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Pueblo Revolt

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Pueblo Revolt

The expansion of the Spanish Empire in Mexico and the growing populations of the British colonies on the east coast of North America began a slow but steady encroachment onto the sovereign lands of the Indigenous Peoples. The reaction to this new threat varied between tribes. Some engaged in trade, others attempted to adopt a more European lifestyle, and others fought back. The Pueblo peoples in New Mexico were one of the few groups to (somewhat) successfully fight off their European invaders. Why did they revolt against the Spanish, and what happened as a result?

Pueblo definition

Before we learn about this revolt, who exactly are the Pueblo peoples?

Pueblo: a general term applied to Indigenous tribes in the Southwest of the US, particularly concentrated in New Mexico. "Pueblo" is actually the Spanish term for town. Spanish colonizers used the term to refer to the tribes that lived in permanent settlements. Tribes that live in pueblos are referred to as Pueblo peoples.

Pueblo Revolt: Causes

The Chapel of San Miguel is the oldest church in Santa Fe. At Old Santa Fe Trail and De Vargas streets, about two blocks from the state capitol, San Miguel was originally built in 1626, although nothing of that building remains. The Pueblo Revolt began, it is said, with the burning of San Miguel.The Chapel of San Miguel is the oldest church in Santa Fe. At Old Santa Fe Trail and De Vargas streets, about two blocks from the state capitol, San Miguel was originally built in 1626, although nothing of that building remains. The Pueblo Revolt began, it is said, with the burning of San Miguel, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Spanish had successfully established control over the area we know today as Mexico. They founded cities and trading ports, and exported gold and silver back to the growing economy of Spain.

However, the land was not uninhabited. The Spanish used military force to convert the Indigenous Peoples to Catholicism as a means of control and used the encomienda system to gain land and control labor.

In the encomienda system, the Spanish crown gave land grants to Spanish settlers. In return, the settlers were to take responsibility for the protection and labor of the indigenous peoples. However, this system would eventually evolve into a protected system of enslavement of Indigenous Peoples rather than protection.

Many Spanish settlers placed a heavy tax on the Indigenous populations, made them cultivate their lands, and forced them to convert to Catholicism as a means to remove their traditional culture and practices.

As the Spanish moved north out of Mexico into modern-day New Mexico in search of more gold and silver to exploit, they subjugated the Pueblo Peoples of the region to this methodology of control and oppression. The Spanish established the city of Santa Fe as a means of centralizing control over the area.

The causes of the Pueblo revolt, therefore, consisted of the Spanish methods of control:

  • Establishment of Catholic churches to force conversion.

  • Heavy taxes.

  • Forced labor.

Additionally, the Pueblo also faced pressure from rival Indigenous nations, such as the Navajo and Apache. As the Pueblo resisted subjugation, these rivals saw an opportunity to attack them while they were distracted and weak. The Pueblo viewed these attacks with concern that the Apache or Navajo could align themselves with the Spanish.

Spanish Conversion and Religious Control

In the initial contact between the Pueblo and Spanish missionaries, the interactions were peaceful. However, as Spain began to colonize the region and pressure increased from more missionaries and an ever-growing population of Spanish migrants, Catholicism became a method of control and subjugation.

The Pueblo had Catholicism forced on them. Missionaries would force conversion and baptism. Seen as pagan idols, Catholic missionaries would destroy ceremonial masks and kachina dolls that represented Pueblo spirits and burned the kivas pits used for ceremonial rituals.

Any Pueblo that put up any form of open resistance would be subject to punishments handed down by the Spanish courts. These punishments ranged from hanging, the cutting off of hands or feet, whipping, or slavery.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680

Having grown restless under the harsh rule of the Spanish governor, paying heavy taxes, and seeing their culture eroded by Catholicism, the Pueblo rebelled beginning on August 10, 1680. The rebellion lasted for close to ten days.

Popé and the Pueblo Revolt

In the days leading up to August 10, 1680, a Pueblo Leader and healer - Popé - began coordinating an uprising against the Spanish. He sent riders to Pueblo villages with sections of rope with knots. Each knot represented a day when they would rebel with force against the Spanish. The town would untie a knot each day, and on the day the last knot was undone, the Pueblo would attack.

Pushing the Spanish into modern-day Texas, the Pueblo led by Popé drove approximately 2000 Spanish south to El Paso and killed 400 of them.

