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ETHNONYMS: Braba, San Geronimo de Taos, Tayberon (early Spanish), Vallodolid, t' óynema("the people" in Taos)


Identification. Taos Pueblo is located in northern New Mexico. The name "Taos" is an adaptation of têotho, "in the village," or têobo, "to or toward the village," the usual references in the Taos language to the Pueblo. The s was the Spanish plural ending. The name "Taos" is invariable today in both Spanish and English.

Location. The most northern of the Rio Grande Pueblos, Taos is seventy miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Pueblo is at the base of Taos Mountain, sacred to the Indians and one of several prominent peaks in the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountain range. At an elevation of 7,098 feet, Taos Pueblo is surrounded by an extensive well-watered and agriculturally productive plateau into which the Rio Grande has cut a deep gorge only a few miles from the Pueblo. Wild game is abundant and the mountain stream and small rivers that descend into the Rio Grande are well stocked with fish.

Demography. The reservation population in 1987 was 1,484, with a total tribal population of 1,951. Those who do not reside at the Pueblo live primarily in Santa Fe and Albuquerque and in Colorado, with others scattered mainly in cities in Arizona and California. Since World War II the population has increased dramatically, from 830 in 1942 to 1,457 in 1964 and nearly 2,000 today. The Taos have vigorously opposed intermarriage with other Indian groups, although many such marriages have occurred over the years. Nevertheless, as of 1972 they maintained a mean percent Indian "blood" of 95, which was high even compared to other conservative Eastern Pueblo groups.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Taos language is one of two Northern Tiwa languages; the other is spoken at Picuris Pueblo twenty-five miles to the south of Taos. These Languages plus the two Southern Tiwa languages spoken at Isleta and Sandia Pueblos near Albuquerque constitute the Tiwa branch of the Kiowa-Tanoan language family.

History and Cultural Relations

It is believed that the ancestors of Taos and other Eastern Pueblo groups moved into the Rio Grande area from the north and west, possibly from the Anasazi region of the Four Corners beginning in the 1100s. The Taos creation myth supports a migration from the north, and it is certain that they have been in the Taos Valley since about 1200, first living at the now-ruined Pot Creek Pueblo and others south of their present location, and at the current site since 1350 where they were encountered by the Coronado expedition in 1540. The Taos have figured prominently in every attempt to expel foreigners from their territory. Following Spanish settlement in 1598 resentment against the Europeans intensified, culminating in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 which was plotted from Taos. After U.S. occupation, the Taos joined with the Mexicans in the 1847 revolt. The governor, Charles Bent, and Others were scalped, and the ruins of the old mission at the Pueblo testify to the retaliation by the U.S. Army. In 1906 Blue Lake, twenty miles above the Pueblo in the mountains, and forty-eight thousand acres of surrounding aboriginal-use area were incorporated into the Carson National Forest. The Indians waged a legal battle with the government for the Return of these lands to their reservation. In 1971 sovereignty over the Blue Lake area was restored to the Pueblo, marking the first time in U.S.-Indian relations that land was returned, rather than financial compensation paid, on the basis of Religious freedom.

Taos shares many cultural features with the other Pueblo communities of New Mexico and Arizona, and contact Between Taos and other Pueblos has been frequent if not intensive. Given their northern location and easy access to the Plains, the Taos had significant contacts with southern Plains groups, notably the Comanche in the 1700s and more Recently with the Kiowa and Cheyenne in Oklahoma. In spite of many Plains influencesPeyotism, dress style, secular dances and musicTaos has remained distinctly Puebloid. Some customs that appear to be Plains-derived may actually have been elaborated in response to ecological adaptation, including the reliance on hunting and especially bison hunts, which fostered a major dependence on horses and all the material culture that requires. As is true of all the Pueblos, there is a marked ethnocentrism at Taos, but this is even more pronounced in terms of their quiet disdain for the Spanish and for the White Americans who have settled in increasing numbers in Taos Valley in the twentieth century, although never on Indian land.


