San Felipe Pueblo – Native Americans of the Southwest

Published on April 23, 2014 by Amy

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San Felipe Pueblo
San Felipe Pueblo

The Spanish assigned the patron saint San Felipe Apostol to this Pueblo in 1598. The word “pueblo” comes from the Spanish for “village.” It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, apartment like buildings made of adobe, and to the people themselves. Rio Grande pueblos are known as eastern Pueblos; Zuni, Hopi, and sometimes Acoma and Laguna are known as western Pueblos. The native name for this Pueblo is Katishtya.

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Location San Felipe Pueblo is located at the foot of Santa Ana Mesa on the west bank of the Rio Grande, 6 miles north of its junction with the Jemez River (25 miles north of Albuquerque). One or more other San Felipe pueblos may have existed in the area prior to the sixteenth century.

Population The Pueblo population in 1680 was roughly 600. In 1990, 1,859 Indians lived on the Pueblo, out of a total population of almost 2,500.

Language San Felipe people spoke a dialect of Keresan.

Historical Information

History All Pueblo people are thought to be descended from Anasazi and perhaps Mogollon and several other ancient peoples, although the precise origin of the Keresan peoples is unknown. From them they learned architecture, farming, pottery, and basketry. Larger population groups became possible with effective agriculture and ways to store food surpluses. Within the context of a relatively stable existence, the people devoted increasing amounts of time and attention to religion, arts, and crafts.

Keresans have been traced to an area around Chaco Canyon north to Mesa Verde. In the 1200s, the Keresans abandoned their traditional canyon homelands in response to climatic and social upheavals. A century or two of migrations ensued, followed in general by the slow reemergence of their culture in the historic pueblos. For a time the San Felipe people lived with the Cochitis at several locations, but the pueblos divided before the Spanish arrived.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado may have visited San Felipe Pueblo. In 1598, Juan de Onate arrived in the area with settlers, founding the colony of New Mexico. Onate carried on the process, already underway in nearby areas, of subjugating the local Indians; forcing them to pay taxes in crops, cotton, and work; and opening the door for Catholic missionaries to attack their religion. The Spanish renamed the Pueblos with saints’ names and began a program of church construction. Onate found two pueblos at San Felipe, on either side of the river. A church was built at the eastern village around 1600. At the same time, the Spanish introduced such new crops as peaches, wheat, and peppers into the region. In 1620, a royal decree created civil offices at each pueblo; silver-headed canes, many of which remain in use today, symbolized the governor’s authority.

The San Felipes took an active part in the 1680 Pueblo revolt against the Spanish. 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 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 them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso.

The San Felipe people abandoned their pueblo in 1681, when the Spanish attempted a reconquest. They fled to the top of Horn Mesa southwest of Cochiti, and the Spanish sacked San Felipe. The people agreed to return and accept baptism in 1692. At that time they lived on top of Santa Ana Mesa. Their friendship with the Spanish alienated them from other pueblos. After 1696, they descended from the mesa top to the site of the present pueblo.

The Pueblos experienced many changes during the 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. A political rebellion by Indians and Hispanic poor in 1837 over the issue of taxes led to the assassination of the New Mexican governor and the brief installation of a Plains/Taos Indian as governor. 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 and recognized Spanish land grants to the Pueblos. San Felipe remained fairly isolated, and there are few references to the Pueblo in the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries.

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 over 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. In 1943, a U.S. senator from New Mexico tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to survey the central plaza at San Felipe as part of plans to build a dam there. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) 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. 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.

Religion 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 dance. All San Felipe men belonged to Katsina societies. San Felipe Pueblo contained two circular kivas, religious chambers that symbolize the place of original emergence into this world, and their associated societies, Squash and Turquoise.

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, whose primary responsibility it is to watch the sun and thereby determine the dates of ceremonies. Much ceremonialism was also based on medicine societies, and shamans used supernatural powers for curing, weather control, and to ensure the general welfare. Especially in the eastern pueblos, most ceremonies are kept secret.

Government Pueblo governments derived from two traditions. Elements that are probably indigenous include the cacique, or head of the Pueblo, and the war captains (one from each kiva group at San Felipe). These officials were intimately related to the religious structures of the pueblo and reflected the essentially theocratic nature of Pueblo government. At San Felipe the cacique served for life and was not required to support himself or his family. He chose two war chiefs annually (one from each kiva group), who exercised his power. In turn, the first war chief selected new caciques. Pueblo Indians did not typically seek to hold office.

