new mexico history


August 10th 1680: Pueblo Revolt begins

On this day in 1680 Pueblo Indians in present day New Mexico began an uprising against Spanish colonisers. Any rebellions against Spanish rule in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México by the indigenous people were brutally suppressed. This violence, coupled with Spanish seizure of Indian crops and possessions, and Spanish assaults on pueblo religion and enforcement of Christianity, led to deep resentment of exploitative Spanish rule. This came to a head in 1680, when Tewa leader Popé (or Po'Pay) led a co-ordinated, large-scale uprising against the Spanish. The revolt was in direct response to the Spanish governor’s arrest and beating of 47 pueblo shamans, one of whom was Popé. On the night of August 10th thousands of Indians across the province rose up against the Spanish authorities. 2,500 warriors sacked the colonial headquarters in Santa Fe and in the next few days over 400 Spaniards were killed. The rebellion was ultimately successful in driving the Spanish out of the region. However after Popé’s death in 1688 his loose confederation of pueblos fell apart and descended into infighting and wars with neighbouring tribes. The Spanish were therefore able to launch a reconquest in 1692, but this time were careful to allow pueblo religion to continue. While it was short-lived, the remarkable success of the Pueblo Revolt against the far better armed Spanish makes it the most successful act of resistance ever undertaken by Native Americans against European invaders.


The Jemez Mountains

Highway 4 through the Jemez mountains is one of my favorite day trips. It is convenient excursion for travelers originating in Santa Fe or Albuquerque, with lodging available to travelers from further afar. There are many outdoor recreation opportunities, depending on your interests and inclinations. Like most side routes in New Mexico, there are numerous galleries and studios along the way. The terrain changes dramatically about every 15 minutes on this route, with variations in elevation, and geological reminders of New Mexico’s volcanic past all around.

When accessing Highway 4 from Albuquerque, take NM 550 from Bernalillo, turning right on to Highway 4 at San Ysidro. If you are a fan of random roadside attractions, the feed store in San Ysidro has an unexpected, and bizarre, taxidermy collection. It’s a little creepy to see stuffed versions of most of New Mexico’s fauna packed into two small rooms, but potentially educational for visitors wondering how big the bears are around here. The San Ysidro church, about ½ mile from the feed store, is an idyllic Southwestern Catholic church, with blue doors and a picturesque, mountainous backdrop. Photogenic.

The first picture was taken ½ mile after Jemez Pueblo. There is a pull over that has a magnificent view of the valley and the farmlands along the riverbanks. It is about ½ mile from where the second photo was taken at Walatowa. The iron in the soil makes the rock very red, often intense against the blue New Mexico sky. Guided tours of the canyons are available through Jemez Pueblo.

The third photo was taken at Jemez Monument. Approximately 700 years ago the ancestors of Jemez (Walatowa) Pueblo established a village, Giusewa, in San Diego Canyon. “Gíusewa” is a Towa word that in English means “place at boiling water,”  because the pueblo is located near a thermal spring. When the Spanish arrived, they were accompanied by Franciscan missionaries who were there to convert the villagers to Christianity. They believed native religions were demonic, banning native rituals and destroying many of the religious structures. Between 1621 and 1625, the resident Franciscan priest, Fray Gerónimo de Zárate, designed a magnificent church and convento (priests quarters) at Giusewa, building it with native labor. They named their church San José de los Jémez. The massive stonewalls were constructed about the same time that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. However, the mission was short-lived as resentment towards the Spanish erupted in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, with the people of Jemez killing one of the Franciscan priests and driving the Spanish from Giusewa. At that point they also abandoned the village, moving downstream to a more defensible location among the mesas.

The fourth and fifth photos were taken at the Valles Caldera. This is New Mexico’s super volcano, the third largest in North America. What you see from highway 4 is actually a small portion of the caldera. The ‘mountains’ that rise from the floor of the valley are actually smaller volcanoes that occurred after the massive eruption that formed the 13.7 mile wide basin that is Valle Grande.

This area was mined by the pueblos on the nearby mesas for obsidian. They left evidence, including spear points up to 11,000 years old. The caldera became part of the Baca ranch in 1876. It has been used for elk hunting and for grazing livestock. It became the Valles Caldera National Preserve in 2000, making it more accessible to the public. For a mere $8 you can hop a shuttle and pick an adventure in the caldera. There are mountain biking and hiking trails, herds of elk roaming the many valleys, a vast area strewn with obsidian near ancient obsidian mines, no power lines, no people, absolute peace and quiet. They limit the number of people that they allow in daily so it is pretty much a sure bet for solace.

The last photo was taken at White Rock Overlook. Often people access the Jemez through Los Alamos, bypassing White Rock entirely. Big mistake. This is a fantastic overlook tucked into an unobtrusive, easy to overlook, suburban sports park. The prevalence of soccer fields, baseball fields and tennis courts makes me wonder how many balls are in the canyon below.

The view is magnificent, with access to a point that comes to an abrupt end with an amazing view of the entire Rio Grande Valley from Taos to Albuquerque, with the river below on one side and mountains and mesas in all directions.

