Pueblo Indians

The Pueblo Indians live in the harsh climate of Arizona and New Mexico, establishing permanent apartment-like dwellings made of stone and adobe. They are descendants of the Anasazi people who have lived there for more than 1,000 years.

They were built in terraced stories with access through a trap door on the roof to protect them from enemies.

Agriculturally based, these farmers grew corn, cotton, and melons in irrigated fields near river bottoms.

The Pueblo tribes also hunted deer, antelope, and rabbits and occasionally ventured on large hunting parties in search of buffalo.

Each village was self-governing, run by a chief. The Pueblo were known for their outstanding skills in making pottery and baskets and also for using native materials to weave cloth and clothing.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to encounter the Pueblo in the 16th century. The Pueblo tried to resist Spanish encroachment on their territory, but were unsuccessful. In 1598, the Spanish began establishing missions in Pueblo villages in order to convert them to Christianity.

Although several thousand did convert, Pueblos were able to keep their traditional culture intact while living under Spanish rule and overthrew Spanish control in 1680. In 1692, the Spanish reconquered the tribe.

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335 years ago Pueblo Indians drove the Spanish out of New Mexico

August 10, 2015, marked the 335th anniversary of the Pueblo Indian uprising, during which they expelled the Spanish usurpers and tormentors from New Mexico. Modern Pueblo Indians call August 10 Independence Day. While the Spaniards returned and re-subjugated the Puebloans 12 years later, they were able to re-establish and keep their religion and culture, which have endured to this day. No other Native American uprising as successful as the Pueblo Revolt happened before or after.


The Pueblo people are a Native American tribe centered around the Four Corners area of the Southwest United States, consisting of two major cultural and linguistic groupings – those based on matrilineal kinship systems (Hopi, Keres, Towa, and Zuni), and those with a patrilineal system (non-Towa Tanoan).

In 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and other Spanish conquistadores arrived among the Zuni people in southern New Mexico. Coronado claimed all the territory of New Mexico for Spain. In the ensuing decades, missionaries, soldiers and settlers arrived among the Zuni people in southern New Mexico. Coronado claimed all the territory of New Mexico for Spain. In the ensuing decades, missionaries, soldiers and settlers followed to subjugate the Indians, usurp their lands and attempt to destroy their cultures.

Coronado dispatched Pedro de Tovar with seventeen horsemen, a few foot-soldiers and a Franciscan friar named Juan de Padilla to the so-call province of Tusayan, a hundred miles farther north, which was said to contain seven more villages,” says The Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters.

At first to the Hopi, it seemed the long-awaited Pahàna, the prophesized white savior figure, had arrived. A telltale breach of protocol at the first meeting of the Hopi and the Spanish gave the first clue that the Indians were mistaken. Waters wrote about this meeting:

“Hopi tradition supplements this account by relating that Tovar and his men were conducted to Oraibi. They were met by all the clan chiefs at Tawtoma, as prescribed by prophecy, where four lines of sacred meal were drawn. The Bear Clan leader stepped up to the barrier and extended his hand, palm up, to the leader of the white men. If he was indeed the true Pahàna, the Hopis knew he would extend his own hand, palm down, and clasp the Bear Clan leader’s hand to form the nakwàch, the ancient symbol of brotherhood. Tovar instead curtly commanded one of his men to drop a gift into the Bear chief’s hand, believing that the Indian wanted a present of some kind. Instantly all the Hopi chiefs knew that Pahàna had forgotten the ancient agreement made between their peoples at the time of their separation.”

The Hopi treated the Spaniards as guests. At Oraibi, the Indians explained the ancient agreement and prophecy to the Spaniards. Waters wrote:

“It was understood when the two were finally reconciled, each would correct the other’s laws and faults; they would live side by side and share in common all the riches of the land and join their faiths in one religion that would establish the truth of life in a spirit of universal brotherhood. The Spaniards did not understand, and, having found no gold, they soon departed.”

The Hopis knew then that Tovar was not the true Pahàna and that they could expect trouble. … Spanish conquest and settlement of all New Mexico followed slowly but remorselessly, bringing the trouble expected by the Hopis to their remote province of Tusayan.