Taos Pueblo itself is divided into two massive adobe house blocks by the Rio Pueblo de Taos. This small river, spanned by three-foot-long bridges, flows mainly from Blue Lake, which now symbolizes not only the native religion but also the total integrity of the culture. The north-side Pueblo is five stories high, while the south-side is four. As the population increased, what had been summer houses near the corn and wheat fields became year-round residences. Many people still reside in the old pueblo apartment buildings (109 units were occupied in 1971), and they remain the center of the people's on-reservation activity. No other Indian settlements have appeared since Spanish contact, although Taos Valley is now dotted with many small towns and communities inhabited by Hispanics and White Americans. Most important are the town of Taos, New Mexico, 3 miles south of the Pueblo, which is the hub for local commercial and government activities, and the community of Ranchos de Taos three miles farther south. Although there is daily interaction between the Indians and their neighbors, the physical, cultural, and psychological separation between the two groups is profound. Aboriginally, coursed adobe was used to construct Taos Pueblo and later supplemented by Hispanic-introduced sundried brick. Most dwellings in the old apartment buildings have two rooms, one serving as a kitchen and eating area and the other for sleeping and socializing. Government-sponsored housing projects have introduced other house styles and building materials in recent years, but all of these units are well out of sight of the old Pueblo. Electricity and running water are not allowed in the old Pueblo.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The traditional Taos were agriculturalists, depending primarily on maize, beans, and squash. Wheat and other European imports were eagerly adopted, with wheat gaining some commercial importance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hunting always supplemented agriculture, with the mountains providing deer, elk, bear, turkey, grouse, and squirrel and the Plateau providing antelope and the plains bison in the 1800s. Eagle, hawk, and duck feathers were important in rituals. Rabbits are still hunted on reservation land and figure prominently in summer ceremonies. Many species of wild plants were and are gathered as well as wildflowers that are Important in ceremonies. Given the northern location and altitude, the growing season was too short for cotton, so the Taos relied on the more southerly Pueblos for woven goods. Today, wage labor, revenue from tourism, and many forms of government assistance have largely replaced the traditional Subsistence base, with agriculture largely replaced by gardening and hunting reduced mostly to a sport or to obtain ritual items. Pigs and chickens are raised by a few households. Sheep and goats were never herded. The dog was ubiquitous, but the most important animal for both practical and prestige purposes was the horse, which figures prominently in myth and legend and is still highly valued. Although never considered prestigious, cattle became important enough for a Cattlemen's Association to be formed at the Pueblo.

Industrial Arts. Since 1600 the dominant type of pottery and today the only type is a utilitarian ware of micaceous clay. Taos manufactures reflect their reliance on the hunt and inlude excellent hard-soles moccasins, folded deerskin "boots" worn by mature women, and drums. Buckskin leggings and shirts, bison robes, and rabbit-skin blankets were important in the past. The art of weaving rabbit-skin blankets was revived by Taos women in 1970, and the establishment of a Pueblo arts and crafts center, along with the popularity of Indian crafts in general, has fostered the emergence of a number of skilled craftspeople and artists working in a number of media.

Trade. Trade was never of any great importance either pre- or postcontact, although trade from as far away as Mexico (for parrot feathers) did occur.

Division of Labor. Household chores, horticulture, Pottery making, the tending of small domestic animals, and the annual remudding of houses were women's concerns. The men farmed, irrigated, hunted, raised livestock, and worked hides. Men also were more involved in ceremonial activities than were women.

Land Tenure. Theoretically, land is communally owned, and there are pastures and grazing lands on which anyone can run their horses and cattle. Houses, summer houses, and fields are considered to be individual property and are passed down from one generation to the next without regard for the age or sex of the heir. As is true of all reservations, the land is legally held in trust by the federal government. At Taos, land may be sold, traded, or inherited only by and to a tribally recognized Taos Indian.


Kin Groups and Descent. The kinship system lacks clans and is bilateral. Moiety organization is expressed physically and ceremonially, but weakly so. While individuals belong to either the north- or south-side pueblos and there is alternative ceremonial jurisdiction by north- and south-side kivas, residence is not so determined nor is kiva membership so affected.

Kinship Terminology. Age and sex are reflected in kin terms, with older males accorded somewhat more respect than females.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is monogamous with freedom of choice in the selection of partners. Little was made of the marriage ceremony, which has been celebrated with the sacraments of the Catholic church since conversion. Secular Marriages and common-law unions have increased in number in recent years. Postmarital residence is typically neolocal, although the importance of the bilaterally extended family may influence the couple to live with one family or the other for the first few years of marriage. Ideally, this group of kin remains a source of continual security throughout life. Separation and divorce have increased, but given the influence of the Catholic church they are still regarded as unfortunate decisions. Instances of intramarital conflict resulting in such things as child support claims, formerly taken to the Pueblo governor for resolution, are today more often handled by U.S. courts and social control agencies outside the Pueblo.

