Pueblo Revolt

From Anarchy In Action

In 1680, the Pueblo peoples of what is now the southwestern "United States" succeeded in kicking Spanish colonizers out of their "New Mexico" territories for some twelve years. The uprising included an alliance of Pueblo peoples--including the Hopi and Zuni--assisted by Dine, Apache, Ute, and African rebels. The historian Colin Calloway calls it "one of the most effective Indian resistance movements in American history."[1]

The Tewa Pueblo medicine man Popé had spent five years building alliances across the Pueblo towns that had never before united in warfare. By 1680, his vision of a pan-Pueblo confederation materialized, as Indians blamed devastating drought and disease on the brutal Spanish colonizers' ban on indigenous religious rituals. The alliance united some seventeen thousand Pubelos who resided in over twenty-four towns and spoke at least six languages.[2]

William Loren Katz notes that African maroons joined the revolt: "As Spanish conquistadores penetrated the southwest, enslaved Africans among them escaped whenever they could. The Navaho, Apache, Ute, and the western Pueblo— which included Hopi and Zuni Nations—welcomed those who deserted the conquerors, and found Africans had much to offer."[3] Domingo Naranjo, described as "very tall, black with very large, yellow eyes," became one of Popé's officers.[4]

Divided by six languages, the Pueblo rebels organized a relatively decentralized resistance, coordinated by messengers running from town to town with strings of knots representing the number of days until the revolt.[5]

The decentralized rebellion took spiritual leadership from the Po-he-yemu ("one who scatters mist"), meaning the sky. According to Kevin Tucker, "The Spanish were well aware that a revolt was being planned, but could get no information other than the leader being Po-he-yemu, whom was believed to be on the other side of the mountains where captured and interrogated Pueblos would point. The entire time they were looking for an actual being when ironically their unknown ring-leader was the sky.[6]

The rebels knew that the Spanish depended on supplies coming from wagons fording the Rio Grande, and that the river was impossible for wagons to ford during a flood. So, Pueblos paid attention as the rains came, and they realized that supply shipments would be delayed until late August. They decided to strike the Spanish on 10 August, as the Spanish were running low on supplies and the new shipment was.[7]

Pueblo militants captured Santa Fe and cut off settlers' water supply. After nine days, the Spanish retreated southward, “[b]ewildered by the scale and success of the uprising.”[8] The Pueblos had kicked the Spanish out of New Mexico. It was a victory born of confederation.

When Popé took power, however, he established a centralized government over the formerly autonomous Pueblo towns. The historian Robert Silverberg calls this centralization “the most alien concept [the Spanish] had brought”.[9] As the Pueblo governor, Popé moved into the Spanish governor's former palace. He enslaved Pueblos who had refused to join his rebellion and who disobeyed him. Popé banned Christian rituals with a fervor rivalling the Spaniards' persecution of indigenous rituals. As drought and disease persisted, the Pueblo population quickly grew disenchanted with the new regime. “To some it seemed that things had been under the Spaniards,” Silverberg writes.[10]

One of those dissatisfied Pueblos, named Juan, confessed to Spanish priests in 1681. Juan complained that Popé banned Christianity, and he said that many Pueblos felt the Spanish “must come and gain the kingdom” of New Mexico.[11]

When the Spanish finally did reconquer the territory in 1692, they encountered little resistance. By centralizing political power, Popé destroyed the fragile alliance he had helped establish among the Pueblos.


  1. Colin G. Calloway, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012), 92.
  2. Calloway, First Peoples, 92-94.
  3. William Loren Katz, "The Pueblo Revolt and the Statue of the Conquistador," Counterpunch, 5 October 2017, https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/05/the-pueblo-revolt-and-the-st/print/.
  4. Katz, "The Pueblo Revolt."
  5. Calloway, First Peoples, 92-94.
  6. Kevin Tucker, "Revolt of the Savages: Primitive Revolts Against Civilization," Anarchist Library, 2009, https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/kevin-tucker-revolt-of-the-savages-primitive-revolts-against-civilization.
  7. Donald A. Grinde and Bruce E. Johansen, Ecocide of Native America: Environmental Destruction of Indian Lands and Peoples (Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers, 1995), 68-69.
  8. Calloway, First Peoples, 92-94.
  9. Robert Silverberg, The Pueblo Revolt (USA: University of Nebraska Press), 133.
  10. Silverberg, The Pueblo Revolt, 134.
  11. Juan, “Declaration of the Indian Juan,” 1681, in First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, ed. Colin G. Calloway (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012), 122.