The Pueblo Revolt of 1680

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: The Competition for Causes

“This Revolution was fought for precisely the same reasons that the revolution of 1776 was fought – to regain freedom from tyranny, persecution and unjust taxation…”

~Alfonso Ortiz, Indian Uprising of the Rio Grande (Folsom 1973)


In August 1680, Pueblo Indians across New Spain rose and expelled their Spanish masters with great bloodshed. Spanish authority would not return for a decade, and when it did, a new balance would characterize relations between the two groups. Historians generally agree on the facts of the Revolt, but they continue to debate the relative influence of many factors, especially the motivations of the participants and the roles they played.[1] Most appear to search for a monocausal explanation of the Revolt. A review of the historiography on this event reveals no dominant critical trends other than increasing analytical sophistication and the inclusion of new sources. Instead of proposing new theses, historians constantly revisit certain thematic choices of causality. Strangely, few scholars favor a balanced interpretation of the Revolt.  Instead, the historiography suggests that in analyzing a conflict where only one side has a clear voice, interpretations often reflect more of the historian’s time and ideology rather than the incident itself.



Summary of the Revolt

The essential facts leading to the Pueblo Revolt are in little dispute. Juan de Oñate founded a Spanish farming colony on the banks of the Rio Grande River in 1598. Colonists suppressed the indigenous Indian communities in the region and placed them under an encomienda system which quickly fell short of Spanish expectations. Franciscan missionaries accompanied Oñate and when the colony proved to be a disappointment to the Crown, it was they who argued against abandoning the settlement. Despite the fact that the Pueblo population dropped from an estimated 80,000 at first contact to a mere 17,000 in 1680, there were few significant incidents of social unrest.[2] Until the revolt, relations between the two cultures were characterized by a level of cooperation and toleration not experienced in other sustained contacts between the Spanish and Amerindians.  For example, Spanish troops provided protection against attacks from neighboring Apache and Navaho. But in the 1670s severe drought hit the region, nomadic neighbors stepped up their attacks, and disease swept through the Pueblo community. Attempts to revive old religious practices brought repression from the friars, including the execution of Pueblo medicine men. Finally, in a coordinated action on August 11, 1680, Pueblos across the region simultaneously attacked the Spanish. Within a few weeks of intense extermination they had destroyed the European settlements and driven the survivors out of the territory. But what factors determined the timing and success of the Revolt?



The Parameters of Debate

There is considerable disagreement about the causes of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Much analysis tends to be simplistic. Andrew Knaut is correct to observe that many historians have emphasized the conflict “as one between two monolithic bodies – Indians versus European” thus “overlooking the complexities…in the decades leading up to the revolt.”[3]

Most historians treat the same laundry list of contributing events, but they typically select a single social function as the factor that catalyzed action. Rather than refer to this as a “trigger” or a “spark”, they characteristically label it the “cause.” The search for a monocausal explanation generates one or more detractors for each selected theme. Some argue that the Revolt was the consequence of a unique set of circumstances, while others place it in the broader context of widespread indigenous resistance against Spanish hegemony.[4] Candidates for a “primary cause” include charismatic Indian leadership, an unusual convergence of environmental factors, persistent religious differences, and economic oppression. While there is evidence to support each of these factors, the tendency among scholars is to stress one over the others, and only a few historians propose a synthesis of many causes. Since the same themes occur repeatedly over the arc of historiography, this paper will review Revolt historiography thematically.



The Bad Indian

As word of the planned Revolt broke, Governor Don Antonio de Otermin recorded his initial assessment of events.  The “Christian Indians” were about to carry out a program of “disobedience, perfidious treason, and atrocities.”[5] Subsequently many historians employed a thesis based on the characterization of the Pueblos as evil or corrupt.

Perhaps the earliest to analyze the Revolt as a history was Spaniard Carlos de Siguenza, who in 1693 attributed it to the Pueblo’s “inborn hatred of the Spaniards.”[6] This “Bad Indian” thesis colors interpretations until the mid-twentieth century. During the early 1900s, for instance, historians such as Charles Lummis demonized the Pueblos, categorically rejecting the notion that the Indians had been forced to accept Christianity, or that they had been enslaved. Instead, he cited the “jealous nature” of the Pueblos as leading to a “causeless plot” that “assassinated” Spanish colonists and the “gentle missionaries who… [attempted to] save the souls and teach the minds of the savages.”[7]

The Perfect Storm – Convergence of Drought, Famine and Apaches

Many historians view the 1680 Revolt as the product of disease, starvation caused by drought, and Apache slave raiding during the preceding decade. In this thesis, the Revolt was not inevitable but rather was caused by a unique juxtaposition of environmental conditions. Scholars who propose the “perfect storm” identify the same triad of events as tipping the balance in a Pueblo society already stressed by Franciscan pressures on religion and colonial demands for tribute. A recent example of this position is found in Van Hastings Garner, who suggests that before this unfortunate combination of events the Spanish and Pueblo communities had achieved a remarkable level of social stability. Without these unique conditions, Garner implies, no Revolt.

