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Taos Pueblo


Taos Pueblo (pronounced TAH-ohs PWEB-loh ). The term “Taos” comes from a Spanish word meaning “in the village.” The Spanish term “pueblo,” which means “town” is used to refer to both the people and the buildings in which they live. The Taos referred to themselves as “the people.” In the Tiwa language the Taos Pueblo are called Tua-tah, meaning “our village.”


The Taos Pueblo, a federal reservation, is located in northeastern New Mexico. It sits on a plateau at the base of Mount Wheeler in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, approximately 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Santa Fe.


In 1680 there were an estimated two thousand Taos Pueblo. In 1864 there were only 361. In 1930 there were 694. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 1,875 people identified themselves as Taos Pueblo. The 2000 census showed 1,877 Taos Puebloans. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal enrollment in 2001 reached 2,443.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

The origin of the Taos people is uncertain, but may be traced back to the Anasazi or Chaco peoples. The language of the Taos is most closely related to that spoken by the Picuris, Isleta, and Sandia Pueblos. The Taos have maintained generally good relations with neighboring Pueblo peoples, as well as with the Ute, Apache, and Navajo tribes.

The Taos Pueblo may be the most photographed and most easily recognized pueblo in the world because of its beauty and perfectly preserved condition. Since the arrival of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, when the Taos people were raising cattle and doing limited farming, the pueblo has been subject to periods of Spanish, Mexican, and American rule. Its people have been at the forefront of revolts against outside domination and have twice rebuilt their city when parts of it were burned by outsiders. The strong sense of community and interdependence among the Taos people has helped them preserve their traditional way of life with only minor changes through the centuries.


Emerges as trading center

Although little is known about the history of the Taos Pueblo before the coming of Europeans, their tribal tales tell of a long period when the tribe roamed the plains near New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Archaeologists (scientists who study ancient cultures by examining the things they left behind) estimate the tribe arrived in the area some one thousand years ago. The first pueblo may have been built in the mid-1300s, less than a mile north of its present-day site.

By the time Spanish explorer Francisco de Coronado (1510–1554) arrived in 1540, Taos was already a thriving trading center. Coronado wrote then of the wonders he saw. The many-storied adobe (pronounced uh-DOE-bee ) buildings, large circular places of worship, a low adobe wall encircling the original village—all of these things still exist in Taos. (Adobe is a sun-dried mud made of a mixture of clay, sand, and sometimes ashes, rocks, or straw.)

Many other Pueblo peoples and members of several different tribes, including the Comanche, the Apache, and the Navajo (see entries), traveled to Taos to trade animal hides, meat, blankets, and vegetables. Long after the Spanish arrived, these trade fairs continued to flourish. In later years non-Indians also took part in the fairs.

Important Dates

1540: Spanish explorer Francisco de Coronado arrives in Pueblo country.

1598: Juan de Oñate sets up a Spanish colony and builds San Geronimo Mission at Taos Pueblo.

1680: The Pueblo Revolt pushes the Spaniards from the region for 12 years.

1847: Another Pueblo rebellion leads to the assassination of the American territorial governor. In retaliation U.S. troops destroy the mission at Taos Pueblo, killing 150 Taos Indians.

1970: The U.S. government returns sacred Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo.

1996: The Taos receive 764 acres in Wheeler Park Wilderness, including a trail connecting the pueblo with Blue Lake Wilderness.

The Catholic religion by force

In 1598 Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate (1552–1626) arrived in the Pueblo area, intent on making the Native people part of a Spanish colony. When he established his headquarters barely 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Taos, a long, difficult, and often violent period in Pueblo history began.

One of Oñate’s goals was to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. Mission San Geronimo was established at Taos, and a Catholic priest took up residence there. Anyone caught participating in Native rituals was punished and fined. While Taos residents adopted many Catholic rituals, they secretly practiced their traditions as well.

Natives overthrow Spanish for a time

Drawn together by religious oppression and other threats to their ancestral way of life, the various Pueblo tribes began the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (see Pueblo entry). Popé (died 1692), a medicine man from San Juan Pueblo had earlier fled from the Spanish oppressors and sought refuge at Taos, where he planned the revolt. At dawn on August 10, 1680, all of the Pueblo groups struck at once. They burned the mission at Taos and killed more than seventy settlers, including two priests. The Spaniards left the area and did not return for twelve years.

The Spanish reestablished their colonies in the Pueblo region in 1692. The Taos Pueblo resisted and staged another revolt in 1696, but the success of 1680 was not repeated. The Spanish military quickly forced the Taos to surrender. So began an uneasy peace between the Native Americans and the colonizers that extended over the next 150 years.

