Pueblo Revolt Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Pueblo Revolt was the most successful Native American uprising against European colonial authority. Although the Spanish retook the area twelve years later, the revolt ensured the survival of the Pueblo Indians as a distinct people.

Summary of Event

The first permanent European colony in Pueblo territory was established by Juan de Oñate Oñate, Juan de in 1598. The jewels and gold of the fabled Seven Cities of Cíbola had proven to be a myth, but the Spanish still intended to settle the land. Franciscan friars came to seek converts to Catholicism, Catholicism;American Southwest while civilian authorities and settlers sought their fortunes in mining, trading, and ranching. The entire Spanish system was based on the use of American Indian labor. In order to secure this labor, the Spanish imposed the encomienda Encomienda system, which gave large land grants to holders, known as encomanderos. The part of this program known as repartimiento bestowed upon the encomanderos the right to the labor of any nearby natives. Annual taxes also were collected from the natives in the form of produce, textiles, and other resources. [kw]Pueblo Revolt (Aug. 10, 1680) [kw]Revolt, Pueblo (Aug. 10, 1680) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 10, 1680: Pueblo Revolt[2730] Colonization;Aug. 10, 1680: Pueblo Revolt[2730] American Southwest;Aug. 10, 1680: Pueblo Revolt[2730] Pueblo Revolt (1680)

The Spanish were able to impose these measures with their guns and horses and frequent displays of force. Harsh physical punishments were meted out for even slight infractions. The Franciscans Franciscans;American Southwest —who recognized no belief system except their own and thus felt justified in exterminating Pueblo religion—saved the most extreme measures for natives practicing their traditional beliefs. Father Salvador de Guerra, Guerra, Salvador de in 1655, had an “idolator” at Oraibi whipped, doused with turpentine, and burned to death. Even missing the daily Mass could bring a public flogging. Persecution, religious;Pueblo Indians in American Southwest

This unrelenting assault on native beliefs and practices was the single greatest cause of the Pueblo Revolt. The people believed that harmony within the community and with the environment was maintained through their relationships with a host of spirit figures called kachinas. They communicated with the kachinas at public dances and in ceremonies conducted in their circular churches, called kivas. It seemed no coincidence to the natives that when priests stopped these practices, things began to go wrong.

Severe droughts, famine, Apache raids, and epidemics of European diseases reduced a population of fifty thousand in Oñate’s time to seventeen thousand by the 1670’. Three thousand were lost to measles in 1640 alone. At times between 1667 and 1672, people were reduced to boiling hides and leather cart straps for food. The abuse of women and shipment of Pueblo Indians south to work as slaves in the silver mines of Mexico made it seem that the moral as well as the physical universe was collapsing. Calls were made to return to the old ways.

In 1675, forty-seven Pueblo Indians were arrested for practicing their religion. All were whipped, three were hanged, and one committed suicide. One deeply resentful survivor was a Tewa medicine man for San Juan Pueblo named Popé Popé . Incensed by this oppression, he began planning retribution, but his task was formidable: The Spanish label “Pueblo” obscured the fact that the various Pueblo Indians were not of one tribe but rather were members of a collection of autonomous villages that cherished their independence and rarely acted in unison. Although they shared many cultural features, three major language families were represented in the Rio Grande area alone, Zuñi Zuñis , Keresan Keresans , and Tanoan Tanoans . The latter had three distinct dialects of its own: Tiwa, Tewa, and Towa. Hopi Hopis villages where a Uto-Aztecan language was spoken lay farther west. Because of this diversity and independence among the tribes, previous revolts had been localized affairs and were suppressed quickly.

In hiding at Taos Pueblo, fifty miles north of the Spanish capital at Santa Fe, Popé began building a multilingual coalition. He enlisted the great Picuris leader Luis Tupatú Tupatú, Luis , a Tiwa speaker who was influential in the northern Rio Grande pueblos; Antonio Malacate, Malacate, Antonio a Keresan spokesman from pueblos to the south; the Tewa war leader Francisco El Ollita El Ollita, Francisco of San Ildefonso; and many others. His role becoming more messianic, Popé claimed inspiration from spirit contacts. Gradually, a plan emerged to expel the Spanish from Pueblo territory entirely.

The time came in August of 1680. Runners were sent out bearing knotted maguey cords, each knot representing one day. The uprising was to begin the day the last knot was untied. Governor Antonio de Otermín Otermín, Antonio de was told by informants that the revolt would occur on August 13, but Popé had advanced the day to August 10, and the Spanish were caught completely by surprise. Just nine miles north of Santa Fe, the citizens of Tesuque killed Padre Juan Pio Pio, Juan early that morning as he came to gather them up for Mass, and upheaval soon swept the countryside as eighty years of frustration came to a boil.

