How Rebelling Pueblos Put 3,000 Spanish to Hasty Flight

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 17, 2004 | Go to article overview

How Rebelling Pueblos Put 3,000 Spanish to Hasty Flight


Byline: Bill Croke, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In 1680, a well-coordinated uprising in the northern province of Nuevo Mexico resulted in the expulsion of the entire colonial Spanish population numbering roughly 3,000. The revolt was the brainchild of one Pope (pronounced "Popay"), a "sorcerer", who had previously been imprisoned by the Spaniards.

The conspiracy, beginning on August 9, manifested itself by the simultaneous rising of 20 different pueblos (Jemez, Taos, Pecos, et al., permanent adobe towns founded by the Anasazi, who had migrated to the Rio Grande Valley from the Four Corners area in the 13th century) scattered across present northern New Mexico.

This was the only time in the history of the Americas that an entire settled European population was expelled from Indian country. In the pueblos, 19 Franciscan missionaries were murdered, along with local settlers. The rest of the colonial population either escaped south in small groups, or sought the safety of the walls of the provincial capital of Santa Fe, where 900 - along with Governor Don Antonio de Otermin and his troops - endured a siege of 10 days.

On August 20, Otermin and a hundred soldiers broke out and fought a successful pitched battle with hundreds of Indians - killing 300 - and thus buying the advantage that allowed the Spaniards to escape south. Otermin won the battle but lost New Mexico.

He led his hungry people to El Paso under the constantly harassing vigilance of Pope's puebloans. "The Pueblo Revolt" - the title of David Roberts' excellent history - was so well executed that Otermin didn't even know his antagonist's name until 16 months later. One of the big questions that the author poses is: How did Otermin not anticipate the insurrection? The Spaniards were completely taken by surprise.

It seems that Pope, from his base at San Juan Pueblo, had for five years following his imprisonment brilliantly planned the uprising, communicating by messengers with the other pueblos in perfect secrecy. There were clandestine meetings, and in the end, "knotted cords" used by the pueblos to count down the final days to the August rebellion.

The Spanish had made their first "entrada" into the pueblo world in 1540 with Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's two-year odyssey at the head of 350 troops and 1,300 Indian allies from Mexico. An earlier adventurer, Cabeza de Vaca, had brought back far-fetched tales of cities built of gold. Coronado's epic but fruitless wandering in search of these "Seven Cities of Cibola" took him as far north as the plains of present Kansas.

But still the stories of riches in the north persisted, and after 50 years of halfhearted attempts at conquest, Don Juan de Onate, "the last conquistador," subdued the pueblos beginning in 1598, thus establishing the permanent Spanish presence. Onate was the first royal governor of Nuevo Mexico. The second, Pedro de Peralta, founded Santa Fe in 1610, the oldest American city west of the Mississippi.

Onate inaugurated 80 years of iron-fisted Spanish rule based on a slave-labor economy. The puebloans built churches, and worked in the fields and mines. …

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