For more on sights to see in the Jemez, check out my Jemez Road Trip page or look for other ideas on

The Meyer Brothers, a Jewish family of successful clothing store owners in New Mexico; 1909. x

New Mexico’s first Jewish population consisted of hidden Sephardi Jews (so-called ‘crypto-Jews’) attempting to escape persecution from the Inquisition.  When the Inquisition was brought to Mexico City many of these Jewish people attempted to escape north and ended up in what is now New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  The takeover of the southwest by the United States ushered in a new era of religious freedom for the Jewish population that was previously repressed.  Many Sephardi Jews could at last openly declare their Jewish identities and new Ashkenazi immigrants from Eastern Europe began arriving too.  Presently, the Jewish community of New Mexico is home to several synagogues - Sephardi as well as Ashkenazi - day schools, an annual Klezmer festival, and an estimated 24,000 Jewish people.

To learn more about the history of Sephardi Jews in the Americas, you can visit the New Mexico History Museum from now until December 31st, 2016 to see their exhibit, “Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, The Inquisition, and New World Identities”.

Pfc Terry P. Moore of the 7th Infantry Division on Okinawa with a BAR, photographed by W. Eugene Smith for his story “24 Hours in the Life of a Soldier”. Pfc Moore, 23, was from Albuquerque, New Mexico. His unit was 2nd Platoon, Company F. 184th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

Ute and Jicarilla men posing with Agent W.F.M. Arny in photo studio, New Mexico

Photographer: Nicholas Brown
Date: 1868
Negative Number 045814

Source image for an illustration that appeared in Harper’s Magazine, August 22, 1868 

Includes (left to right) in back: Huero Munda (Jicarilla), William E. Arny (son of W.F. Arny), Captain Henry Moore Davis (Indian sub-agent), Vincenti (Jicarilla), W.F.M. Arny (Jicarilla and Ute Agent at Abiquiu), Sobatar Chief of Capote and Weeminucha Utes of NM), Curlwitche (Ute), Tomas Chacon (Spanish interpreter), Taputche (Ute-son of Sobatar), Pedro Gallegos (Ute). Seated: Panteleon (Jicarilla), Piquitigon (Ute), Martine (Capote Ute), Corinea (Capote Ute Chief), Timpeatche (Ute), Isidro (Ute), Boy?, Chief (Ute).


Acoma Sky City

Acoma Sky City is known for being the oldest community in the United States, though I am still trying to understand the distinction between their claim as the oldest and Taos’ claim of being the oldest, continuously occupied community. Anyway, they have both been around for hundreds or thousands of years so it makes little difference at this juncture which was first (to me…maybe not to them).

Acoma Sky City’s location and position is daunting. The village is perched high on a mesa in the middle of a very large valley. The prior settlement was on an even higher mesa next to the current mesa.

When Coronado rolled through with his army, after an unsuccessful search for gold in neighboring Hawikuh (Zuni), he took one look at the cliffs and decided “nope, moving onward.” Horses, muskets and an army of 2000 is irrelevant if the community you are attacking is out of range of the muskets, where the horses can’t access, and your troops are forced to go up single file where they will be pelted with boulders. Acoma Sky City demonstrates how a solid defense is a good offense.


Sierra County Ghost Towns

Though the ghost towns and mining boom towns of Colorado and California are well known, New Mexico’s ghost towns are less frequently explored, though plentiful, with many communities still sparsely occupied, frozen in time in many ways. Due to the intense gold and silver in various mountain ranges throughout New Mexico, there are regions with several worthwhile stops in rapid succession, creating the ideal day trip for anyone with an appreciation for ghost towns.

Sierra County has a lot of ghost towns, with a cluster near Truth or Consequences (aka T or C), most of which are conveniently located on The Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway, with a few more in close proximity. There are also three towns that were flooded when Elephant Butte Lake was created, but those, of course, are a lost cause unless you are a scuba diver.

The mining boom in the Black Range and the Gila during the late 1800s spawned dozens of tent cities. In areas with profitable mines, the tent cities rapidly evolved into communities, with the most prosperous of those communities experiencing rapid population growth until the silver market collapsed in 1896. These communities varied in character. Some set the precedent for the bawdy old west mythos of brothels, gamblers, saloons and shootouts. Some were quiet, calm communities of law abiding, god fearing folk. For example, Kingston and Chloride were party towns, with an impressive ratio of saloons to citizens and a dearth of chapels, whereas Winston was established by people who thought Chloride was unruly so they set up their own town down the canyon.

I’m working on a series of blogs about each community. The original intention was to do one article, but there was a lot to be included so I started a web page. I wrote about the first two and changed my mind about format yet again. History dork.

Anyhoo, Chloride is up.

Pecos National Historic Park

Once one of the largest pueblos in New Mexico, trading with the Plains tribes to the east and the Pueblos to the west. This is only a small portion of the community. The ruins of the mission are impressive, but the original structure was massive by comparison. This is on the south end of the community; however the village extends for a ½ mile north.