In 1598, the Spanish “received the formal submission of the Hopi villages to the King of Spain,” Waters wrote. Some tales of Spanish abuses have survived the long arc of time from the 16th and 17th centuries. Priests raped young girls. One priest insisted runners bring him water from 50 miles away instead of using local spring water. Another priest beat a Hopi in front of the entire village when he caught him in what the priest called an “act of idolatry.”

It is important to understand in this story that to the Hopi, religion, with many deities and beneficent spirits called kachinas, was very important. According to The Indian Heritage of America by Alvin M. Joseph:

“Religion was a daily experience, permeating all of life, and acting as a principal integrating force among the people. Associated with all acts, it was rich in myth and symbol and was dramatized by a year-round succession of elaborate ceremonials that utilized imaginative and beautiful costumes and paraphernalia, and included dances, songs, poetry and rites based on mythology. … Religion, and the ceremonies associated with it, was orderly and meticulously prescribed by tradition to achieve results that would benefit the entire pueblo. Observing religion occupied much of the people’s time; Pueblo men, indeed, are said to have devoted at least half their time to religious activities.”

The website of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo people says if the natives resisted Spanish rule, the Spaniards  imprisoned and tortured them or amputated their limbs. In 1626, the infamous Spanish Inquisition was established in New Mexico.

Under this terrible yoke, the Puebloans adopted Christianity and abandoned their ancient religions. But Waters wrote that the rains stopped and famine struck when the Hopis no longer ceremoniously invoked their gods. So some Hopis began again to conduct their mid-summer Niman Kachina ceremony. “Four days later the rains began again, proving to the Hopis that their own ceremonies brought rain and the Christian religion of the Castillas [Spaniards] was not good for them. Slowly they gathered strength to revolt.”

Popé, a Tewa Indian of the San Juan Pueblo on the Rio Grande, was the leader of the revolution. He gained support of the people of 70 towns, including Hopis, Zunis and the northern Tiwa, Tewa, Towa peoples and the Keres-speaking Pueblos of the Rio Grande, though some tribes did not join the rebellion. Popé lived in the “always obdurate pueblo of Taos,” wrote Waters. “Knotted cords were sent to each village indicating August 12, 1680, as the day to strike.” But the secret got out, and instead Popé called for an immediate strike, on August 10. “Every pueblo revolted: the Indians killed nearly five hundred Spaniards, including twenty-one missionaries at their altars, tore down churches, destroyed government and church records, sacked Santa Fe, and drove the surviving Spaniards [about 2,000 people] back to Mexico.”

“The Pueblo Revolt of 1680, then, completely ejected for a time all the hated Castillas. The true Pahàna, the symbol of all America’s deep-rooted need and vision of the universal brotherhood of man, was yet to come,” Waters wrote.

The Indians re-established their governments and religions. Their independence lasted more than a decade, after which the Spanish re-imposed their rule. But the revolt forced the Spanish to observe religious tolerance, and “since the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Kiva and the Cross have existed side by side in Pueblo Communities,” the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo site says.

Waters’ book’s full title is Book Of The Hopi – The First Revelation Of The Hopi’s Historical And Religious World-view Of Life .

Famous Pueblo People


A visit to Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico is a sacred journey

The ancient pueblo of Acoma is aptly nicknamed. Known as the Sky City, it commands the most exotic location of any inhabited place in the United States — the top of a 370-foot-high mesa in New Mexico, a natural citadel of golden rock, an island in the sky.

It’s also amazingly well-disguised.

Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico has been inhabited for more than 1,000 years

The ancient pueblo of Acoma is aptly nicknamed. Known as the Sky City, it commands the most exotic location of any inhabited place in the United States — the top of a 370-foot-high mesa in New Mexico, a natural citadel of golden rock, an island in the sky. It’s also amazingly well-disguised.

I’d driven there from Albuquerque in late afternoon, turning south off Interstate 40 at the Acoma tribe’s booming casino complex and picking up a small, scenic road. At first it ran past scattered homesteads — old stone houses, trailers, a few brand-new ranches — but for most of its almost 20 miles, it took me through a gorgeously empty landscape of red and gold mesas, polka-dotted with plump, dark cedar shrubs.

