Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pondering the Pueblo Revolt of 1680

Illustration from Susan Wallace's "The Pueblos of New Mexico," c. 1883
In April I wrote a piece that dealt with the question of violence and resistance as it applied to the Pueblo Revolt and the -- at the time -- continuing controversy of Black Bloc participation in Occupy. In it, I acknowledge my ignorance about the Pueblo Revolt, and at the same time, I take a few swipes at the likes of Chris Hedges and Kevin Zeese, whose own ignorance of the black bloc tactic, in the midst of their constant demonization of those who wear black in solidarity with their comrades and not simply in connection with Occupy, is striking.

Humility is not one of their endearing qualities. Some have suggested it's not one of mine, either.

I note with some amusement that the "issue" of Black Bloc participation in Occupy has pretty much evaporated. Oh. My. And we were just beginning to have some fun with it. Of course Occupy itself is not quite what it once was, and suggesting that Black Blocs are in any way a significant component of Occupy or have ever been a significant component is silly in the extreme. Hedges embarrassed himself, Zeese embarrassed himself. The topic has been dropped. And we go on.

But the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 is looming larger in my consciousness than Hedges, Zeese or Occupy for that matter.

It's only partially due to my brief encounters with Virgil Ortiz and his Venutian Soldiers last week in Santa Fe.

We haven't completed our move to New Mexico yet, and I'm still learning about the society and culture we are joining. There are many safe-havens for Anglos in New Mexico, and if they don't want to actually be part of the culture and society there, Anglos can -- and many do -- stay apart from it. New Mexico has been called one of the most racist and segregated states in the Union, and I suppose in a way it's true, as there are any number of quite distinct communities that don't have that much to do with one another if they can avoid it. New Mexico has long celebrated its "Tripartite" culture -- Indian, Spanish and Anglo -- and it is sometimes the case that there seems to be neither communication nor understanding between them. At other times, there is no obvious barrier at all.

Where we're moving to, in the East Mountains, is in some respects one of those Anglo safe-havens, but its history is filled with conflict. This has not been a quiet land over the many centuries of human occupation, in fact it has only been partially and temporarily quiet in recent times. While I call it an Anglo safe-haven, its population is surprisingly mixed, though quite small by modern American standards. So far as I can tell, no more than 10,000 or perhaps 12,000 people total live in the East Mountains (which includes the eastern slopes of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and the western margins of the Estancia Valley and the Galisteo Basin), and with the exception of a few very small towns, they live scattered on mostly small acreage -- though there are some enormous ranches (estancias) in the area as well. The total population I estimate for the East Mountains today interestingly mirrors the estimates of anthropologists for the number of Pueblo People living in the area prior to the arrival of the Spanish.

There are pueblos -- or rather the ruins of pueblos -- all over the place. There are no active pueblos in the East Mountains, but there are some magnificent ruins. There are also many sites that are little more than traces on or under the ground that indicate former habitation by Pueblo peoples.

The pueblos of this region were abandoned in stages over time during the 1200's and 1300's, depending on conditions, some were reoccupied during the 1400's and 1500's, some abandoned again, but all were abandoned in the 1670's; most of their inhabitants merged with the pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley or farther west. It is said that the largest contingent from the Salinas Pueblos which were scattered toward the southern end of the Manzano Mountains merged with Isleta Pueblo just on the west of the mountain slopes. But refugees from the Salinas Pueblos seem to have wound up joining most of the active Rio Grande Pueblos as well as pueblos further west in the tumultuous period just prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

I have a feeling there weren't a lot of Salinas Pueblo refugees for the other pueblos to absorb. Too much had happened prior to the abandonment of the Salinas Pueblos -- too much disease, abuse and starvation --  for  there to have been many survivors. The records are unclear about how many Indians left the Salinas Pueblos. At the same time, the Galisteo Basin Pueblos were also abandoned though they were reoccupied briefly after the Pueblo Revolt. As with the Salinas Pueblos further south, the number of Galisteo refugees is unclear, but it probably wasn't many.

