On July Fourth, Americans commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which occurred in 1776 during the Revolutionary War.
Yet, before that upheaval, there was the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the first revolution in what is today the United States of America.
Like its Eastern Seaboard counterpart, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was a resistance movement against a colonial entity that was mistreating, even abusing, its colonial subjects to a level of desperation that resulted in the violent overthrow of a major world power.
One could argue the revolt was even more remarkable in that Indigenous people took on the might and power of Spain in New Mexico and were victorious. By contrast, the American Revolution was played out by European Americans against British overseers. The rebellious British Americans were versed in British ways, in British thought and British military tactics.
The Pueblo people no doubt observed Spanish operations and tactics in New Mexico over the course of decades — eight of them to be exact. And certainly they learned Spanish strengths and vulnerabilities. There had been rumblings and minor attempts to eject the Spanish in earlier decades, but they did not amount to much. Not until August 1680.
Po’Pay of Ohkay Owingeh was one of the published Puebloans who had been accused of witchcraft and practicing ancient rites in the kivas. He and some others were whipped, but a few of his countrymen were hanged for their alleged transgressions. This act of injustice on his people inspired him to lead a revolt against Spanish oppressors, both religious and civil. His name has been associated with that event ever since.
In the American Revolution, we’ve come to know names such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, among others. Like Po’Pay, their roles have been passed from generation to generation as a reminder of historical events they participated in, even created, that changed the trajectory of history.
The causes of such revolutions tend to be of similar origin. There are abuses of power and abuses of human beings, but there’s also the human desire for freedom and the right to live in freedom. The Pueblo people had wrestled with the Spanish settlers and their offspring for generations, no doubt hoping for relief and compromise. It took a unifying event and leader like Po’Pay to ultimately accomplish that goal.
Since 1598, the Pueblo people had experienced attempts by Spanish priests and officials to eradicate their religion and the destruction of their kivas and kachina images. The encomienda system, in which a Pueblo would be assigned to a Spanish soldier who would then collect forced tribute in the form of goods, food and labor, also was a source of stress and anguish.
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was a violent statement of emancipation from Spanish rule. For decades, Britain refused to recognize the new American nation. The Spanish knew they had to retake New Mexico to avoid copycat rebellions throughout their empire.
By 1812, British claims to the American colony were finished. But after the Pueblo Revolt, Spain returned to New Mexico in 1692, though with a somewhat different attitude of reconciliation and convivencia, or coexistence. It was a violent retaking, and it would be four years until Spanish presence was peaceful. Both the American Revolution and the Pueblo Revolt produced radical changes for both communities that shaped their futures.
It is likely there was some form of federation of Puebloan communities before the arrival of the Spanish. In 1598, there was a meeting between Juan de Oñate and leaders of the pueblos. This may be the first written account of what centuries later, in 1922, would become the All Indian Pueblo Council. Both the U.S. and the pueblos are unique entities with revolutionary histories, still working on forging a better future for their people.