Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Pueblo Indians

Indians of central New Mexico and north-east Arizona

Click to enlarge

Pueblo Indians. —NAME: From the Spanish word meaning “village” or “town”. A term used collectively to designate those Indians of central New Mexico and northeast Arizona, of sedentary and agricultural habits and dwelling in permanent communal stone-built or adobe houses, as distinguished from the surrounding tribes of ruder culture and roving habit. The name is strictly a cultural designation, without linguistic or proper tribal significance, although in former times each group of pueblos speaking the same language or dialect appears to have constituted a loose confederacy, or “province” as termed by the Spaniards.

DIVISIONS AND LANGUAGES: The ancient area of Pueblo culture, as indicated by the numerous prehistoric ruins, extended from about the Arkansas and Grand rivers, in Colorado and Utah, southward indefinitely into Mexico, and from about central Arizona eastward almost across the Texas Panhandle. This area seems to have been gradually narrowed down by pressure of the invading wild tribes from the north and east: Apache, Navaho, Ute, and Comanche—and by the slow drying up of the country, until at the beginning of the historic period in 1540 the Pueblo population centered chiefly on the upper Pecos and Rio Grande and about Zuni in New Mexico, and upon the Hopi mesas in northeast Arizona. The inhabited pueblos at that date probably numbered close to one hundred, with an approximate population not far from 50,000, as against 25 now occupied, with a total population in 1910 of 11,153. This does not include the two small Americanized pueblos of Isleta del Sur (Texas) and Seneca (Mexico), in the immediate neighborhood of El Paso, which might bring the total up to a few more than 11,200 souls. With the exception of these two, all but the seven Hopi pueblos (including Hano) are in New Mexico. In all, there were represented seven languages of four distinct linguistic stocks, classified as follows:

Tanoan Stock:

1a. Tewa group (“Teguas province”) 1910 A.D.

1 Hano (with Hopi, Arizona). about 125

2 Nambe about 95

3 Pojoaque (recently extinct)

4 San Ildefonso 110

5 San Juan 404

6 Santa Clara 277

7 Tesuque about 75

1b. Tano group (“Tanos province”) practically extinct.

2. Tiqua group (“Tiguex province”)

1 Isleta about 980

2 Isleta del Sur (Texas, Mexicanized) about 40

3 Picurio about 75

4 Sandia 78

5 Taos 515

3. Piro group (“Piros province”, “Tomjiras province”), practically extinct; Senecu, Mex, Mexicanized.

Tanoan stock, continued:

4. Jemez group (“Jemes or Emer province”, “Pecos province”) 1910 A.D.

1 Jemez about 430

2 Pecos (extinct, 1838)

Keresan stock (“Quirix or Quires province”):

1a. Eastern group:

1 Cochiti about 280

2 San Felipe 514

3 Santa Ana 211

4 Santo Domingo 819

5 Sia 119

lb. Western group:

1 Acoma, etc about 745

2 Laquna, etc about 1350

Zunian stock (“Cibola province”):

1 Zuñi, etc 1640

Shoshonean stock:

Hopi group (“Tusayan province”):