Death and destruction

During that time control of the region passed from Spain to Mexico and then, after the Mexican-American War (1846–48), to the United States. The Mexicans were unhappy with this transfer of power and persuaded the Pueblo peoples to help them stage a revolt. The Revolt of 1847, which originated at Taos, led to the assassination of the American territorial governor. The U.S. Army responded swiftly.

Upon learning that the American Army was approaching, more than seven hundred Taos Pueblo barricaded themselves inside the San Geronimo Mission. U.S. troops, unable to break through the walls of the mission, bombarded it with gunfire and set fire to the roof. In the resulting bloodbath more than 150 Taos Pueblo lost their lives, and the mission was destroyed. The next day Taos surrendered, and the long process of rebuilding the pueblo began.

The battle for Blue Lake

Since that time the battles fought in Taos have been legal, rather than military, ones. The most famous was the battle for Blue Lake, the spiritual home and sacred ceremonial site of the Taos people. In 1906 Congress seized much of the Taos homeland, including Blue Lake, and made it part of Carson National Forest. Tourists visiting the site prevented the Taos people from making their annual pilgrimages to the lake.

The Taos reacted to this threat to their religion with a court battle that lasted for fifty years. It finally ended in 1970 when the U.S. Senate voted to return Blue Lake to the Taos people. The settlement marked the first time that land—not money—was returned to an American Indian tribe upon the completion of a court case over lost territory.

In 1996 the Taos gained 764 additional acres in the Wheeler Park Wilderness. This area contained a trail, Path of Life Trail, from the pueblo to Blue Lake Wilderness. The tribe also purchased Moreno Ranch, adding 16,000 acres to their holdings.


The traditional Native religion continues at Taos Pueblo in modern times, but it is cloaked in secrecy. The Taos Indians forbid any disclosure of their religious practices, and very little information has been published about them. Scholars say that a lot of the written information about the religion is unreliable.

Most of the pueblo members consider themselves Catholic, and many attend church services regularly. There has been much blending of the Catholic and Native religions over time, but they are still considered separate. The church and kiva (circular adobe structures partially below ground used in Pueblo religion) hold equally prominent places in the village, and the Taos people see no conflict in practicing both religions.

The spiritual leader of the Taos tribe is the cacique (pronounced kuh-SEEK ), who is also a society leader. Only a man can hold this lifelong position. Other important religious leaders are the chiefs of the six kivas. Kiva groups run ceremonies, dances, and seasonal rituals. Though women may belong to kivas, only men participate in the sacred practices.


Tiwa is the native language of Taos Pueblo. It is a dialect (variety) of the Tanoan language family. Other pueblos that speak Tiwa are the Picuris Pueblo, Sandia Pueblo, and Isleta Pueblo, but the language varies at each location.

Most pueblo residents spoke English by the end of the twentieth century, but many of the elders still spoke Tiwa, and it is also used in Taos ceremonies. Still an unwritten language, Tiwa has been passed down orally for generations. The pueblo’s day school is engaged in efforts to teach Tiwa to Taos youth. Classes are conducted by those who still know the language.

Taos Names for the Moons

Most Native Americans looked to the moon to tell passage of time. Each moon was named after a specific event that occurred during that time of year. January, for example, was called the Man Moon because men bathed in frigid streams and exercised outdoors during this cold month to strengthen and toughen their bodies. December, Night Moon, meant the nights were the longest that time of year.

  • January: Man Moon
  • February: Winter Moon
  • March: Wind Strong Moon
  • April: Ashes Moon
  • May: Corn Planting Moon
  • June: Corn-tassel Appear Moon
  • July: Sun House Moon
  • August: Autumn Moon
  • September: Leaf Yellow Moon
  • October: Corn Ripe Moon
  • November: Corn Harvest Moon
  • December: Night Moon


Taos Pueblo is an independent, self-governed community. The government is run by a tribal council, a governor, and the office of the war chief. The tribal council, the highest authority, has more than fifty male elders who serve for life. Council members include major religious leaders and all former governors, lieutenant governors, the war chief, and the lieutenant war chief. The governor, the war chief, and their staffs are appointed by the tribal council and serve one-year terms of office.

The ten members of the governor’s staff carry on the day-to-day affairs of the pueblo and deal with village and church matters, law and order, roads and water issues, and non-Native American relations. The war chief and his twelve staff members deal with land and natural resources, hunting and grazing, crop and boundary control, and protecting the mountains and lands outside the Pueblo walls. As part of the government, the tribal council founded a central management system to handle any federal programs and funds that are not overseen by the governor’s or war chief’s offices.