Opposition to the “perfect storm” thesis comes from historians such as Andrew Knaut, who imply an inevitability to the Revolt, citing a history of resistance throughout the Spanish colonial period.

The Value of Charismatic Leadership

Late seventeenth century missionary documents often identify the Tewa shaman Pope (Po’pay) as the leader of the Revolt. He is vilified by Franciscan friars as “a notorious enemy of the Spanish…filled with hate and vowing vengeance,” who almost single-handedly planned the uprising.[8] In this particular telling, the revolt succeeds in part due to Pope’s threats against anyone who would not obey his orders and it fails when the Pueblos fall out among each other.

Certainly a key phenomenon in Revolt historiography is the willingness of individual Pueblo communities to set aside traditional independence and distrust to work together against a common foe. One stumbling block to Revolt analysis has been reluctance to concede what Michael Wilcox calls Pan-Puebloan Consciousness, the ability of the disperse Pueblo communities to develop a collective political will. This rejection of communal agency persists in those historians who cite the charismatic leadership of Pope as the driving force behind the Revolt. This preference for individual agency disregards that Pope was saved from execution by a delegation of Pueblo warriors who threatened Governor Trevino with death unless he was freed. The further assertion that Pope sought personal power seems discredited by the fact that his major actions after the Revolt were to rebuild the kivas and restore pro-contact cultural practices. Further, the rapid deterioration of the anti-Spanish coalition suggests that it existed only for the single shared purpose of casting out the conquerors. As Wilcox notes, “few communities were willing to accede authority to a centralized leadership.”[9]

Pope’s leadership has been frequently seen as both the catalyst and the necessary ingredient for success.[10] Those who adopt this monocausal thesis often argue that he is somehow individually responsible for the savagery of the Revolt. For example, David Roberts recently painted Pope as a leader no less ruthless than the Spaniards. By accepting at face value the account of captured Pueblo runners who said they had been threatened into cooperation in the Revolt, he distances the noble Indians from their savage leader. This disregards the probable explanation that the runners were bargaining for mercy. Nevertheless, this is consistent with Robert’s treatment of the Pueblos as innocent victims who operated on a higher moral plane than their Spanish oppressors.[11]

Revolt leadership has been hotly debated in the past half-century. In 1967, for example, Angelico Chavez suggested that other leaders were more important than Pope and that the guidance of the Revolt was more of a communal affair. He proceeded to identify the mestizo Domingo Naranjo as his candidate for catalyst.[12] Within a decade, several historians faulted the “charismatic leader” thesis altogether. Stefanie Beninato altogether dismissed the idea of a central leader, arguing that such a concept would not work within the Pueblo culture.[13] Likewise Joe Sando argues for multiple leadership of the Revolt.[14] Van Hastings Garner also dismissed Pope’s role with the observation that there is “little evidence marking Pope as a unique Indian leader.”[15] Indeed, the concept of leadership does not even appear essential to Garner’s interests. Historians holding the anti-leadership interpretation propose that the Indians harbored the desire to revolt from the earliest days, but had to wait until they accumulated enough European weapons to narrow the disparity with their oppressors.[16] In this view the Revolt was principally driven by events – specifically by a desire to reassert traditional culture.

A sub-genre of the leadership thesis is the argument that mestizos were the driving force behind the Revolt. This concept began with Angélico Chávez. Other historians since Chavez have argued the important role of mestizos. For example, Andrew Knaut perceives a significant degree of mutual adaptation and intermarriage between the Pueblo and Spanish communities during the seventeenth century and implies the creation of a third, blended sub-culture. Nevertheless, he concludes that acculturation did not reduce intra-cultural tension. This thesis posits that outcast mestizos caught between the two societies sought to replace Spanish authority in order to assert their own agendas.[17] Accordingly, Knaut takes exception to the idea that the Revolt was inspired by the immediate events of the 1670s. Instead, he sees a pattern of continued and significant opposition to the Spanish presence that “permeated Pueblo circles throughout the period.”[18] Indeed, he sees the Pueblo community as deeply divided about the degree to which various factions felt about collaborating with the Spanish.[19]

Old Gods vs. New – Persistent Religious Differences

Not surprisingly, Spanish records from the late seventeenth century blamed the revolt on the perverse insistence of the Indians of clinging to the religion of their ancestors. Letters from the priests and colonial administers who survived the later 1696 revolt incorporate references to the earlier uprising that describe religion as the common element in both. Nineteenth century Anglo historians frequently saw religious tensions at the root of the conflict, and the record of religious persecution is one of the indisputable facts. There was a tendency during this period to cite the primary object of the revolt as “the Christianity of the Spaniards” thereby stressing that the Pueblo’s discontent with colonial Catholicism should not be confused with Protestant Christianity. [20] Hubert Bancroft, writing in 1889, reflected the prevailing “black legend,” consequently repeating those Spanish sources that concluded the Revolt was made “exclusively…on religious grounds.”[21]

