In the 1670s drought swept the region, causing a famine among the Pueblo and increased raids by the Apache which Spanish and Pueblo soldiers were unable to prevent. Fray Alonso de Benavides wrote multiple letters to the King, describing the conditions, noting the Spanish inhabitants and Indians alike to eat hides and straps of carts. The unrest among the Pueblos came to a head in 1675. Governor Juan Francisco Treviño ordered the arrest of forty-seven Pueblo medicine men and accused them of practicing sorcery. Four medicine men were sentenced to death by hanging; three of those sentences were carried out, while the fourth prisoner committed suicide. The remaining men were publicly whipped and sentenced to prison. When this news reached the Pueblo leaders, they moved in force to Santa Fe, where the prisoners were held. Because a large number of Spanish soldiers were away fighting the Apache, Governor Treviño was forced to accede to the Pueblo demand for the release of the prisoners. Among those released was a San Juan (Ohkay Owingeh in the Tewa Language) Indian named Popé (Po'Pay).
Following his release, Popé, along with a number of other Pueblo leaders, planned and orchestrated the Pueblo Revolt. Popé took up residence in Taos Pueblo far from the capital of Santa Fe and spent the next five years seeking support for a revolt among the 46 Pueblo towns. He gained the support of the Northern Tiwa, Tewa, Towa, Tano, and Keres-speaking Pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley. The Pecos Pueblo, 50 miles east of the Rio Grande pledged its participation in the revolt as did the Zuni and Hopi, 120 and 200 miles respectively west of the Rio Grande. The Pueblos not joining the revolt were the four southern Tiwa (Tiguex) towns near Santa Fe and the Piro Pueblos south of the principal Pueblo population centers near the present day city of Socorro. The southern Tiwa and the Piro were more thoroughly integrated into Spanish culture than the other groups. The Spanish population of about 2,400, including mixed-blood mestizos, and Indian servants and retainers, was scattered thinly throughout the region. Santa Fe was the only place that approximated being a town. The Spanish could only muster 170 men with arms. The Pueblos joining the revolt probably had 2,000 or more adult men capable of using native weapons such as the bow and arrow. It is possible that some Apache and Navajo participated in the revolt.
The Pueblo revolt was typical of millenarian movements in colonial societies. Popé promised that, once the Spanish were killed or expelled, the ancient Pueblo gods would reward them with health and prosperity. Popé's plan was that the inhabitants of each Pueblo would rise up and kill the Spanish in their area and then all would advance on Santa Fe to kill or expel all the remaining Spanish. The date set for the uprising was August 11, 1680. Popé dispatched runners to all the Pueblos carrying knotted cords. Each morning the Pueblo leadership was to untie one knot from the cord, and when the last knot was untied, that would be the signal for them to rise against the Spaniards in unison. On August 9, however, the Spaniards were warned of the impending revolt by southern Tiwa leaders and they captured two Tesuque Pueblo youths entrusted with carrying the message to the pueblos. They were tortured to make them reveal the significance of the knotted cord.
Popé then ordered the revolt to begin a day early. The Hopi pueblos located on the remote Hopi Mesas of Arizona did not receive the advanced notice for the beginning of the revolt and followed the schedule for the revolt. On August 10, the Pueblos rose up, stole the Spaniards' horses to prevent them fleeing, sealed off roads leading to Santa Fe, and pillaged Spanish settlements. A total of 400 people were killed, including men, women, children, and 21 of the 33 Franciscan missionaries in New Mexico. Survivors fled to Santa Fe and Isleta Pueblo, 10 miles south of Albuquerque and one of the Pueblos that did not participate in the rebellion. By August 13, all the Spanish settlements in New Mexico had been destroyed and Santa Fe was besieged. The Pueblo surrounded the city and cut off its water supply. In desperation, on August 21, New Mexico Governor Antonio de Otermín, barricaded in the Governor’s Palace, sallied outside the palace with all of his available men and forced the Pueblo to retreat with heavy losses. He then led the Spaniards out of the city and retreated southward along the Rio Grande, headed for El Paso del Norte. The Pueblos shadowed the Spaniards but did not attack. The Spaniards who had taken refuge in Isleta had also retreated southward on August 15 and on September 6 the two groups of survivors, numbering 1,946, met at Socorro. About 500 of the survivors were Indian slaves. They were escorted to El Paso by a Spanish supply train. The Pueblos did not block their passage out of New Mexico.
The retreat of the Spaniards left New Mexico in the power of the Pueblos Popé was a mysterious figure in the history of the southwest as there are many tales of what happened to him and among the Pueblos after the revolt. Later testimony to the Spanish by Pueblo Indians was probably colored by anti-Popé sentiments and a desire to tell the Spanish what they wanted to hear.
Apparently, Popé and his two lieutenants, Alonso Catiti from Santo Domingo and Luis Tupatu from Picuris, traveled from town to town ordering a return to the state of their antiquity. All crosses, churches, and Christian images were to be destroyed. The people were ordered to cleanse themselves in ritual baths, to use their Pueblo names, and to destroy all vestiges of the Roman Catholic religion and Spanish culture, including Spanish livestock and fruit trees. Popé, it was said, forbade the planting of wheat and barley and commanded those Indians who had been married according to the rites of the Catholic Church to dismiss their wives and to take others after the old native tradition.
