Pueblo of Jemez


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Jemez Pueblo is located along the east bank of the Jemez River, 25 miles north of Bernalillo, New Mexico, and approximately 50 miles northwest of Albuquerque. The Pueblo of Jemez (pronounced “Hay-mess” or traditionally as “He-mish”) is one of the 19 pueblos located in New Mexico.

Official Tribal Name: Pueblo of Jemez

Address:  P.O. Box 100, 4471 Hwy 4, Jemez Pueblo, NM 87024
Phone:  (575) 834-7359
Fax: (575) 834-7331

Official Website: http://www.jemezpueblo.org/

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Jemez is  from the Spanish Jemez, taken from the Jemez self-designation.  The word pueblo comes from the Spanish for “village.” It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, apartmentlike buildings made of adobe, and to the people themselves.

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Alternate names / Alternate spellings:

Name in other languages:

Region: Southwest Rio Grande pueblos are known as eastern Pueblos; Zuni, Hopi, and sometimes Acoma and Laguna are known as western Pueblos. 

State(s) Today: New Mexico

Confederacy: Puebloan

Treaties: None of the Pueblo tribes signed any treaties with the United States.

Traditional Territory:

The Jemez people lived near Stone Canyon, south of Dulce, New Mexico, around 2,000 years ago. They moved to near their present location after the arrival of the Athapaskans, around the fourteenth century. However, some of them moved to the San Diego Canyon-Guadalupe Canyon area, south of Santa Fe, where they established numerous large fortresses and hundreds of small houses.

The Spaniards found them in 1540 and built a mission there (at Giusewa Pueblo) in the late sixteenth century. In 1621, they began another mission at the Pueblo de la Congregation, the present Jemez Pueblo. In 1628, Fray Martin de Arvide arrived at the Mission of San Diego de la Congregation with orders to unite the scattered Jemez communities, after which Jemez Pueblo became an important center for missionary activity.

Reservation: Jemez Pueblo

Land Area:  89,000 acres 
Tribal Headquarters:  
Time Zone:  

Population at Contact: Perhaps 30,000 people lived there in 1530, and 100 in 1744. 

Registered Population Today: About 3,400, most of whom reside in a puebloan village that is known as “‘Walatowa” (a Towa word meaning “this is the place”). Walatowa is located in North-Central New Mexico, within the southern end of the majestic Canon de Don Diego. It is located on State Road 4 approximately one hour northwest of Albuquerque (55 miles) and approximately one hour and twenty minutes southwest of Santa Fe.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Pueblo governments derived from two traditions.The traditional government includes the spiritual and society leaders, a War Captain and Lt. War Captain. These officials are intimately related to the religious structures of the pueblo and reflected the essentially theocratic nature of Pueblo government. Traditional matters are still handled through this separate governing body that is rooted in prehistory. At Jemez, the leaders of the various religious societies appointed the cacique for a lifetime term. The authority of their offices is symbolized by canes.

A parallel but in most cases distinctly less powerful group of officials was imposed by the Spanish authorities. This secular Tribal Government appointed by the traditional leadership, generally deal with external and church matters and includes, at Jemez, the Jemez Governor, two Lt. Governors, two fiscales, and a sheriff.  In addition, the All Indian Pueblo Council, dating from 1598, began meeting again in the twentieth century.


Name of Governing Body:  All Indian Pueblo Council

Number of Council members:   Two, plus executive officers.
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:  the Jemez Governor, two Lt. Governors,  and a sheriff. 


Language Classification: Tanoan-Kiowa -> Tanoan -> Southern Tiwa -> Jemez (Towa)

Language Dialects:  Jemez is one of three dialects of Southern Tiwa, the other two are Isleta and Sandia. Jemez Pueblo is the only culture that speaks the Jemez (also known as Towa) dialect, and traditional law forbids the language from being translated into writing in order to prevent exploitation by outside cultures. It is closely related to the more northernly Picurís (spoken at Picuris Pueblo) and Taos (spoken at Taos Pueblo).

