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.

Rob Martinez, New Mexico’s state historian, writes a column about the state’s rich past every month in The New Mexican. You can view episodes of his YouTube series, New Mexico History in 10 Minutes, at tinyurl.com/NMHistoryin10.

(11) comments

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Jim Klukkert

Senor Romero-

Mr. Martinez makes good points, and knows well the history of our fair region. So the best reply you have is to call him an anarchist, and to obviously lie in your lubricous claim that he supports tearing down our beloved monument?

¿Is it your ignorance that drives your anger, or your anger that drives your ignorance?

It would be wonderful if something besides those two drove your comments, as someone of your intelligence and experience actually is able to add clarity to the discussion, rather than just confusing the issues.

Felipe R. Mirabal

It should be remembered that not all Pueblo Indians entered into the fray in 1680. Many people from Isleta Pueblo accompanied the Spanish refugees to Guadalupe del Paso(present-day Ciudad Juárez). The archaeological site LA 20,00 in La Ciénega is a rare example of seventeenth-century farmhouse that was occupied in 1680. There is no evidence that the Spanish house, out buildings and corrals were burnt or destroyed. The Montoya family survived intact and might have been warned by the nearby pueblo. Many Puebloan sacristans and sympathetic believers rescued and preserved Catholic statues, ornaments and liturgical items and aided Spanish refugees.

Knowledge about Catholicism and Spanish culture aided the Pueblo attack. It was the Catholic liturgical calendar that helped to plan a date for the Pueblos to attack. They first chose Good Friday as the day to strike because all Spanish citizens were oblige to attend the viernes santo service and long devotions. Men were never allowed to enter a church with arms. People were prohibited from riding horses, carretas, wagons and carriages on that day. No one was allowed to work on that, the holiest of days, save to feed the farm animals. It was the perfect day for a surprise attack. Plans failed and another date was chose. If I remember correctly, it was Santiago Day, July 26th. That date also feel through and the date was rescheduled. They knew that Spanish citizens were obliged to attend Holy Mass and celebrated the day honoring the great Spanish martyr-saint, San Lorenzo, on August 10th.

What is wonderful and remarkable is that both sides reconciled and a deep friendship matured among generations to this day. We have shared a common culture, language, religion, customs, a compadrazgo and even DNA for three centuries. Outside groups have tried to separate us and our respectful ways by trying to make us hate one another. Those who do not know their history give in to these groups that spread division and confusion. May our deceased grandfathers and grandmothers protect us from them.

Stefanie Beninato

Where do you get your information that the intended date was Good Friday? I have never seen that in any documentation and never heard anyone else advance this "fact". The Pueblo Revolt was planned for the feast of San Lorenzo (August 10). Runners went out with knotted cords which they would undo one knot per day so those alerted would know the right day to launch the attack. Because two runners from Tesuque were caught by the Spaniards, the Pueblos moved the attack up by two days...

Stefanie Beninato

I am surprised that the state historian keeps insisting that Po'Pay was the leader of the Pueblo Revolt. The puebloan model is a multi-leadership model. See article in NMHR Oct 1990 for discussion of leadership in the Pueblo Revolt. BTW even Herman Agoyo agreed with this "thesis" and appeared with me and an anthropologist at a forum at the SFPL to discuss the multileadership model of the Revolt probably close to 20 years ago....Also why it didn't happen before--there were other, smaller attempts at revolt but the Spaniards found out about them and put them down. It is a remarkable event given it took 5 years of planning, was done by consensus and was secret from the Spaniards. Oh, yes, Pueblo people sought revenge on the abusive priests and attacked settlers. Given that Pueblo peoples numbered approximately 100,000 and was down to 17,000 to 50,000 people in 1680 maybe gives you an indication of who lost more people over time. The Pueblo people also did not attack the retreating Spaniards once they broke out of the Palace but watched them go south and settle what became El Paso, the second villa in NM (irony). Although Po'Pay was resistant to subjugation by the Spaniards (note his single name), his name is not associated with the Revolt until years later when some Pueblo people were captured by Otermin and interrogated. So IMHO it is appropriate his image is the one chosen for display in the US Congress but he is NOT the single leader of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. We are being Eurocentric when we insist on a single leader model.

William Nevins

Good column. I recall attending Taos artist Robert Mirabal's stirring one-man show in which Robert brings Po'pay to life, wearing sneakers and chatting around a campfire about how he led 'the first American revolution'. My friends in the rock band Tesuque Revolt have expressed their appreciation of this column as well, Rob.

Joseph Hempfling

just an occasion to also remember Brother Herman Agoyo from what use to be called San Juan Pueblo who helped commemorate Po'Pay with a statue of him in our Nations Capitol Rotunda as a remembrance that freedom is not free and we all must be vigilant in maintaining it, and not an easy task in today's confusing world.

James Morris

I’ve taught it as the first war of American independence.

Mike Johnson

There's a thought, now that African Americans have their own Independence Day, Juneteenth, maybe the date of this could be used for the pueblos' Independence Day. They could sell fireworks and everything......

Vicente Roybal

This was not the only opportunity the Pueblos had to push the Spanish out. They also could have chose to take advantage of them when the Spanish were starving during winters they were not prepared, which they're were a few. Why?

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Mike Johnson

Well said, some ignore the truth about history when it is inconvenient to their psyche or the political narrative they are promoting.

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