This Week in History

The Spanish Driven from New Mexico, August 21, 1680

The following text comes from our high school book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. To see sample chapters of this book, go here. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here. 

Figure of a bishop saint on the altar of San Miguel Chapel, a Spanish-era church, in Santa Fé, New Mexico

Though it had experienced no large-scale rebellion since the Ácoma Pueblo uprising in 1599, all was not peaceful in New Mexico. In 1632, natives attacked Fray Francisco Letrado, a missionary at Hawikuh. They riddled him with arrows as he knelt and, grasping a crucifix, prayed for his enemies. Two years later, Hopi “sorcerers” poisoned another missionary, Fray Francisco Porras, who had been working among their people.

Much progress had been made in New Mexico since 1599. Numerous missions, tens of thousands of converts, an established Spanish settlement at Santa Fé — the colony was flourishing. Though New Mexico still remained a drain on the finances of the Spanish crown, it had begun to carry on a profitable trade with Mexico City. Every two years caravans of about 32 wagons made their way from the capital to Santa Fé, carrying supplies of goods the colony could not produce itself. The arrival of a caravan occasioned rejoicing and fiesta — and all the more so because it was to return to Mexico laden with goods made and sold by the inhabitants of New Mexico.

Yet, internal and external conflicts continued. The chief internal problem was a controversy over jurisdiction between the friars and the secular governor. As in Florida, so in New Mexico — the governor claimed authority over the entire missionary enterprise, while the friars demanded complete autonomy for themselves. Raids by nomadic tribes, the Comanche and the Apache, on outlying settlements was the chief external threat throughout the 1660s. In 1669, the Comanches of Mescalero raided Christian Indian villages, taking captives, whom they sacrificed and then ate.

Terrace house in a New Mexico pueblo, 1892

The natives of the outlying settlements villages were hard put to defend themselves, for they had lost many to epidemics that arose in conjunction with a terrible drought. This drought did more than endanger Christian Indian villages; it provided an opportunity for Pueblo Indians, indignant because the Spanish had suppressed their native gods and ceremonies. These discontents (many of whom were shamans, or medicine men) spoke to the fears of their people. Why had so many disasters befallen them? It was, the shamans said, because the people had abandoned the ceremonies and rites by which they had once appeased the gods and spirits. Only if the people returned to ancient ways would they be saved from destruction.

The shamans coaxed many natives back into pagan worship. The policies of the Spanish governors, who were wont to demand tribute and free labor from the Indians, inspired conspiracies among the natives. In 1669, Governor Juan Francisco Treviño, discovering a conspiracy among the Indians, seized and imprisoned its leaders. Forty-seven of these were sentenced to be whipped and then sold into slavery, while four others were to be hanged. But threats made by several powerful Pueblo leaders, convinced Treviño to alter the punishments. After whipping them, he released all 47 prisoners.

Church at Taos Pueblo, by Ansel Adams

One of those released was Popé, a religious leader from Taos pueblo. Seething with anger over the indignity of being whipped, Popé returned home to plot his revenge. Over the next ten years he laid his plans. Popé knew that a single pueblo, or only a few, could not hope to drive out the Spanish and eradicate their hated religion; but if all the pueblos combined and acted as one, they would have a chance of ridding their land of the invader. This was no small task, for the each pueblo had always acted independently. But by appealing to the leaders, by gathering allies in every pueblo, Popé organized a force that could challenge Spanish power.

On August 10, 1680, a deluge of wrath fell upon the unsuspecting Spanish settlers and Christian natives. Everywhere the Indians rose and slaughtered Christian men, women, and children, both laymen and missionaries. None was spared. Indians once thought friends were suddenly bloodthirsty enemies. Priests and brothers died a variety of ignominious deaths. One priest, stripped naked, was bound to a hog’s back and paraded before onlookers. He then was beaten by clubs until he died. Fleeing to Santa Fé, settlers and natives found refuge with the governor, Antonio de Otermín, in the presidio. There they remained until the insurgent Indians, discovering that they could cut off the the presidio’s water supply, forced the fugitives to abandon Santa Fé. On August 21, a few soldiers surrounding 1,000 men, women, and children, marched out of the presidio with little opposition. They fled 70 miles south to the friendly Indians of Isleta Pueblo.


Baroque Music from Old Mexico

Music of a composer of New Spain by  Juan García de Céspedes


One thought on “This Week in History
  1. Sr. Maria Faustina

    In the 1680 revolt many people thought to be slaughtered by the Pueblo people were actually spared. When the Spaniards returned with Don Diego De Vargas in 1692 they discovered friends and family alive in the various pueblos.
    (See La Conquistadora by Fray Angelico Chavez)

    Even Fray Chavez gives more emphasis to the corrupt practices of the Spanish governors. This is important in acknowledging Spanish responsibility in making the revolt possible (without ignoring the role of the Pueblo religious leaders either).

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