They left under the watchful eyes of their Franciscan priests and Spanish military officials. They were starving, bereft of possessions, beaten down, and I'm sure many never made it the twenty or thirty miles over the mountains to their refuges along the Rio Grande.

The story of what happened to the Salinas and Galisteo Pueblos is somewhat murky in that the records are incomplete, but the outline of the situation is plain enough. The Spanish sent priests to convert the inhabitants of the pueblos, the people submitted more or less cheerfully (though under what kind of duress we can only imagine), and for a brief time there was something close to harmony among the priests and the peoples of the East Mountain Pueblos. (This of course excludes the episodes of punishment for defiance that the Spanish periodically inflicted on the Pueblos in order to assert their dominant position in the Order of Things.)

Then a severe drought came on, starting in the 1650's, the way they have done in these arid regions for thousands of years. Springs dried up, crops failed, starvation stalked the land. The Pueblo peoples had been dealing with these conditions for many generations; they knew what to do, spiritually and physically. They were prevented from doing it by the priests and the Spanish soldiers backing them up. Not only were the people forced to stay at the pueblos even though they were starving and too weak to defend themselves from Plains raiders, they were punished severely for calling on their own Native gods and spirits in their hour of need.

There's a striking story of a kiva (a generally circular underground gathering place for community and religious purposes among the Pueblo peoples and their ancestors) at one of the Salinas Pueblos -- I forget which one now -- that was built next to the church. When it was excavated in the 19th century, it was found full of trash, something that seemed distinctly odd to the excavators, but then its location next to the church was also odd. It was surmised that this kiva had been built simultaneously will the church as a temporary expedient to ensure the Indians came in for baptism. Once that job was done, the priests, it was suggested, forbade further use of the kiva, ordered its roof demolished, and had the pit filled with debris so that it could no longer be used for religious observances. There are many other stories around New Mexico of kivas being disrespected in just that manner during the first phase of Spanish colonization in the area.

Indians were punished harshly and frequently for even being suspected of practicing their own religion. Sometimes the penalty was death -- on occasion by burning -- sometimes whipping, sometimes incarceration and physical humiliation. All the regalia and votive offerings for the Pueblo religious observances were repeatedly confiscated and burned. Shrines were desecrated.

As these policies were implemented ever more severely, the physical conditions of the pueblos and their inhabitants deteriorated. Going along with the Spaniards, even if they did provide solace for the soul through Mass and Holy Communion, was turning out to be a losing proposition. Rebellion was not infrequent and was met with ever harsher repression.

Even though they were starving, Indians were forced to work on the ranches that Spaniards had begun to establish in the area. They were forced to build massive churches in which the survivors of the Spanish exploitation and abuses were forced to listen to pious fictions of eternal salvation and damnation.

Finally, even the priests realized that the Indians had suffered enough and they prevailed upon the civil authorities to allow the transfer of the remnant population to the Rio Grande Valley Pueblos. By that time, hundreds had died of starvation, perhaps more from disease.

The Salinas Pueblos were never reoccupied, at least not by Pueblo peoples. It is said that Kiowa and Comanche made temporary abode in the ruins from time to time, but there wouldn't be permanent settlements in the Salinas area again until the late 1800's and early 1900's. In the Galisteo Basin, the Village of Galisteo was established as a Spanish settlement along Galisteo Creek in 1816 or 1819. The Indians who had returned to the Galisteo area after the Reconquest were decimated by disease and the survivors eventually were transferred to other pueblos by the 1740's.

The major Pueblo Revolt took place in August of 1680, either during the continuing drought or shortly after it ended (accounts differ). Several hundred -- up to 400 -- Spanish settlers were killed, the rest were driven out to the sounds of mockery and derision from the Indians who successfully reclaimed their lands and independent existence, the only time that happened in North America prior to the modern era.

The leader of the revolt was one Po'Pay, from the San Juan Pueblo (Ohkay Owingeh), a seer and a holy man who had been seized by the Spanish and whipped in the Plaza at Santa Fe for "sorcery" -- along with close to 50 others in 1675 when the Spanish crown once again ordered the suppression of Native beliefs and religious practices. Po'Pay, along with others, vowed and plotted and eventually took revenge and drove the invaders out.