1 Mishongnovi about 175

2 Oraibi ” 780

3 Shijanlovi ” 140

4 Shongopovi ” 250

5 Sichomovi ” 130

6 Walpi ” 200

7 Hano (of Tewa group) ” 125

HISTORY: The history of the Pueblo tribes begins in 1539 with the expedition of the Franciscan monk, Marcos di Niza, who, lured by rumors of great cities in the North, set out from Mexico, accompanied by some Indian guides and by a negro survivor of the ill-fated Nawaez expedition, and after crossing the great deserts that intervened, arrived within sight of Zuñi, planted a cross and dedicated the country to St. Francis, and returned with the news of his discovery. A powerful expedition was at once organized under Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, for the conquest of the new country. In July, 1540, after nearly five months’ march, the advance guard reached the principal Zuñi town, which was taken by storm. Exploring parties were sent out in every direction, over to the Hopi, the Colorado, and the buffalo plains, and the expedition finally went into winter quarters at Puaray, among the Tigua (Tiguex province) about the present Bernalillo, North Mexico, on the Rio Grande. The province was rich and populous, having twelve pueblos with perhaps 8000 souls. The Indians were at first friendly, but the arbitrary conduct of the Spaniards soon provoked hostility and resistance, which was put down with terrible atrocity, one hundred surrendered prisoners being burnt at the stake, or shot down as they attempted to escape, and hundreds or thousands of others being butchered in a determined struggle. Coronado penetrated as far as Quivora (the Wichita country), in central Kansas, where Fr. Juan de Padilla remained to evangelize the natives (see Diocese of Wichita). After another winter in Tiguex, which remained hostile, with explorations among the Jemez, Piros and other tribes, the expedition returned to Mexico in the spring of 1542. Besides Fr. Padilla with the Wichita, Fr. Lius de Escalona remained behind at Pecos (“Cicuye”) and Brother Juan de la Cruz at Puaray. The first, and it is believed, all three, were killed by the Indians, being the first missionary martyrs within the United States. Unless otherwise noted, all the Catholic mission workers in the Pueblo region are Franciscans.

No other entry of the Pueblo country was made until 1581, when Fr. Augustin Rodriguez asked and received permission for the undertaking. Accompanied by two other priests, Frs. Santa Maria and Lopez, with an escort of about twenty Indians and soldiers under Francisco Chamuscado, he reached Tiguex late in the year. The escort was apparently frightened by the hostile attitude of the natives, but the priests remained, and all three soon afterward met the fate of their predecessors, being killed by the Tigua. In an attempt to ascertain the details of their death, and possibly recover their remains, a volunteer explorer, Don Antonio Espejo, accompanied by Fr. Bernardino Beltran, in the next year led a small expedition over the same route up the Rio Grande. Having accomplished this purpose he went on, visiting almost every Pueblo tribe from the Pecos to the Hopi, finally reaching Mexico in the fall of 1583. ‘Late in 1590 a strong expedition under Castano de Sosa ascended the Rio Grande, stormed Pecos and visited a large number of pueblos, whose inhabitants either fled or made submission. One or two later contraband expeditions seem to have reached the buffalo plains. The real conquest of the country was accomplished in 1598-9 by Juan de Onate of Zacatecas, with 400 men, including commissary Fr. Alonso Martinez and nine other Franciscans, who traversed the whole region to beyond the Hopi, generally establishing friendly relations with the natives, and organizing regular forms of government, with a priest in each district. A massacre of a Spanish detachment at the almost inaccessible cliff town of Acoma resulted in the storming of the pueblo and the slaughter of most of the inhabitants, January 24, 1599. In 1605 Santa Fe was founded as the capital of New Mexico.

In 1617 eleven Franciscan churches had been built and 14,000 natives baptized. In 1621 Fr. Alonso de Benavides arrived as first custodian with 27 more Franciscans. In 1627 over 34,000 Indians had been baptized and 43 churches built, and 46 fathers and a number of laymen were at work. To Fr. Benavides we owe the “Memorial”, the standard authority on early New Mexico and its missions, published at Madrid in 1630. Fr. Geronimo Salmeron, of the same period, is the author of a “Doctrina” in the Jemez language and of a valuable “Relaciones de Nuevo Mexico“. In 1630 there were about 50 friars serving over 60,000 Indians in over 90 pueblos grouped into 25 mission jurisdictions, the work including even a part of the wild Apache and the unidentified Jumana in the eastern plains.