The Pueblo had no tradition of political unity. Each pueblo was self-governing and some, or all, apparently resisted Popé's demands for a return to a pre-Spanish existence. The paradise Popé had promised when the Spanish were expelled did not materialize. A drought continued, destroying Pueblo crops, and the raids by Apache and Navajo increased. Initially, however, the Pueblos were united in their objective of preventing a return of the Spanish. Popé was deposed as the leader of the Pueblos about a year after the revolt and disappears from history. He is believed to have died shortly before the Spanish reconquest in 1692
In November 1681, Otermin attempted to return to New Mexico. He assembled a force of 146 Spanish and an equal number of Indian soldiers in El Paso and marched north along the Rio Grande. He first encountered the Piro pueblos which had been abandoned and their churches destroyed. At Isleta pueblo he fought a brief battle with the inhabitants and then accepted their surrender. Staying in Isleta, he dispatched a company of soldiers and Indians to establish Spanish authority. The Pueblo feigned surrender while gathering a large force to oppose Otermin. With the threat of a Pueblo attack growing, on January 1, 1682 Otermin decided to return to El Paso, burning pueblos and taking the people of Isleta with him. The first Spanish attempt to regain control of New Mexico had failed.
Some of the Isleta later returned to New Mexico, but others remained in El Paso, living in the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. The Piro also moved to El Paso to live among the Spaniards, eventually forming part of the Piro, Manso, and Tiwa tribe.
The Spanish were never able to re-convince some Pueblos to join Santa Fe de Nuevo México, and the Spanish often returned seeking peace instead of reconquest. For example, the Hopi remained free of any Spanish attempt at reconquest; though they did, at several non-violent attempts, try for unsuccessful peace treaties and unsuccessful trade agreements. For some Pueblos, the Revolt was a success in their aim to drive away European influence.
The Spanish return to New Mexico was prompted by their fears of French advances into the Mississippi valley and their desire to create a defense frontier against the increasingly aggressive nomadic Indians on their northern borders. In August 1692, Diego de Vargas marched to Santa Fe unopposed along with a converted Zia war captain, Bartolomé de Ojeda. De Vargas, with only sixty soldiers, one hundred Indian auxiliaries, seven cannons (which he used as leverage against the Pueblo inside Santa Fe), and one Franciscan priest, arrived at Santa Fe on September 13. He promised the 1,000 Pueblo people assembled there clemency and protection if they would swear allegiance to the King of Spain and return to the Christian faith. After a while the Pueblo rejected the Spaniards. After much persuading, the Spanish finally made the Pueblo agree to peace. On September 14, 1692, de Vargas proclaimed a formal act of repossession. It was the thirteenth town he had reconquered for God and King in this manner, he wrote jubilantly to the Conde de Galve, viceroy of New Spain. During the next month de Vargas visited other Pueblos and accepted their acquiescence to Spanish rule.
Though the 1692 agreement to peace was bloodless, in the years that followed de Vargas maintained increasingly severe control over the increasingly defiant Pueblo. De Vargas returned to Mexico and gathered together about 800 people, including 100 soldiers, and returned to Santa Fe in December 1693. This time, however, 70 Pueblo warriors and 400 family members within the town opposed his entry. De Vargas and his forces staged a quick and bloody recapture that concluded with the surrender and execution of the 70 Pueblo warriors and with their families sentenced to ten years' servitude.
In 1696 the Indians of fourteen pueblos attempted a second organized revolt, launched with the murders of five missionaries and thirty-four settlers and using weapons the Spanish themselves had traded to the Indians over the years; de Vargas's retribution was unmerciful, thorough and prolonged. By the end of the century the last resisting Pueblo town had surrendered and the Spanish reconquest was essentially complete. Many of the Pueblos, however, fled New Mexico to join the Apache or Navajo or to attempt to re-settle on the Great Plains One of their settlements has been found in Kansas at El Quartalejo.
While the independence of many pueblos from the Spaniards was short-lived, the Pueblo Revolt gained the Pueblo Indians a measure of freedom from future Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion following the reconquest. Moreover, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each Pueblo and appointed a public defender to protect the rights of the Indians and argue their legal cases in the Spanish courts. The Franciscan priests returning to New Mexico did not again attempt to impose a theocracy on the Pueblo who continued to practice their traditional religion.
Ever since the recapture of Santa Fe by de Vargas, Santa Fe has held de Vargas Days ceremonies to commemorate the event.
Pueblo revolt leaders and their home pueblos:
Ku-htihth (Cochiti): Antonio Malacate
Galisteo (Galisteo): Juan El Tano
Walatowa (Jemez): Luis Conixu
Nambé (Nambé): Diego Xenome
Welai (Picuris): Luis Tupatu (Ciervo Blanco)
Powhogeh (San Ildefonso): Francisco El Ollito and Nicolas de la Cruz Jonv
Ohkay (San Juan): Po'pay and Tagu
San Lazaro: Antonio Bolsas and Cristobal Yope
Khapo (Santa Clara): Domingo Naranjo and Cajete
Kewa (Santo Domingo): Alonzo Catiti
Teotho (Taos): El Saca
Tehsugeh (Tesuque): Domingo Romero