Number of fluent Speakers:


Origins: All Pueblo people are thought to be descended from Anasazi and perhaps Mogollon and several other ancient peoples. Having originated from a place called “Hua-na-tota,” the Jemez Nation, migrated to the “Canon de San Diego Region” from the Four Corners area between AD 1275 and 1350. . By the time of European contact in the year 1541, the Jemez Nation was one of the largest and most powerful of the puebloan cultures, occupying numerous puebloan villages that were strategically located on the high mountain mesas and the canyons that surround the present pueblo of Walatowa.

These stone-built fortresses, often located miles apart from one another, were upwards of four stories high and contained as many as 3,000 rooms. They now constitute some of the largest archaeological ruins in the United States. Situated between these “giant pueblos” were literally hundreds of smaller one and two room houses that were used by the Jemez people during spring and summer months as basecamps for hunting, gathering, and agricultural activities.

Spiritual leaders, medicine people, war chiefs, craftsmen, pregnant women, elderly and the disabled lived in the giant pueblos throughout the year, as warriors and visitors could easily reach at least one of the giant pueblos within an hours walk from any of the seasonal homes.

In addition, impenetrable barriers were established with cliffs to guard access to springs and religious sites, to monitor strategic trail systems, and to watch for invading enemies. In general, the Jemez Nation resembled a military society that was often called upon by other tribal groups to assist in settling hostile disputes.

In1838, Jemez culture became diversified when the Towa speaking people from the Pueblo of Pecos (located east of Santa Fe) resettled at the Pueblo of Jemez in order to escape the increasing depredations of the Spanish and Comanche cultures. The Pecos culture was rapidly integrated into Jemez Society, and in 1936, both cultural groups were legally merged into one by an Act of Congress. Today, the Pecos culture still survives at Jemez. Its traditions have been preserved, and the Pueblo of Jemez still honorably recognizes a Governor of Pecos.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies: Though often depicted as passive and docile, most Pueblo groups regularly engaged in warfare. Every Jemez man belonged to two societies, Eagle and Arrow, related to defense and war.

The great revolt of 1680 stands out as the major military action, but they also skirmished at other times with the Spanish and defended themselves against attackers such as Apaches, Comanches, and Utes.

The Jemez Pueblo also contributed auxiliary soldiers to provincial forces under Spain and Mexico, which were used mainly against raiding Indians and to protect merchant caravans on the Santa Fe Trail. After the raiding tribes began to pose less of a threat in the late nineteenth century, Pueblo military societies began to wither away, with the office of war captain changing to civil and religious functions. 

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Traditional dances are still held throughout the year at Jemez, many of which are not open to the public. Although the project of retaining a strong Indian identity is a difficult one in the late twentieth century, Pueblo people have strong roots, and in many ways the ancient rhythms and patterns continue.

At Jemez, most of the religious societies are still extant and active. Their ceremonialism is largely intact, as is their language. The two divisions, Squash and Turquoise, still race and dance. These ceremonies are generally closed to outsiders, but other dances, with strong Catholic elements, tend to be open to tourists.

The public is welcome to share in certain events, particularly the “Nuestra Senora de Los Angelas Feast Day de Los Persingula”, August 2nd (Pecos Feast of St. Persingula), the “San Diego Feast Day” on November 12th. Additional events open to the public occur at various times throughout the Christmas Holidays. Information regarding these events can be obtained at the Walatowa Visitor Center at the Pueblo of Jemez.  

Photography and sketching is generally discouraged in all the Pueblos. At Pueblo of Jemez, cameras, video camcorders, tape recorders, sketchpads, alcohol and firearms are strictly forbidden at these and all events by the order of the Governor. If you ignore these rules, your camera or other equipment may be confiscated and you may be fined or asked to leave. They take this VERY seriously.

The Pueblo and surrounding houses are private homes and should be treated as such. Do not enter any buildings unless invited, or they are clearly marked as open to the public.

Chaco and Mesa Verde: Southwest parks with similar history but different visitor experiences

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts: The Jemez Pueblo is internationally known for arts and crafts. Pottery such as bowls, seed pots, sgraffitto vessels (elaborately polished and engraved), wedding vases, figurines, holiday ornaments, and the famous storytellers of the Jemez Pueblo are now in collections throughout the world. In addition, Jemez artisans also create beautiful basketry, embroidery, woven cloths, exquisite stone sculpture, moccasins and jewelry.