The way to date things in the Southwest is based on research done here. A lot of the information that we have is based on what was found here in the trash. There was a lot of trash, as you would expect from a large, ancient community. What is in the trash can be very telling in terms of diet, lifestyle, etc.


Wandering the Pecos Wilderness

I love that New Mexico has so many options for history or hiking nearby. Today’s adventure was in the Pecos Wilderness and Pecos, New Mexico, which is only about 20 miles north of Santa Fe.

Pecos Monument is very cool. The mission ruins are impressive, but far more so when you realize that the massive walls around it were part of the original foundation. The original structure was destroyed after the Pueblo Revolt, like many of the old Spanish missions in New Mexico.

Pecos Pueblo was already waning in power when the Spaniards arrived; however, it was clearly an important trading hub. With structures 5 stories high and large walls around the settlement, it had powerful defenses and a population of approximately 2000. The pueblo overlooks a large, beautiful valley. That is where traders from the Plains tribes and elsewhere would camp when they came to the city to trade. The bluff overlooking this valley has several kivas indicating the community was an important ceremonial site.

The Pecos River runs near the community, as well as Glorieta creek, providing the community with two sources of water…critical in an area known for being dry.

After a morning wandering the Monument, I headed up the canyon to Cowles, NM, which is about as far as a road will take you. A couple of hours spent hiking Jack’s creek and back by dinner.

Love New Mexico!

Language Groups of New Mexico

These were all taken at Coronado Monument in Bernalillo.

This was the site of Kuaua. The first photo is a map of the language groups in New Mexico among the first nations.

The Pueblo village of Kuaua was one of several large settlements established during the “Classic Period” (1325 to 1600 A.D.) of Anasazi Culture. The site, located on the west bank of the Rio Grande near present day Bernalillo, includes the remains of 1,200 interconnected adobe-walled surface dwellings and storage rooms, six kivas and three ceremonial plazas. The design is considered to be a typical village plan of the period. Nicely located on a bluff over the Rio Grande so they could take advantage of spring flooding to irrigate corn fields.

Hawikuh (Zuni) was the site of first contact/battle. Kuaua was the site of the first war…the Tiguex war.


Spanish Missions in New Mexico

Last month I finally got the first version of a guide posted as part of a web page and blogs about New Mexico’s missions. That was one of those projects that you embark on and immediately understand why no one has already done this project.

There was info on each, often with completely different stories or scant information. The best resources proved to be academic out of California and Arizona. It’s interesting that we don’t make a big deal out of these structures. There are about 20 missions remaining in California. The oldest is in San Diego, constructed in 1776. In the meantime, the Spanish had built and rebuilt the missions here multiple times. 1) Uprisings, of which there were many, invariably involved torching the church. 2) The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 involved torching all of the churches. It wasn’t a good day for the Franciscans in New Mexico either, with most of their number dispatched on day 1.

Most of the missions are located on pueblos…living, active communities that require permission for meandering. Others are still active churches, holding Mass every Sunday…the oldest in the United States actually.

Cutting and pasting everything to Tumblr seems redundant. If you are interested in knowing more about the individual missions or scouting them out systematically, there is a map and a downloadable guide on the web page, as well as all of the missions. There is info about accessibility, fees, jurisdiction, contact info and dog friendliness.


Pueblo Revolt of 1680

Couldn’t complete the project about the Spanish missions in New Mexico without delving into the day all of them were damaged or destroyed…and why.

Short version (click the link above for the long version): After almost a century of exploitation, marginalization and religious intolerance, there was considerable ambivalence. Then the weather exacerbated the issue. Several years of drought led to famine. Famine led to increased frequency and ferocity of attack on the pueblos (Utes, Comanche, Navajo, Apache). The Spanish didn’t have the military resources to protect the pueblos so they weren’t perceived as indomitable. Many of the Spanish were settlers. They were farming too. They were also being raided. They were hungry too. The many tribes, speaking many languages, had learned a common language that made it easier to unite…Spanish. Perfect storm of variables set in motion an unprecedented unification of the Pueblos of New Mexico, with some evidence of Apache and Navajo participation (couldn’t find info on whether they were involved in the planning).

Though Day 1 was bloody, the Pueblo warriors shadowed the 1000s of refugees out of the territory without attacking. Basically once they fled Santa Fe, they were allowed to leave.

The unification didn’t last long. The drought didn’t go away. Ongoing famine led to ongoing raids, which led to ongoing hardship. Many communities welcomed the Spanish back in 1692, because they needed the ally to repel more aggressive and relentless enemies next door. Many resisted, with brutal consequences.

Researching the missions and the Pueblo Revolt made me look at a lot of the mesas near Albuquerque in a different way. A lot of things happened…major battles, mining, settlers. Once you leave the city limits New Mexico frequently feels remote, but no matter where you are standing something probably happened there.

The 100th anniversary of the National Park Service is almost here!  What’s your favorite park?  If the park has anything archaeologically related, I’m bound to love it.  Bandelier National Monument is one my favorite parks!  Isn’t the view from this reconstructed Kiva absolutely lovely?  Check out this amazing place!