Pueblo Revolt — Popé's Rebellion that Forced the Spanish Out of New Mexico


The Pueblo Revolt (1680) was an uprising by the Pueblo People against the Spanish in the Province of New Mexico. The Pueblos successfully drove the Spanish from the province and regained control of the territory.

Pueblo Revolt, WPA Mural, 1936, Detail

Detail from a mural depicting the Pueblo Revolt. The mural is at the U.S. Courthouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Image Source: Wikipedia.

What was the Pueblo Revolt?

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 — also known as Popé’s Rebellion — was an uprising by the Pueblo People, led by a Medicine Man named Popé, against the Spanish in the Province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, or New Mexico. The Pueblos successfully drove the Spanish from the province and regained control of the territory for the next 12 years.

Pueblo Revolt Facts

  • Pueblo Revolt Dates: The Pueblo Revolt started on August 10, 1680. It ended on August 21, 1680.
  • Also Known As: It is also known as “Popé’s Rebellion” or “Popay’s Rebellion.”
  • Location: The Pueblo Revolt took place in present-day New Mexico.
  • Leader: It was organized and led by Popé, a Pueblo Medicine Man who resented Spanish rule. However, not all Pueblo People participated in the attacks on the Spanish.
  • Who Won the Pueblo Revolt: Popé and his forces successfully drove the Spanish out of New Mexico and controlled the region for 12 years.
  • Historical Context: The Pueblo Revolt was 2 years before the English disappeared at Roanoke Island, 9 years before Jamestown was founded, and 22 years before the Pilgrims arrived in New England and founded Plymouth Colony.
Pueblo Revolt, PoPay Statue, US Capitol
This statue of Popé is on display in Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Image Source: USCapitol on Flickr.

The Pueblo People

According to Pueblo tradition, their ancestors — the Anasazi — came from the North and traveled South, following herds of animals, including mastodons and pre-historic bison. They hunted with Atlats — long spears.

When the animals were hunted to extinction, the Pueblos learned to live off of the land, growing crops and weaving cloth from plant fibers. Around 700 A.D., they were experts at making pottery and baskets. By 800 A.D., they adopted the architectural style they are famous for.

The buildings were massive structures built with adobe — bricks made from sand, clay, and straw or grass. They were made up of many rooms that were joined together and had ceremonial chambers called “kivas.” The first buildings were one story tall and were built into the sides of mountains and overlooked the fields where they grew crops and raised livestock. Over time, they expanded to multiple stories.

Near the end of the 13th Century, the Anasazi left their dwellings and moved into the desert and the Rio Grande Valley, where they established new settlements, which exposed them to nomadic, warlike Indian tribes, like the Apache, Navajo, and Ute.

It was in that region, where the Spanish found the Pueblo People in the 16th Century.

Taos Pueblo, 1910, New Mexico, DPL
This photograph of the Taos Pueblo was taken in 1910. Image Source: Denver Public Library.

Early Spanish Expeditions into Pueblo Homelands

After the Spanish conquered Mexico in 1521, Cabeza de Vaca explored the present-day American Southwest in the 1530s. 

Marcos Expedition

In 1539, the first Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, sent an expedition to scout the region, called Cibola, to see if the Spanish should colonize it. The expedition was led by Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan Priest. 

The Marcos Expedition was led by a slave named Estevanico and encountered Zufii Pueblos in the desert, in present-day western New Mexico. The encounter ended in violence when Estevanico apparently offended the Zuni and they killed him. 

Marcos returned to Mexico and reported he found a city with “house doors studded with jewels, the streets lined with the shops of silversmiths” and there were six more cities like it. 

Coronado Expedition

Viceroy Mendoza responded to the information by sending another expedition into the region in 1540. This one was led by Francisco de Coronado, Governor of the Province of New Galicia, in North Mexico. 

Marcos accompanied Coranoado as a guide. When they arrived at the Zuni village, Coronado was furious. The condition of the village was nothing like what Marcos had described in his reports. Coronado wrote to Viceroy Mendoza, saying the “priest has not told the truth in a single thing he said.”

Coronado Expedition, Hawikuh 1540, Painting, DPL
This painting by Harold A. Wolfingbarger depicts Coronado arriving at the Zuni Pueblo. Image Source: Denver Public Library.

The expedition was intended to be peaceful, but the Zuni were shocked and scared by the horses the Spanish rode on. They warned the Spanish to keep the horses away from them. Unfortunately, the Spanish refused and moved closer to the village. 

The Zuni responded by sounding an alarm and shooting arrows at the Spanish. The Spanish charged the village and routed the Zuni, who took refuge in their homes. The Spanish ransacked the Zuni storehouses and took the food they could find.