A parallel but in most cases distinctly less powerful group of officials was imposed by the Spanish authorities. Appointed by the traditional leadership, they generally dealt with external and church matters and included the governor, lieutenant governor, and fiscales. There was also an advisory council ofprincipales, composed of former officeholders. In 1934, San Felipe adopted the Indian Reorganization Act, although without a formal constitution. In addition, the All Indian Pueblo Council, dating from 1598, began meeting again in the twentieth century to assert rights and help solve problems.

Customs One mechanism that works to keep Pueblo societies coherent is a pervasive aversion to individualistic behavior. Children were raised with gentle guidance and a minimum of discipline. Pueblo Indians were generally monogamous, and divorce was relatively rare. The dead were prepared ceremonially and quickly buried with clothes, beads, food, and other items; their possessions were destroyed. A vigil of four days and nights was generally observed.

Matrilineal clans with recognized heads were very important at San Felipe in governing and ceremonies. Various groups acted to hold the pueblo together, including medicine societies (curing, including witch purging; public welfare; and weather);a hunters’ society; a warriors’ society; and katsina societies, associated with the two patrilineal kiva groups, Squash and Turquoise, which held masked rain dances. In modern times photography by outsiders is discouraged.

Dwellings In the sixteenth century, San Felipe Pueblo featured two- to three-story, apartment-style dwellings, as well as up to 200 individual houses. The buildings were constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with 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. Pit houses, or kivas, served as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. The village plazas, around which all dwellings were clustered, was the spiritual center of the village where all the balanced forces of world came together.

Diet Before the Spanish arrived, San Felipe people ate primarily corn, beans, and pumpkins. They also grew sunflowers and tobacco. They hunted deer, mountain lion, bear, antelope, and rabbits. They also gathered a variety of wild seeds, nuts, berries, and other foods. The Spanish introduced wheat, alfalfa, sheep, cattle, and garden vegetables, which soon became part of the regular diet. San Felipe fruit orchards date from after the Spanish contact.

Key Technology Precontact farming implements were wooden. Traditional irrigation systems included ditches as well as floodwater collection at arroyo mouths (ak chin). The Spanish introduced metal tools and equipment. San Felipes built a bridge spanning the Rio Grande by sinking wooden braces into the riverbed and placing over them rock-filled wicker-woven basketry cribs.

Trade All Pueblos were part of extensive aboriginal 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. 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 American manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.

Notable Arts In the Pueblo way, art and life are inseparable. San Felipe arts included pottery, baskets, and wooden masks. Songs, dances, and dramas also qualify as traditional arts. Many Pueblos experienced a renaissance of traditional arts in the twentieth century, beginning in 1919 with San Ildefonso pottery.

Transportation At least as early as the 1600s, San Felipe people used rafts to cross the Rio Grande. They also used canoes, paddled, and hauled by rope, at least as early as the 1700s. Spanish horses, mules, and cattle arrived at San Felipe Pueblo in the seventeenth century.

Dress Men wore cotton kilts and leather sandals. Women wore cotton dresses and sandals or high moccasin boots. Deer and rabbit skin were also used for clothing and robes, and sandals were made of yucca.

War and Weapons Though often depicted as passive and docile, most Pueblo groups regularly engaged in warfare. 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. They 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.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations San Felipe Pueblo contains almost 49,000 acres, mostly on the east side of the Rio Grande. The Pueblo is governed in the traditional manner.

Economy Many people work in Albuquerque or Bernalillo. San Felipe also produces some art and crafts, including baskets, woven sashes and belts, and pueblo moccasins with deerskin uppers and cowhide soles. Both large- and small-scale farming is practiced, the latter in combination with other subsistence activities such as hunting, picking pinon nuts, and trading.

Legal Status San Felipe Pueblo is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life The project of retaining a strong Indian identity is a difficult one in the late twentieth century, yet Pueblo people have strong roots, and in many ways the ancient rhythms and patterns continue. Many San Felipe people have fused pieces of Catholicism onto a core of traditional beliefs. Their religion, ceremonialism, and social structure are largely intact. Since the 1970s control of schools has been a key in maintaining their culture. Smaller children attend BIA day schools or public schools and either a tribally run or a public high school. Stubbornly high unemployment is partially responsible for the health problems, including alcoholism and drug use, that are present on the pueblo. Many San Felipe people still speak Keresan. There is relatively little intermarriage outside the Pueblo. Most people live in the old pueblo, in traditional adobe houses, and in new government-built frame houses. San Felipe is considered to be one of the most culturally conservative pueblos.

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