Jemez Pueblo and Resistance to Spanish Rule

Smoldering Tensions

The Pueblo Revolt took place in 1680, but Spanish power was questioned in New Mexico before that date. Jemez Pueblo in particular was a fierce opponent for Spanish hegemony, even during the periods of solid Spanish power in New Mexico.

Jemez Pueblo, or Walatowa, consists of several villages united by a shared background and their unique usage of the Towa language. These villages sit at the mouth of the Cañon de San Diego.

The formidable fortified villages of Jemez Pueblo were bastions of anti-Spanish sentiment for much of the first period of Spanish occupation of New Mexico. In 1623, fed up with Franciscan demands for labor and forced conversion, the Jemez people burned down the nearby mission of San Jose and retreated into the mountains. The Jemez then returned to their site once they had avoided Spanish retaliation. The mission was rebuilt, but then abandoned in 1639 as sentiments remained hot and the Jemez people continued their recalcitrance in the face of missionary proselytization.

One of the three Pueblo religious men executed by Governor Juan Francisco Treviño in 1775 was from Jemez. This was likely a calculated decision by Governor Treviño, as the Jemez people had been among the most successful of the pueblos in reining back the influence of Franciscan missionaries. However, Treviño’s plan backfired as many Jemez warriors were present when a force consisting of several pueblos surrounded Santa Fe and demanded the release of the imprisoned religious men. Jemez Pueblo was also one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and it continued its resistance well into the reconquest of New Spain by Diego de Vargas. Although frequently called a “bloodless reconquest,” the account of Jemez Pueblo during Vargas’ takeover shows that it was anything but. San Diego Mesa, where many Jemez had moved during the Pueblo Revolt for safety, was besieged by Vargas and his Keresan speaking allies from Zia and Santa Ana Pueblos on July 24, 1694. The besieging foce killed eighty four Jemez people and captured another 361 by the end of the day. The remaining Jemez population scattered throughout Apache, Navajo, and Hopi lands.

Several years later, many Jemez returned and reconstituted the pueblo in a much diminished form. Many pueblos suffered during the early nineteenth century rise of nomadic raiding powers like the Comanche and Apachean people. In 1838, seeking safety from nomadic incursions, the people of the Pueblo of Pecos joined the Jemez in Walatowa and were absorbed into the Jemez population. There is still a position in the Jemez government for a “Governor of Pecos.”

Tourism on Jemez Pueblo lands today is run through the Walatowa Visitor Center. The Towa language, also called the Jemez language, is spoken only by the Jemez people. With around eighty percent of the tribal population speaking it means that the language is not currently endangered. Jemez Pueblo has been very successful in preserving its culture, and cultural conservation programs run by the Pueblo government have even revived its pottery styles that were lost during the chaotic Vargas reconquest years.