Shortly afterward began the difficulties between the administration and the missionaries, which led up to the great disaster of 1680. Revolts at various times of the Jemez, Tewa, Piros, and others were harshly repressed by the governors. Taos planned a general rising and several missionaries were killed. From about 1670 the Apache and Navaho raids became a constant check to Pueblo prosperity. The trouble culminated in August of 1680 in a general rising of all the Pueblos, with a few exceptions, under Pope, a Tewa chief of San Juan. Nearly four hundred Spaniards were killed, including twenty-one of the thirty-three missionaries then in the country; every mission was destroyed, with furnishings and records; Governor Otermin was besieged in Santa Fé, and finally compelled to withdraw with every Spaniard in the country into Mexico. Many of the Indians abandoned their pueblos and built new towns in inaccessible regions. For twelve years the Pueblos retained their independence until the reconquest of the country by Diego de Varzas in 1692-4. In Zuni alone was found any indication of former Christian teaching. The sacred vessels of the slain priests had been carefully preserved and candles were still burning upon the altar. The reconquest was assured by the retaking of Santa Fé from the hostile Tano, and the slaughter or enslavement of all the defenders, December 29, 1693, but a spirited resistance was kept up by the various tribes, even at heavy loss, for nearly a year longer. The defeated hostiles were compelled to return to their abandoned towns or to gather into new ones, as their conquerors dictated. A part of the Yew a, who had fled from the Rio Grande to the far distant Hopi, remained with their protectors and now constitute the pueblo of Hano, still retaining their distinct customs and language. In June, 1696, half the pueblos rose again, killing five missionaries and a number of other Spaniards, but were finally reduced to submission. The missions were reestablished among all but the Hopi, who showed such determined hostility to Christianity as to destroy one of their own towns, Awatobi, and massacre or enslave the entire population for having consented to receive missionaries (1700). Sporadic outbreaks and alarms continued for many years, together with increasingly bold inroads by the wild tribes. In a special junta held in 1714 the missionaries, against the civil and military authorities, defended the right of the Christian Indians to carry arms and paint their bodies. From 1719 to 1745 the Jesuits of Arizona made efforts to secure official charge of the Hopi, but without success. In 1747 an expedition against the wild Comanches, who had raided Pecos and other eastern pueblos, killed 107, captured 206 and took nearly 1000 horses.

In 1750 the hostility of the civil administration to the missionaries resulted in two counter reports, in one of which the Franciscans were accused of neglecting their duties, and it was recommended that the number of missions be reduced, while in the other the missionaries accused the governor and civil officers of all sorts of crimes and oppressions against the Indians. In 1748 Villasenor reported 18 principal missions, besides visiting stations representing a total of nearly 9400 Indians. Only a part of these, however, could be considered as actual Christians. Pecos and Zuni were the most important, the one with 1000 and the other with 2000 Indians, and each with two resident missionaries. In 1776 the Franciscan Fr. Francisco Garces ascended the Colorado to the obdurate Hopi, but was refused even a shelter. In 1780 Governor Anza took advantage of a terrible famine in the tribe to induce a few of them to remove to the mission pueblos (see Hopi). In this same year, 1780-1, besides the famine and pestilence which nearly exterminated the Hopi, the smallpox carried off over 5000 Indians of the mission pueblos, in consequence of which the governor in 1782 officially reduced the number of missions by eight, despite the protests of the friars. Says Bancroft: “It should be noted that the New Mexican missions were radically different from the Californian establishments of later years. Practically, except in being subject to their provincial and paid by the king, instead of being under the bishop and supported by parochial fees, these friars were mere parish priests in charge of Indian pueblos. There were no mission estates, no temporalities managed by the padres, and except in petty matters of religious observance the latter had no authority over the neophytes. At each pueblo the padre had a church, where he preached and taught and said Mass. With the performance of these routine duties, and of those connected with baptism, marriage and burials, he was generally content. The Indians, for the most part willingly, tilled a little piece of land for him, furnishing also a few servants from week to week for his household service and that of the church. He was in most instances a kind-hearted man, a friend of his Indians, spending much of his salary on them or on the church. The Indians were in no sense Christians, but they liked the padre in comparison with other Spaniards, and were willing to comply with certain harmless church formalities (sic), which they neither understood nor cared to understand.” Of the frequent charges brought against them he says, “with all their shortcomings, the padres were better men than their enemies.” Official reports of this later period represent the Indians as constantly victimized by the traders and the Spaniards generally.

