Spanish New Mexico

Taos Pueblo, by John K. Hillers, 1880

Taos Pueblo, by John K. Hillers, 1880

Courtesy of Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 016096

Spanish conquerors moved north of the Rio Grande in 1598 hoping to find gold and silver. Instead they found modest towns where Native peoples lived in adobe houses and practiced irrigation agriculture. Spain decided to support a colony at Santa Fe to convert Indians to Catholicism and to keep other European powers out of the region. Tewa, Zuni, Hopi, and other groups banded together to develop a new identity as "Pueblo peoples." Although many adopted Spanish as a second language, they came together to resist Spanish demands for labor and to defend their traditional religious practices.

Spur, Mexico, 1800s

Horses and riding equipment such as spurs, saddles, and stirrups played a fundamental role in Spanish conquest, exploration, and settlement. In the 1500s the Spanish brought cattle, sheep, and horses into northern Mexico. Spanish settlers and Native peoples developed ranching and grazing economies through much of the Southwest.

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Pecos Mission Church

This architectural bracket, or corbel, adorned the mission church at Pecos, New Mexico, established by Spanish Franciscans to convert Pueblo peoples in 1621. The church was rebuilt after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

Pecos mission church corbel, after 1692

Reproduction of drawing, “Ruins of Pecos Catho. Church,” by John Mix Stanley, 1846

Reproduction of drawing, “Ruins of Pecos Catho. Church,” by John Mix Stanley, 1846

Courtesy of Smithsonian Libraries

Old mission church and ruins at Pecos, 1846

Old mission church and ruins at Pecos, 1846

Courtesy of Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHN/DCA), 015693. Photo by Ben Wittick

Hybrid Beliefs

Like many other Native groups, Pueblo peoples resisted efforts to suppress their familiar spiritual beliefs and practices. Yet many Native Americans did find meaning in new Christian teachings. Across the continent, people sometimes joined new and old religious elements to create hybrid beliefs.

Cross, New Mexico, 1850–1900

Painted elk hide, 1693–1710

Without access to canvases, Spanish priests and Pueblo artisans adapted traditions of religious painting by using animal hides. This hide depicts St. Anthony of Padua with baby Jesus, and decorated a mission wall in New Mexico.

Gift of Dr. J. Walter Fewkes

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Hawikuh Ceramics

Pueblo potters forced to work at Spanish missions used their traditional materials and techniques to make European forms such as candlesticks and soup bowls. They also made traditional bowls and storage jars. This pottery, from the Zuni Hawikuh mission, represents this cultural interaction.

Salt cellar, before 1680

Salt cellar, before 1680

Loan from National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; exhibited with permission of the Zuni People

Candlestick, before 1680

Candlestick, before 1680

Loan from National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; exhibited with permission of the Zuni People

Soup bowl, before 1680

Soup bowl, before 1680

Loan from National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; exhibited with permission of the Zuni People

Traditional Zuni bowl, before 1680

Traditional Zuni bowl, before 1680

Loan from National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; exhibited with permission of the Zuni People

The Pueblo Revolt

In 1680 a Jemez Pueblo man named Po’pay led one of the first great revitalization movements created by Native peoples to reclaim their lands and way of life. The successful revolt united people of about twenty-four settlements, speaking six different languages, and spread out over a distance of four hundred miles. Embattled Spanish settlers retreated over three hundred miles south to El Paso. When Spanish forces reconquered the territory in 1692, they agreed to end a forced labor system and allow some Native forms of worship. In the 1700s Pueblo and Spanish people would unite against common enemies.

Statue of Po’pay

Statue of Po’pay

Po’pay urged Pueblo people to cast off the Spanish in order to work, pray, marry, and live according to their earlier traditions. In 2005 New Mexico donated this statue of Po’pay to the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol to honor Pueblo resistance and endurance.

Courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

Diego de Vargas

Diego de Vargas

Following the Pueblo revolt, Diego de Vargas led a military return to Santa Fe in 1691 and became governor the next year. The Spanish return was part reconquest and part negotiated agreement. The Spanish were willing to ease their forced labor system and accept some Pueblo religious practices, which allowed for coexistence and mutual defense against other Native peoples.

Courtesy of Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 011409. Photo by Julio Barrera