Ultimately, of course, the Spanish came back, but on very different terms than previously. There would be skirmishes and battles between the Pueblo Peoples and the Spanish for years after the reentrada of 1692, but eventually an uneasy peace would be established among the Spanish and the Pueblo Peoples such that the Pueblos maintained their cultural integrity, their land, and relative autonomy during the remainder of Spanish rule of the Southwest. Even when Mexico declared its independence from Spain, and even when the United States seized the Southwest from Mexico leading to strenuous efforts to "de-Indianize" the Pueblo People, they maintained their cultural integrity and their land. To this day, the Pueblos assert their autonomy (often financially supported by casino revenues) and maintain their cultural integrity.

It's a remarkable survival that is rarely understood by tourists who flock to the 19 remaining pueblos in New Mexico to obtain souvenirs and take pictures of the charming dancing Natives.

Dancers at Okay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico
Po'Pay came from Okay Owingeh Pueblo (San Juan) and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 involved the pueblos in the Rio Grande Valley and further west. By the time of the Revolt, the pueblos east of the Rio Grande had been abandoned due to the drought and attacks by Plains tribes. The survivors from the eastern pueblos were dispersed among the Rio Grande Valley pueblos during the 1670's.  Though many were concentrated at Isleta, there were few barriers between pueblos except those put in place by the Spanish and the Spanish, despite their arrogance and exploitation of the Indians,  were suffering from the drought too. The Indians saw and took an opportunity to reclaim their independence from the invaders, and they were successful. At least for a time. Refugee survivors from the eastern pueblos were likely instrumental in the formulation and implementation of the Revolt and its aftermath.

I've constantly heard from the Indians that they never had any problem sharing land and produce and shelter with the Spanish or anyone else for that matter. There was -- or could be -- enough for all, even under difficult conditions. The Indians had long since learned how to live in nearly complete harmony with the rhythms of the Earth and one another -- even if from time to time that harmony was broken by conflict. The Navajo and Apache and the Plains tribes are supposedly the blood enemies of the Pueblo Peoples, and yet they have long lived together, sheltered and protected one another, and traded with one another. Conflict between them was been frequent but temporary, and neither tried to rule over the other as the Spanish -- and later Americans -- insisted on ruling over the Indians.

From all accounts, the Pueblo Peoples were prepared to treat the Spanish invaders the same way, and the Americans as well. Live and let live, share and share alike, fight when necessary, but not forever. These are concepts that were alien to the Spanish and are alien to many Americans; they must rule, and if they cannot rule they must destroy. When the Indians fought back, the Spanish pitifully wailed that they were the "victims" of "savages." To the Indians, the "savages" were the Spanish (and later, the Americans) because of their utter lack of dignity, decency, propriety, humility and sense of community. In a manner of speaking,  though they sought to sell soul salvation, they had no souls themselves. Indians saw them as  bereft and to be pitied.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was briefly successful in driving out the Spanish, but from the long distance of history, it's not entirely clear that driving them out was more than a temporary goal ("to teach them a lesson," perhaps, in humility.) Since the reentrada of 1692, many of the Pueblo Peoples have made common cause with the Spanish, adopted Spanish names if not customs, intermarried with Spanish settlers, and otherwise found ways to accommodate Spanish society and culture while maintaining the integrity of their own Pueblo society and culture. Indians and Spanish settlers united to drive out the American invaders (unsuccessfully) in 1847, and ever since they have tended to support one another's claims against the Americans, often successfully.

For someone like Virgil Ortiz and other Pueblo people, Pueblo society and culture are the primary ones in the Rio Grande Valley and much of the rest of present day New Mexico (Apaches and Navajos have their own areas and are welcome to them). They set the standard for culture and society in their realm. Others are welcome as long as they respect the dignity and customs of the Original People. It's easy -- or it should be.

But it is a lesson that seems to take forever to learn.

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