cultural genocide, borne of a sense of manifest destiny imbued by extreme ethnocentrism.
Oñate divided the territory into 7 provinces, dispatching priests to each one. The process involved reducing the number of pueblos through consolidation so the population would be easier to control, convert and tax, a policy refered to as reducciones de indios. This empire building policy also provided a larger, more concentrated, labor force for both the civil authorities and clergy to exploit.
A few of the Franciscan priests tolerated traditional religious practices as long as the Puebloans attended mass and maintained a public veneer of Catholicism. Others weren’t tolerant, establishing totalitarian theocracies in their designated provinces, characterized by ruthless suppression of religious practices and persistent abuse of Pueblo labor. The priests destroyed kivas, forbade ceremonial practices, and desecrated or destroyed sacred objects.
The policy of encomiendas, which authorized demands of fealty, tribute and labor from the natives, created a strain on civilizations that already struggled to survive the winter months without starving. In response, the pueblos frequently rose against their oppressors. The uprisings usually involved a handful of pueblos, with insufficient warriors and weapons to be successful. The Spanish authorities often discovered, and ruthlessly crushed, rebellions before they could organize effectively. They killed the dissidents or sold then as slaves.
In 1598, Acoma refused to pay the “food tax” demanded by the Spanish. The Acoma leader, Zutacapan, found out that the Spanish intended to invade Acoma. He was aware of the brutal and extreme retaliation experienced by other villages. Initially, Acoma tried to negotiate and Oñate sent his nephew, Captain Juan de Zaldívar, to the pueblo to consult with him. When Zaldivar arrived on December 4, 1598, he took sixteen of his men up the mesa and demanded food. After being denied, the Spaniards assaulted some of Acoma’s women, provoking a confrontation with the warriors of the village. A fight ensued, leaving Zaldivar and eleven of his men dead.
When Oñate learned of the incident, he ordered Juan de Zaldivar’s brother, Vicente de Zaldívar, to punish the Acoma. With about 70 soldiers, Vincente de Zaldivar left San Juan Pueblo in late December, arriving at Acoma Pueblo on January 21, 1599. The battle began the following morning, January 22, 1599. It lasted three days. On the third day, Zalvidar and twelve of his men ascended the mesa and opened fire on the pueblo with a cannon. The conquistadors stormed the village. Out of the estimated 6,000 people living at or around Acoma Pueblo in 1599, at least 2,000 were warriors. 500 died in the battle, along with about 300 women and children.
Massacre at Acoma
The Spanish captured approximately five hundred people and sentenced them to a variety of fates, all bad. They sentenced every male over the age of twenty five to have their right foot cut off and to be enslaved for a period of twenty years, carrying out the sentence on twenty-four warriors. Additionally, they ordered all males between the ages of twelve to twenty-five to be enslaved for twenty years, along with all females over the age of twelve. Sixty of the youngest women were deemed not guilty and sent to Mexico City,“parceled out among Catholic convents”. Historians believe they were sold as slaves. The Spanish troops arrested two Hopi men and severed one of their hands before releasing them to provide a warning to other pueblos about the cost associated with defying Spanish rule.
Oñate’s actions in Acoma were not only traumatizing to Acoma, but shocking and appalling to the other pueblos. Despite cultural and linguistic differences, the pueblos and tribes in this region were not strangers to one another. Through commerce, alliances, peace and war, they had interacted for centuries. News of conflict, uprisings, Spanish misdeeds, battles and war traveled fast up and down the Rio Grande, with localized frustration and anger congealing into regional ambivalence and animosity towards the invaders. Things didn’t improve in the 1600s.
Catholic missionaries attempted to eradicate the ancestral Pueblo world in every respect. The priests dictated what people could believe and how they could marry, work, live their lives, and pray. The Spanish civil authorities, clergy and military vied for the tribute and labor of the local population, leading to persistent conflict between church and state, with the inhabitants of the pueblo caught in the crossfire. Tensions increased among the Spanish soldiers seeking wealth, the priests needing wealth to build churches, and the Indians whose labor and resources were exploited by both.
