Pueblo Indians I: The History

“I am waving a ripe sunflower, I am scattering sunflower pollen to the four world-quarters.

I am joyful because of my melons, I am joyful because of my beans, I am joyful because of my squashes.

The sunflower waves. So did the corn wave When the wind blew against it, So did my white corn bend

When the red lightning descended upon it, It trembled as the sunflower When the rain beat down its leaves…” Poem: Women’s Harvest Song from Songs of The Pueblo Indians by Amy Lowell

The Pueblo people are  Native American Indians living in the Southwestern United States. Pueblo people rooted in this region of the southwest are descendants of an indigenous Native American culture that has established itself over many centuries.

Pueblo Indians Part I provides brief history of  the Anazasi and shows how the Pueblo Tribes of today originated from them.  Part II provides information for each individual Pueblo as it stands today.

Mesa Verde National Park


The Pueblo Indians, whose name is Spanish for “stone masonry village dweller”, are one of the oldest cultures in the U.S.  Their ancestors, the Anasazi (Navajo for “ancient ones”) have a history that has be traced back 7000 years, well into prehistory.  The most important development in the evolution of the Anasazi culture was the changeover of the tribe from a nomadic to sedentary lifestyle, and their settling  in Southeastern Colorado, New-Mexico, Utah and Arizona, also known as the Four Corners region. This is when they began constructing impressive dwellings, making pottery and other artifacts, and weaving baskets; this is also when the Anasazi  first began developing  their agricultural skills, raising turkeys, and growing maize and other crops, like the South AmericanMaya and Aztec before them.

Although theirs seemed to be a most efficiently run society, the 14th century saw the rapid decline of the Anasazi empire.  The real cause for the decline of this enigmatic and impressive civilization is still the subject of debate amongst archaeologists and anthropologists, who have brought forth a multitude of theories ranging from warfare with other tribes, to a mass exodus brought on by a new religion Kachina, which was being practiced in the south.  Perhaps the most widely accepted theory is that of a great drought, which brought on famine, a theory which would be consistent with archaeological findings of  skeletons showing signs of malnutrition, and the abundance of infant and children’s bones.  Bear in mind that  most of the theories on offer are based on analysis of Anasazi pottery and other archaeological finds, so most are based on speculation.

The theory that enemy tribes had been taking over  Anasazi territory is also interesting, but makes little sense since any culture wishing to inhabit the region would have had to have developed considerable agricultural skills, to be able to farm the arid land, and most conquering tribes were better skilled as hunters than farmers.  Still, careful study of the Pueblos shows that the settlements were built with a certain degree of concern for the safety of their inhabitants, and that the Anasazi were prepared to deal with invaders.  Besides, if another tribe had taken over the settlement, wouldn’t there be evidence of their occupancy? All in all, it’s really difficult to tell what exactly happened to the Anasazi, and why they left the homes which they had so painstakingly built.

Pueblo Indian culture will one day result in solving this ancient enigma.

During their mass exodus, the Anasazi  relocated to their present-day settlements further down south, joining other tribes of Ancestral Puebloans.  There, multi-cultural influences had their effect on social interaction, government, religion, and most importantly, language. The tribe developed their language out of four major influences, Uto-Aztecan, Eastern and Western Keresan,  Aztec-Tanoan, and Zuni, which also served as a basis for the many other sub-dialects invented during the course of Pueblo Indian cultural evolution.

The four tribes of Eastern Pueblo Indians are the Keres, the Tewa, Tiwa, and Towa, while the Western Pueblos are represented by two tribes, the Hopi,and the Zuni;  the Hopi are believed to be the direct descendent of the Anasazi, but are not considered Pueblo Indians, but rather and offshoot of the tribe.

Pueblo Indians of the late 15th century did not inhabit villages built upon naturally formed caves, but houses made of  adobe bricks and plaster. The Pueblos were built close to one another in similar fashion to, but more spaced apart than those of their ancestors, but since they weren’t protected by canyon walls, they were less structurally safe from the elements and possible assailants.

The Pueblo Indians were also farmers, as the Anasazi had been before them, growing pumpkins, squash, melons, and corn.  They formed peaceful communities, and were welcoming of the Spanish settlers who had just arrived in Rio Grande area.  The Spanish contributed to the Pueblo Indian way of life by introducing horses and livestock, and crafts such as metallurgy, while the Pueblo Indians influenced the way the Spanish built their homes.  But this peaceful coexistence wasn’t without its ups and downs, as the problems of their ancestors began to plague the Pueblos.

Once again, the Pueblo Indians fell prey to the arid climate and droughts which had driven their ancestors out of the Four Corners region.  This created conflicts between the Native Americans and the Spanish, which led to hostilities between the two groups.  Unfortunately, the Pueblo were outnumbered, and the Spaniards were better equipped with weapons, which resulted in the massacre of many Pueblo Indians, and the subjugation of the tribe.

A few years later, the Pueblos staged another revolt, but once again had to submit to their oppressors.  Two more uprisings against the Spanish followed, and even though some of the Indians had abandoned their villages and relocated into safer areas and built better fortifications around their homes, all ended in defeat for the Pueblos.  By then, missionaries had converted over fifty thousand of  the Native Americans to Christianity, and nearly one hundred villages had Chapels.  The Hopi, and other Western peoples managed to remain independent of Spanish rule.

One interesting fact to point out is the adaptation of Pueblo architecture into the design of the Chapels and Churches; even though Christianity had been adopted by a large majority of the tribe, the churches they built retained certain elements that had been present in their traditional kivas.  One good example of this can be seen at the Isleta Pueblo’s St-Augustine Church, one of the oldest mission churches in existence today.

The Pueblo Indians of today have been very much assimilated into American Culture.  However, they still live as they did before,  their economy being dependent on trade and agriculture.  Pueblo blankets and baskets are very popular with tourists visiting the New Mexico area.  However, socio-cultural factors such as poor education and unemployment are taking their toll, and with each new generation, Pueblo Indian tradition is eroding.

Joseph Suina, former Governor of Cohiti Pueblo said in 1998:

“Right now, we are in a struggle to hang on to our sovereignty. Legislation being proposed in Congress would weaken the sovereignty of Indian tribes. We would like to remind the powers that be that we have been given that sovereignty—as symbolized by the canes presented to us by Spain, Mexico and the United States.”

Visit Pueblo Indians II: The Pueblos


Pueblo Site Pueblo History:  Wilson Hurley  y Jacqueline Peppard