Legends of America: Pueblo Revolt

Published on February 4, 2013 by Carol

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Tewa warrior guarding the pueblo,
Edward S. Curtis, 1905.

In 1675, the tension came to a head when Governor Juan Francisco Treviño ordered the arrest of 47 medicine men and accused them of practicing witchcraft. Four of the men were sentenced to be hanged – 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 released the prisoners. Among those who were released was a medicine man from the San Juan Pueblo (now known as Ohkay Owingeh), named Popé, who would soon become the leader of the Pueblo Rebellion. Popé then moved to Taos Pueblo and began plotting with men from other pueblos to drive out the Spaniards.

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Before long, a well-coordinated effort of several pueblo villages was established in August, 1680. Throughout the upper Rio Grande basin north of El Paso to Taos, the Tewa, Tiwa, Hopi, Zuni and other Keresan-speaking pueblos, and even the non-pueblo Apaches, planned to simultaneously rise up against the Spanish. The attack was planned for August 11, 1680, but, the Spaniards learned of the revolt after capturing two Tesuque Pueblo youths who were carrying messages to the pueblos. Popé then ordered the execution of the plot on August 10, before the uprising could be put down. The intent was to kill the missionaries, destroy the pueblo churches, and to kill any settlers who refused to leave their lands.

On August 10, 1680, the attack was commenced by the Taos, Picuri, and Tewa Indians in their respective pueblos. The warriors killed 21 of the province’s 40 Franciscans, and another 380 Spaniards, including men, women, and children. The Spaniards who were able to escape fled to Santa Fe and to the Isleta Pueblo, one of the few pueblos that did not participate in the rebellion. Popé’s warriors, armed with Spanish weapons, then besieged Santa Fe, surrounding the city and cutting off its water supply. New Mexico Governor Antonio de Otermín, barricaded in the Governor’s Palace, soon called for a general retreat and on August 21st, the remaining 3,000 Spanish settlers streamed out of the capital city and headed for El Paso, Texas. Believing themselves the only survivors, the refugees at the Isleta Pueblo, also left for El Paso in September. In the meantime, the pueblo people destroyed most of the homes and buildings of the Spanish.

The Pueblo Revolt effectively ended Spanish rule in New Mexico for the next 12 years. However, all was not as the Puebloans had hoped. The expulsion of the Spanish did not bring peace and prosperity to the pueblos. Returning to their traditional religion did not bring rain to ease the drought. With the Spaniards gone, the Apache and Navajo stepped up their raids. Additionally, the retreat of the Spaniards left New Mexico in the power of the pueblos, but the diverse pueblo tribes, separated by hundreds of miles and eight different languages, quarreled as to who would occupy Santa Fe and rule over the country. Popé, who had succeeded in leading the rebellion, set himself up as the leader, but, was not as effective in that role. He attempted to destroy every trace of the Spanish presence in New Mexico. “The God of the Christians in dead,” he proclaimed. “He was made of rotten wood.” The pueblo villages were divided and many resented Popé, considering him a tyrant. Many, who had converted to Christianity opposed the destruction of Christian relics. Opposition to Spanish rule had given the pueblos the incentive to unite, but not the means to remain united once their common enemy was vanquished. These power struggles, combined with raids from nomadic tribes, Spanish attempts to re-conquer and a seven year drought, weakened the Pueblo resolve and set the stage for a Spanish re-conquest.

A Spanish force of 300 men attempted to regain a foothold in New Mexico in 1681, but was repelled by Popé’s warriors army. Another Spanish effort in 1687 also failed. The next year Popé died, with the the pueblos divided and week.

In July, 1692, Governor Diego de Vargas, with an army of 150 Spanish soldiers and pro-Spanish Pueblo warriors, began a successful military and political reconquest. Indian leaders gathered in Santa Fe to meet with Vargas and agreed to peace. On September 14, 1692,Vargas proclaimed a formal act of repossession. Vargas wisely promised pardon rather than punishment and most of the pueblos gradually acceded to Spanish rule. Only the Hopi, living in distant Arizona retained their independence.

Though the 1692 peace agreement was bloodless, in the years that followed Vargas maintained increasingly severe control over the the Puebloans and during his absence from Santa Fe in 1693, the Puebloans retook the city. Vargas and his forces staged a quick and bloody recapture that concluded with 70 executions and 400 Puebloan sentenced to ten years’ servitude.

In 1696, warriors of 14 pueblos attempted a second organized revolt, killing five missionaries and 34 settlers. Vargas’ retribution was unmerciful, thorough and prolonged. By the end of the century the Spanish re-conquest was essentially complete.

Source: Legendsofamerica

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