By 1626, the Spanish had established the inquisition in Quarai, one of the Salinas pueblos. Bernardo López de Mendizábal served as governor of New Mexico between 1659–1660. He attempted to curtail the powers of the priests, prohibiting them from forcing the native population to work for free and acknowledging the right of the indigenous people to worship according to their traditions, including performing the sacred dances banned by the Franciscans. In return, the Inquisition convicted him of heresy and condemned him to based on thirty three counts of malfeasance and the practice of Judaism. The priests resumed their policy of religious intolerance. From 1645 on there were several abortive uprisings and the Spanish singled out the medicine men for reprisal.
Drought, Disease & Raids
Drought and unusually high temperatures in the 1660s and 1670s made life increasingly difficult. Fray Alonso de Benavides wrote multiple letters to the King of Spain, noting “the Spanish inhabitants and Indians alike are forced to eat hides and straps of carts.” All of the indigenous people, from the Puebloans to the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche were starving.
Raiding parties became a frequent and persistent problem for the pueblos, ravaging communities beset by famine. With no food in the villages, the raiders took people. They sold them into slavery in exchange for food. The Spanish soldiers and Pueblo warriors couldn’t quell the attacks. The Spanish exacerbated the tension by seizing crops and possessions, leaving the Pueblos with nothing. The Pueblos attributed their hardships, and the prolonged drought, on the disruption of their religious practices. A population estimated to be 40,000-80,000 in the mid-1500s was reduced to an estimated 15,000 by the late 1600s, primarily due to the impact of violence, forced labor, European diseases, and famine.
The unrest among the Pueblos came to a head in 1675. Governor Juan Francisco Treviño ordered the arrest of forty seven Pueblo caciques, a Spanish term for indigenous leaders or medicine men. Governor Treviño accused the men of sorcery and plotting a rebellion. He sentenced four to be hung, with three executions carried out. A fourth man committed suicide. He had the remaining prisoners publicly whipped and sentenced to slavery.
When news of the arrests reached Pueblo leaders, seventy warriors descended on the Governor’s office in Santa Fe demanding the release of the remaining prisoners. They forced Governor Treviño to concede, because his troops were far from Santa Fe fighting Apaches. He wanted to avoid provoking additional uprisings, because the Apache and Navajo were becoming increasingly aggressive throughout the region, putting a strain on his limited military resources. One of those released was Po’pay (Popé) from San Juan Pueblo (Ohkay Owingeh).
Little is known about Po’pay prior to his arrest in 1675. Historians estimate that he was born in 1630, which means he came of age during a period of enormous strife and hardship. Famine and attacks were decimating the pueblos. The Spanish were unable to protect them and, instead, were aggressively eradicating their way of life. Po’pay was described as a “fierce and dynamic individual…who inspired respect bordering on fear in those who dealt with him.”
After his release from prison, Po’pay retreated to Taos Pueblo, the northernmost outpost of the Spanish Empire. The residents of Taos had a reputation for aggressively resisting the Spanish. Po’pay began to organize and plan a rebellion with a singular, clear objective: drive the Spanish from ancestral land, eradicate their influence, and return to the traditional ways of life. He began secret negotiations with leaders from all of the pueblos.
Uniting the Pueblos
Po’pay traveled to over forty-five pueblos over a 5-year period of time without the Spanish finding out, which reflects the extent of animosity towards the Spaniards. Even the Apache and Navajo, who were traditionally perceived as enemies, participated, though little is known about their level of involvement in pre-revolt planning. Po’pay was so committed to the revolution that he murdered his son-in-law, Nicolas Bua, based on fears that he would betray the plot to the Spanish.
He gained the support of the Northern Tiwa, Tewa, Towa, Tano and Keres-speaking Pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley. Pecos Pueblo, fifty miles east of the Rio Grande, committed, as did the Zuni and Hopi, 120 and 200 miles west of the Rio Grande respectively. The four southern Tiwa (Tiguex) towns near Santa Fe and the Piro Pueblos near present day Socorro did not join the revolt. The southern Tiwa and the Piro were more thoroughly assimilated with the Spanish than the other communities. Po’pay couldn’t risk confiding in them due to concerns about their allegiance.
Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, there was no precedent for political unity among the pueblos. Distance, culture and language separated them. They interacted to trade, but otherwise maintained their independence and autonomy. Inadvertently the Spanish provided the key element for cooperative action…a common language. All of the pueblos spoke Spanish by 1680.
