Revolt In The Pueblos


The Governor immediately dispatched warnings to the Spanish officials at every pueblo and ordered the arrest of all suspected ringleaders. His warnings were too late. At seven o’clock the next morning, a panicked soldier came galloping into Santa Fe with news that the Indians at the nearby Tesuque pueblo had painted themselves for war, had killed the priest and a resident white trader, and were marching to join the natives at San Juan, armed for battle with bows, arrows, lances, and shields. The Governor ordered every Spaniard in Santa Fe to gather in the public buildings and sent soldiers scurrying through the countryside to round up whites who were out attending their fields and cattle. Setting a guard around the capital, he distributed arms to everyone capable of bearing them and waited for further news. It was not long in coming. During the afternoon, reports came in of uprisings in Taos, Santa Clara, Picuris, Santa Cruz, and other pueblos. Frightened soldiers rode back with tales of dead Spanish ranchers in the fields, smoking buildings, and armed Indians moving across the hills.

For the next three nights there was little sleep in Santa Fe, as the Spaniards waited for an Indian attack on their capital. In the surrounding country, the news grew steadily worse. Pecos, Galisteo, San Cristobal, San Marcos, La Cienega, Popuaque, and other pueblos had all joined the revolt, and reconnoitering squads of soldiers reported a growing trail of bloodshed and horror against isolated Spaniards who had been caught in their haciendas and estancias. On August 14, news came that a war party of five hundred Indians was finally marching on Santa Fe, and the next day small groups of them began to be seen moving through the cornfields around the city. More and more of them appeared, and as they pressed closer, filtering into the abandoned homes of Mexican Indians on the edges of the town, they called insultingly across to the defenders and danced defiantly on the rooftops of the flat adobe buildings.

Among the thousand Spaniards gathered in Santa Fe, no more than fifty were regular troops, and most of them were convicts conscripted in Mexico. But every able-bodied man was armed, and the Governor was confident that a determined attack by the Spaniards would scatter the Indian host and end the uprising. He tried first to negotiate with the natives, sending an escort of soldiers to provide safe conduct to the palace for one of the Indian leaders whom he recognized. The peace effort failed, and the next morning the soldiers attacked, attempting to dislodge the Indians from their threatening positions. The natives had never been allowed to use guns or own horses, but many of them were now supplied with both, and a furious fight lasted all day. By nightfall, however, the Indians had been pushed out of the fields and were fleeing to the foothills. Their flight was halted by the arrival of large reinforcements from San Juan, Taos, and Picuris, probably under Popé himself, and at dawn the Spanish capital was again under siege.

There was silence for two days as the Indians built up their strength. Then, on August 16, 2,500 natives charged at daybreak, sweeping out of the fields in huge masses that carried across homes and roads and broke over the ditch that supplied the Spaniards with water. Groups of Spaniards tried to regain the ditch but failed, and at noon the Indians swarmed around the walls of the palace itself, trying to burn the chapel at one end of the building. The entire garrison poured into the plaza to save the structure, and hand-to-hand fighting raged all afternoon. By darkness, the defenders had temporarily pushed the Indians back and barricaded themselves once more in the palace, which was now without water.

The next day, the battle began again. The desperate Spaniards, many of whom were wounded, had had a miserable night without water, but they met the attackers fiercely and in a number of sorties tried again to recapture the water ditch. Thrown back under a hail of arrows, stones, and gunshots, they almost lost the brass cannons that guarded the palace gates. They pulled the guns into the building’s patio with them, but had to fight off Indians all night, listening to native victory songs and watching the entire city of Santa Fe burn around them. Their anguish was increased by the groans of women and children for water, and at dawn, in a last savage attempt to drive off the natives, the garrison sallied out and took the Indians by surprise. The fighting was as bitter and fanatic as before, but fortune now favored the Spaniards, and after severe battling through the ruined town, the Indians finally abandoned the struggle and scattered into the hills, leaving behind three hundred dead and fortyseven prisoners.

Despite their victory, the shaken defenders were in no mood to remain in Santa Fe. The thirsty people gulped water, executed the Indian prisoners, and on August 21 began an exodus to the south, hoping to find safety in Spanish colonies lower down on the Rio Grande. Their hopes were dashed. Pueblo after pueblo stood emptied of Indians who had joined the revolt, and everywhere were only dead Spaniards and burned ranches. Carrying what small property they had been able to salvage, the long line of refugees reached El Paso, where they were finally able to rest in safety among friendly Manso Indians.