Spain's Return

For twelve years, the area of New Mexico remained solely in the hands of the Pueblo. However, the Spanish returned to re-establish their authority after Popé’s death in 1692.

Over that time, the Pueblo had been weakened by drought and attacks by other Indigenous nations such as the Apache and Navajo. The Spanish, in need of creating a geographic barrier between their territorial claims in North America and the expanding French claims around the Mississippi region, moved to reclaim the Pueblo territory.

Under the command of Diego de Vargas, sixty soldiers and a hundred other Indigenous allies marched back into the Pueblo territory. Many Pueblo tribes peacefully relinquished their lands to Spanish rule. Other tribes attempted to rebel and fight back but were swiftly put down by de Vargas's force.

The Pueblo Revolt Significance

Though in the end, the revolt was not wholly successful, as the Spanish did re-conquer the area twelve years later, the uprising had some lasting effects on the area and Spain's expansion into the southwest of North America. It was the most successful uprising of Indigenous Peoples against the European invasion of North America.

Culturally, the Spanish continued to attempt to convert Indigenous populations to Catholicism. However, many Indigenous Peoples, including the Pueblo, began to assimilate Spanish culture and religion into their own. This form of resistance allowed them to keep hold of the core parts of their own beliefs and practices while also adopting the culture of their colonizers. In addition, the Pueblo and the Spanish began to intermarry, which along with the cultural adaptations, began to lay the foundation for the customs and practices that still shape New Mexican culture today.

Another significant effect of the revolt was that it marked the beginning of the end of the encomienda system. The Spanish would begin to roll back the use of the system as means of enslaved labor. The Pueblo revolt also slowed down the rapid expansion of the Spanish out of Mexico into the southwestern areas of North America.

Though the Revolt did not stop the colonization outright, it did limit how quickly and forcefully the Spanish moved into the area, allowing other European nations to stake territorial claims in other parts of the North American continent that may have fallen under Spanish control.

Source analysis

Below are two primary sources about the Pueblo Revolt from opposite perspectives. Comparing these is a great way to understand this event, and can be used to practice source analysis.

Letter from the Spanish Governor of the New Mexico region, Don Antonio De Otermin, to Fray Francisco de Ateya, the Visitor of the Province of the Holy Evangel of New Mexico (a missionary) - September 1680

“MY VERY REVEREND FATHER, Sir, and friend, most beloved Fray Francisco de Ayeta: The time has come when, with tears in my eyes and deep sorrow in my heart, I commence to give an account of the lamentable tragedy, such as has never before happened in the world, which has occurred in this miserable kingdom [...]

[...] On Tuesday, the 13th of the said month, at about nine o'clock in the morning, there came in sight of us... all the Indians of the Tanos and Pecos nations and the Queres of San Marcos, armed and giving war whoops. As I learned that one of the Indians who was leading them was from the villa and had gone to join them shortly before, I sent some soldiers to summon him and tell him on my behalf that he could come to see me in entire safety, so that I might ascertain from him the purpose for which they were coming. Upon receiving this message he came to where I was, and, since he was known, as I say, I asked him how it was that he had gone crazy too--being an Indian who spoke our language, was so intelligent, and had lived all his life in the villa among the Spaniards, where I had placed such confidence in him--and was now coming as a leader of the Indian rebels. He replied to me that they had elected him as their captain, and that they were carrying two banners, one white and the other red, and that the white one signified peace and the red one war. Thus if we wished to choose the white it must be upon our agreeing to leave the country, and if we chose the red, we must perish, because the rebels were numerous and we were very few; there was no alternative, inasmuch as they had killed so many religious and Spaniards.”1

Transcript of an interview with Pedro Naranjo of the Queres Nation, one of the Pueblo who participated in the revolt - December, 1681

“Asked for what reason they so blindly burned the images, temples, crosses, and other things of divine worship, he stated that the said Indian, Popé, came down in person, and with him El Saca and El Chato from the pueblo of Los Taos, and other captains and leaders and many people who were in his train, and he ordered in all the pueblos through which he passed that they instantly break up and burn the images of the holy Christ, the Virgin Mary and the other saints, the crosses, and everything pertaining to Christianity, and that they burn the temples, break up the bells, and separate from the wives whom God had given them in marriage and take those whom they desired. In order to take away their baptismal names, the water, and the holy oils, they were to plunge into the rivers and wash themselves with amole, which is a root native to the country, washing even their clothing, with the understanding that there would thus be taken from them the character of the holy sacraments. They did this, and also many other things which he does not recall, given to understand that this mandate had come from the Caydi and the other two who emitted fire from their extremities in the said estufa of Taos, and that they thereby returned to the state of their antiquity, as when they came from the lake of Copala; that this was the better life and the one they desired, because the God of the Spaniards was worth nothing and theirs was very strong, the Spaniard’s God being rotten wood. These things were observed and obeyed by all except some who, moved by the zeal of Christians, opposed it, and such persons the said Popé caused to be killed immediately. “2