The prehistoric presence of the Jemez Nation in the Canon de San Diego region is characterized by the manufacture and use of specific types of pottery.

They produce five basic types, a unique slipped and decorated type that is referred to by archaeologists as “Jemez Black-on-White;” a cruder, apparently short lived variant that is referred to as “Jemez Black-on-White Rough;” an unslipped, undecorated utility pottery referred to as “Jemez Plain Utility;” and a slightly corrugated variant of the plain utility ware that is referred to as “Jemez Indented Corrugated.”

The oral history of the Pueblo of Jemez, Walatowa, indicates that manufacturing of decorated pottery types of Jemez Black-on-White ceased sometime in the early to mid-eighteenth century when they reportedly shattered hundreds of the vessels, so that they would not get in to the hands of the Spanish.

Manufacturing of this type of pottery was never resumed, and for the next 200 years, the Jemez People relied on decorated pottery obtained from their Keresan neighbors, primarily the Pueblo of Zia. Eventually, many of the Zia designs were incorporated into a new style of pottery which the Jemez again, began to produce around the turn of the century. Though based on Zia design, this new style of Jemez pottery soon emerged with a distinctive Jemez signature of black-on-red and black/red on tan.

Animals: Spanish horses, mules, and cattle arrived at Jemez Pueblo in the seventeenth century. 

Clothing: Men wore shirts made of tanned deer hides as well as cotton kilts. Women wore black cotton dresses belted with brightly colored yarn. Both wore moccasins with buckskin leggings. Rabbit skin was also used for clothing and robes. 

Housing: More than any other pueblo, Jemez was built on the heights of mesas. It featured apartment-style dwellings of up to four stories, containing as many as 2,000 rooms, as well as one- and two-room houses.

The buildings were constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with pine beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush, and plaster. Floors were of wood plank or packed earth. The roof of one level served as the floor of another. The levels were interconnected by ladders. As an aid to defense, the traditional design included no doors or windows; entry was through the roof. Two rectangular pit houses, or kivas, served as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses.

The village plaza, around which all dwellings were clustered, is the spiritual center of the village where all the balanced forces of the world come together. Jemez people also built cliff dwellings to guard access to important places and monitor trails. 

Subsistance: Before the Spanish arrived, Jemez people ate primarily corn, beans, and squash. They also grew cotton and tobacco. They hunted deer, mountain lion, bear, antelope, and rabbits. Twice a year, after planting and again after the harvest, men would travel east to hunt buffalo.

The women also gathered a variety of wild foods including pinon seeds, yucca fruit, berries, and wild potatoes. The Spanish introduced wheat, alfalfa, chilies, fruit trees, grapes, sheep, cattle, and garden vegetables, which soon became part of the regular diet. 

Precontact farming implements were wooden. Traditional irrigation systems used ditches to ferry water from the Rio Grande as well as floodwater collection at arroyo mouths (ak chin). Tools were made of bone and wood. Men hunted with bows and arrows. Pottery and yucca baskets were used for a number of purposes. The Spanish introduced metal tools and equipment.

All Pueblos were part of extensive Native American trading networks. With the arrival of other cultures, Pueblo Indians also traded with the Hispanic American villages and then U.S. traders. At fixed times during summer or fall, enemies declared truces so that trading fairs might be held.

The largest and best known was at Taos with the Comanche. Nomads exchanged slaves, buffalo hides, buckskins, jerked meat, and horses for agricultural and manufactured pueblo products. Pueblo Indians traded for shell and copper ornaments, turquoise, and macaw feathers.

During journeys east for buffalo the Jemez traded with Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas. They also traded buffalo hides and fur blankets to the Spanish and Mexicans as well as pottery for Keresan ollas. Trade along the Santa Fe Trail began in 1821.

By the 1880s and the arrival of railroads, the Pueblos were dependent on many American-made goods, and the native manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.

Economy Today: Many Jemez people work for wages in Los Alamos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.

