Revolt In The Pueblos


Behind them, the entire province of New Mexico was again in Pueblo hands. The native reconquest of the country had been complete. Some four hundred Spaniards had been killed, including twenty-one of the thirty-three Franciscan friars in the territory. Popé and his followers moved into the ruins of Santa Fe and after dividing the Spanish spoils, ordered the people to forget everything they had learned from the Spaniards and return to the ways of their ancestors. In each pueblo, the cult leaders conducted ceremonies in which the Christianized natives were washed clean of their baptisms with yucca suds. The use of both the Spanish language and Christian names was banned. Every object and relic of the Spanish days was ordered destroyed, and in 1681, the year after the revolt, the atmosphere was so changed that, from reports he received in his place of refuge, Fray Francisco de Ayeta, Commissary General of the Franciscan province of New Mexico, wrote that the Indians “have been found to be so pleased with liberty of conscience and so attached to the belief in the worship of Satan that up to the present not a sign has been visible of their ever having been Christians.”

And yet the Pueblo victory soon crumbled from within and turned to ashes. The people’s attempt to return to a manner of life that had existed before the coming of the white men proved impossible. With their oppression, the Spaniards had brought the material goods and culture of a higher civilization, and the natives could not easily abandon things which now seemed to them useful and desirable. Gradually, they began to oppose Popé’s stern injunctions, and he retaliated with executions and harsh punishments. Inevitably, he turned into a tyrant who even affected the hated ways of the conquerors whom he had ousted.

The records of his reign are scanty and rest almost wholly on testimony given to the Spaniards in later days by reconquered natives. But in the main, they each tell the same story. To show his power, Popé took to posturing like the Spanish governors before him, demanding that others bow in his presence, using prisoners as servants, and even riding about Santa Fe in the Spanish governor’s rattletrap carriage of state. In time, other problems beset the harassed people. Apaches showed up, stronger and more belligerent than ever, and without the Spaniards to help protect them, the Pueblos proved no match for the raiders. The Apaches laid siege to the towns, killed the Pueblos in their fields, and finally entered the defenseless villages at will, demanding tribute of maize, cotton cloth, horses, cattle, and Pueblo women. Their seizure of horses led to a revolutionary development among the Indian tribes west of the Mississippi River, for up to that time no natives in that part of the continent had possessed horses, and few of them had ever seen one of them. Now the Apaches spread them across the plains and into the Rocky Mountains, and tribe after tribe came into possession of them for the first time.

A few years after his triumphal revolt, Popé died. Like many revolutionists, he had successfully led his people in a popular cause, only to betray them. The despotism of his reign helped to cloud his memory and left to history the image of an autocratic fanatic. But it could not obscure the original patriotic motives of his uprising, nor the fact that for a brief moment he freed his people from the oppression of a foreign conqueror. After his death, the lot of the Pueblos continued to deteriorate. The unity among the different cities that Popé had formed collapsed amid rivalries and quarrels. The Apache raids increased, and in 1692 when a Spanish army under Diego de Vargas finally marched north again from El Paso, the country of the Pueblos offered little resistance. With the troops came new governors, friars, and colonists, and in time, no sign showed in the hot sun of the arid country that the Pueblos had ever fought for, and won, their right to be free.