Historians differ on the main cause for the revolt of the Pueblo peoples in 1680. Many believe the cause for the revolt was religious, while others speculate that the essential causes of the revolt were the immediate events of the time - drought, famine and the Apache raids of the 1670s. Still another writer believes that the Spaniards had lost their ability to intimidate the Pueblos. The Pueblo people had learned enough about their new masters to rid themselves of the Spanish tyranny.
Coronado and his explorers first ventured into Pueblo territory in 1540. In the two years he spent in the area he and his men destroyed twelve Pueblo villages and attacked several others while searching for food, clothing and other material wealth.
In 1598 the first Spanish settlers arrived under governor Juan de Onate planning to establish a permanent community. Santa Fe became the Spanish headquarters and Onate hoped to dominate the thousands of Pueblos in their scattered villages. He succeeded.
After Acoma Pueblo revolted in 1598, Onate and his soldiers sought revenge for the revolt. Onate took 70 men and set fire to the village, killing hundreds and taking prisoners. All males over the age of 25 had their right hands cut off and were given a sentence of 20 years of slavery. Sixty young girls were sent to Mexico and were never seen again. Even two Hopi visiting the village had their right hands cut off as a warning to the western Pueblos. Onate’s plan to frighten the Pueblo villages into submission worked. Pueblo resistance to Spanish authority was quelled for decades to come.
With the Spanish settlers came the Franciscans whose goal was to convert the Pueblos to Catholicism. The converted Pueblos made up the major part of the Spanish "armies" of the early 17th century that went on slaving expeditions and raids against non-Pueblo people. Many of the Pueblo people converted to Christianity, but others secretly carried on the religious practices of their ancestors. In 1675 Pueblos began again to more openly practice their religious rites. Spanish authorities decided to stop such displays by force.
New Mexico governor Juan Francisco Trevino arrested forty-seven medicine men. All the medicine men were publicly whipped, four of the men were hanged, and the rest were imprisoned. San Juan warriors arrived at the home of the governor one night and threatened that they would kill the governor and his family if the medicine men were not freed. Trevino gave in to their demands.
One of the medicine men who had been captured was Pope, a Tewa from the San Juan Pueblo. After being freed the elderly medicine man returned to the north where he began preaching insurrection for the next several years. Pueblo peoples and villages were scattered and traditionally independent of one another and persuading them to work together to remove the Spanish was a daunting task for Pope. However, the medicine man was up to the challenge and over several years the Pueblo groups started working together.
Pope insisted on tight security and even had his son-in-law killed because as a Spanish official he might be a security risk. The leaders met on Pueblo village saints days to eliminate suspicion about why they might be in a particular pueblo at an unusual time.
Finally the plan came together. A false day of attack- August 13th- was told to the followers. When two of the runners sent to tell the Pueblo villages of the plan were caught, the Spanish believed they would have more time to prepare. Again runners were sent out, this time with the correct day - August 10th. It was very important that all the villages coordinate their attack plan and strike at the same time so the Spanish would be unable to help each other. The runners carried a knotted cord. Each day that they traveled - some villages were 150 miles from one another - the runner would untie a knot. Each knot represented the number of days until the revolt.
At sunrise on August 10th the attacks began. Each fighting group had been assigned a group of Spanish people and property to destroy. By the end of the day only five Spanish people north of Santa Fe survived. Gathering the horses, food and weapons of the enemy the Pueblos headed for Santa Fe. The revolt did not meet its objectives as well in the South as it had in the North. But the Spanish at Isleta thought that all the rest of the Spanish had been killed and decided to head for Mexico.
By August 14th Pueblo warriors surrounded Santa Fe. They laid siege to the town, cutting off supplies of water and additional food. After two days many of the Spanish had been wounded, including the governor. But Trevino refused to surrender. The governor and a small group of soldiers and slaves broke out of the plaza and attacked, surprising the Pueblo warriors. The Spanish set fire to the south side of town and killed many of the Pueblos. On the way back the Spanish were able to get water and capture forty hostages. They shot the hostages.
Finally, the Spanish decided to leave. They packed up and walked out of the town while the Pueblos just watched them. For the Pueblos their aim had been achieved, have the dreaded Spanish leave. Heading south, the Spanish of Santa Fe, about 1000 strong, and the Spanish of Isleta (1500 people) would eventually combine on the Rio Grande near El Paso. It would be twelve years before the Spanish would return to reconquer the New Mexican Pueblos.
Briefly the Pueblos returned to peace and their old traditions. However, Pope would make himself the "grand ruler" of all the Pueblo people. He took over the governor's palace in Santa Fe and demanded tribute from all the villages. Discord developed within Pueblo communities and between the different villages. In 1693 when the Spanish returned they were able to permanently reestablish their rule over all of the Pueblos in New Mexico. Only the Hopi far to the west remained free of Spanish control.