Most historians reasonably incorporate the “substantial and unambiguous” evidence of religious persecution into their laundry list of casual factors.[22] Charles Wilson Hackett, who edited many of the colonial documents in 1942, found the Revolt’s cause in the sweeping suppression of religion, habits and customs.[23] His emphasis on the religious factor was repeated by succeeding scholars during the 1950s and 1960s. Nevertheless, writing thirty years after Hackett, Henry Warner Bowden neatly forgot Hackett and observed that “standard interpretations” had altogether neglected the factor of religious tensions.[24] Positing that the “familiar archetype of tyranny and oppression” was facile, Bowden supported his argument by noting that Franciscan friars and Catholic iconography received the brunt of Indian fury.[25] Bowden continues the theme of religion as the main cause of the revolt, but he avoids the broad condemnation of Catholicism seen in some previous histories.[26]

Bowden takes the religious thesis further by suggesting that the Pueblos practiced a false conversion. In his view, the Indians adopted those Catholic rituals which mirrored their traditional practices, but never accepted the underlying alien concepts of Christianity, such as individual salvation or atonement.[27]  The idea that the Pueblos practiced false conversion is given weight by recent archaeological studies that demonstrate the absence of Christian symbols in post-contact rock art.[28] In an echo of Bowden’s thesis, Joseph Henry Suina (2002) suggests that rather than practice authentic conversion, the Pueblos often used the celebration of Christian events and saint’s days to mask their native forms of worship.[29] Further variations of the religious monocausal thesis can be seen in the work of historian Ramón Gutiérrez, who placed the blame on decades of “massive desecration” of sacred masks, kivas and other religious paraphernalia.[30]  By focusing on the Spaniards’ destruction of traditional sacred objects, Gutierrez implies that the Pueblos were protecting their cultural heritage as well as their religious beliefs. Thus his argument does not align with those who see the Revolt as an unambiguous rejection of Christianity.

Religion has survived for centuries as a favorite monocausal explanation. Thus as late as 1988, scholar J. Manuel Espinosa incorporated early Spanish reports into a study that placed the cause of the 1680 revolt squarely on Pueblo Indian priests, “sorcerers,” and war chiefs.[31] Espinosa characterized the period between 1610 and 1664 as dominated by conflict between Franciscan missionaries and the colonial governor, with rule by “unscrupulous and unworthy characters” in which the Inquisition played a significant role.[32] He noted the importance of Apache raids and drought in the period immediately before the revolt, but pinned the blame on “hostile elements among the Pueblo Indians, egged on by influential war captains and ‘sorcerers’.”

Pan-Amerindian Revolt: Freedom from Tyranny

During the past twenty years several historians have advanced the idea that a Pueblo revolt was inevitable at some point in the late 17th century. They catalog a number of unresolved tensions that awaited only a catalyst, whether Indian leadership, a specific abuse, or set of environmental conditions. Nicholas Robins for example writes “The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was the culmination of decades of endemic resistance…” (Emphasis added).[33] Here the specific success of the 1680 action was due to good timing, and represented only the latest in a series of attempted rebellions. Robins’ overall work supports a broader interpretation that the seventeenth century was characterized by bloody Indian revolts against European colonization.

A variation on the “inevitability” thesis connects the Pueblo Revolt with a wide-ranging indigenous reaction to the European invasion of the Americas. In 1992, native Pueblo historian Joe S. Sando published a broad study of the Pueblo culture from its inception to modern day. His book ties the Pueblo experience to a much broader community of Native American experience. This pan-Amerindian perspective portrays the various North American Indian societies as sharing identical values and challenges. His observation that “all the native peoples…achieved a high order of their society… (with) various forms of democratic government” seems to echo histories of the 1960s, when the desire to correct “Bad Indian” scholarship sometimes produced excessive language.[34] In this telling, Pueblo Indians collectively sought social perfection, “enhanced lives” and harmony with their environment.[35] Nevertheless, although he may overstate the idyllic depiction of his people, Sando builds a convincing picture of the importance of religion in pre-Conquest New Mexico, such that by the time he narrates the events of 1680, we accept the statement that “to give up their religion would have been like giving up life itself.” [36] In this context religion is inseparable from other aspects of Pueblo culture and although religious and cultural freedoms remain at the center of Sando’s argument, he also rails against the “odious” Spanish system of domination. Accordingly, his argument belongs to the “revolt against tyranny” theme. Like David Roberts, Sando portrays a society that only needed a single spark to ignite revolt, and he identifies Governor Trevino’s execution of “sorcerers” as the trigger.