Inheritance. Land, houses, and personal property are bequeathed at will. Fractionalization of the land base has occurred with the increasing population even though there is no rule or strong tendency toward equal inheritance for offspring or others.

Socialization. Children are greatly valued. Given the strength of the extended family, very few children have ever been given up for adoption. The importance of wage work drawing most young adults of both sexes out of the Pueblo has strengthened the role of grandparents and other older relatives in the early socialization of many Taos infants and young children. Older Indians, particularly women, have often been the primary socializers of even three or four Generations of their descendants. This has contributed to the perpetuation of the Taos language as well as many other older traditions.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Knowledge of this aspect of Taos culture is somewhat opaque, since this is generally a subject about which people have been secretive. There is a very strong sense of communality at Taos, expressed most often in terms of community duties, which every able-bodied adult or legitimate substitute from the extended family must perform. Duties include secular work projects, such as cleaning irrigation ditches, repairing fences, and plastering the Catholic church, as well as dance obligations and other ceremonially linked activities. Most Taos believe that a weakening of communality will ultimately spell the passing of Taos culture. Many Persons who otherwise deviate from Taos norms, such as refusing to participate in the kiva-based religion, are nevertheless allowed to remain at the Pueblo and are considered in good standing if they faithfully perform their community duties.

Political Organization. Secular government, partially Spanish-imposed, is closely entwined with the religious kiva organization. The top officials must be kiva-trained and Ceremonially active. Annually the Taos Pueblo Council, composed of the kiva leaders and past top secular officials, elects twenty two civil officers. They are divided into the governor, lieutenant governor, and eight staff members, on the one hand, who handle matters pertaining to the Pueblo proper as well as concerns with the wider society off the reservation, and on the other, the war chief, assistant war chief, and ten deputies who are responsible for problems that arise outside the village but generally on reservation land. Serious matters that affect everyone, such as the battle for Blue Lake, are Usually council concerns.

Social Control. Major deviant behavior requires the intervention of legal authority, most often the governor, or in the rare cases of homicide, outside-based agencies, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Minor deviance is controlled in part through gossip and other types of informal sanctions. Given the tight-knit nature of the Pueblo community, very little happens that does not become common knowledge quickly. Witchcraft formerly played a more prominent role than Currently.

Conflict. Recurrent factionalism is certainly the most obvious evidence of conflict as in nearly all the Pueblos of the Southwest. Issues have ranged from the divisiveness caused by the introduction from Oklahoma and establishment of Peyotism (1907) to the rebellion and dissatisfaction of Returning World War II veterans (1950s) to the installation of electricity on parts of the reservation but outside the old Village (1970s). Factionalism is almost constant in life at Taos, and it predates the conflict generated by acculturation to the Spanish and Anglo worlds. It has been argued that the causes lie deep in the nature of Pueblo culture.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Three religious systems are active at Taos: the kiva-based aboriginal religion, Catholicism to which nearly all belong at least nominally, and Peyotism. Taos is the only Pueblo where the Peyote religion was accepted. Membership today is small. The Indians have been most secretive concerning their kiva religion, so that a full understanding remains impossible. The six active subterranean kivas together with their constituent societies are Big Earring, Day, and Knife on the north side, Water, Old Axe, and Feather on the south. Extended and rigorous male initiation (six-eighteen months) between the ages of seven and ten culminate and are tribally validated at the annual August pilgrimage to Blue Lake. No non-Taos in this century have been permitted to observe these rites. The ceremonial round, with public performances as integral parts, generally follow Catholic ritual observances such as Saints' Days, Christmas, New Year's Day, and the like and are laced with aboriginal elements. They are paralleled by more or less constant kiva activity about which little has been revealed. There are a host of animistic spirits including prominently Father Sun, Mother Earth, and the cloud spirits. Except for the publicly performed ceremonials, the activities of the kiva societies are poorly described. Prayer sticks, corn meal, pollen, and other standard Pueblo ritual equipment, often referred to as "Medicine," are used, but little is known of their true role and significance.

Religious Practitioners . Kiva priests conduct rituals aimed at community welfare and rites of intensification Directed toward game animals and agriculture. A few men and women are skilled in the arts of individual curing.