Planning a Revolution
From his base of operations at Taos Pueblo, Po’pay and his confederates laid out their plan and coordinated their attack. The date set for the uprising was August 11, 1680. He dispatched runners to all the Pueblos carrying knotted cords. He instructed pueblo leaders to untie one knot from the cord each morning. When the last knot was untied, that would be the day for them to rise against the Spanish in unison. He told each pueblo to raze its mission church, kill the resident priest and Spanish settlers. The pueblos planned to destroy the outlying Spanish settlements and converge on the capital to kill or expel the remaining Spanish.
Southern Tiwa leaders warned the Spanish about the impending revolt. The Spanish intercepted two of the runners on August 9, 1680. They tortured them until they revealed the significance of the knotted cord. The Spanish population of about 2,400, including mixed-blood mestizos, and Indian servants and retainers, was scattered throughout the provinces. Santa Fe was the only significant town, with a mere 170 soldiers available for defense.
The leaders of the rebellion realized their plan had been compromised so they decided to start the revolt the following day They dispatched runners with new instructions, but Acoma, Zuni and Hopi didn’t get the memo in time due to the vast distance between Taos and the western pueblos. They adhered to the original timeline.
The Pueblo Revolt
On August 10, 1680, Tewa, Tiwa, and other Keresan-speaking pueblos, and even the non-pueblo Apaches simultaneously rose up against the Spanish. The Zuni, Hopi and Acoma were a day late. In Santa Fe, Governor Otermin marshaled the city’s resources to defend the capital. Pueblo warriors destroyed all of the Spanish settlements in the province by August 13th and converged on the capital. Otermin sent heavily armed relief parties to escort stranded colonists to the relative safety of Santa Fe. Almost a thousand people sought sanctuary in the Governor’s Palace by August 15th, surrounded by an army of 2500 Indian warriors. The Spaniards had no water and limited food. In the meantime, over one thousand Spanish survivors from the Rio Abajo, under the command of Lt. Governor Alonso Garcia, had gathered in Isleta, seventy miles south of Santa Fe. However, neither group was aware of the other.
On August 21 the Spanish broke out of the Governor’s Palace. They launched a costly counter attack to drive the warriors from the city, which allowed the refugees time to flee. They began the long trek south. The refugees in Isleta were also heading south when they got word about the other survivors. They paused in Socorro, waiting for the refugees from Santa Fe to arrive and then traveling together on September 27th to El Paso. The Puebloan warriors shadowed them the entire way, essentially escorting them to the border, but they didn’t attack. The goal was not wholesale slaughter, because it would have been easy to eradicate the remaining Spanish as they traveled south. The goal was expulsion; a violent rejection of Spanish oppression. The revolt cost 400 Spanish lives, including 21 of the 33 priests in New Mexico; however, 2000 Spaniards survived.
After the revolt Po’pay became the leader of the Pueblo Alliance for a brief period of time. Po’pay and his two lieutenants, Alonso Catiti from Santo Domingo and Luis Tupatu from Picuris, traveled from town to town ordering a return “to the state of their antiquity”. They ordered all of the pueblos to destroy crosses, churches, and Christian images. The pueblos restored the kivas. They ordered the people to cleanse themselves in ritual baths, to use their Pueblo names, and to destroy all vestiges of the Roman Catholic religion and Spanish culture, including Spanish livestock and fruit trees. Po’pay forbade the planting of wheat and barley. He commanded those married in the Catholic church to dismiss their wives and to take others based on native traditions.
Many of the pueblos, unaccustomed to cooperative political action, and accustomed to autonomy, ignored his orders. They resented his effort to rule and he was considered a tyrant by many. Additionally, there were Puebloans who had sincerely converted to Christianity and many had family or friends who were Spanish.
The Pueblo Council deposed Po’pay about a year after the revolt, though he was reelected shortly before his death in 1688. The confederation between the pueblos fell apart after he died. Opposition to Spanish rule gave the Pueblos the incentive to unite, but not the means to remain united once their common enemy was vanquished.