Finally the road curved, and the vista I was waiting for opened out above a wide valley, studded with mesas and giant rock towers, like sentinels along a sacred way.

I pulled over where the road starts down, got out of the car and, as usual, stared in awe. The Sky City was right there in front of me, 3 1/2 miles away, but its camouflage is so perfect, I couldn’t see it, though I knew where to look.

I drove a mile closer, down onto the valley floor, and still saw nothing but banded mesas and golden rock. I had to drive another full mile before I could finally distinguish the twin bell towers of San Esteban del Rey, Acoma’s 1629 Spanish mission church, rising above the fringe of little flat-roofed houses along the mesa rim.

This place, which last month became the nation’s 28th National Trust Historic Site, is North America’s Machu Picchu, but in some ways it’s more impressive: It’s older than the mountaintop ruin in Peru, and it’s still alive. Acoma people have lived up there for more than a thousand years.

The Sky City mesa is a tribal emblem, and the nickname functions like a brand. But its real name, Haak’u, means “a place prepared,” a reference to a cosmic promise made to the tribe when it first emerged into this world.

“It was already foretold at the time of emergence that there was ‘a place prepared’ — in all senses of the word — for our eternal occupancy,” Brian Vallo, director of Acoma’s brand-new cultural center, explained while the center was being finished. “It is the traditional homeland of the Acoma people. A very sacred place.”

The Pueblos are different nations

Twenty pueblos — the Spanish word can mean village, tribe or individuals — survive in the Southwest. One tribe, the Hopi, lives in northeastern Arizona. The 19 other pueblos are in New Mexico.

The pueblos are different nations, speaking different languages. They look different from one another, too. Taos is famous for its ancient pair of multistory apartment buildings. Jemez, beside a mountain river, has narrow, tight-knit lanes and the feel of a Greek village. And Acoma — well, Acoma is like nothing else in this country.

But those are superficial differences. All the pueblos share something more important — a powerful belief system so encompassing and so interwoven with every aspect of daily life that even to call it “tradition” or “religion” is to limit its scope. It is deeply rooted in the land, and the pueblos have managed to hang onto it for 400 years, ever since the Spanish conquest.

Whenever I visit, I try to imagine what it is like to inhabit the pueblo world, where everything is sacred, where everything has meaning, where everything — and everyone — is connected to everything else.

“The connections to place and people — that’s home,” Vallo said. “And that’s a lot.”

Imagining a world so complete is like trying to picture a color that isn’t in the spectrum, and it turns every trip to this part of the Southwest into a spiritual journey.

Acoma Pueblo has the feeling of home

It was a long way, in more than miles, from the sacred Sky City back to Acoma’s Sky City Casino-Hotel and Travel Center on I-40 — so far that at first I had trouble picturing them in the same universe, let alone the same landscape.

But the casino complex and its huge, adjacent truck stop are the economic engine fueling Acoma’s future, and that future includes the preservation of its past. Gaming revenues paid for most of the tribe’s new $17 million cultural center, which opened at the foot of Haak’u mesa last May.

The handsome center is intended to be many things, Vallo said, but they all involve the concept of home — a home where visitors can feel welcome; a home for repatriated Acoma artifacts; a home where the Acoma can study their language and heritage.

From my room in the casino hotel, I could look across the swimming pool and see the force that is driving Acoma’s economy now: the raised roadbed of Interstate 40. It took the place of old Route 66, and it’s still the Mother Road across New Mexico.

Rivers of semi trucks glittered in both directions, and steady streams of them were pulling off at the Acoma exit to tank up and let their drivers fire down.

Inside the casino hotel, there were the familiar clangs, whoops and jingles from the gaming hall off the lobby. But the complex does not serve alcohol, and the hotel was surprisingly tasteful and quiet. It felt more like a community center than a subset of Las Vegas.

Tracking tourists at Acoma Pueblo

Haak’u draws a different crowd, but it, too, draws large numbers: In summer hundreds of tourists a day descend on a village of fewer than a dozen families.

To protect it, the tribe has been tracking tourism to the Sky City for more than a century. Tours are now the only way you can visit the mesa. Small buses shuttle visitors up there from the new cultural center at its base, on a road built in 1950 for a John Wayne movie.