Death and Afterlife. A Catholic mass is held at death with the deceased buried immediately following in the open area of the old mission church destroyed in 1847. It has served since then as the Pueblo cemetery. A four-day observance of general inactivity by the deceased's family follows and closes with a feast celebrating the departure of the dead person's soul to the abode of the cloud spirits in the depths of Blue Lake, although some today regard the Christian heaven as the final place for departed souls.


Bodine, John J. (1979). "Taos Pueblo." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 9, Southwest, edited by Alfonso Ortiz, 255-267. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Fenton, William N. (1957). Factionalism at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Anthropological Paper no. 56. Washington, D.C.

Parsons, Elsie Clews (1936). Taos Pueblo. General Series in Anthropology, no. 2. Menasha, Wis.

Smith, M. Estellie (1967). Governing at Taos Pueblo. Eastern New Mexico University Contributions in Anthropology, 2(1). Portales, N. Mex.


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Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo

In 1992, Taos Pueblo in New Mexico was admitted to the World Heritage Society as one of the most significant historical cultural landmarks in the world, thereby joining such sites as the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, and the Grand Canyon. For many Native Americans and proponents of New Age mysticism, Taos Pueblo is also one of the primary spiritual structures on the North American continent, and it is a sacred place that does not yield its secrets to anyone other than members of the Pueblo.

The main part of the Pueblo looks much as it did when it was built with sun-dried adobe bricks around 900 years ago. The two five-story houses, the Hlauuma (North) and the Hlaukwima (South), are believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. Although there are more than 1,900 Taos Indians living on the 99,000 acres belonging to the Pueblo, only about 150 people live within the Pueblo itself on a full-time basis. Because the Pueblo traditions forbid the utilities of running water and electricity, many choose to live in more modern homes outside the old walls. Still others prefer to live near the fields that they work on Pueblo land.

The religion of the Taos Pueblo people is extremely complex, yet as many as 90 percent of them also practice Roman Catholicism, finding no conflict between the two forms of spiritual expression. St. Jerome (Geronimo) has been the patron saint of the Pueblo since the church dedicated to him was first built there in 1619. The original church was destroyed in 1680, rebuilt on the same site, demolished again during the War with Mexico in 1847, and restored again in 1850.

Evidence of the seamless fit between Catholic and traditional Pueblo ceremonies can be seen in the calendar of festivals for the year. For example, dances celebrating the turtle, deer, or buffalo are interspersed with dances honoring St. Anthony, St. Jerome, and the Virgin Mary. All of these events are considered serious religious ceremonies. Cameras are forbidden, and the Tribal Council asks that visitors render the same respect toward the dances and rituals as they would during a solemn service in their home churches.

Each year the Tribal Council, a group of 50 male elders, appoints a tribal governor and a war chief. The tribal governor and his staff are responsible for the civil and business interests of the tribe, and the war chief and his men see to the security of the mountains, the Pueblo, and the land holdings outside of the old city walls.

While some tribal members work in the nearby town of Taos, many of them staff the traditional craft and art concessions at the Pueblo. Pottery, silver jewelry, and paintings by local artists have been world famous, and ever since the beginning of the twentieth century, scores of non-Indian painters, writers, and photographers have visited Taos and made it their home. In the 1960s and 1970s, Taos became a revered scene for the counterculture, the socalled "hippies," and many stayed on to become contributive members of the community.

In 1970, the U.S. Government returned 48,000 acres of mountain land, including the sacred Blue Lake, to the people of Taos Pueblo. The federal government had confiscated the land in 1906, declaring the area to be part of the National Forest lands. Such desecration of holy land had caused great spiritual turmoil among the tribe, for Blue Lake was perhaps the most important of the ritual sites their people visited for ceremonial purposes. When the land was returned to the tribe after years of constant lobbying by the Pueblo leaders, the tribe felt that a good part of their spiritual and cultural well-being had been restored to them. Today, Blue Lake and the nearby mountains are off-limits to all but members of the Taos Pueblo.

Taos Pueblo welcomes visitors except during those times when tribal rituals require privacy; however, there are a number of ceremonies and powwows that are open to the general public.

When visiting the Pueblo, one must keep in mind that the tribal members regard themselves as a sovereign nation within the United States and that their primary objective as a tribe is to preserve their ancient traditions. The Tribal Council has posted a number of rules that must be observed at all times and indicated certain areas that are strictly offlimits to all visitors.

Delving Deeper

Deloria, Vine. God Is Red. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.