Lieutenant Governor Don Alonso Garcia Garcia, Alonso led soldiers on a sweep to the south of the capital and encountered such destruction that he organized the survivors for evacuation south. They left for El Paso del Norte (now Juarez) on August 14. The next day, Governor Otermín found himself besieged in Santa Fe by five hundred Pueblo Indians who demanded that he free any slaves and leave the territory. He responded by attacking, but when the opposition increased to more than two thousand warriors and Otermín’s water supply had been cut, he abandoned the capital. On August 21, Otermín led more than one thousand settlers south, meeting Garcia’s group on September 13, and the whole bedraggled column reached El Paso on September 29.

Four hundred civilian settlers and twenty-one of thirty-three priests had been killed. To undo their conversions, baptized Puebloans had their heads washed in yucca suds. A new kachina entered the pantheon of Pueblo spirit figures. He was known among the Hopi as Yo-we, or “Priest-killer.” In the years following the revolt, the coalition began to unravel, as drought, disease, and Apache raids continued to plague the tribes. Popé, who had become something of a tyrant himself, died in 1692. That same year, Spain reconquered the area, and the new governor, Don Diego José de Vargas Vargas, Diego José de , entered Santa Fe on September 13.


The Pueblo Revolt did much more than dispel the stereotype that Puebloans were unassertive and peaceful farmers who could not unify. It also was much more than a twelve-year respite from colonial oppression. It catalyzed transformations in Native American cultures in many directions. Large numbers of Spanish sheep came into the hands of the Navajo, forming the core of a new herding lifestyle. Weaving skills, possibly passed along by Puebloans fleeing Spanish reprisals, soon turned the wool into some of the world’s finest textiles. Previously forbidden horses, now freed by the hundreds, became widely traded. Within a century, tribes such as the Nez Perce, Cayuse, and Palouse to the northwest, Plains Cree to the north, and Sioux, Cheyenne, and others to the east became mounted. With the mobility to access the great bison herds of the Plains, the economic complex that became the popular image of the Native American evolved.

The continued importance of the Pueblo Revolt to all Native Americans was demonstrated during the tricentennial of 1980. Cultural events celebrating the “First American Revolution” were held all across the United States. The revolt was seen as a symbol of independence and religious freedom. It was also recognized that some Puebloans who chose to settle with Otermín at El Paso in 1680 subsequently had lost most of their language, arts, and customs. After three centuries, the Puebloans see their ancestors’ revolt as a key reason for their survival as a distinct people.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hackett, Charles W. Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Otermín’s Attempted Reconquest, 1680-1682. Translated by Charmion Shelby. 2 vols. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1942. The definitive report on the subject to date.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hait, Pam. “The Hopi Tricentennial: The Great Pueblo Revolt Revisited.” Arizona Highways 56, no. 9 (September, 1980): 2-6. The entire issue is a beautifully illustrated exploration of Hopi culture and how its persistence is a tribute to the Pueblo Revolt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hill, Joseph. “The Pueblo Revolt.” New Mexico Magazine 58 (June, 1980): 38. An overview of the subject, with nine illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. Gives an account of the precursors to the revolt but presents no consideration of the aftermath.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Knaut, Andrew L. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth Century New Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Knaut, a history professor at Duke University, analyzes the revolt and the events leading to it.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. Southwest. Vol. 9 in Handbook of North American Indians, edited by William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1979. This volume of the Handbook contains a brief article by Joe S. Sando that describes the planning of the Pueblo Revolt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Page, James K., Jr. “Rebellious Pueblos Outwitted Spain Three Centuries Ago.” Smithsonian 11 (October, 1980): 221. Tells the story through Padre Pio’s last day. Good observations on the revolt’s modern significance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roberts, David. The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. In his history of the war Roberts examines why the revolt succeeded and what happened to the Pueblos between 1680 and 1692, when they were easily conquered by a new Spanish force.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Silverberg, Robert. The Pueblo Revolt. Introduction by Marc Simmons. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. An account based mainly on Hackett’s earlier work. Introduction considers the revolt’s legacy three centuries later.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weber, David J., ed. What Caused the Pueblo Revolt of 1680? Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’, 1999. Collection of essays by various historians, examining the many factors leading to the revolt.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Massasoit; Metacom; Opechancanough; Pocahontas; Powhatan; Squanto. Pueblo Revolt (1680)

Categories: History