In early times

The Taos Pueblo sits at a high altitude in the New Mexican mountains and has a short growing season. The tribe based their early economy primarily on hunting and gathering, with limited farming. They hunted deer, bear, turkey, antelope, elk, and buffalo regularly and conducted massive rabbit drives, which required the participation of every man who knew how to shoot with a bow and arrow.

The Taos reservation boasts 10,000 acres of land that can be irrigated. The people raise hay, alfalfa, and vegetables in addition to the 430 head of cattle and 800 horses that graze on the 49,000 acres of rangeland. The 16,000-acre Moreno Ranch was set up to raise bison. For the most part, though, the cattle raising and farming of earlier years has been replaced by work for wages and income from government grants and self-help projects.

In modern times

Tourism is now the main source of income for the Taos economy. Because it has been declared a National Historical Landmark and a World Heritage Site, many people travel to see the pueblo every year. The tribe charges entrance and parking fees as well as fees for taking photographs. Tribal members serve as paid tour guides. A plaza of shops and restaurants gives tourists opportunities to buy traditional foods and crafts. The Taos Indian Horse Ranch provides tours and horseback riding. For more than twenty years the people have held an Annual Taos Pueblo Powwow, which includes traditional singing and dancing. Other dances and ceremonies are also open to the public each year.

The Taos Pueblo Enterprises promotes tribal economic development and manages tribally-owned businesses. Small businesses owned by tribal members produce such handcrafted items as deer horn sculptures, pottery, silver and turquoise jewelry, blankets, tanned buckskin moccasins, and drums. Taos Mountain Casino opened in late 1997, and the tribe planned to also open a full-service bingo hall.

Although tribal lands are rich in game and forest products, the tribe considers them and the mountains surrounding them as sacred. They do not allow timbering, mining, or grazing on most of the lands, preferring to keep them as a religious sanctuary. At one time the tribe allowed gold mining, but by the mid-2000s the only mining was for adobe materials (sand and gravel) and stone for building. In 2004, they received almost $250,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to improve game management on their lands.

Daily life


The buildings that lie on both sides of the Rio Pueblo are classic examples of pueblo architecture, and some families still reside there. But the majority of people live in single-family homes located outside the pueblo wall. Built with modern materials, these houses have stucco (cement-plastered) exteriors to make them look like traditional adobe buildings.

Clothing and adornment

While Taos Indian dress has changed considerably since Spanish colonial days, some traditional elements remain. Men still wear the mantas (blanketlike cloaks) that were first observed by the Spaniards. Once the mantas were made from buffalo hide, but by the 1900s white cotton was preferred. In modern times machine-made blankets are commonly worn.

Men used to wear rough cloth leggings fastened to the waist by a cord. They wore them with a cotton loincloth (flaps of material that covered the front and back and were suspended from the waist). When Western-style pants were introduced, Taos men cut out the seats to turn them into “Indian” leggings.

As they still do, Taos men wore their hair in two braids, one behind each ear. Many Taos women still wear their hair in the traditional style, long and loose with eyebrow length bangs. Older women twist their hair into chignons (buns).

Women wore traditional pueblo dress, consisting of a sleeveless print dress attached over one shoulder and worn over a long-sleeved white cotton garment. They fastened a thick woven belt around their waists. They wore buckskin boots that often reached mid-thigh. Both men and women also wore heelless shoes.


The Taos ate traditional Pueblo foods, but by 1936 their principal crops were corn and wheat, which the men cultivated, while the women tended small vegetable gardens. To supplement their food supply, they raised livestock, including chickens, cattle, and pigs.

In the late 1990s the Taos grew beans and pumpkins, tended fruit trees, and raised a small herd of buffalo, but they relied heavily on store-bought groceries as well. The people of the pueblo have, however, maintained the tradition of using outdoor adobe ovens called hornos to bake bread.


The pueblo has a Head Start Program and an elementary day school operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Students may also attend public and private schools in the nearby town of Taos, New Mexico, or an Indian boarding school in Santa Fe. The University of New Mexico opened a campus at Taos, and students who go on to college receive tribal scholarships.

Healing practices

Unlike most Pueblo tribes, the Taos did not have curing societies. Instead they relied on individual healers. Working for four days at the patient’s home, the healer sang medicine songs, brushed eagle feathers over the patient, and sucked out disease-causing foreign objects from the body. Since witchcraft was considered the source of sickness, it was part of the healer’s job to figure out who sent the sickness and to spit a special type of medicine to ward off witches. They used plants and animal blood to make medicine.