Fergusson, Erna. Dancing Gods: Indian Ceremonies of New Mexico & Arizona. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1931, 1957, 1966.

Horka-Follick, Lorayne Ann. Los Hermanos Penitentes. Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1969.

Steiner, Stan. The New Indians. New York: Dell Publishing, 1968.

"Taos Pueblo: A Thousand Years of Tradition." Taos Vacation Guide. [Online] 2 May 2002.

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TAOS (rhymes with house) means "in the village." The northernmost of the Pueblo Indian villages in New Mexico, Taos was described first in 1540 by Spanish explorers. This agricultural community, distinguished by its five-story buildings, had been residence to several hundred Tiwa-speaking inhabitants since at least a.d. 1200–1250. The Spanish renamed the town San Gerónimo de Taos, and Fray Pedro de Miranda built an outpost near the village in 1617. Taos participated in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which drove the Spaniards out of New Mexico. The community endured the reoccupation in 1692, but it rebelled again in 1696. This rebellion was quelled by Don Diego de Vargas.

After 1696, Spanish authorities and their Mexican successors ruled Taos peacefully by tolerating traditional religious practices and recognizing an annual trade bazaar that attracted plains Indians eager to acquire Pueblo wares and crops. Known as the Taos Fair after 1723, the institution brought a short season of peace to the province and boosted New Mexico's economy. In 1796, Fernando Chacon granted land to seventy-three Hispanic families to settle where the present incorporated town of San Fernando de Taos is located, three miles south of the pueblo.

During the Mexican era (1821–1846), Taos became important as home to many American traders, most notably Christopher "Kit" Carson. Taoseños revolted against Mexican rule in 1837 and against American rule

in 1847, killing the trader Charles Bent, the first American territorial governor. Retribution led to strained relations among Anglos, Hispanos, and Taos Indians for decades to come.

By 1900, Taos had become home to the Taos school of American painters, most notably Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein, who attracted many other artists in the early twentieth century, among them Mabel Dodge, Andrew Dasburg, Georgia O'Keeffe, and John Marin. Since the 1950s, Taos has become a favorite Western resort for tourists and skiers. In 1970, after a half century of legal battles, Taos Pueblo regained title to Blue Lake, a sacred site off-reservation within the nearby Carson National Forest.


Bodine, John J. "Taos Pueblo." In Handbook of North American Indians. Edited by William C. Sturtevant et al. Volume 9: Southwest, edited by Alfonso Ortiz. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1979.

Grant, Blanche C. When Old Trails Were New: The Story of Taos. New York: Press of the Pioneers, 1934. Reprint, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991.

Porter, Dean A., Teresa Hayes Ebie, and Suzan Campbell. Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898–1950. Notre Dame, Ind.: Snite Museum of Art; distributed by University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

Simmons, Marc. New Mexico: A Bicentennial History. New York: Norton, 1977.

William R.Swagerty

See alsoPueblo .

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Taos (town, United States)

Taos (tous), town (1990 pop. 4,065), alt. c.7,000 ft (2,130 m), seat of Taos co., N N.Mex., between the Rio Grande and the Sangre de Cristo Mts.; founded c.1615, inc. 1934. In an area of pueblos and scenic beauty, Taos developed as an art colony (principally after 1898) and attracted many painters and writers, notably John Marin and D. H. Lawrence. Artist organizations and galleries include the Harwood Foundation (gallery, studios, and school; operated by the Univ. of New Mexico). The town was founded in the early 17th cent. by Spaniards. For many years, Taos was an important Native American and Spanish trading point. It was the center of the Pueblo revolt (1680) and of a Native American uprising (1847). Kit Carson's grave and preserved house (1825) are there. The city is also the headquarters for Carson National Forest.

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Taos (pueblo, United States)

Taos, pueblo (1990 pop. 1,187), Taos co., N N.Mex., on a branch of the Rio Grande. The inhabitants, Pueblo of the Tanoan linguistic family, raise grain and livestock. In the early 17th cent., Taos became the seat of the Spanish mission of San Gerónimo; in the Pueblo revolt of 1680, led by Popé, the mission was destroyed. A second revolt occurred in 1847. The ancient Pueblo communal dwellings in Taos are considered architectural masterpieces.

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Taos 1 / tous; ˈtä-ōs/ a town in northern New Mexico, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; pop. 4,065. Taos2 • n. (pl. same) a North American people native to New Mexico. ∎  a member of this people. ∎  the language of this people.

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