Pueblo Revolt

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680

A prolonged cycle of drought had fallen over the land. Where at the time of Cornonado’s first expedition in 1540, was populated with over 100 pueblos, a hundred years later reduced to about 50, housing some 17,000 inhabitants. Inhabitants of the pueblos had been enslaved and exploited by the by the Spanish, maimed as in Acoma, raped as in Zuni. Apache and Ute raids had left a land barren of livestock and the people of the pueblos were at the end of their rope. In 1675, a number of Franciscan priests died mysteriously and Pueblo religious leaders, practicing ancient religion defiantly in their kivas were to blame.

The Spanish Governor ordered the kivas and all religious paraphanelia burned and the pueblo leaders had to be carted to Santa Fe, the center of non-Indian civilization and whipped severely and beaten into renunciation of their traditional beliefs. Three of the pueblo priests were hanged, one committed suicide rather than submit, yet despite their weakened condition, remained not intimidated. They returned to Santa Fe and with armed reinforcements and demanded an audience with Governor Juan Fancisco de Trevino.

Among the pueblo priests was Pope, a native of San Juan Pueblo, but who had since become a leader in Taos. He was described as possessing “incandescent hatred”, unequaled organizational savvy and the ability to commune with underworld spirits who danced for him in his darkened kiva. Secretly, he plotted a revolt , set for August 11. The year was 1680. Despite his insistence on secrecy , the Spanish were informed by some of the pueblos that had refused to join the revolt, so Pope was forced to act immediately. He dispatched runners to order an attack for the morning of August 10. It is still somewhat of a mystery today of how quickly the pueblos rallied to the attack. They were located at considerable distances and some groups spoke languages that were not mutually intelligible. Was it knots on a counting rope carried by the swiftest relay team on the planet that called warriors from their respective pueblos to join the revolt?

Priests in Zuni, Jemez, San Juan, San Idelfonso, Nambe and other sites were killed, numbering 21 in all. Virtually every Pueblo in the northeast had risen and raided the haciendas, leaving all inhabitants dead. In some districts, no Spanish survived. Meanwhile, Governor Otermin was fortifying Santa Fe, a refuge for inhabitants of nearby haciendas . Other Spanish settlers huddled in Isleta, far to the South, one of the few pueblos that had refused to join the revolt. After two skirmishes in Santa Fe, 400 Spaniards were dead.

The cross, a meaningful symbol for both sides was chosen to signify the intentions of the Spanish. Long before its Christian connotation, natives of North America used the four arms of the cross to point to the four sacred directions, each with its own realm of significance, deities, assigned color and particular powers.

A red cross and a white cross were offered by a formerly loyal Indian named Juan who spoke fluent Spanish. Red signalled war and white surrender. Otermin rejected both and proceeded to launch his last attack on the people of the pueblos. Indian reinforcements came during the night and by dawn on the 16th of August they had swarmed the capital and shrewdly cut off the water supply to the plaza. Though successful in an attack on the 18th which claimed 300 Indian casualties and 47 hostages, Otermin and his troops were still sorely outnumbered. Santa Fe was burned out and hopelessly surrounded. In a tacit acceptance of the white cross, Otermin lead the survivors away in defeat. Pueblo warriors lined the way to El Paso del Norte , watching from the mesas above the trail.

Though short lived , the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was the only victory for Native North Americans in driving Europeans out of their domain until a much later victory by the Taos pueblo to regain rights to the land surrounding their sacred Blue Lake. Located about two hours away from the Taos pueblo by horseback, it is the source of spiritual life and potable water embodied in the turquoise waters of Blue Lake. The struggle for Blue Lake is saga of the United States Government in their dealings with native people and their lands; the government appropriates Indian land offering only undesirable land in return.

Until 1906, Blue Lake was both a place of renewal for the people of the Taos pueblo and a final resting place. The trees surrounding the lake were revered as spiritual beings by the People of Taos pueblo and as income by the Forest Service.

Blue Lake is the source of the water for the pueblo and remained for centuries undisturbed by outsiders in its spiritual pristine beauty. Not even the Spanish occupation of pueblo land interrupted the yearly dancing and ceremonies which are even today, completely secret from the outside world.

The Forest Service first opened the land to the public in 1906, making it a part of what would become Kit Carson National Forest. They stocked the lake with trout and fisherman came with dynamite and destroyed the serenity of this ancient site. Members of the Taos pueblo were granted full access to the land.

These were the same people who had for centuries made the annual pilgrimage to this natural shrine. Their “pahos” or prayer sticks and sacred oars had been removed from the shore of the lake and they were deeply incensed by the trash and bottles left by the sportsmen and recreationists in their most sacred home. So, the longest fight of the Taos pueblo began, lasting almost half of a century.

The government first offered money, a sum of just $297, 684.67 for over 500,000 acres surrounding Blue Lake and also in exchange, a larger parcel of land in and around what is known as the town of Taos. This rich valley land which had once belonged to Indians had been settled by whites and was now being offered back to the Taos Pueblo in trade for their holy lake shrine. They accepted an offer to relinquish rights to the township in exchange for their lake and surrounding land. The former was put into effect immediately and the latter was not achieved until over forty years later.

The National Council of Churches recognized the significance of preserving Blue Lake as a place of worship which had been in use for longer than the great cathedrals of Europe and joined the fight. Meanwhile, the Forest Service was willing to release the barren western slopes to the Indians, but was holding on to the fertile eastern side valued for its springs and timber. After many years of frustration, five separate bills, and a final two-day debate, the senate voted to restore the sacred land and lake to the people of the Taos pueblo. Today, more that 20 years later Taos pueblo continues in much the same way as it has for thousands of years and provides inspiration for other native people to maintain their spiritual and natural heritages.

The victory of the Taos pueblo in regaining tribal land has set the precedent for other Indian land disputes across the nation. Some tribes have been compensated as a result of the Taos legislation and others are seeking the return of sacred relics and ancestral remains which are housed in museums. In the words of Taos Cacique Juan de Jesus Romero, “If our lands are not returned to us, if it is turned over to the government for its use, then that is the end of Indian life. Our people will scatter as the people of other nations have scattered. It is our religion which holds us together.”

“We are the people who live on top of the world, we are the sons of our Father the sun, and with our religion we help our father every day to make his journey across the sky. We do not do this for ourselves only, but for the whole world.”