Popay And the Pueblo Revolt: War and a New Era

In the southwest state of New Mexico, the land of enchantment, the Pueblo Indians have established a firm control. Their mostly peaceful relationship between communities and their fortified adobe houses helped prevent war, flourished trade, and helped with the many differences between the pueblos. But a newcomer has arrived…

The Spanish conquistadores settled in New Mexico. They were looking for the lengendary fabled seven cities of gold. But instead of cities of gold, they found Indians. They tried to convert the Puebloan Indians to Christianity. The Puebloans were hostile to this new and strange religon, so the Spaniards destroyed their underground places of worship and forced the building of churches. The Puebloans were attacked if they were caught upholding their religions and customs against those of Christianity and the Franciscan missionaries. Many were tried, beaten, sold into slavery, and even executed for doing so.

Popay was a Tewa Pueblo Indian who was among those tried. Not much is known of him before his trial in 1675. He was released after being scourged and then moved to Taos Pueblo. In the spring of 1680, Popay tried to get widespread support from the other Pueblos in planning a revolt to restore freedom and their old religon, believing he was commanded by ancestral spirits to do so. Taos pueblo served as the command center for the revolt.

Runners were instructed to use knotted maguey cords to show the number of days remaining til the attack, each knot representing one day. They were told that they would die if they revealed the plot to any spanish or any pueblos that had not been decided trustworthy by Popay. The runners went to all the pueblos Popay had invited to participate in the revolt. They then told the leaders of those pueblos to either untie a knot in symbol of obedience, or be destroyed in the revolt. The revolt was balanced on the fact that the Spanish did not find out about it. If they did, it would be stopped before it began.

The Spanish did not find out until two days before the planned date of the revolt by capturing two of the runners. Because of this, many pueblos acted one day prematurely, killing many missionaries. But the Spanish were still all present on August 10, 1680, when Popay led the Pueblo Indians to destroy Santa Fe. The inhabitants led to El Paso to escape the destruction after a siege and a crushing defeat. Popay then quickly set about removing all traces of the Spanish and Christians. He was afterwards deposed by war and famine.

And so began a new era. The stability of the Pueblo communities pretty much vanished, so much that when the Spanish came back not long after, there was no revolt to stop them and they effectually remained conquered to this day.

Works Cited

Legends of America


Pueblo Tour Guide from Taos Pueblo



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