The Alliance Frays
For 12 years, the Pueblos prevented the Spanish from returning, successfully repelling attempts in 1681 and 1687. However, the prosperity Po’pay had promised didn’t materialize. Expulsion of the Spanish forces did nothing to end the drought. Ongoing crop failure and famine, absent the Spanish military presence, led to increasingly frequent and aggressive attacks by Apache, Navajo, Comanche and Ute raiding parties. Furthermore, eradicating all traces of Spanish colonialism proved to be more challenging than anticipated. Many Spanish commodities, like iron tools, sheep, cattle, and fruit trees, had become an integral part of Pueblo life. A few individuals, influenced by the teachings of the Franciscans, rescued and hid the sacred objects of their adopted religion, awaiting the eventual return of the Spanish friars.
Diego de Vargas
In 1692 Diego de Vargas Zapata y Luján Ponce de Leó launched a successful military and political campaign to reclaim the territory. In August 1692, Vargas marched to Santa Fe unopposed. He anticipated opposition in Pecos Pueblo, but they welcomed him. In fact, Pecos provided one hundred and forty additional warriors to help him retake Santa Fe. He was accompanied by a converted Zia war captain, Bartolomé de Ojeda, sixty Spanish soldiers, one hundred Indian auxiliaries, seven cannons and one Franciscan priest.
They arrived in Santa Fe on September 13 where he met with 1000 Puebloans, promising clemency and protection if they would swear an oath of allegiance to the King of Spain and return to the Christian faith. They didn’t go for it right away, but Vargas tenaciously negotiated for several days. After decades of raids and drought, the Spanish were no longer viewed as the worst enemy. The Spanish finally wrangled a peace treaty. Vargas proclaimed a formal act of repossession on September 14, 1692. He visited other Pueblos during the following month, forcing acquiescence to Spanish rule. He encountered resistance, but often received a warm reception.
Due to changes in Spanish attitudes and policies, their authority was not fully restored after the 1692 peace accord. They no longer perceived the province as mission country, but as a buffer zone protecting mining interests in northern Mexico from the French and British. The Spanish perceived the inhabitants of New Mexico as potential allies. This change of perspective resulted in a different approach towards the native population, courting rather than conquest. The zealotry of 17th century Franciscan “Conquistadors of the Spirit” was over.
However, that doesn’t mean there was no further conflict. Vargas exerted increasingly severe control in the 1690s, again provoking ambivalence and open defiance. When Vargas returned to Mexico in 1693 to gather additional colonists and troops, he returned to Santa Fe to find seventy Pueblo warriors and four hundred of their family members opposing his entry. He ordered his troops to attack, resulting in a quick, bloody recapture. He executed the warriors and sentenced their family members to ten years of slavery.
In 1696 the Indians of 14 pueblos attempted a second organized revolt. They murdered five missionaries and thirty-four settlers, which provoked a prolonged and unmerciful response from Diego de Vargas. By the end of the 1600s de Vargas secured the surrender of every pueblo in the region, though many Puebloans fled, joining Apache or Navajo groups.
The Spanish never convinced some pueblos to pledge allegiance to the Spanish Empire and they were far enough away to make attempts at re-conquest impractical. For example, the Hopi remained free of any Spanish attempt at re-conquest; though the Spanish did launch several unsuccessful attempts to secure a peace treaty or a trade deal. In that regard, for some pueblos, the Revolt successfully diminished the European influence on their way of life.
The 1680 uprising was not an isolated event. Unrest and rebellion punctuated the 17th century. Many of the region’s people had been conquered and abused, but they understood that despite greater numbers, their foe was ruthless, organized, and well-armed. The Spanish possessed firearms and steel weapons superior to anything the Natives could muster. But despite the odds against successful resistance, Spanish records reflect a pattern of persistent plots and rebellion among native tribes who supposedly had been “reduced” to Christianity and Spanish ways.
Impact of the Pueblo Revolt
The revolt, and the aftermath, decimated the Spanish and the Puebloans. Puebloan independence from the Spaniards was brief; however, Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion ceased. The Spanish adapted their outlook and policies, which may have spared additional atrocities as they expanded their empire west into California. They prohibited forced labor and demands for tributes in New Mexico. Furthermore, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each Pueblo and appointed a public defender to protect their rights and argue their legal cases in the Spanish courts.
The Franciscan priests returning to New Mexico altered their approach as well, becoming more tolerant of indigenous religious expression. Pueblo warriors and Spanish soldiers became allies in the fight against their common enemies; the Apache, Navajo, Ute, and Comanche. Over the centuries of conflict and cooperation, New Mexico became a blend of all of these cultures.