latent hostility

Pueblo Revolt

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 or Popé's Rebellion was an uprising of many pueblos of the Pueblo people against Spanish colonization of the Americas in the New Spain province of New Mexico.


Many of the Pueblo people harboured a latent hostility toward the Spanish, primarily due to their denigration and prohibition of the traditional religion. The traditional economies of the pueblos were likewise disrupted, the people being forced to labour on the encomiendas of the colonists. Some Pueblo people may have been forced to labour in the mines of Chihuahua. However, the Spanish had also introduced new farming implements and provided some measure of security against Navajo and Apache raiding parties. As a result, they had lived in relative peace with the Spanish since the founding of the Northern New Mexico colony in 1598.

In the 1670s, drought swept the region, which not only caused famine among the Pueblo, but also provoked increased attacks from neighboring nomadic tribes—attacks against which Spanish soldiers were unable to defend them. At the same time, European-introduced diseases were ravaging the natives, greatly decreasing their numbers. Unsatisfied with the protective powers of the Spanish crown and disenchanted with the Roman Catholic religion it had brought along, the people turned to their old religions. This provoked a wave of repression on the part of Franciscan missionaries.

For example, in 1675, Governor Juan Francisco Treviño ordered the arrest of forty-seven Pueblo medicine men and accused them of practicing witchcraft. Four medicine men were sentenced to death by hanging; three of those sentences were carried out, while the fourth prisoner committed suicide. The remaining men were publicly whipped and sentenced to prison. When this news reached the Pueblo leaders, they moved in force to Santa Fe, where the prisoners were held. Because a large number of Spanish soldiers were away fighting the Apache, Governor Treviño released the prisoners. Among those released was a San Juan Indian named "Popé" (also spelled Po'Pay).


Following his release, Popé planned and orchestrated the Pueblo Revolt. While a fugitive from the Spanish authorities for complicity in several murders, Popé sought refuge at Taos Pueblo. From Taos he plotted the revolt. Popé dispatched runners to all the Pueblos carrying knotted cords, the knots signifying the number of days remaining until the appointed day. Each morning the Pueblo leadership was to untie one knot from the cord, and when the last knot was untied, that would be the signal for them to rise against the Spaniards in unison.

The day for the attack had been fixed for 11 August 1680, but the Spaniards learned of the revolt after capturing two Tesuque Pueblo youths entrusted with carrying the message to the pueblos. Popé then ordered the execution of the plot on 10 August, before the uprising could be put down.

The attack was commenced by the Taos, Picuris, and Tewa Indians in their respective pueblos. They killed twenty-one of the province's forty Franciscans, and three hundred and eighty Spaniards, counting men, women and children. Spanish settlers fled to Santa Fe, the only Spanish city, and Isleta Pueblo, one of the few Pueblos that did not participate in the rebellion.

Believing themselves the only survivors, the refugees at Isleta left for El Paso del Norte on September 15. Meanwhile Popé's insurgents besieged Santa Fe, surrounding the city and cutting off its water supply. New Mexico Governor Antonio de Otermín, barricaded in the Governor’s Palace, called for a general retreat. On August 21 the remaining Spanish settlers streamed out of the capital city and headed for El Paso del Norte.

Popé's world

The retreat of the Spaniards left New Mexico in the power of the Indians. Popé ordered the Indians, under penalty of death, to burn or destroy crosses and other religious imagery, as well as any other vestige of the Roman Catholic religion and Spanish culture, including Spanish livestock and fruit trees. He also forbade the planting of wheat and barley. Popé went so far as to command those Indians who had been married according to the rites of the Catholic Church to dismiss their wives and to take others after the old native tradition. He died in 1688.

Following their success, the diversity of Pueblo Tribes, separated by hundreds of miles and eight different languages, quarreled as to who would occupy Santa Fe and rule over the country. These power struggles, combined with raids from nomadic tribes and a seven year drought, weakened the Pueblo resolve and set the stage for a Spanish reconquest.

"Bloodless" reconquest

In July 1692, Diego de Vargas returned to Santa Fe. De Vargas surrounded the city before dawn and called on the Indians to surrender, promising clemency if they would swear allegiance to the King of Spain and return to the Christian faith. The Indian leaders gathered in Santa Fe, met with de Vargas, and agreed to peace. On September 14, 1692, de Vargas proclaimed a formal act of repossession.

De Vargas repossession of New Mexico is often called a "bloodless reconquest". However, de Vargas mounted several military campaigns against the Pueblo peoples in the years that followed in an attempt to maintain the peace. For instance, a Second Pueblo Revolt was attempted in 1696, resulting in the death of five missionaries and twenty-one Spaniards, but was effectively thwarted. By the end of the century, the Spanish reconquest was essentially complete.

While their independence from the Spaniards was short-lived, the Pueblo Revolt granted the Pueblo Indians a measure of freedom from future Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion following the reconquest. Moreover, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each Pueblo and appointed a public defender to protect the rights of the Indians and argue their legal cases in the Spanish courts.

In the arts

In 1995, in Albuquerque, La Compania de Teatro de Albuquerque produced the bilingual play Casi Hermanos, written by Ramon Flores and James Lujan. It depicted events leading up to the Pueblo Revolt, inspired by accounts of two half-brothers who met on opposite sides of the battlefield.

In 2005, in Los Angeles, Native Voices at the Autry produced Kino and Teresa, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet written by Taos Pueblo playwright James Lujan. Set five years after the Spanish Reconquest of 1692, the play links actual historical figures with their literary counterparts to dramatize how both sides learned to live together and form the culture that is present-day New Mexico.


[1] Knaut, Andrew L. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. 14.

  • Ponce, Pedro, "Trouble for the Spanish, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680", Humanities, November/December 2002, Volume 23/Number 6.
  • PBS The West - Events from 1650 to 1800
  • Salpointe, Jean Baptiste, Soldiers of the Cross; Notes on the Ecclesiastical History of New-Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, Salisbury, N.C.: Documentary Publications, 1977 (reprint from 1898).
  • Simmons, Mark, New Mexico: An Interpretive History, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1977.
  • Weber, David J. ed., What Caused the Pueblo Revolt of 1680? New York: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 1999.

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