Pueblo Rebellion

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Pueblo Rebellion

Pueblo Rebellion (1680–1692), the single most significant event in the history of the Spanish colony of New Mexico. Breaking nearly a century of Spanish control, it preserved the religious and cultural autonomy of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico from Spanish attempts to destroy native lifeways, and entirely reoriented the social relations between the two peoples after the Spanish reconquest.

The Spanish colonial system, established in New Mexico by the early seventeenth century, sought to join a mission system, converting and "civilizing" the Pueblo Indians under the control of the Franciscans, with a secular government under a royal governor. The economic burden of tribute—the labor demanded by the missionaries, encomenderos, and Spanish officials—and episodic epidemics reduced the Pueblo population. Severe smallpox epidemics broke out in the Pueblo region in the 1640s and again during the 1660s; starvation often weakened immunity and intensified the effects of disease. During one period of drought (1665–1668), a sizable portion of the population of the Humanas Pueblo starved, and its inhabitants abandoned the pueblo and its surrounding area. However, by the 1660s, there was a gradual resurgence of native ceremony and leaders in opposition to Spanish occupation and Franciscan cultural domination.

The Pueblo Rebellion began 10 August 1680, when Governor Antonio de Otermín's discovery of the plot forced its speedy execution. Spanish officials credit Popé, a Tewa Indian of San Juan Pueblo, with leading the general rebellion, whereas Pueblo tradition identifies leaders in individual pueblos who united the group in revolt. Spanish missionaries and settlers were overwhelmed by the fury of the general uprising; in a few days the combined Pueblo forces had killed 21 of the 32 Franciscans and over 380 Spanish colonists and officials. Governor Otermín and the few hundred remaining settlers fled to Santa Fe, under siege from Pueblo warriors beginning August 15. Six days later, after the Pueblos had cut off their water supply, Otermín and approximately 1,000 refugees fled to present-day El Paso, along with more than 2,000 from the Piro and Tompiro pueblos. Pueblo sources maintain that they deliberately allowed the remaining Spanish to escape with their lives.

News of the success of the Pueblo Rebellion in New Mexico spread quickly to other native groups in Sonora and Nueva Vizcaya. The Suma Indians of the Río de los Janos mission rebelled at the end of August 1680, following news from the north. In 1682, the Opatas of Sonora rebelled; the Sumas rose up in 1684 when Spanish officials discovered a conspiracy among the Mansos and Janos in the El Paso area, people who had suffered displacement because of the refugees from New Mexico.

During the next twelve years, the Pueblo Indians reestablished their religious and cultural traditions. Pueblo witnesses testified later that the victorious people destroyed the churches and virtually all materials of Spanish origin, purified themselves ritualistically from the stain of baptism, and rejoined, according to Pueblo rite, couples whom the missionaries had married.

In 1692 Diego de Vargas led a successful reconquest expedition and reestablished Spanish authority in the area. However, the Franciscans no longer controlled the internal hierarchy of the pueblos, and continued attempts to campaign against the Pueblo religion met with firm resistance from within and general lack of cooperation from provincial officials and settlers. The Pueblos of New Mexico today firmly believe that they owe their survival as a people to the Pueblo Rebellion.

See alsoColonialism; New Mexico; Pueblo Indians; Spanish Empire; Vargas, Diego de.


Charles W. Hackett and Charmion C. Shelby, Revolt of the Pueblo Indians and Otermín's Attempted Reconquest, 1680–1682 (1942).

Joe S. Sando, Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History (1991).

David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Barrett, Elinore M. Conquest and Catastrophe: Changing Rio Grande Pueblo Settlement Patterns in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

Fulsom, Harry. Los gobernadores y los franciscanos en Nuevo México, 1589–1693. New Mexico: H. Fulsom, 2004.

Pruecel, Robert W. Archaeologies of the Pueblo Revolt: Identity, Meaning, and Renewal in the Pueblo World. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

Roberts, David. The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards out of the Southwest. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

                                         Ross H. Frank