In the aftermath of the incident, the Zuni sent messages to the other villages, warning them about the powerful Spanish. Chiefs from some of the villages responded by traveling to meet with the Spanish and give them gifts to appease them, because they were afraid they were gods that were foretold of in Pueblo mythology.

Tiguex Massacres

Coronado moved into the Rio Grande Region, which the Pueblo called “Tiguex.” At the village of Alcanfor, they forced the residents to leave and then used it for their winter headquarters. By then, the Pueblos understood the Spanish were mortal, not gods.

The Spanish treated the Tigua Pueblos with brutality, which led some of the settlements to rise up in December. The fighting lasted three months and the Spanish carried out brutal attacks on various settlements, destroying them and killing inhabitants.

Eventually, the Tigua left the region and moved to the North, where they found refuge in other villages.

Expedition to Quivira

By the Spring of 1541, Coronado had established authority over the Rio Grande Region. He moved northeast, into the plains, in search of a place called “Quivira,” which was supposed to be plentiful with gold and riches.

Quivira was located in present-day Kansas and was nothing more than a collection of villages populated by the Wichita Indians. Frustrated, Coradona returned to Tiguex, where he stayed for the winter, before returning to Mexico.

The disappointing outcome of the campaign led Spanish officials to ignore the region for roughly 40 years and the Pueblo slowly returned to the settlements in Tiguex and reestablished their cultural and religious traditions in their ancestral lands.

Coronado Expedition, Quivira, Kansas, Postcard
This illustration depicts the Coronado Expedition in Kansas, searching for Quivira. Image Source: Kansas Memory.

The Spanish Resume Interest in the American Southwest

In July 1582, a small expedition was led by three Franciscan Friars into Tiquex, which was called New Mexico by then. When they encountered the Pueblo, they found they were interested in trading with them for animals and goods. One of the priests returned to Mexico to report on the situation and the other two eventually settled among the Pueblo for the purpose of converting them to Christianity.

Another expedition returned to Tiguex in 1583 and found the two priests were dead. They had been killed and their possessions stolen by the Pueblos.

The expedition fought with the Pueblos before returning to Mexico. When they arrived in Mexico, the stories they told about New Mexico inspired others to follow in their footsteps, searching for glory and adventure.

Sosa’s Colony

In 1590, one of them, Caspar Castaño de Sosa, Lieutenant Governor of the province of Nuevo Leon, organized a colonizing expedition and marched to Tiguex. However, Sosa was acting on his own, without permission from the government.

The expedition encountered the Pueblos without incident. Sosa sent a message to Mexico City, informing the government he had established a new colony. However, the government sent a military force to Tiguex. When it arrived, Sosa was arrested, and the settlement was broken up. Later, Castaño de Sosa was exiled to China, where he eventually died.

Over the course of the next eight years, a small number of Spanish expeditions traveled into the region, but none were able to take control.

Oñate’s Expedition of 1598

Finally, in 1598, the government decided to take control of New Mexico and Don Juan de Oñate led a large expedition into the region. Oñate’s expedition was large and included soldiers and their families, Franciscan Friars, and thousands of head of livestock.

Although Oñate sought gold and silver in the region, the priests intended to convert the Pueblo People to Christianity. 

On April 30, he stopped under a grove of trees and declared possession of the territory for Spain. The site where he made his declaration is near present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In the summer, Oñate went to the village of Ohkay Owingeh. He renamed Ohkay Owingeh, calling it San Juan Bautista. Later it was known as San Juan de los Caballeros.

Onate, Expedition, Tewa Pueblo, Ohke, San Juan, Photograph
Ohkay Owingeh in 1896. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Oñate decided to make Yungé Owingeh the capital of New Mexico. He moved the members of his expedition there and forced the residents of Yungé Owingeh to move to Ohkay Owingeh.

He called the new capital San Gabriel de Yungé. The Spanish built new homes, a fort, and a church, and modernized the existing pueblo to suit their needs. The first Catholic Mass was held on September 8.

Soon after, Oñate visited nearby villages, demanding their allegiance and demonstrating Catholic rituals. The chiefs agreed to allow the priests to visit the villages and tell their people about Christianity.

Acoma Massacre

While the missionary work was underway, Oñate went in search of gold. While he was gone, a group of Spanish troops visited the Acoma Pueblo, which was on top of a high mesa. 

There was a misunderstanding and the people attacked the troops, which were under the command of Oñate’s nephew, Juan de Zaldiva. Many of the Spanish were killed, including Zaldiva, and the survivors fled for their lives. When they returned to their settlement, they prepared defenses, but no attack came.

Oñate returned in December and was furious over the incident at Acoma. He declared war on the village and led an attack on Acoma. He arrived on January 21 and the battle lasted for three days, ending when the Spanish overwhelmed the Acomas and burned the town. It is estimated that 600-800 Pueblo died at Acoma.