Modern-day Taos receive their medical care at the Taos/Picuris Health Center and nearby hospitals. Special clinics offer information about diabetes and women’s and children’s health issues.


The Taos are known for their skilled use of leather in crafting boots, moccasins, clothing, and drums. They also create unusual pottery flecked with mica and fashion jewelry from silver. In modern times many craftspeople add modern touches to the traditional arts for unique designs. The tribally owned Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market, the Santa Fe Indian Market, and the Eight Northern Pueblos Indian Market provide outlets for artists to sell their crafts.

Oral literature

The Taos have always enjoyed telling tales during the long winter evenings. They typically begin the stories by naming a character and stating where he lives. Some of the most popular characters are Yellow Corn girl, Blue Corn girl, Magpie-tail boy, and Coyote, the trickster. Tales are passed down orally from generation to generation, and the people often adopt stories from other cultures.

Testing for the Baby’s Father

Many Taos tales star the trickster, Coyote, or the characters found in this story, Magpie-tail boy, Blue Corn girl, and Yellow Corn girl. Because the Pueblo language is not written, stories must be shared orally if they are to be passed down to the next generations. In addition to the traditional storytelling venues, many reservation schools are now having elders tell these stories to students in their native Tiwa language.

Magpie-tail boy was living with his daughters, Blue Corn girl and Yellow Corn girl, and the people [of Taos] were living. And people asked them to marry, but they would not take them. Blue Corn girl was the elder. She got a baby without anybody knowing her. The people said to look for the father of the little boy who was growing very fast. So the people called her to find out the father of the child. They called Magpie-tail boy, too, with his two daughters and they asked him who was the father of the child. Magpie-tail boy said he did not know how she got the baby. They sat all around and they told Blue Corn girl to put the child in the middle to see which man he would go to. The boy paid no attention to the men, he just played in the middle. Just when the sun came up he ran to the place the sun shone on. When he ran they all said, “He is the son of our father the Sun.” The little boy began to sing and it began to rain. While he was singing, he was dressed up nicely in buckskin. The rain filled up the house and the men said, “Please, our son, make the rain stop.” But he would not listen. And they stood up because the house was full of water. He kept on singing and he began to climb up the ladder, and the house was full of water and drowned those people who had been mean to his mother. And from those who survived come the people who are living now.

Parsons, Elsie Clews. Taos Tales. New York: The American Folklore Society, J. J. Augustin, 1940.



The Pueblo people have always been very secretive about the social organization and customs of their tribe, because harsh punishment traditionally resulted from speaking too freely in front of outsiders. Religious ceremonies are closed to outsiders, and photography is not allowed at public dances or in sacred areas. The annual pilgrimages to Blue Lake are private; no non-Native is known to have ever participated.


Historians say that formal rituals to find the proper name for a child were never observed at Taos. Rather, any friend or relative could suggest a name for an infant. Once the name was determined, a male relative would present the child to the Sun and/or the Moon and pray for good luck and long life for the child. All infants were dedicated to one of the six kivas (places of worship). A short time after the birth, a member of that kiva would arrive to give the child its kiva name. This ceremonial name was only used during the sacred activities of the kiva.


Kiva spiritual training took place when a boy was between eight and ten years old. His initiation period lasted for 18 months and ended with a pilgrimage to Blue Lake. During training the boy was required to live within the walls of the kiva.

Although girls were also dedicated to a kiva, they did not undergo initiation. Instead they participated in an adolescence ritual that began with their first menstrual period. The girl was then confined for four days in the ground-floor room of her home, required to grind corn in silence, and was not allowed to be touched by sunlight. On the fourth day the childhood braid was removed from her hair and her bangs were cut. After this ritual had occurred the girl—at this point eligible for marriage—could also go to Blue Lake.


Various annual festivals and dances are important to the Taos way of life. These community events have continued mostly unchanged for centuries. They include the Deer Dance; Christmas festivities in December followed by Three Kings Day in January; the Feast of San Diego, held on November 12; and the Corn Dance, which takes place in June. The festivals feature dancing, relay races, and pole climbing competitions, which visitors may attend. But the sacred rituals associated with the festivals are open only to participating tribal members.

The 1970 return of Blue Lake inspired the Taos people and made them even more determined to preserve their traditional religion and culture. The tribe’s most important ritual is the August pilgrimage to Blue Lake. Blue Lake is believed to be the Earth’s navel, from which the Taos people emerged. It is a sacred site that provides more than just water; it has great spiritual meaning as the source of life.