Especially since World War II and the Indian arts revival, Jemez artists have been making excellent pottery, yucca baskets, weaving, embroidery, and painting.

Many people keep gardens and grow chilies, some corn and wheat, and alfalfa for animals.

The Pueblo owns hydroelectric, natural gas, oil, and uranium resources. There are also jobs with the government and the tribe. 

In the 1980s, the tribe successfully fought a geothermal development in the Jemez Mountains that threatened their religious practice. Jemez and Pecos Pueblos were formally consolidated in 1936 and maintain a special connection to the land around abandoned Pecos village, now Pecos National Historic Park.

Farming, including grape growing, has dwindled, mainly because of drought, government programs to discourage farming, the people’s increasing skills in other areas, welfare, and water usurpation.

Children generally attend the BIA day school, mission school, or public school. The Jemez people have been particularly successful in voting tribal members onto the local school board.

Most people at Jemez Pueblo retain their traditional language as their first language. English has replaced Spanish as a second language.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs: In traditional Pueblo culture, religion and life are inseparable. To be in harmony with all of nature is the Pueblo ideal and way of life. The sun is seen as the representative of the Creator. Sacred mountains in each direction, plus the sun above and the earth below, define and balance the Pueblo world. Many Pueblo religious ceremonies revolve around the weather and are devoted to ensuring adequate rainfall.

To this end, Pueblo Indians evoke the power of katsinas, sacred beings who live in mountains and other holy places, in ritual and masked dance. There is no katsina organization per se at Jemez, but men and women do perform masked dances personifying supernaturals to bring rain.

In addition to the natural boundaries, Pueblo Indians have created a society that defines their world by providing balanced, reciprocal relationships within which people connect and harmonize with each other, the natural world, and time itself.

According to tradition, the head of each pueblo is the religious leader, or cacique, who serves for life and whose primary responsibility it is to watch the sun and thereby determine the dates of ceremonies.

Much ceremonialism is also based on medicine societies: About 20 men’s and women’s religious societies, such as curing, hunter, warrior, and clown, form the social and religious basis of Jemez society. Shamans, who derive powers from animal spirits, use their supernatural powers for curing, weather control, and ensuring the general welfare.

Each person also belongs to two patrilineal kiva groups, Squash and Turquoise. The people were further arranged into matrilineal clans with specific ceremonial functions.

Burial Customs: The dead were buried after being sprinkled with water, cornmeal, and pollen. Two days after death, a prayer feather ceremony was held to send the spirit to the land of the katsinas. 

Wedding Customs:  Pueblo Indians were generally monogamous and divorce was relatively rare. Intertribal marriage was also rare before World War II. Afterward, and especially after the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)-sponsored relocation program in 1952, the population became more mixed with other cultures.


Famous Pueblo People

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

Despite the pueblo’s position as a missionary center, the Jemez people actively resisted Spanish efforts to undermine their religion. They joined in rebellion with the Navajo in about 1645, a crime for which 29 Jemez leaders were hanged. They also took a leading part in the Pueblo rebellion of 1680. For years, the Spaniards had routinely tortured Indians for practicing traditional religion.

They also forced the Indians to labor for them, sold Indians into slavery, and let their cattle overgraze Indian land, a situation that eventually led to drought, erosion, and famine. Pope of San Juan Pueblo and other Pueblo religious leaders planned the great revolt, sending runners carrying cords of maguey fibers to mark the day of rebellion.

On August 10, 1680, a virtually united stand on the part of the Pueblos drove the Spanish from the region. The Indians killed many Spaniards but refrained from mass slaughter, allowing most of them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso.

The Jemez people withdrew to sites on the top of the San Diego Mesa in 1681. When the Spanish left they descended, only to reascend in 1689 when they sighted a new Spanish force. Some returned again to the pueblo in 1692, when they, along with Keresans from Zia Pueblo, arrived at an understanding with the Spanish.

Most Jemez, however, still resisted the Spanish, a situation that resulted in fighting between the Jemez and the Keresan pueblos of Zia and Santa Ana. This in turn resulted in a punitive Spanish-Keresan expedition in 1694, ending in the death or capture of over 400 Jemez people. All prisoners were pardoned after they helped the Spanish defeat the Tewas at Black Mesa.

