Aug 102015


The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 — also known as Popé’s Rebellion — was an uprising of most of the Pueblo Indians against the Spanish colonizers in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, present day New Mexico. The Pueblo Revolt killed 400 Spanish and drove the remaining 2,000 settlers out of the province. Twelve years later the Spanish returned and were able to reoccupy New Mexico with little opposition.

From 1540 to 1600 the pueblos of present-day New Mexico were subjected to seven successive waves of soldiers, missionaries, and settlers. These encounters, referred to as the Entradas, were characterized by violent confrontations between Spanish colonists and Pueblo peoples. The Tiguex War, fought in the winter of 1540-41 by the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado against the twelve or thirteen pueblos of the Tiwa, was particularly damaging to Pueblo and Spanish relations.


In 1598 Juan de Oñate led 129 soldiers and 10 Franciscan Catholic priests plus a number of women, children, servants, slaves, and livestock into the Rio Grande valley of New Mexico. There were at the time approximately 40,000 Puebloans inhabiting the region. Oñate put down a revolt at Acoma Pueblo by killing and enslaving hundreds of the Indians and sentencing 24 men to have their right foot cut off. The Acoma Massacre would instill fear of the Spanish in the region for years to come.

Spanish colonial policies in the late 16th century regarding the humane treatment of Indians were difficult to enforce on the northern frontier. With the establishment of the first permanent colonial settlement in 1598, the Pueblos were forced to provide tribute to the colonists in the form of labor, ground corn, and textiles. Encomiendas were soon established by colonists along the Rio Grande, restricting Pueblo access to fertile farmlands and water supplies and placing a heavy burden upon Pueblo labor.


Assault on Pueblo religion was especially annoying and harmful. Franciscan priests established theocracies in many of the Pueblo villages. The priests converted the pueblos to help build the Spanish empire in New Mexico. In 1608, it looked as though Spain might abandon the province, so the Franciscans baptized 7,000 Puebloans to try to convince the Crown otherwise. Although the Franciscans initially tolerated manifestations of the old religion as long as the Puebloans attended mass and maintained a public veneer of Catholicism, Fray Alonso de Posada (in New Mexico 1656–1665) outlawed Kachina dances by the Pueblo Indians and ordered the missionaries to seize and burn their masks, prayer sticks, and effigies. The Franciscan missionaries also forbade the use of psychoactive drugs in the traditional religious ceremonies of the pueblos. Several Spanish officials, such as Nicolas de Aguilar, who attempted to curb the power of the Franciscans were charged with heresy and tried before the Inquisition.


In the 1670s drought swept the region, causing a famine among the Pueblo and increased raids by the Apache which Spanish and Pueblo soldiers were unable to prevent. Fray Alonso de Benavides wrote multiple letters to the King, describing the conditions, noting “the Spanish inhabitants and Indians alike hides and straps from carts”. The unrest among the Pueblos came to a head in 1675. Governor Juan Francisco Treviño ordered the arrest of forty-seven Pueblo “medicine men” and accused them of practicing “sorcery”. Four 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 was forced to accede to the Pueblo demand for the release of the prisoners. Among those released was a San Juan (Tewa: “Ohkay Owingeh”) shaman named “Popé”.


Following his release, Popé, along with a number of other Pueblo leaders, planned and orchestrated the Pueblo Revolt. Popé took up residence in Taos Pueblo far from the capital of Santa Fe and spent the next five years seeking support for a revolt among the 46 Pueblo towns. He gained the support of the Northern Tiwa, Tewa, Towa, Tano, and Keres-speaking Pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley. The Pecos Pueblo, 50 miles east of the Rio Grande pledged its participation in the revolt as did the Zuni and Hopi, 120 and 200 miles respectively west of the Rio Grande. The Pueblos not joining the revolt were the four southern Tiwa (Tiguex) towns near Santa Fe and the Piro Pueblos south of the principal Pueblo population centers near the present day city of Socorro. The southern Tiwa and the Piro were more thoroughly integrated into Spanish culture than the other groups. The Spanish-speaking population of about 2,400, including mixed-blood mestizos, and Indian servants and retainers, was scattered thinly throughout the region. Santa Fe was the only place that approximated being a town. The Spanish could only muster 170 men with arms. The Pueblos joining the revolt probably had 2,000 or more adult men capable of using native weapons such as bows and arrows. It is possible that some Apache and Navajo participated in the revolt.

The Pueblo revolt was typical of millenarian movements in colonial societies. Popé promised that, once the Spanish were killed or expelled, the ancient Pueblo deities would reward them with health and prosperity. Popé’s plan was that the inhabitants of each Pueblo would rise up and kill the Spanish in their area and then all would advance on Santa Fe to kill or expel all the remaining Spanish. The date set for the uprising was August 11, 1680. Popé dispatched runners to all the Pueblos carrying knotted cords. 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. On August 9, however, the Spaniards were warned of the impending revolt by southern Tiwa leaders and they captured two Tesuque Pueblo youths entrusted with carrying the message to the pueblos. They were tortured to make them reveal the significance of the knotted cord.