Pueblo Revolt - Key takeaways

  • The expansion of the Spanish Empire in Mexico and the growing populations of the British colonies on the east coast of North America began a slow but steady encroachment onto the sovereign lands of the Indigenous Peoples.

  • At the end of the 1590s and entering into the seventeenth century, the Spanish had all but successfully established their control over the area we know today as Mexico.

  • The Spanish used the encomienda system to gain land and control labor. The system gave Spanish conquerors land grants based on the size of the Indigenous labor force in the area, and in turn, they were to “protect” that labor force, though it became more of a system of enslavement of the Indigenous Peoples.

  • Many Spanish overseers placed a heavy tax on their Indigenous populations, made them cultivate their lands, and forced them to convert to Catholicism as a means to remove their traditional culture and practices.

  • Having grown restless under the harsh rule of the Spanish governor, paying heavy taxes, and seeing their culture eroded by Catholicism, the Pueblo rebelled beginning on August 10th, 1680, and lasted for close to ten days.

  • Though in the end, the revolt was not wholly successful, as the Spanish did re-conquer the area twelve years later, the uprising did have some lasting effects on the area and Spain's expansion into the southwest of North America.


1. C. W. Hackett, ed. "Historical Documents relating to New Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya, and Approaches Thereto, to 1773". Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1937.

2. C.W. Hackett. Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Otermin’s Attempted Reconquest, 1680–1682. 1942.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pueblo Revolt

The Pueblo revolt was the only successful uprising of Indigenous Peoples against the European colonists. 


Upset with the rule and treatment of the Spanish, the Pueblo peoples led an uprising that pushed the Spanish out of New Mexico. They retained control of their territory for 12 years until the Spanish re-established control over the region. 

The Pueblo Revolt was led by a holy man, healer, and leader of the Pueblo named Popé. 

The Revolt started on August 10, 1680, and lasted until August 21, 1680, though the Pueblo did remain in control of their territory for 12 years after the rebellion. 

The causes of the Pueblo Revolt were heavy taxes, forced labor, the grants for land cultivation given to the Spanish, and the forced conversion to Catholicism. 

An immediate result of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was the Pueblo regaining control of their territory. Though it only lasted 12 years, it is the most successful revolt against the colonization of the Europeans in North America. Other results include the mixing of Indigenous and Spanish cultures after the Spanish re-established control in the region. The adoption and mixing of Indigenous religion and Catholicism, and the slowing of the Spanish conquest of the southwestern areas of North America. 

Final Pueblo Revolt Quiz

Question

Which of the following was not a reason for the Pueblo revolt of 1680?

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Answer

The Pueblo were weakened by a lack of food due to a drought in the area since 1660.

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Question

How long did the Pueblo retain control over their lands after the initial success of their Revolt?

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Answer

12 Years

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Question

According to the quote from Pedro Naranjo from his recollection of the revolt, which of the following was the reason the Pueblo burned down Catholic Churches and shrines?


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Answer

To appease the native spirits and gods to have good favor when attacking the Spanish

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Question

What was the name of the land and labor system used by the Spanish as a means of utilizing native people and conquering their land? 


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Answer

The Encomienda System

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Question

Who was the leader of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680?


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Answer

Pope

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Question

Which of the following was the most significant effect of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680?


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Answer

The Pueblo began to adopt and assimilate Spanish culture into their own native practices and beliefs

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Question

True or False: The Pueblo Revolt, though for a short time, was successful in repelling the Spanish from their territory. 

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Answer

True 

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Question

How many Spanish settlers and missionaries were removed and/or killed during the Pueblo revolt?


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Answer

2000 removed and 400 killed

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Question

How did Pope coordinate the attacks on the Spanish during the revolt?


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Answer

He used rope and knots to coordinate the day of the attack

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Question

What natural resources were the Spanish looking to exploit from the region controlled by the Pueblo? 


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Answer

Gold and Silver

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