An Entire Frontier in Flames

The regional implications of the Pueblo Revolt (1680-1696)

By John P. Schmal
Published on LatinoLA: October 7, 2004

An Entire Frontier in Flames

Many people from New Mexico are familiar with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and how it drove the Spanish and mestizo population out of the region for several years. What many people do not know is that the Pueblo Revolt was actually part of a larger regional rebellion against Spanish rule.

While actions of the Pueblos in New Mexico may have been the catalyst that ignited the revolt, it has become known by many historians as "The Great Northern Revolt of the Pueblos, Salineros, Conchos, Tobosos and Tarahumares." This revolt, lasting from 1680 into the 1690s was waged in New Mexico, Northeastern Durango, Southern and Western Chihuahua, and also affected parts of Sonora, Coahuila and Texas.

In 1680, Pope, a Pueblo Indian medicine man, having assembled a unified Pueblo nation, led a successful revolt against Spanish colonists in New Mexico. Beginning at dawn on August 11, 1680, the insurgents killed twenty-one Franciscan missionaries serving in the various pueblos. At least 400 Spanish colonists were murdered in the first days of the rebellion. On August 15, Indian warriors converged on Santa Fe. They cut off the water supply to the 2,000 men, women and children there, and they sang, "The Christian god is dead, but our sun god will never die." The Spaniards counterattacked, causing the Pueblos to pull back momentarily. Then, on August 21 the Spaniards and mestizos trapped inside of Santa Fe fled, making their way southward down the Rio Grande to El Paso al Norte Mission, which had been built in 1659.

Once the Spaniards had been expelled, Pope initiated a campaign to eradicate Spanish cultural elements, disallowing the use of the Spanish language, and insisting that Indians baptized as Christians be bathed in water to negate their baptisms. Religious ceremonies of the Catholic Church were banned and the Indians were stopped from verbally using the names of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints.

The Pope Revolt, in addition to driving the Spaniards from the Santa Fe-Albuquerque region for more than a decade, also provided the Pueblo Indians with three to five thousand horses. Almost immediately, they started breeding larger herds, with the intention of selling horses to the Apache and Comanche Indians. As a result, the widespread use of the horse revolutionized Indian life. While mounted Indians found that buffalo were much easier to kill, some tribes ? such as the Comanche ? met with great success when they used the horse for warfare.

The revolt in New Mexico jostled many of the indigenous tribes of Nueva Vizcaya (Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora) into action. As the rebellion spread, hundreds were killed but the Spanish military, caught woefully off-guard, could only muster small squads for the defense of the settlements in Chihuahua and Sonora. During the power vacuum in New Mexico and Nueva Vizcaya following the 1680 revolt, the Apache Indians started to push far to the southwest, arriving at the gates of Sonora to attack Spanish and Opata settlements. Then, in 1684, as the Spaniards nursed their wounds at their new headquarters in El Paso, more rebellions popped up across all of northern Chihuahua. From Casas Grandes to El Paso, Conchos, Sumas, Chinarras, Mansos, Janos, and Apachean J?comes all took up arms.

In November 1684, Governor Joseph de Neyra of Nueva Vizcaya reported that the indigenous rebels had taken 40,000 head of livestock from the northern frontier area. Unrest in the province continued into the following year as the Viceroy called for the construction of a presidio of fifty men near Casas Grandes (Chihuahua). In July 1688, the Janos and J?come Indians once again attacked Casas Grandes. However, in a retaliatory raid a month later, a large Spanish force defeated the Janos, J?comes, and Sumas, killing 200 warriors and capturing many women and children. Eventually the rebellion was put down, resulting in the execution of fifty-two Indians at Casas Grandes and twenty-five more in the Sonora mission area.

A general uprising of the Tarahumara and other tribes in 1690 and 1691 also took place in Chihuahua. The Tarahumara Indians at the northern mission of Tep?mera rebelled and killed their missionaries. The Indians participating were led to believe that their leaders had the power to make Spanish guns useless. In addition, the Tarahumara were told that any of their warriors killed in battle would rise again after three days. However, within months, Spanish troops arrived from Parral and were able to kill the primary leader, ending the rebellion.

Epidemics of measles and smallpox broke out among the Tarahumara in 1693 and 1695. During this time, a belief developed that the ringing of church bells spread measles and smallpox. This may have contributed to two more uprisings in 1696 and 1698. The Tarahumara country from Sisoguichic in the south to Yep?mera in the north was in open revolt. Units from several presidios were utilized in bringing the rebellious Tarahumara under control one more time.

The Reconquest of New Mexico (1692).
The Pueblos lived as a free and independent people for twelve years. However, in 1692, missionaries and Spanish government officials focused on working together to invade New Mexico once again. By this time, Pope had died and the Pueblos had disbanded and returned to their old ways, which included each pueblo being autonomous from the others. Governor Diego de Vargas saw that the time was ripe for the Spaniards to return to New Mexico.

Pulling together a re-colonizing expedition of one hundred soldiers, seventy families, and eighteen Franciscan friars, together with some Indian allies, de Vargas left El Paso for Santa Fe on October 4, 1693. Pledging an end to the abuse that the Spaniards had inflicted on the Pueblo Indians up to 1680, Vargas? forces surrounded Santa Fe and then cut off the water supply. By 1694, Vargas had ended all effective resistance in New Mexico.

On June 4, 1696, the Pueblo Indians attempted another revolt that resulted in the killing of five missionaries and twenty-one settlers. After a few churches were burned down, Spanish forces defeated the insurgents. Unlike the Revolt of 1680, this rebellion had been poorly planned and lasted only six months.

The Revolts of the late Seventeenth Century led the Spaniards to design a more mobile force that could wage war against swift, fast-moving Indian raiders. Although New Mexico saw some respite from war, Chihuahua continued to suffer the ravages of constant raids well into the Nineteenth Century.

The Pueblo Revolt represents an important event in New Mexico's history, but the regional implications of this revolt are equally important.


Jack D. Forbes, Apache, Navajo, and Spaniard. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994 (2nd ed.)

William B. Griffen, Indian Assimilation in the Franciscan Area of Nueva Vizcaya. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1979.

Oakah L. Jones, Jr., Los Paisanos: Spanish Settlers on the Northern Frontier of New Spain. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Robert Mario Salmon, Indian Revolts in Northern New Spain: A Synthesis of Resistance (1680-1786). Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1991.

Edward H. Spicer, Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1997.

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