“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The village of Acoma is the oldest continually inhabited village in the United States (over 800 years). In 1540, it was Coronado’s expedition who first laid European eyes on the Acoma Pueblo and their people.
The clash came 58 years later in 1598 (Spanish colonization). Legend has it that the Acoma people invited the Spanish in with a promise of food and shelter, then orchestrated an ambush.
One of the casualties of this event was Juan de Zaldivar, Oñate’s own nephew. Don Juan de Oñate retaliated in what came to be known as The Battle of Acoma.
A victory against the Acoma warriors in three days was not enough for Oñate; he ordered that the left foot of all adult males to be cut off. He then sentenced the entire pueblo into slavery. It is important to note that Don Juan de Oñate was tried in Mexico City for this crime and was removed as the territorial governor.
Although Spanish settlements and much of our own history began with Oñate, this is the one snapshot Oñate is remembered for. Many still cannot forget. In 1998, a person cut the left foot off of the Oñate statue in Alcalde.
This event also may have been the first seed planted that eventually brought on the pueblo revolt. It certainly set the tone for the new relationship between the natives and the Spanish.
When the first 300-plus settlers arrived from Mexico to Nuevo Mexico, about 75 percent were already Mestisos (mix of Spanish and native) and the remaining settlers were mostly Spanish. They established San Gabriel. By 1608, they moved the capital to Santa Fe.
These two cultures exchanged food, medicine, and knowledge. However, the encomienda system (taxes in the form of crops, labor, and other resources) coupled with drought and hardship, strained the relationship between the two.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came in the form of a priest, Alonzo de Posada. During the 1660s, he believed that the natives could not totally convert to Christianity while practicing their own native beliefs. He ordered all Kachina masks to be destroyed. By 1675, Gov. Juan de Trevino arrested 47 pueblo natives for practicing their native religion. Subsequently, four were hanged and the rest were publicly whipped.
Pope happened to be one of the natives who received the public whipping. Pope began to organize a secret grassroots movement to rid “El Norte” of the Spanish. The organized pueblos included Taos, Picuris, Jemez, Cochiti and Santo Domingo.
Five years later at Tesuque on Aug. 8, 1680, two runners were sent out with knotted rope to count down the days until the revolt. They were captured by the Spanish and the revolt was revealed. It mattered not, the revolt took place as planned and by Aug. 13 the capital of Santa Fe was surrounded.
The revolt was almost put down because of the superior weapons and training of the Spanish soldiers. However, the natives cut off their water supply and held them under siege. After the death of much of their livestock, the Spanish broke the siege and headed south to El Paso. Surprisingly to some, many pueblo natives went with them. If you travel just east of El Paso, you will find Socorro, Tiguas (TEE-wahs), and Ysleta pueblos. They were “refugees” from the pueblo revolt. This was the first successful revolt by Native Americans against Europeans in North American History.
It is also important to note that the Spanish intermarried with the natives prior to and throughout the colonization period. Like the U.S. Civil War, this resulted in brothers fighting on opposite sides. Though many of us still have our Spanish surnames, we should not deny our native roots.
In 1692, Gov. Don Diego de Vargas, along with many native allies, retook “El Norte.” But this time they had “learned from history,” and ended policies such as the encomienda system. They also recognized native spiritual beliefs. If you visit missions built during this period, such as Pecos or Abo, you will find that there is a Kiva right next to the Mission.
Pueblo as well as Spanish land grants were awarded. The communal way the natives lived prior to the arrival of the Spanish resumed. The Spanish settlements almost mirrored the native communal way of life through community land grants. They shared resources and worked together for a common cause (survival).
This is precisely the reason why most of the native population’s customs and culture in “EL Norte” were still largely intact prior to Manifest Destiny and the Mexican American War.
Rock Ulibarri is a local resident and educator. He may be reached at 505-440-9776.