Christianity Proves Fallible

A distinct subgroup of historians perceives a long-cycle change in Pueblo attitudes about the invincibility of the Spanish colonials and their attendant Catholic missionaries. In this thesis the Indians accepted European control and cultural intrusion only so long as the invaders proved useful or superior. To the extent that the Pueblos did give credence to the power of Christianity and its missionaries, their faith withered under the worsening conditions of the seventeenth century. Ramon Gutierrez argues that by 1640 there was a widespread belief among the Indians “that the friar’s charisma had dimmed.” Thus the inability of Christianity to protect the Pueblos from Apaches and drought inevitably created flight back to the old gods.[37]

Gutierrez places blame on the deterioration of faith in colonial Catholicism when it failed to relieve the drought and cure disease.[38] He adds to this thesis his intriguing, if speculative, interpretation that many Franciscans openly sought martyrdom. He depicts the typical Franciscan as sexually repressed and masochistic. Thus he posits that when their conversion efforts lagged in mid-seventeenth century, a significant number of friars began to invite martyrdom, implying that this desire shaped their actions and further stoked Pueblo resentment.[39]

Like all other proposed casual factors, religious causality has had many detractors. Angelico Chavez, a 20th century Franciscan, unequivocally denies that the friars gave any cause for revolt. Rather they were tolerant protectors of the interests of the Pueblos, who were a “peace-loving” people.[40] The “ordinary run of Pueblo Indians had been happy with the many material benefits brought to them by the padres.”[41] The charge of religious persecution was merely a smoke-screen for self-serving mestizos to gain power. Chavez is also responsible for identifying Domingo Naranjo, a mestizo, as the leader of the Revolt.

Not all historians are convinced that religion was the central issue. Van Hastings Garner concludes that religion has been too emphasized and that the friars strategically permitted a fusing of Catholicism and traditional practice.[42] He thus rejects religion as the primary cause of the Revolt. Targeting fellow historian France V. Scholes for criticism, he paints the Franciscans as tolerant of Pueblo religious practice, and suggests that the friars knowingly permitted the Indians to graft their old beliefs onto the new Christian system.[43] Garner, as we see elsewhere, identifies the terrible convergence of evils during the 1670s as the root cause of rebellion. There had been a workable Spanish-Pueblo relationship up to that time, but it fell apart as the colonial government (not the Franciscans) failed to protect the Indians. Thus the Pueblos revolted to save their lives, not their souls.

The Bad Indian #2 – Rejection of European Culture

David Weber recognizes that the religious theme has predominated historical opinion into the late twentieth century, but notes that “new understandings” from anthropology have expanded our understanding that the Pueblo felt their entire cultural existence threatened by the Spaniards’ program to destroy the native religion.[44] In contrast to many other historians, Weber treats religion as integral to Pueblo culture rather than as a separate factor.

The thesis that religious issues drove the Revolt found common cause with the Anglo-centric view of the “Black Legend” – a demonized Spanish presence. Well into the 1970s, texts still made sweeping characterizations of both the Pueblo and their conquerors. For example, Robert Silverberg (1970) wrote of the “chilling inhumanity” the Spanish practices against “the placid, gentle Pueblo Indians.”[45] Accordingly, this perspective sees the Pueblo Revolt as a part of the larger resistance of native peoples to European – and especially Spanish – conquest. Silverberg can then identify the tipping point of the crisis as that period in the 1670s when Spanish governors decided to permit the observance of practices they considered more secular than religious. Accordingly they relaxed their prohibitions against traditional dances and ceremonies in an effort to reduce tensions. This policy met stiff resistance from the Franciscans, who responded with great severity, eventually outlawing these practices altogether. Like others, Silverberg notes that the crackdown against native “witchcraft” came just when drought and nomadic raids peaked. Thus the Pueblo found themselves defenseless against evil just as the priests failed them and their traditional rituals were denied. This forced the Pueblo into a stark choice between traditional religion and Catholicism.

The Bad Spaniard – Economics, Encroachment, and Exploitation

In the 1930s scholars saw conflicts between Franciscans and civil authorities as a main contributor to the eventual revolt. France V. Scholes wrote that the “irreconcilable controversies” that persisted between 1618 and 1678 led inevitably to “excessive zeal” by the Franciscan prelates.[46] The tension between “chaotic politics” and religious passion was also identified by Espinosa as “a major factor” in the Revolt.[47] Despite these factors, Espinosa returns frequently to the theme of “rebellious plotting” instigated by “Pueblo medicine men and war chiefs.”[48]

David Weber suggests some significance in the fact that the Pueblo Revolt was near coincident with other instances where native peoples rose against European encroachment.[49] Although there was no communication between the natives in different parts of the continent, the late seventeenth century saw King Philip’s War, the Susquehanna War, and the Yamasee/Creek attacks on Spanish missions in Florida. Weber posits that the Pueblo uprising has received less scholarly attention because Anglo-centric bias emphasizes the American Northeast.