About three weeks later, Oñate levied more punishments on the Acomas. He ordered the women and children to be taken as slaves and had the right foot removed from every man over the age of 25.

In the wake of the Acoma Massacre, hostilities ended. However, the horrible treatment of the Acoma Pueblo eventually led to Oñate being removed from power and stripped of his titles by the Spanish Crown. However, he appealed and was cleared of charges, returning to Spain where he lived for the rest of his life.

Acoma Massacre, Acoma Sky City, Present Day
This aerial photograph shows the location of the Acoma Pueblo, which is known as Sky City. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Santa Fe Becomes the Capital of New Mexico

In 1609, Pedro de Peralta moved the capital of New Mexico to Santa Fe. The following year, construction started on the Palace of the Governors.

Pueblo Revolt Causes

The Pueblo were already wary of the Spanish because of events like the Tiguex Massacres and the Acoma Massacre. However, the Spanish continued to enforce their labor system and religious practices on the Pueblo.

Oppression of the Pueblo People

The Spanish continued to oppress the Pueblo People, forcing them to work, demanding they pay taxes, and insisting they convert to Christianity. 

The territorial governors manipulated the system by granting Encomiendas to supporters, who forced the Pueblos to work in the fields and pay tribute to the Encomendros. In turn, the Ecomenderos paid tribute to the governors.

As part of the Spanish Mission System, the Franciscan Friars founded missions throughout New Mexico. Although some Pueblo converted to Christianity, many of them remained true to their traditional religious beliefs and practices. However, the Friars held back from punishing the Pueblo as long as they attended Mass and paid tribute to the Friars.

Despite the ongoing clash between culture and religion, there was little violence. This was due in part to the fact the Pueblo needed the Spanish to protect them against the Apache and Navajo.

The attacks from the nomadic Indian tribes increased in the 1670s, as New Mexico suffered from a severe drought. Spanish troops were unable to deal with all of the attacks, which troubled the Pueblo.

Further complicating their relationship was the fact the Spanish were spreading disease among the Pueblo. Dissatisfied with Spanish rule, Pueblo religious leaders — Medicine Men — advocated for a return to the traditional ways of their ancestors

Around this time, a Tewa Pueblo called Popé rose to prominence, resisting Spanish political and religious authority. 

Church of San Miguel, Santa Fe, Oldest Pueblo Church, DPL
This photograph (c 1880—1890) shows the Church of San Miguel in Santa Fe, the oldest Pueblo church. Image Source: Denver Public Library.

Pueblo Religious Practices Outlawed

Friar Alonso de Posada responded by outlawing Pueblo religious ceremonies. He also confiscated religious artifacts and had them burned. Finally, he threatened to have them put to death if they were caught practicing their religion.

In 1675, nearly 50 Pueblo men were found practicing their religion and were accused of witchcraft, including Popé. Governor Juan Francisco Treviño had them arrested. Three were hanged, one committed suicide and the rest were whipped in public and then sent to prison.

Outraged by the Governor’s actions, 70 Pueblo — who had converted to Christianity — marched toward Santa Fe, which was unprotected, because Treviño’s troops were gone, fighting the Apache. They threatened to attack Santa Fe unless Treviño freed the prisoners.

Treviño spoke with his advisors and released the prisoners, including Popé.

Pueblo Indians, Religious Ritual, DPL
This photograph (c. 1900—1910) shows a group of Pueblo men inside a kiva, performing a ritual around a smoking fire. Image Source: Denver Public Library.

The Plan of the Pueblo Revolt

Popé was determined to retake New Mexico from the Spanish. He traveled to various villages, meeting with Medicine Men and Chiefs, many of whom agreed to join him.

It took time, but a plan was created that involved many different villages. Similar to Pontiac’s Rebellion of 1763, the people living in the villages would attack the Spanish on the same day. The Pueblos would execute the Spanish missionaries, destroy the missions, and execute any Spanish who refused to leave New Mexico.

According to some accounts, part of the plan included informing the Spanish of the plot but giving them the wrong date for the attack. 

On August 9, Governor Antonio de Otermin received messages in Santa Fe that warned an uprising was imminent, and would take place on August 11. Otemin responded by sending warnings to the Spanish officials at each pueblo.

The Pueblo Revolt on August 10, 1680

The ruse worked. At 7:00 the next morning, August 10, the Pueblos living in Taos, Santa Clara, Picuri, Santa Cruz, Tewa, and other villages attacked the Spanish. Roughly half of the Friars living in the province were killed, and at least 380 Spanish — men women, and children.

The Governor ordered everyone in Santa Fe to take shelter and sent troops out to alarm the countryside. The Spanish who survived the attacks fled to the safety of Santa Fe and Isleta where they were armed and prepared for additional attacks. 

