The Santa Fe Plaza is a traditional Spanish colonial style city square built in 1610 by the founders of Santa Fe under the orders of Don Pedro de Peralta, the second governor of New Mexico. Like other Spanish colonial plazas, the Santa Fe plaza served as the central hub of its city. It was flanked by the town church, the Palace of the Governors, and the houses of local notables.
The late 17th century was a period of drought, nomadic raids, and increased political repression for the Rio Grande Puebloan people. The Spanish Franciscan missionaries increasingly asserted their power over the New Mexican colony, culminating in a showdown with the provincial governor, Diego de Peñalosa. Governor Peñalosa arrived in New Mexico in 1661, and governed until ousted by Franciscan political pressure in 1664. While in office, he banned forced Native American labor and worked to preserve Puebloan cultures. This led to excommunication by a local Catholic clergyman, which Peñalosa had arrested, triggering the series of events that led to his ouster and a Mexican Inquisition jail cell.
The following governor was also not to the local clergymen’s liking, so he was politically forced to retire as well, leading to installation of Governor Juan Francisco Treviño in 1675. He was dedicated to the supremacy of the Catholic faith and the eradication of Puebloan culture. In the same year that he came to power, he ordered Spanish troops to burn kivas and arrest forty-seven Puebloan religious authorities. He then commanded that they all be tried for witchcraft. After three men were executed and a third that was sentenced to death committed suicide, a large, armed group of Pueblo men surrounded the Santa Fe Plaza and demanded that the shamans be released from prison. With most of the Spanish troops of Santa Fe out fighting nomads, Governor Treviño was forced to release the men. One of the men released was determined to end the Spanish period in New Mexico and safeguard the religious traditions of Puebloan people. Popé, a religious leader from the pueblo Ohkay Owingeh, retreated to the safer and more distant Taos Pueblo after he was released, where he would hatch a plan to remove the Spaniards.
The Santa Fe Plaza continued being the center of city life after the reconquest of New Mexico by Don Diego de Vargas. To this day, it serves as the city center for many communal events like the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe. After the Civil War, the New Mexican government erected a monument in the middle of the plaza and dedicated to Union troops and Indian fighters. In 1974, an unidentified man chiseled out the word “savage,” which was used to describe indigenous people by the monument’s creators.