By 1696, Jemez Pueblo had been rebuilt and reoccupied at or near the original site. The following year, however, after joining again with the Navajo in an anti-Spanish revolt, the Jemez returned to their ancestral homeland near Stone Canyon.

Others went west to the Navajo country; of these, some eventually returned to Jemez but many remained with the Navajo. Some Jemez also fled to Hopi but were returned several years later by missionaries.

The Jemez exile did not end until the early eighteenth century, when members of the tribe returned and settled at Walatowa, 12 miles south of their former mesa homes. At that time they built a new church, San Diego de los Jemez.

The Pueblos experienced many changes during following decades: Refugees established communities at Hopi, guerrilla fighting continued against the Spanish, and certain areas were abandoned. By the 1700s, excluding Hopi and Zuni, only Taos, Picuris, Isleta and Acoma Pueblos had not changed locations since the arrival of the Spanish.

Although Pueblo unity did not last, and Santa Fe was officially reconquered in 1692, Spanish rule was notably less severe from then on. Harsh forced labor all but ceased, and the Indians reached an understanding with the Church that enabled them to continue practicing their traditional religion.

In general, the Pueblo eighteenth century was marked by smallpox epidemics, and increased raiding by the Apache, Comanche, and Ute. Occasionally Pueblo Indians fought with the Spanish against the nomadic tribes. The people practiced their religion but more or less in secret. During this time, intermarriage and regular exchange between Hispanic villages and Pueblo Indians created a new New Mexican culture, neither strictly Spanish nor Indian, but rather somewhat of a blend between the two.

Mexican “rule” in 1821 brought little immediate change to the Pueblos. The Mexicans stepped up what had been a gradual process of appropriating Indian land and water, and they allowed the nomadic tribes even greater latitude to raid. In 1837, a political rebellion by Indians and Hispanics over the issue of taxes led to the assassination of the governor of New Mexico and the brief installation of a Taos Indian as governor.

At about the same time, the last 20 or so Towa-speaking Pecos people joined the Jemez after abandoning their own pueblo due to Athapaskan raids, smallpox, factionalism, farming decreases, and land pressures from Hispanics. As the presence of the United States in the area grew, it attempted to enable the Pueblo Indians to continue their generally peaceful and self-sufficient ways; in 1858, Congress approved the old Spanish land grant of over 17,000 acres to Jemez Pueblo.

During the nineteenth century the process of acculturation among Pueblo Indians quickened markedly. In an attempt to retain their identity, Pueblo Indians clung even more tenaciously to their heritage, which by now included elements of the once-hated Spanish culture and religion.

By the 1880s, railroads had largely put an end to the traditional geographical isolation of the pueblos. Paradoxically, the U.S. decision to recognize Spanish land grants to the Pueblos denied Pueblo Indians certain rights granted under official treaties and left them particularly open to exploitation by squatters and thieves.

After a gap of more than 300 years, the All Indian Pueblo Council began to meet again in the 1920s, specifically in response to a congressional threat to appropriate Pueblo lands. Partly as a result of the Council’s activities, Congress confirmed Pueblo title to their lands in 1924 by passing the Pueblo Lands Act.

The United States also acknowledged its trust responsibilities in a series of legal decisions and other acts of Congress. Still, especially after 1900, Pueblo culture was increasingly threatened by highly intolerant Protestant evangelical missions and schools. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also weighed in on the subject of acculturation, forcing Indian children to leave their homes and attend culture-killing boarding schools.

Following World War II, the issue of water rights took center stage on most pueblos. Also, the All Indian Pueblo Council succeeded in slowing the threat against Pueblo lands as well as religious persecution. Making crafts for the tourist trade became an important economic activity during this period.

Since the late nineteenth century, but especially after the 1960s, Pueblos have had to cope with onslaughts by (mostly white) anthropologists and seekers of Indian spirituality. The region is also known for its major art colonies at Taos and Santa Fe.

Tiguex War
Pueblo Revolt of 1680
New Mexico’s pueblos have a history with the federal government unlike any other American Indian tribe

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Further Reading: