Pueblo Revolt of 1680

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The Pueblo Revolt of 1680, also known as Popé’s Rebellion, was an uprising of most of the Pueblo Indians against the Spanish colonizers in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, present day New Mexico.The Pueblo people killed 400 Spanish and drove the remaining 2,000 settlers out of the province. Twelve years later the Spanish returned and were able to reoccupy New Mexico with little opposition.

In 1598 Juan de Oñate led 129 soldiers and 10 Franciscan Catholic priests plus a large number of women, children, servants, slaves, and livestock into the Rio Grande valley of New Mexico. There were at the time approximately 40,000 Pueblo Indians inhabiting the region.

Oñate put down a revolt at Acoma Pueblo by killing and enslaving hundreds of the Indians and sentencing 24 men to have their right foot cut off. The Acoma Massacre would instill fear of the Spanish in the region for years to come, though Franciscan missionaries were assigned to several of the Pueblo towns to Christianize the natives.

From 1540 to 1600 the Pueblos were subjected to seven successive waves of soldiers, missionaries, and settlers. These encounters, referred to as the Entradas, were characterized by violent confrontations between Spanish colonists and Pueblo Peoples. The Tiwa or Tiguex War, fought in the winter of 1540-41 by the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado against the twelve or thirteen pueblos of Tiwa Indians, was particularly destructive to Pueblo and Spanish relations.

Spanish colonial policies in the 1500s regarding the humane treatment of Indians were difficult to enforce on the northern frontier. With the establishment of the first permanent colonial settlement in 1598, the Pueblos were forced to provide tribute to the colonists in the form of labor, ground corn and textiles.

The Spanish monarch rewarded individual Spaniards for services rendered, by giving them control of the labour of a particular number of Native Americans. These grants were called encomiendas. Encomiendas were soon established by colonists along the Rio Grande, restricting Pueblo access to fertile farmlands and water supplies and placing a heavy burden upon Pueblo labor.

Especially offensive to the Pueblo was the assault on their traditional religion.

Franciscan priests established missions in many of the Pueblo villages. The priests converted the Pueblos to build the Spanish empire in New Mexico.

In 1608, it looked as though Spain might abandon the province, but the Franciscans baptized seven thousand Pueblos to try to convince the Crown otherwise. Although the Franciscans initially tolerated manifestations of the old religion as long as the Puebloans attended mass and maintained a public veneer of Catholicism, Fray Alonso de Posada (in New Mexico 1656–1665) outlawed Kachina dances by the Pueblo Indians and ordered the missionaries to seize and burn their masks, prayer stick, and effigies.

The Franciscan missionaries also forbade the use of entheogenic drugs, which altered states of consciousness,  in the traditional religious ceremonies of the Pueblo. Several Spanish officials, such as Nicolas de Aguilar, who attempted to curb the power of the Franciscans were charged with heresy and tried before the Inquisition.

Drought and famine plague the Pueblos, 47 medicine men accused of sorcery

In the 1670s drought swept the region, causing a famine among the Pueblo and increased raids by the Apache which Spanish and Pueblo soldiers were unable to prevent. Fray Alonso de Benavides wrote multiple letters to the King, describing the conditions, noting “the Spanish inhabitants and Indians alike eat hides and straps of carts.”

The unrest among the Pueblos came to a head in 1675. Governor Juan Francisco Treviño ordered the arrest of forty-seven Pueblo medicine men and accused them of practicing “sorcery.”

Four medicine men were sentenced to death by hanging; three of those sentences were carried out, while the fourth prisoner committed suicide. The remaining men were publicly whipped and sentenced to prison.

When this news reached the Pueblo leaders, they moved in force to Santa Fe, where the prisoners were held. Because a large number of Spanish soldiers were away fighting the Apache, Governor Treviño was forced to accede to the Pueblo demand for the release of the prisoners. Among those released was a San Juan (called “Ohkay Owingeh” by the Pueblo) Indian named Popé.

Following his release, Popé, along with a number of other Pueblo leaders, planned and orchestrated the Pueblo Revolt.

Popé took up residence in Taos Pueblo far from the capital of Santa Fe and spent the next five years seeking support for a revolt among the 46 Pueblo towns. He gained the support of the Northern Tiwa, Tewa, Towa, Tano, and Keres-speaking Pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley.

The Pecos Pueblo, 50 miles east of the Rio Grande pledged its participation in the revolt as did the Zuni and Hopi, 120 and 200 miles respectively west of the Rio Grande. The Pueblos not joining the revolt were the four southern Tiwa (Tiguex) towns near Santa Fe and the Piro Pueblos south of the principal Pueblo population centers near the present day city of Socorro.

The southern Tiwa and the Piro were more thoroughly integrated into Spanish culture than the other groups. The Spanish population of about 2,400, including mixed-blood mestizos, and Indian servants and retainers, was scattered thinly throughout the region. Santa Fe was the only place that approximated being a town.

The Spanish could only muster 170 men with arms. The Pueblos joining the revolt probably had 2,000 or more adult men capable of utilizing native weapons such as bows and arrows. It is possible that some Apache and Navajo also participated in the revolt.

The Pueblo revolt was typical of millenarian movements in colonial societies. Popé promised that, once the Spanish were killed or expelled, the ancient Pueblo gods would reward them with health and prosperity. Popé’s plan was that the inhabitants of each Pueblo would rise up and kill the Spanish in their area and then all would advance on Santa Fe to kill or expel all the remaining Spanish.

The date set for the uprising was August 11, 1680. Popé dispatched runners to all the Pueblos carrying knotted cords. Each morning the Pueblo leadership was to untie one knot from the cord, and when the last knot was untied, that would be the signal for them to rise against the Spaniards in unison.

On August 9, however, the Spaniards were warned of the impending revolt by southern Tiwa leaders and they captured two Tesuque Pueblo youths entrusted with carrying the message to the pueblos. They were tortured to make them reveal the significance of the knotted cord.

Popé then ordered that the revolt begin a day early. The Hopi pueblos located on the remote Hopi Mesas of Arizona did not receive the advanced notice for the beginning of the revolt and followed the schedule for the revolt.

On August 10, the Pueblos rose up, stole Spanish horses to prevent them fleeing, sealed off roads leading to Santa Fe, and pillaged Spanish settlements. A total of 400 people were killed, including men, women, children, and 21 of the 33 Franciscan missionaries in New Mexico.

Survivors fled to Santa Fe and Isleta Pueblo, 10 miles south of Albuquerque and one of the Pueblos that did not participate in the rebellion. By August 13, all the Spanish settlements in New Mexico had been destroyed and Santa Fe was besieged.

The Pueblo surrounded the city and cut off its water supply. In desperation, on August 21, New Mexico Governor Antonio de Otermín, barricaded in the Governor’s Palace, sallied outside the palace with all of his available men and forced the Pueblo to retreat with heavy losses. He then led the Spaniards out of the city and retreated southward along the Rio Grande, headed for El Paso del Norte.

The Pueblo shadowed the Spaniards but did not attack. The Spaniards who had taken refuge in Isleta had also retreated southward on August 15 and on September 6 the two groups of survivors, numbering 1,946, met at Socorro. About 500 of the survivors were Indian slaves. They were escorted to El Paso by a Spanish supply train. The Pueblo did not contest their passage out of New Mexico.

The retreat of the Spaniards left New Mexico in the power of the Pueblos.

Popé was a mysterious figure in the history of the southwest as there are many tales of what happened to him and among the Pueblos after the revolt. Later testimony to the Spanish by Pueblo Indians was probably colored by anti-Popé sentiments and a desire to tell the Spanish what they wanted to hear.

Apparently, Popé 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.” All crosses, churches, and Christian images were to be destroyed. The people were ordered 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.

Popé, it was said, forbade the planting of wheat and barley and commanded those Indians who had been married according to the rites of the Catholic Church to dismiss their wives and to take others after the old native tradition.

The Pueblo had no tradition of political unity.

Each pueblo was self-governing and some, or all, apparently resisted Popé’s demands for a return to a pre-Spanish existence. The paradise Popé had promised when the Spanish were expelled did not materialize. A drought continued, destroying Pueblo crops, and the raids by Apache and Navajo increased. Initially, however, the Pueblos were united in their objective of preventing a return of the Spanish.

Popé was deposed as the leader of the Pueblos about a year after the revolt and disappears from history. He is believed to have died shortly before the Spanish reconquest in 1692.

The Spanish return to New Mexico

The Spanish return to New Mexico was prompted by their fears of French advances into the Mississippi valley and their desire to create a defense frontier against the increasingly aggressive nomadic Indians on their northern borders. In August 1692, Diego de Vargas marched to Santa Fe unopposed along with a converted Zia war captain, Bartolomé de Ojeda.

De Vargas, with only sixty soldiers, one hundred Indian auxiliaries, seven cannons (which he used as leverage against the Pueblo inside Santa Fe), and one Franciscan priest, arrived at Santa Fe on September 13. He promised the 1,000 Pueblo people assembled there clemency and protection if they would swear allegiance to the King of Spain and return to the Christian faith. After a while the Pueblo rejected the Spaniards. After much persuading, the Spanish finally made the Pueblo agree to peace.

On September 14, 1692, de Vargas proclaimed a formal act of repossession. It was the thirteenth town he had reconquered for God and King in this manner, he wrote jubilantly to the Conde de Galve, viceroy of New Spain. During the next month de Vargas visited other Pueblos and accepted their acquiescence to Spanish rule.

Though the 1692 agreement to peace was bloodless, in the years that followed de Vargas maintained increasingly severe control over the increasingly defiant Pueblo. De Vargas returned to Mexico and gathered together about 800 people, including 100 soldiers, and returned to Santa Fe in December 1693.

This time, however, 70 Pueblo warriors and 400 family members within the town opposed his entry. De Vargas and his forces staged a quick and bloody recapture that concluded with the surrender and execution of the 70 Pueblo warriors and with their families sentenced to ten years’ servitude.

In 1696 the Indians of fourteen pueblos attempted a second organized revolt.

They launched the second revolt with the murders of five missionaries and thirty-four settlers and using weapons the Spanish themselves had traded to the Indians over the years; de Vargas’s retribution was unmerciful, thorough and prolonged.

By the end of the century the last resisting Pueblo town had surrendered and the Spanish reconquest was essentially complete. Many of the Pueblos, however, fled New Mexico to join the Apache or Navajo or to attempt to re-settle on the Great Plains. One of their settlements has been found in Kansas at El Quartalejo.

While the independence of many pueblos from the Spaniards was short-lived, the Pueblo Revolt gained the Pueblo Indians a measure of freedom from future Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion following the reconquest.

The Spanish issued substantial land grants to each Pueblo and appointed a public defender to protect the rights of the Indians and argue their legal cases in the Spanish courts. The Franciscan priests returning to New Mexico did not again attempt to impose a theocracy on the Pueblo who continued to practice their traditional religion.

Pueblo revolt leaders and their home pueblos:

  • Ku-htihth (Cochiti): Antonio Malacate
  • Galisteo (Galisteo): Juan El Tano
  • Walatowa (Jemez): Luis Conixu
  • Nambé (Nambé): Diego Xenome
  • Welai (Picuris): Luis Tupatu (Ciervo Blanco)
  • Powhogeh (San Ildefonso): Francisco El Ollito and Nicolas de la Cruz Jonv
  • Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan): Po’pay and Tagu
  • San Lazaro: Antonio Bolsas and Cristobal Yope
  • Khapo (Santa Clara): Domingo Naranjo and Cajete
  • Kewa (Santo Domingo): Alonzo Catiti
  • Teotho (Taos): El Saca
  • Tehsugeh (Tesuque): Domingo Romero

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