Proponents of an economic thesis stress the inherent exploitation of the encomienda system, in which the crown grants a Spaniard responsibility for a certain number of Indian workers. Encomienda was ostensibly intended to provide for the Christianization and acculturation of the native peoples, but it functioned primarily as a means of extracting tribute. This “system of tyranny” drove ever-increasing demand for tribute that impoverished the Pueblo communities.[50] This thesis treats religion and economics as alternative rather than common causes of the Revolt. Historian Albert Schroeder (1972) focuses his analysis on the demands of Spanish civil authorities “through the encomienda system and taxation.”[51]

A variation of the economic causal model is found in the work of Ramón Gutiérrez, who sees particular tension in the competition for wives among Spanish soldiers and single Pueblo males.[52] Gutierrez further delineates the pressure on Pueblo society arising from the steadily increasing pressures of encomienda tribute and raids for slave labor. Both processes increased Spanish hunger for land, leading to inevitable competition in an environment where good land was at a premium.[53]

Alfonso Ortiz represents those who oppose this thesis, noting that in Pueblo culture, there is no sharp distinction between secular and religious spheres.[54] Van Hastings Garner also rejects the notion that it was the encomenderos’ exploitation that drove the conflict, maintaining that the Indians benefitted from Spanish interaction. For him, the juxtaposition of drought, famine and raids determined the resulting revolt.

Pueblo Ethno-Historians Make Their Claim

The twentieth century saw the entry of Native American historians. One of these, Edward Dozier, takes an ethno-historical approach, incorporating both Pueblo oral traditions and a large number of new documents that were previously ignored. His studies emphasize the Pueblos’ tradition of individual freedom and their fierce reluctance to relinquish it for unity outside their single village.[55] Dozier notes that the Franciscan approach to Pueblo conversion contrasted sharply with that of the Jesuits, who used “noncoercive” methods. The Franciscans’ insistence on forceful methods assured that their efforts produced submerged hostility to Catholicism. In describing Pueblo cultural characteristics, he uses terms like “wary, suspicious, and secretive” and he notes that they closely guard their religious practices. Given these characteristics, it is no surprise that Dozier argues “on the eve of the revolt, the Pueblos still held primary allegiance to their traditional way of life” and that they decided only a united effort could be successful.[56] Since such unity contradicted Pueblo social norms, the conditions drove the Indians to seek a leader. This emergence of Pope, “one of the moiety priests,” is thus less a sign of his leadership qualities than of being the right man for the times. Dozier’s overall description of the Revolt plays hard on a binary reading of behaviors, contrasting the beastly Spaniard with the gentle Indian. We read, for instance, that during the savage bloodletting of the Revolt, “In comparison to the atrocities of the Spanish, the Pueblo behavior was humane.”[57]

Dozier is given to sweeping statements that characterize all Pueblos as sharing identical points of view. While the evidence shows that some Pueblo supported the Spanish, he asserts that by the middle of the seventeenth century, the Pueblos “were determined to do something to put an end to [their] terrible suffering.”[58]

Recent Attempts at Synthesis

Scholarship since 2000 shows a greater acceptance of a balanced or synthetic approach which represses monocausal explanations. While it is too early to identify this as a trend, such increased sophistication appeals to a sense that great social actions have complex causes that are rarely reduced to simple factors. David Roberts’ approach is representative, incorporating a number of causes while expressing great sympathy with the Puebloans. He openly states his disdain for their colonial masters. His objective is not to present an objective history, but to “bear emphatic witness” to the tragic events. Like other contemporary historians, Roberts may not choose a single cause, but he does emphasize certain factors and point to a specific triggering event. By the mid-seventeenth century the Puebloans “had seen their way of life profoundly disrupted.”[59] Roberts notes the complicating factor that not a few of the religious conversions were genuine, splitting individual communities. During the 1670s Puebloans observed the inability of the Catholic religion to deliver rain, to protect them from raiding Apache and Navajo, or to dispel the “refuse wind”’ of smallpox. Consequently they moved from skeptical contempt for the friars to the belief that the missionaries were witches who cursed the Pueblo communities.[60] The objectives of the Revolt are clear to Roberts – peace, the elimination of vassalage, and freedom of worship.[61] After cataloging all of these factors, Roberts pinpoints the “paranoid” acts of Governor Juan Francisco Trevino as the “single precipitating event.”[62] It would be more correct to view this as a series of actions that began with Trevino’s appointment in 1675, culminating in the arrest and execution of a large number of “sorcerers.”

One of the most recent reconsiderations of the Revolt attempts a broad integration of causal factors without choosing a single cause. In his version of The Pueblo Revolt, Michael Wilcox takes the story all the way back to pre-contact, tracing the development of the cultural mind-sets of the two opposing societies. He demonstrates why “conquests, wherever they happen, are never accidental.”[63] Rather they require ideologies that “initiate, sustain, and justify” violence. Wilcox develops this theme to imply inevitability to the abuses of the Spanish colonials. He then uses primary sources to document the systematic use of entrada violence in post-contact New Mexico as a tool to establish superior and subordinate relationships between the colonists and the Pueblos, and he ties this program to strategies developed during the Spanish Reconquista.[64]

In a separate argument, Wilcox emphasizes that the cessation of overt resistance does not mean that a conquered people have been subjugated. The Spaniards confused military conquest with Pueblo conversion. In an environment of incomplete conversion, continued acts of violence, discrimination, and persecution by the Spanish assured “collective responses” by the subordinate groups. This natural outcome was only aggravated by the decision to create “Indian” and “Spaniard” as social categories, a process which had antecedents in the Spanish treatment of the Moors during the Reconquista. This imposition of social hierarchies connects with another concept borrowed from the Reconquista, that of “Pure” or “Old Christian” ancestry which placed the lowest of the Spaniards above the highest of the converted, thus providing the lowest ranks of Spanish society with equivalence to noble ancestry.[65]

The Reconquista also developed the concept of the “just war,” with its associated justification of legal enslavement of those who resisted religious conversion, where taking arms against the Spanish invader was equal to rejecting Christianity. Resistance to Christ permitted his Spanish agents to dispense with controls and to use any means necessary to subdue the Indians. Wilcox further asserts that the Spanish were unable to distinguish between secular and religious forms of social practice, consequently treating all as acts of heresy.[66]

The Wilcox approach – to probe more thoroughly into the factors prior to the 1670s – underscores that the Revolt was not a sudden reversal of Spanish control and influence. For example, the missionaries steadily lost control of a number of missions between 1640 and 1650, thanks to their antagonistic destruction of Pueblo kivas and religious objects.[67] Spanish governors frequently put down conspiracies during the same period, sometimes aided by Christianized Indians. Thus the 1680 Revolt could not have been the unexpected event that Spanish authorities attempted to portray.

Wilcox’s most original contribution to Revolt studies is to analyze the Pueblo’s abandonment of their communal sites as a social strategy. Using modern archeology as his tool, he builds a persuasive case for the systematic removal of entire communities from the Spanish sphere. It is this strategy rather than disease that explains the huge decrease in Pueblo populations during the eight years leading up to the Revolt. The Spanish used slave raiding and the confiscation of food as tools of control over the Indian population. The Indians responded by moving away from the Spanish colonists.

Wilcox is not alone in this finding. Other historians such as Edward Dozier also point out the pattern of migration to Hopi, Apache and other Indian communities, while still attributing some of the population decreases to smallpox.[68] The concept of regional abandonment is appealing because it concedes greater agency to the Indians than does the conceit that pre-contact societies were unsophisticated and lacking in the ability to devise strategies of resistance. Nevertheless, Wilcox’s theory is not without detractors among those historians who interpret abandoned sites as evidence of epidemics.[69]

Missing Players – The Role of Pueblo Women

The role of women is little examined in Revolt historiography. A few oblique essays attempt to characterize the role of women in Pueblo society, but give them little agency in the Revolt itself. Barbara Mills notes that the Pueblo women’s economic role had to be reorganized as demands for tribute increased. She sees their design choices in the manufacture of products such as pottery as illustrating a form of “resistance and identity formation.”[70] While Mills provides scant evidence of conscious subversion in this regard, other archeologists have also identified the choice of certain pottery symbols as signifying commitment to “living in accordance with the laws of the ancestors.”[71] More work is needed in this area.


It is difficult to see a definite vector in the path of Pueblo Revolt historiography over the past three centuries. Part of the problem lies in language. Although each historian identifies multiple factors as contributing to the Revolt, nearly all emphasize one element above others. There is a conspicuous reluctance to identify the selected element as a catalyst, “key” or “trigger.” Instead, historians habitually use the label “cause,” thereby implying that in the absence of such factor, the Revolt would not have occurred. Thus the historiography creates the false impression that there is a nearly monocausal explanation for the rebellion.

We can group such explanations into several broad camps depending on the selected monocausal factor. Each of these interpretations persists to the present, and each has its own detractors. Those who focus on immediate environmental pressures generally conclude that the Pueblo were pushed to rebel out of hopelessness to deal with disease, famine, and Apache raids. Others see the Revolt as the long-term consequence of religious oppression or of broader cultural oppression, while still others give individual Indian leaders greater significance.

The factors selected for emphasis often reflect the ideologies of the historian’s times. Over several centuries the point of view slowly evolves from the initial interpretation of the Indians’ apparently irrational “inborn hatred” of the Europeans. Nineteenth century historiography was dominated by the “Black Legend” that turned the Indians into childish primitives and condemned Spanish Catholicism as the culprit. By the early twentieth century, Spanish cruelty to the “placid” Pueblo gave way to new theses stressing oppression of native religion and culture. In the 1960s and beyond, a greater national respect for minorities led to further changes as analysis granted greater agency to the Indians. Although this sensitivity sometimes ennobled the Pueblos to excess, it was simply another attempt to select a monocausal explanation.

Thus historians have championed a variety of monocausal factors –religious differences, systematic oppression, unrelenting economic exploitation, and a confluence of brutal environmental issues. But events of great historical significance rarely find their origins in a single factor. They are instead shaped by multiple pressures and ignited by a catalytic event which is a trigger, not an isolated cause. After centuries of seeking a simple explanation for the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, recent historiography is proposing a more dynamic and complex synthesis of these factors.

Where Do We Go Next?