About the year 1800 the missions still existing were eleven, viz: at Sia (Asuncion), Isleta (San Agustin), Laguna (San José), Picures (San Lorenzo), San Felipe, San Juan, Dandia (Asumpcion or Dolores), Poynaque (Guadalupe), Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Toros (San Geronimo), Zuñi (Guadalupe). “Visitas” were Acoma, Cochiti (San Buenaventura), Galisteo, Jemes San Diego), Nambé (San Francisco), Pecos (Los Angeles), San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, Tesuque. With the increase of the Spanish population and the steady decrease of the Indians in importance as well as in number, the missions also declined, and in 1811 there were but five missionaries in nineteen pueblos of New Mexico. The establishment of the Republic of Mexico in 1821 tended further to weaken the mission support. In 1832 there were still five resident missionaries. There was no “secularization”, as in California, because there was nothing to confiscate. In 1837 a part of the Pueblos attempted a revolution, and elected José Gonzalez of Taos as governor, but were defeated in the following January and the Indian leader taken and shot. In January, 1847, the same Indians of Taos resisted the newly established American government, killing Governor Charles Bent and about twenty other Americans, but were finally defeated, their pueblo being stormed, about 150 of their men killed, and several others executed. With some unimportant exceptions the Pueblos have since remained quietly under American rule, the treaty of Cession having conferred upon them the theoretic right of citizenship, with which however they seldom concern themselves, their affairs being administered through the Indian Office, and their pueblo lands being secured under old Spanish grants confirmed by act of Congress in 1858. Other legislation left them practically disfranchised. “They never cost the government a dollar of warlike expenditure, and they received much less aid from the civil department than any of the hostile tribes.” In 1853 they suffered again from smallpox. With the changing conditions the pueblos lost their mission character, the old Franciscans being replaced by secular priests.

Excepting the Hopi of Arizona and about one-half of the people of Laguna, most of the Pueblo Indians are still under Catholic influence and at least nominally Catholic, although a majority undoubtedly still adhere to their ancient rites. Every pueblo is served either by a resident or visiting priest, including several Franciscans, with frequent instruction by sisters from Santa Fe or Bernalillo. Some of the old churches, however, are in ruinous condition and visits from the priest are at long intervals. Besides a number of Government schools there is a Catholic day school at Jemes, conducted by Franciscan Sisters and the two flourishing boarding-schools of Saint Catherine’s at Santa Fé, in charge of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and Loretto at Bernalillo, under the Sisters of Loretto. Of Protestant work, past and present, the most important is that of the Presbyterians, at Laguna, begun about 1876 by Rev. John Menaul, who is the author of several booklets in the language. Although very few of the adult Pueblos speak any English, a large number speak Spanish fluently.

HOME LIFE AND INDUSTRIES: The primitive Pueblo culture stood alone. It centered about the house, an immense communal structure, sometimes in part several stories high, of many rectangular rooms and narrow passage ways, of varying sizes and directions, with flat roofs which served as working or resting places, or as observation points for ceremonial occasions. The houses of the pueblo were usually built around a central open space or plaza in the middle of which was the “kiva” (Spanish “estufa”) or sunken rock-hewn chamber dedicated to the sacred secret rites of the various priesthoods. For better defense against the wild tribes the outer walls were frequently solid, without door or window opening, entrance being effected by means of ladders—one on the outside for ascending to the flat roof, and another descending into the interior through a doorway in the roof itself. The material was either cut sandstone or volcanic tufa, faced with adobe, or adobe blocks of sun-baked clay. The roofs were of timbers reinforced with cornstalks laid in clay. The fire-place was in the center or in the corner, and the smoke escaped through the doorway in the roof. At one end of the principal living-room was a low stone enclosure fitted with stone slabs of various smoothness and set slanting, on which the corn was ground into meal by means of stone metates. The “cliff dwelling” and the “cave dwelling” of the same region were simply variant forms of the same structure, from which the modern Pueblo house differs but very little. The prehistoric “cliff-dwellers” were in many cases the ancestors of the Pueblos of today. The Hopi, in fact, are still true cliff-dwellers, their villages being set, for defensive purposes, upon the summits of mesas several hundred feet above the surrounding desert.