Until recently members of the Taos Pueblo were forbidden to marry anyone but other pueblo residents, a practice meant to preserve pure bloodlines. Most people who marry outside the tribe choose to reside off the reservation, often many miles away. Marriages are either nonreligious or are performed in accordance with the Roman Catholic church. Divorces, once almost nonexistent, have become easier to obtain in modern times.


Traditionally Taos held burials the morning after death. Following the burial family members remained in the house of the deceased for four days to prevent the person’s spirit from returning to the home. After the fourth day mourners placed ritual offerings—feathers, food, and moccasins—to the north just beyond the edge of town. They offered a bit of food to the spirits of the dead at mealtimes. As they still are today the dead were buried at the ruins of the old Taos mission with the head toward the south.

Current tribal issues

The people of Taos Pueblo still work to preserve the old ways. For example, it was not until 1971 that the Pueblo Council allowed electricity to be installed on the reservation, and electricity and running water are still not used within the old pueblo walls. Every able-bodied adult is expected to perform duties for the community. These include projects such as cleaning irrigation ditches, repairing fences, and plastering buildings, as well as performing ceremonial-linked activities. Activities such as these—and the teaching of the Tiwa language to their children—are community events that reinforce tribal traditions.

The Taos Pueblo is organized into a wilderness zone, religious and ceremonial zones, housing and cropland zones, commercial zones, recreational zones, and range management zones. The Taos Pueblo Environmental Office trains tribal members to manage Taos environmental lands and helps to protect and preserve the tribe’s natural resources.

In 2006 after many struggles with the surrounding communities and the state of New Mexico over water rights, the Taos committee reached an agreement with the government and other interested parties that was fair to everyone involved. Governor James Lujan Sr. summed up the results of the joint effort: “This is a good day, and this is a fair settlement. When it’s completed it will resolve the Pueblo’s water rights claims as well as longstanding water sharing disputes between Pueblo and non-Native American irrigators, and it will provide the basic rules for groundwater production in the valley without injuring surface water supplies or overburdening the aquifer.” From there the agreement required federal approval, but both sides believed the legislation would pass.

Notable people

Phillip Doren Lujan (c. 1948–), a Kiowa-Taos Pueblo Indian, has served as an attorney for various Native American legal organizations, as director of the Native American Studies Program at New Mexico State University, and as professor of communications at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he specialized in intercultural communication and the study of tribal governments. He also has held positions in various tribal court systems.

Other notable Taos Pueblo include painters Albert Looking Elk (1888–1940), Vicente Mirabal (1918–1944), and Pop Chalee (1906–1993).

Bodine, John. “Taos Pueblo.” Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 9: Southwest. Ed. Alfonso Ortiz. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1979.

Bodine, John J. Taos Pueblo: A Walk Through Time. Tucson, AZ: Rio Nuevo, 2006.

Curtis, Edward. “Taos.” The North American Indian (1907–1930). Vol. 26. Reprint. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970.

Dozier, Edward. The Pueblo Indians of North America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Gordon-McCutchan, R. C. The Taos Indians and the Battle for Blue Lake. Santa Fe: Red Crane Books, 1991.

Keegan, Marcia. Taos Pueblo and Its Sacred Blue Lake. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers, 1991.

Mays, Buddy. Indian Villages of the Southwest. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1985.

Miller, Merton Leland. Preliminary Study of the Pueblo of Taos New Mexico. New York: AMS Press, 1998.

Parsons, Elsie Clews. Pueblo Indian Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939.

Parsons, Elsie Clews. Taos Pueblo. Menasha, WI: George Banta Publishing Company, 1936.

Parsons, Elsie Clews. Taos Tales. New York: Dover Publications, 1996.

Stubbs, Stanley. Bird’s-Eye View of the Pueblos. Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.

Sweet, Jill D. Dances of the Tewa Pueblo Indians: Expressions of New Life. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2004.

Warm Day, Jonathan. Taos Pueblo: Painted Stories. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishing, 2004.

Weber, David J. The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540-1846. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.

“Taos Pueblo.” Bluffton University. (accessed on August 11, 2007).

“Taos Pueblo Pottery.” ClayHound Web. (accessed on August 11, 2007).

“Historic Period… Taos Pueblo.” Granite School District Teacher Quality Center. (accessed on August 11, 2007).

“Taos Pueblo.” New Mexico Magazine. (accessed on August 11, 2007).

“Taos Pueblo: A Thousand Years of Tradition.” Taos Pueblo. (accessed on August 11, 2007).

Ned Blackhawk, Associate Professor, Department of History, American Indian Studies Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Laurie Edwards

Laurie Edwards

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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

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] http://www.taosvacationguide.com/history/pueblo.html. 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 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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