The Pueblo, who were carrying Spanish weapons and riding Spanish horses, attacked Santa Fe but were unable to take the town. The Spanish eventually pushed them back, but Pueblo reinforcements arrived and the tide of the battle shifted. The Spanish fell back to Santa Fe and the Pueblo laid siege to the town.

After more Pueblo reinforcements arrived the next day, they destroyed the ditch that carried water into Santa Fe and burned the church. The Spanish tried to save the church and brutal hand-to-hand fighting carried on throughout the day. As night fell, the Spanish took refuge within the walls of Santa Fe — but were without water.

Despite the lack of water, fighting resumed the next day. The Spanish were able to drive the Pueblos off but suffered heavy casualties. On August 21, Governor Antonio de Otermín ordered the Spanish to withdraw. 

Roughly 3,000 Spanish people left Santa Fe and started to make their way to El Paso, in present-day Texas. In September, the survivors at Isleta also left for El Paso.

Pueblo Revolt, 1680, Pecos Mission
This photograph shows the ruins of the Pecos Pueblo and Spanish Mission, which were destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt. Image Source: Grand Valley State University.

Pueblo Control of New Mexico

After the Spanish were gone, the Pueblos destroyed Spanish buildings, including homes and churches. Popé and his followers took over Santa Fe and the Pueblo maintained control of New Mexico for the next 12 years. Speaking the Spanish language was outlawed, and the use of Christian names was banned.

However, life for the Pueblo was difficult. They were dependent on the tools and amenities they enjoyed under Spanish rule. The Apache and Navajo continued their raids, and the Pueblo had trouble protecting themselves. 

During their raids, the Apache took horses, which was a significant development in the West. Once they had horses, they were able to spread across the Great Plains, taking horses with them, and spreading them to other tribes. The Plains Tribes gained a new means of mobility that allowed them to combat each other and, later, attack Americans as they moved west along the Overland Trails.

Battle of Little Bighorn, Indian Assault, Russell
This illustration depicts Indians on horses at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Popé tried to act as the leader of the Pueblo People, but he was unpopular. However, he still remained in power and often dealt harsh punishments to his opponents. According to most accounts, Popé conducted himself much like a Spanish Governor, which was resented by the Pueblos.

The Spanish tried to retake New Mexico in 1681 and 1687. Both times, Popé raised an army and fought them off. Popé died in 1689, further weakening the grip of the Pueblo on New Mexico.

In July 1692, Spanish forces led by Governor Diego de Vargas marched into the region. They were joined by Pueblo who supported a return to Spanish rule. Pueblo leaders met with Vargas in Santa Fe on September 14, 1692. Vargas agreed to pardon Pueblo leaders, and they agreed to submit to Spanish rule. 

Additional Context for the Pueblo Revolt

Pueblo — “Pueblo” is the Spanish word for “town” or “village.” The term was used to refer to the homes of Pueblo Indians, which were multi-story, attached homes, built after the style of the Anasazi, the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians. The word is used to refer to the architectural style and the people who live in Pueblos. In this article, we refer to Pueblo Villages by the name of the village or simply as “village” to help clarify if the text is referring to a group of people or a location.

Pueblo People — The Pueblo People, or “Puebloans”, were Native American Indians living in the present-day American Southwest, including New Mexico.

Spanish Conquest of the Americas — After Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492, Spain claimed much of the region, including South America, Mexico, and the American Southwest for Spain, and called it “New Spain.” The Spanish conquered and subjugated many native populations.

Pueblo Revolt APUSH Notes and Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study the Pueblo Revolt and Manifest Destiny for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Pueblo Revolt APUSH Definition

The Pueblo Revolt, also known as Popé’s Rebellion, took place in 1680 in the Spanish Colony of New Mexico. Led by the Pueblo leader Popé, indigenous Pueblo communities rose up in protest of Spanish colonization and religious oppression. The revolt aimed to drive the Spanish out of the region and restore the religious practices of the Pueblos. The Pueblo Revolt resulted in the temporary expulsion of Spanish authorities from New Mexico and a period of indigenous self-governance before Spanish reoccupation in 1692.

Pueblo Revolt Video for APUSH Notes

This video from Heimler’s History discusses interactions Between American Indians and Europeans during the Colonia Era, including the Pueblo Revolt.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Pueblo Revolt — Popé's Rebellion that Forced the Spanish Out of New Mexico
  • Date 1680
  • Author
  • Keywords Pueblo Revolt, Popé’s Rebellion, Popay's Rebellion, Who led the Pueblo Revolt, What was the Pueblo Revolt, When was the Pueblo Revolt, Where was the Pueblo Revolt, How did the Pueblo Revolt Start, How did the Pueblo Revolt end, What was the outcome of the Pueblo Revolt
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 15, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 8, 2024