Their main dependence was agriculture assisted by irrigation, corn and beans being the principal crops, with “chile”, pumpkins, native cotton and tobacco, and, later, peaches introduced by the old missionaries. In spite of their arid surroundings they were industrious and successful farmers. They also hunted to some extent, particularly jackrabbits, which were taken by circle “drives” in which whole communities participated. Fish was never eaten. The dog was the only domestic animal, with the exception of the turkey and eagle occasionally kept for feathers. As weavers and potters they excelled all other tribes north of Mexico, their pottery being particularly beautiful in ornamentation, finish, and general workmanship. Their native cotton is now superseded by wool. They also made a great variety of baskets, the basket plaques of the Hopi being especially artistic. The men were expert carvers in wood. Their ordinary dress was of deerskin, with elaborate fabrics of woven cotton for ceremonial occasions; fabrics of woven yucca fibre were also used in ancient times. Blankets of woven strips of rabbit skin were worn in winter. In summer the men went practically naked except for the breechcloth and children under ten years were seldom clothed. Necklaces, earrings, and other ornaments of shell, turquoise, and more recently of worked coin silver, were worn by both sexes. The hair was cut off above the eyes in front, and either bunched up behind by the men, or at the side by the women, the unmarried girls being distinguished by a special hair arrangement. The women alone were the potters and breadmakers, but both sexes shared in farming, house-building, weaving and basket making. Weapons were the bow and arrow, lance, club, and knife, with a boomerang club for killing jackrabbits and shields for ceremonial occasions.

ORGANIZATION AND RELIGION.—All the Pueblo tribes had the clan system, some having as many as twenty or more clans, with descent generally, but not always, in the mother. Monogamy was the rule, unlike the condition in most tribes in the United States and northward, and the woman was the virtual owner of both the house and the garden, with correspondingly higher status than in other tribes. Each pueblo was an independent and separate community, the only larger bond being similarity of language or custom, the chief being simply the executive of the priesthoods. In some pueblos there is said to have been a summer and a winter chief. Since Spanish times the town government is vested in an elective chief or governor, a vice-chief and a council. Practically all affairs of importance—war, medicine, hunting, agriculture, etc.—were controlled by the numerous priesthoods or secret societies, whose public ceremonies made up a large and picturesque part of Pueblo life. Among these ceremonies the Snake Dance of the Hopi is probably most widely known. Their religion was an animism, with special appeal to the powers supposed to control the rain, the growing crops, hunting, and war. Some of their ritual myths were of great length and full of poetic imagery, while some of their ceremonials were of high dramatic character, often interwoven with features of the grossest obscenity. Special regard was paid also to the cardinal points, to which were ascribed both sex and color. Belief in witchcraft was universal and witch executions were of frequent occurrence. The dead were buried in the ground. In temperament the Pueblos were, and still are, peaceable, kindly, industrious, and of rather jovial disposition. Their outward life has been but little changed by the white man’s civilization beyond the addition of a few conveniences in house-keeping and working methods, and the majority still hold tenaciously to their old beliefs and ceremonials (see also Hopi Indians).

The literature upon the Pueblo Indians and region is so voluminous that it is only possible to note a few of the works most readily available.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!