Western Trips

Western Trips

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Pueblo Revolt That Drove The Spaniards Out Of The Southwest

There were many significant events in the early southwest and among the very major happenings was the Pueblo Revolt. This was probably the most adverse event in Spanish colonial history on the North American continent. It's a story of servitude and surprises. It's also a story of secrecy and violence. The story of the Pueblo Revolt is the most interesting revolution fought against a European colonial power on what is now American soil.

Visit Northern New Mexico

black mesa new mexico
Before I tell this story I want to point out that there are several historic sites in the state of New Mexico that I believe should be a part of any New Mexico vacation and are connected to our story.

Just two of these sites include the Jemez Monument west of Santa Fe and the Black Mesa northwest of Santa Fe shown at left. There is also the popular Petroglyph National Monument on the western edge of Albuquerque.

There are stories attached to all of these sites and I think you'll find both our story and a visit to these sites interesting and enjoyable. These are low cost trip ideas that are educational for the entire family and you'll be able to take some great photos. Links for these sites are at the end of our story.

North Come the Spaniards

As most of us were taught in our history class at school, the Spaniards were the first European power to explore the American southwest. First into Mexico and then northward.

There were Native Americans present for centuries just as there were throughout the continent. There are several similarities between the Spanish move northward and the Americans moving west under Manifest Destiny and the ensuing Indian Wars. Both powers sought to change the Native American way of life..to have it conform to their customs including religious beliefs. Both powers were met with considerable violence. Both powers also meted out violence. The Indian Wars conducted by the U.S. military, while not with the same religious overtones as the Spaniards presented, were not so much different than what transpired in Spanish New Mexico. It was just 200 years later.

Searching For Gold and the Franciscan's Presence

Coronado originally set out into the New World looking for gold and all kinds of riches. The Eldorado. He didn't find the gold he was looking for. Decades later the Spaniards made their exploration up the Rio Grande and established Nuevo Mexico. Gold wasn't found but what was found were the Pueblo Native Americans. Unlike most the plains Indians, the Pueblo people were not namadic. They built settlements and they built them with what the New Mexican tourist sees today..adobe structures. Along with their mud and straw like settlements they had their Kachina religion and they had their medicine men.

The Spaniards traveled with Franciscan Friars and their goal was conversion. To the friars the Kachina religion was simply idol worship and paganism and of course their goal was to usher the Pueblo people into Christianity. This was no different than what the Spaniards attempted throughout the southwest with the Navajos, Apaches, Hopi's and other tribes.

jemez mission new mexico
Over time some of the things imposed on the Pueblo population was drastic by any measure. They included forced servitude in the construction of missions and churches.

The picture at right is the San Jose Mission which is now part of a New Mexico State Monument. It was built around 1621. Many time the native Americans were forced to build these structures upon the same ground which their destroyed kivas had been on.

The kiva's were the ceremonial place where families throughout the pueblo gathered to practice the Kachina religion. In other words, it was a very sacred place. There was a lot of dissent and very strict rules were put into effect by the Franciscans. The Spanish in New Mexico levied very severe punishments to those who offered resistance.

Below left are excellent drawings of Kachina dolls from an 1894 anthropology book.

The Year 1680

kachina dolls

I think you'll find that anytime a people are put under servitude, especially for over 100 years, they conspire to lash back.

In the case of the pueblo people it was not merely servitude but their entire way of life was taken from them. This is a life and religion that developed over centuries. A century of this type of deprivation led to one of the biggest revolts of the 17th century. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was a rebellion that forced the Spanish to completely withdraw from Nuevo Mexico. After considerable bloodshed including the slaying of most of the friars, the Spaniards withdrew south along the Rio Grande back to the El Paso area and into Mexico.

For twelve years the pueblo people lived without the Spaniards. While they threw off their shackles of forced submission, at the same time there was no longer Spanish conquistadors to protect them against attack from other tribes such as the Apaches. Fighting between the tribes ensued.

Twelve Years After the Revolt

Then in 1692, Don Diego de Vargas led Spanish troops and priests back up the Rio Grande. The image below left is an undated oil painting of de Vargas that hangs in the Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe Plaza.

As Vargas suspected, the pueblos along the way were abandoned. They were abandoned all the way north to the Cochiti Pueblo south of Santa Fe. He then advanced to the walls of Santa Fe. There were many Natives at Santa Fe and Vargas was prepared for a fight. There was no fight.

The inhabitants first thought the force were Apaches coming to attack. After they were convinced that these actually were Spaniards a long parley ensued whereby Vargas assured them that they came in peace and that the people who were responsible for the harsh treatment previously meted out years ago were no longer with their party. The Native Santa Feans accepted this and the result is what historians call the bloodless reconquest of New Mexico.

In about four months Vargas was able to reclaim almost all of the former colony. Although the first reentering of New Mexico was bloodless, trouble sprang up again when Vargas traveled back to Mexico in 1693. When he returned in 1694 he found that the Indians reneged on their agreements from 1692 concerning adopting Christianity and assimilating.

A Misunderstanding Leads To One Last Trouble

spaniard de vargas
One story is that the trouble began after false rumors were spread that the true intent of Vargas' arrival was to eventually annihilate the Indians. This was not true but Vargas was forced to put down another uprising however not to the magnitude of 1680. One of the encounters is as follows.

The rebel pueblos ended up congregating at Black Mesa which is located northwest of Santa Fe and about 20 miles east of present day Los Alamos. A picture of Black Mesa is at the very top of this post. When the Spaniards advanced on the Black Mesa in march 1694 they were met with arrows and rocks being thrown down from on top.

A mesa is not easy to scale and much harder when rocks are thrown over the side. Vargas made several attempts to scale Black Mesa at one point using ladders. His troops were met by boulders being rolled over the edge. Vargas' assault on Black Mesa lasted three weeks before his cold, worn out and low on ammunition troops trekked back to Santa Fe.

 It's interesting to note that Vargas did not chronicle this as a defeat. Eventually the holdouts on Black Mesa came down. The incident was regarded by the Spaniards more as a stalemate. What it did prove was that to take total control of the colony one had to control the high ground. A mesa does offer an excellent defensive position as long as there are enough supplies for the defenders.

There is much more to learn about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. I encourage you to explore the event in greater detail. There are several excellent books that delve into different aspects of the struggle as well how the pueblo people were treated by the Spaniards.

As we all know, Spain eventually lost the territory to Mexico and Mexico in turn lost the region to the U.S. after the Mexican-American War. The end product is the state of New Mexico.

The links below are excellent for planning your New Mexico vacation. Also you can map the locations and retrieve directions with the Google Map driving direction box on this site. I hope you have the opportunity to visit many of these historic sites.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)





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