The rules are strict: No photography without a permit, no wandering off, and you need to get the name right.

“It’s pronounced AAAAH-coma,” my group’s tour guide said firmly. “We aren’t in a COMA!”

The houses of the Sky City are plain and boxlike, one or two stories, made of stone or adobe plastered with mud. Gusts of wind whip through the narrow streets, flinging sand against skin and into eyes. There is only one small tree — “the Acoma National Forest,” my tour guide joked — and the blistering New Mexico sun always feels as if it’s right overhead.

The mesa-top tours take about an hour under that sun. The guides move fast, and they cover a lot. Pause, and you’re guaranteed to miss something — an ancient window made of mica, for example, or the hole in the cemetery wall that allowed lost spirits to come home, or an explanation of the tribe‘s matrilineal system — how the youngest daughter inherits from the youngest daughter, down through time.

But visitors do pause — caught by stunning views at the end of every lane, by the tables of distinctive black-on-white pottery set out in front of artists’ homes and by the food — apple turnovers, straight from the oven, and fry bread so fresh that the grease burns your tongue.

A lot of these tourist pauses, I suspect, are really just ways of extending the experience.

At the end of the tour, the guides always offer a choice of how to get back: Ride the bus back down the mesa, or take the hidden foot trail that the Acoma people used for centuries before the road was cut.

I always choose the trail.

Almost vertical in places, it follows a steep, narrow slot in the cliff face. Getting down safely requires trusting the ancient builders, who knew what they were doing when they carved the footholds and handholds.

I turned around to face the yellow rock and then descended as if I were on a ladder, reaching my toes down step by step, sliding my fingers into ancient niches.

Of all the good experiences on this trip, that descent was the best. I liked feeling that I fittted into something that went so far back in time, with so many connections to other people — even if they could never be my own. The scale of the steps was human, and the warm, golden stone felt good and secure against my hands. It felt, in fact, like comfort.

Getting to Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo is about 60 miles southwest of Albuquerque, N.M. Round-trip, restricted airfare between Kansas City and Albuquerque recently started about $130.

Visiting Acoma

For information on Acoma, call the tribe’s main number, 1-888-SKY-CITY, or go to www.skycity.com. The ancient mesa-top village may be visited only by guided tours, which begin at the new Cultural Center ($12 adults, $11 seniors, $9 ages 6 through 17, free for children younger than 5).

Tours go daily, unless a snowstorm blocks the roads, so call ahead in winter.

For an excellent introduction to pueblo cultures, visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, 2401 12th St. N.W.; (505) 843-7270; or go to www.indianpueblo.org. Adult admission this year is $6, $5.50 for seniors, $1 for students (college students need ID), free for children younger than 5.

The Weather at Acoma Pueblo

Central New Mexico, though dry, does get snow in winter, particularly if a bad storm has ravaged the Great Plains. Average February temperatures in Albuquerque range from a high of 53 to a low of 27.

Food and lodging near Acoma Pueblo

At Acoma, the best place to eat and the only place to stay is the Sky City Casino-Hotel and Travel Center on Interstate 40. The pleasant, quiet hotel rooms run $89 standard, $119 suite. For reservations, call 1-888-SKY-CITY.

The hotel restaurant offers huge portions, a good buffet, some traditional foods and reasonable prices. Snacks and good pizza are available inside the casino, and there’s a busy McDonald’s at the truck stop.

The new Sky City Cultural Center, worlds away at the base of the ancient city’s mesa, also has a restaurant; it serves such traditional items as blue corn porridge and blue corn pancakes for breakfast, and Acoma oven bread and lamb stew for lunch. Again, prices are reasonable.

Acoma Cultural center

Last May, Acoma opened a remarkable new cultural center at the foot of the Sky City mesa.

The $17 million project, mostly funded with gaming revenue, is the biggest investment the tribe has ever made, said Brian Vallo, the center’s director.

The center’s first-rate museum was designed to hold an expanding collection of Acoma pottery, weavings and other cultural objects. The museum also includes climate-controlled storage, a requirement for the return of tribal material under federal law.


Catherine Watson is a former travel editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. | Catherine Watson, Special to The Star

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