Popé then ordered that the revolt begin a day early. The Hopi pueblos located on the remote Hopi Mesas of Arizona did not receive the advanced notice for the beginning of the revolt and followed the schedule for the revolt. On August 10, the Pueblos rose up, stole Spanish horses to prevent them fleeing, sealed off roads leading to Santa Fe, and pillaged Spanish settlements. A total of 400 people were killed, including men, women, children, and 21 of the 33 Franciscan missionaries in New Mexico. Survivors fled to Santa Fe and Isleta Pueblo, 10 miles south of Albuquerque and one of the Pueblos that did not participate in the rebellion. By August 13, all the Spanish settlements in New Mexico had been destroyed and Santa Fe was besieged. The Puebloans surrounded the city and cut off its water supply. In desperation, on August 21, New Mexico Governor Antonio de Otermín, barricaded in the Governor’s Palace, sallied outside the palace with all of his available men and forced the Puebloans to retreat with heavy losses. He then led the Spaniards out of the city and retreated southward along the Rio Grande, headed for El Paso del Norte. The Puebloans shadowed the Spaniards but did not attack. The Spaniards who had taken refuge in Isleta had also retreated southward on August 15 and on September 6 the two groups of survivors, numbering 1,946, met at Socorro. About 500 of the survivors were Indian slaves. They were escorted to El Paso by a Spanish supply train. The Pueblo did not contest their passage out of New Mexico.


The retreat of the Spaniards left New Mexico in the power of the Pueblos. Popé was a mysterious figure in the history of the southwest as there are many tales of what happened to him and among the Pueblos after the revolt. Later testimony to the Spanish by Pueblo Indians was probably colored by anti-Popé sentiments and a desire to tell the Spanish what they wanted to hear.

Apparently, Popé and his two lieutenants, Alonso Catiti from Santo Domingo and Luis Tupatu from Picuris, traveled from town to town ordering a return “to the state of their antiquity.” All crosses, churches, and Christian images were to be destroyed. The people were ordered to cleanse themselves in ritual baths, to use their Pueblo names, and to destroy all vestiges of the Roman Catholic religion and Spanish culture, including Spanish livestock and fruit trees. Popé, it was said, forbade the planting of wheat and barley and commanded 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.

Pueblo culture had no tradition of political unity. Each pueblo was self-governing and some, or all, apparently resisted Popé’s demands for a return to a pre-Spanish existence. The paradise Popé had promised when the Spanish were expelled did not materialize. The drought continued, destroying crops, and the raids by Apache and Navajo increased. Initially, however, the pueblos were united in their objective of preventing a return of the Spanish. Popé was deposed as the leader of the pueblos about a year after the revolt and disappears from history. He is believed to have died shortly before the Spanish reconquest in 1692.


New Mexican cuisine would not exist without the New Mexico green chile. Contemporary cooking in pueblos is more or less the same as New Mexican cooking in general – corn, beans, pork, hominy, tortillas, etc. It has elements of Mexican, Spanish, and indigenous cooking blended together into dishes that are distinctive – not Tex-Mex (which passes for “Mexican” in the U.S.); not southern Californian Mexican. It stands alone, and one of the major factors is the New Mexico chile.

New Mexico chile is a cultivar of the chile pepper developed by pioneer horticulturist, Dr. Fabián Garcia, at New Mexico State University in 1888 (then known as Las Cruces College and the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts), created from a hybrid of various Pueblo and Santa Fe de Nuevo México cultivars. It can be grown anywhere peppers grow, but is best when farmed in the Rio Grande valley where soils and climate are ideal. Chile grown in the Hatch Valley, in and around Hatch, New Mexico is called Hatch chile. The peppers grown in the valley, and along the entire Rio Grande, from northern Taos Pueblo to southern Isleta Pueblo, is a vital component of New Mexico’s economy and culture. It is New Mexico’s state vegetable, and the official New Mexico state question is “Red or Green?”.


If you are lucky enough to be in Santa Fe in late August or early September you’ll not miss the aroma of green chiles roasting on the streets. Vendors sell whole sacks of fresh green chiles which are then roasted over gas jets in metal tumblers (pictured). Makes you salivate on the spot. Householders buy a year’s supply at a time, quickly taking the roasted peppers home (they are burning hot), laying them out in one layer on newspaper to cool slightly, then peeling off the charred skins – ready for freezing. It’s good to wear gloves for this, or risk burning your fingertips. It’s also great to take a hot, freshly peeled pepper and wrap it in a flour tortilla for a quick snack. Flour tortillas are much more common than corn tortillas in New Mexico.

I’ve already given my “recipe” for Santa Fe green chile stew here It’s a favorite of mine, and I have made it in New York, Argentina, and China with varying degrees of success. Without New Mexico chiles it’s not the same, but you can find mild long green chiles anywhere that can make a reasonable substitute.


There is a rule in New Mexico: “if you find a guy selling breakfast burritos out of a cooler on the back of a pick-up truck, buy one.” They’re fabulous. The basic breakfast burrito is scrambled egg and hash brown potatoes spiced with a sauce, and wrapped in a flour tortilla. It’s common to use pico de gallo as the sauce – a chopped up blend of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro in lime juice, but I find that scrambled eggs, hashed potatoes and chopped green chiles wrapped in a tortilla work just fine for a hearty breakfast.

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