The Spanish applied the term “Pueblo” collectively to a number of communities along the Rio Grande. The Pueblo Indians may have lived in rough geographical proximity and may have shared some elements of culture and architectural styles, but they lived in profoundly separate communities. They spoke five different languages based on completely different linguistic stocks, mutually unintelligible.[72] Loyalties were to the village, then to the language group. The Spanish routinely used these differences to turn one group against the other. Yet something pulled them together in a common cause.

In a hard land that could not support large population centers, the inclination for antagonism was so great that individual communities often splintered into separate villages when groups left or were expelled. In fact, once they achieved victory over the Spaniards, the Pueblos’ 1680 unity quickly dissolved. Consequently, the political effort required to unite them would have been significant, and we can see that a number of Pueblos chose to support the Spanish during the Revolt. The key to understanding the Revolt must therefore lie in determining those factors that could unite these separate communities in a dangerous shared endeavor. Perhaps we must step back for a broader perspective.

Historical analysis of the Revolt of 1680 has been too focused on the events immediately associated with the Pueblo community. A comparative effort to identify the common elements in contemporaneous rebellions may provide a clearer understanding of which factors drove the events in New Mexico. The Revolt should therefore be viewed in the context of a larger pattern of resistance to Spanish conquest. It is not necessary to incorporate King Philip’s War. Within Northern Mexico alone, revolts occurred in the Mixton War of 1541, the Chichimeca Revolt of 1550, the Xixime Rebellion of 1610, and the Tepehuan Rebellion of 1616. Although these events have unique characteristics, they took place in a shared climate of unrest throughout the century prior to the Pueblo Revolt. Consequently, future scholarship should search for its answers to the Revolt phenomena by studying those common experiences shared by all these communities, rather than to isolate individual factors as “the cause.” The resulting answers will be a synthesis of previous monocausal theses, as reflects the complexity of this significant event.

[1] Weber, David J. What Caused the Pueblo Revolt of 1680? New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s (1999). P. 8.

[2] Roberts, David. The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest. New York: Simon and Schuster (2004). P. 29

[3] Knaut, Andrew L. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press (1995). Pp. xv-xvi.

[4] Preucel, Robert W. “Writing the Pueblo Revolt,” in Archaeologies of the Pueblo Revolt: Identity, Meaning, and Renewal in the Pueblo World, Robert W. Preucel (Ed). Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press (2002). P. 3.

[5] Knaut, The Pueblo Revolt of 1680. P. 4.

[6] Leonard, Irving Albert. The Mercurio Volante of Don Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora: An Account of the First Expedition of Don Diego de Vargas into New Mexico. Los Angeles: Quivira Society (1932). P. 55.

[7] Lummis, Charles F. The Spanish Prisoners. Chicago: Rio Grande Press (1909).

[8] Espinosa, J. Manuel. The Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1696 and the Franciscan Missions in New Mexico: Letters of the Missionaries and Related Documents. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, (1988). Pp. 32-45.

[9] Wilcox, Michael. The Pueblo Revolt and the Mythology of Conquest. Berkeley: University of California Press (2009). P. 158.

[10] Silverberg, Robert. The Pueblo Revolt. New York: Weybright and Talley (1970). P. 97-9. Also Simmons, Marc. The Pueblo Revolt: Why Did It Happen?” in El Palacio 86, 1980. P. 13.

[11] Roberts, The Pueblo Revolt. Pp. 9, 27.

[12] Chavez, Angelico. “Pohe-yemo’s Representative and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680” in The New Mexico Historical Review 42 (1967). Pp. 85-126.

[13] Beninato, Stefanie. “Pope, Pose-yemu, and Naranjo: A New Look at Leadership on the Pueblo Revolt of 1680” in New Mexico Historical Review. Vol. 65. 1980. Pp. 419-35.

[14] Sando, Joe. “The Pueblo Revolt” in Handbook of North American Indians: Southwest, Vol. 9. Alfonso Ortiz (Ed). Washington: The Smithsonian Institution (1979) Pp. 194-7.

[15] Garner, Van Hastings. “Seventeenth-Century New Mexico, the Revolt, and Its Interpreters” in What Caused the Pueblo Revolt of 1680? , David Weber, editor. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s (1999). P. 71.

[16] Weber, What Caused the Pueblo Revolt? P. 71.

[17] Knaut, Andrew L. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press (1995). Pp. xi – 248.

[18] Knaut, Conquest and Resistance. P. xv.

[19] Knaut, Conquest and Resistance. P. xvi.

[20] Weber, What Caused the Pueblo Revolt? P. 10.

[21] Bancroft, Hubert H. History of Arizona and New Mexico 1530-1888. San Francisco: The History Company (1889). P. 174.

[22] Preucel, Archaeologies of the Pueblo. P. 4.

[23] Hackett, Charles Wilson. Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Otermin’s Attempted Reconquest, 1680-1682. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press (1942). Vol. 1. P. xxii.

[24] Weber, What Caused the Pueblo Revolt? P. 31.

[25] Bowden, Henry Warner. “Spanish Missions, Cultural Conflict, and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680” in Church History (1975). Pp. 217-28.

