Popé {poh-pay'}

(Tewa medicine man)


Pope's Rebellion

Pope, ca.1630-ca.1690, a celebrated medicine man of the Tewa PUEBLO Indians at San Juan, N. Mex., instigated a successful rebellion against the Spaniards in 1680. Preaching resistance to the Spanish and restoration of the traditional Pueblo culture and religion, Pope led his people in an attempt to obliterate all Spanish influence. On Aug. 10, 1680, the Indians under his leadership killed about 400 missionaries and colonists and drove the other Spaniards south to El Paso, Tex. Pope and his followers then proceeded to destroy Christian churches and other evidences of the Spanish presence in Pueblo territory. Thereafter, as the head of several Tewa villages, Pope exerted what many considered increasingly harsh rule. Dissension arose, weakening Pueblo unity, and in 1692, two years after Pope's death, the Spaniards regained control.

Spanish rule of the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande valley of New Mexico began in 1598. Although they numbered 40,000 to 80,000 people at that time, the many independent towns, often speaking different languages and hostile to each other, were unable to unite in opposition to the Spanish.[1] Revolts against Spanish rule were frequent, but the Spanish ruthlessly repressed dissent. The Pueblo suffered abuses from Spanish overlords, soldiers, priests, and their Mexican Indian allies, many from Tlaxcala, Mexico. In particular, the Spanish suppressed the religious ceremonies of the Pueblo. The effects of violence, forced labor, and European diseases (against which they had no immunity) reduced the Pueblo population to about 15,000 by the latter years of the 17th century.

Po'pay appears in history in 1675 as one of 47 religious leaders of the northern Pueblo arrested by the Spanish for "witchcraft." Three were executed and one committed suicide. The others were whipped, imprisoned in Santa Fe, and sentenced to be sold into slavery. Seventy Pueblo warriors showed up at the governor's office and demanded, politely but persistently, that Po'pay and the others be released. The governor complied, probably in part because the colony was being seriously harassed by Apaches and Navajo and he could not afford to risk a Pueblo revolt. Po’pay was described as a “fierce and dynamic individual…who inspired respect bordering on fear in those who dealt with him.

After his release, Po'pay retired to the remote Taos Pueblo and began planning a rebellion. Po'pay's message was simple: destroy the Spanish and their influence and go back to the old ways of life that had given the Pueblos relative peace, prosperity, and independence. The Pueblo revolt displayed "all the classic characteristics of a revitalization movement...the emergence of a charismatic leader, the development of a core group of followers who spread the prophet's message to the wider public; and, ultimately the successful transformation of Pueblo cultures and communities."

Po'pay began secret negotiations with leaders from all other pueblos. They agreed to begin the revolt on August 13, 1680 and runners were sent out to each Pueblo with knotted cords, the number of knots corresponding to the days left before the revolt was to begin. The revolt actually began before that. The measure of the Pueblo's hatred of the Spanish is indicated that he was able to keep the plans secret, even though they involved many different leaders and towns. Po'pay murdered his own son-in-law, Nicolas Bua, because he feared he might betray the plot to the Spanish. Only the Tiguex area, close to the seat of Spanish power in Santa Fe and perhaps the most acculturated of the Pueblos declined to join in the revolt. The Southern Piros were apparently not invited to join the revolt.

"Our dust and bones.
Ashes cold and white.
I see no longer the curling smoke rising.
I hear no longer the songs of women.
Only the wail of the coyote is heard."

Street Scene, Pueblo of Tewa, Arizona
Street Scene, Pueblo of Tewa, Arizona
(click on image for larger version)


Pueblo Rebellion

Indigenous Peoples' Literature Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker

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