[26] Weber, What Caused the Pueblo Revolt? Pp. 10-11.

[27] Bowden, Spanish Missions. P. 29.

[28] Dongoske, Kurt E. and Dongoske, Cindy K. “History in Stone: Evaluating Spanish Conversion Efforts through Hopi Rock Art” in Archaeologies of the Pueblo Revolt: Identity, Meaning, and Renewal in the Pueblo World, Robert W. Preucel (Ed). Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press (2002). Pp. 114-31.

[29] Suina, Joseph Henry “The Persistence of the Corn Mothers” in Archaeologies of the Pueblo Revolt: Identity, Meaning, and Renewal in the Pueblo World, Robert W. Preucel (Ed). Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press (2002). Pp. 212-6.

[30] Gutierrez, Ramon A. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846. Stanford: Stanford University Press (1991). P. 135.

[31] Espinosa, Franciscan Missions in New Mexico, P. 3. Although Espinosa’s study focuses on the 1696 revolt, his extended introduction, as well as the letters themselves, also analyze the earlier 1680 revolt.

[32] Espinosa, Franciscan Missions in New Mexico. P. 28.

[33] Robins, Nicholas A. Native Insurgencies and the Genocidal Impulse in the Americas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (2005). P. 23.

[34] Sando, Joe S. Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers (1992). P. 5.

[35] Sando, Eight Centuries. P. 22.

[36] Sando, Eight Centuries. P. 62.

[37] Gutierrez, When Jesus Came. Pp. 113-4; 130-1.

[38] Gutierrez, When Jesus Came. Pp. 130 – 37.

[39] Gutierrez, When Jesus Came. Pp. 127- 30.

[40] Chavez, Pohe-yemo’s Representative. Pp. 81-114.

[41] Chavez, Pohe-yemo’s Representative. P. 85.

[42] Garner, Seventeenth-Century New Mexico. Pp. 41-70.

[43] Garner, Seventeenth-Century New Mexico. Pp. 57 – 80.

[44] Weber, What Caused the Pueblo Revolt? P. 10

[45] Silverberg, The Pueblo Revolt. P. 4.

[46] Scholes, France V. “Church and State in New Mexico, 1620-1650”, in New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. XI. (1936) . P. 150.

[47] Espinosa, Franciscan Missions in New Mexico. P. 29.

[48] Espinosa, Franciscan Missions in New Mexico. P. 31.

[49] Weber, What Caused the Pueblo Revolt?  Pp. 6-7.

[50] Twitchell, Ralph Emerson. The Spanish Archives of New Mexico. Santa Fe: The Torch Press ( 1914). Pp. 354-7.

[51] Schroeder, Albert H. “Rio Grande Ethnohistory” in New Perspectives on the Pueblos, Alfonso Ortiz, editor. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press (1972). P.52.

[52] Gutierrez, When Jesus Came. P. xix.

[53] Gutierrez, When Jesus Came. Pp. 104-6.

[54] Ortiz, Alfonso. “The Dynamics of Pueblo Cultural Survival” in North American Indian Anthropology: Essays on Society and Culture, R. J. DeMallie and A. Ortiz, editors. Washington: The Smithsonian Institution Press (1979). Pp. 296-306.

[55] Dozier, Edward P. The Pueblo Indians of North America. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press (1970). P. xi.

[56] Dozier, Pueblo Indians. P. 55.

[57] Dozier, Pueblo Indians. P. 59.

[58] Dozier, Pueblo Indians. P. 55.

[59] Roberts, David. The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest. New York: Simon and Schuster (2004). P. 117.

[60] Roberts, The Pueblo Revolt. Pp. 124-5.

[61] Roberts, The Pueblo Revolt. P. 27.

[62] Roberts, The Pueblo Revolt. Pp. 124-5.

[63] Wilcox, Mythology of Conquest. P. 76.

[64] Wilcox, Mythology of Conquest. Pp. 97-129.

[65] Wilcox, Mythology of Conquest. Pp. 86-7.

[66] Wilcox, Mythology of Conquest. P. 93.

[67] Wilcox, Mythology of Conquest. P.143.

[68] Dozier, Pueblo Indians. P. 63.

[69] Wilcox, Mythology of Conquest. Pp. 96-7.

[70] Mills, Barbara J. “Acts of Resistance: Zuni Ceramics, Social Identity, and the Pueblo Revolt” in in Archaeologies of the Pueblo Revolt: Identity, Meaning, and Renewal in the Pueblo World, Robert W. Preucel (Ed). Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press (2002). Pp. 85-98.

[71] Capone, Patricia W. and Preucel, Robert W. “Ceramic Semiotics: Women, Pottery, and Social Meanings at Kotyiti Pueblo” in Archaeologies of the Pueblo Revolt: Identity, Meaning, and Renewal in the Pueblo World, Robert W. Preucel (Ed). Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press (2002). Pp. 99-113.

[72] Roberts, The Pueblo Revolt. P.32