Taos Pueblo (Native Americans of the Southwest)

Also known as San Geronimo deTaos. Taos OTa 6s) is from a Tiwa word meaning "in the village." The word "pueblo" comes from the Spanish for "village." It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, apartmentlike buildings made of adobe, and to the people themselves. Rio Grande pueblos are known as eastern Pueblos; Zuni, Hopi, and sometimes Acoma and Laguna are known as western Pueblos. The Taos name for their Pueblo is Tecuse or Ilaphai, "at the mouth of Red-Willow Canyon."

Location The northernmost, highest (with Picuris, at about 7,000 feet), and one of the most isolated of the eastern pueblos, Taos is 70 miles north of Santa Fe.

Population In 1990, 1,200 Indians lived at Taos; the tribal enrollment stood at roughly 1,800. Roughly 2,000 people lived there in the late seventeenth century.

Language Taos Indians spoke Northern Tiwa, a Kiowa-Tanoan language.

Historical Information

History All Pueblo people are thought to be descended from Anasazi and perhaps Mogollon and several other ancient peoples. From them they learned architecture, farming, pottery, and basketry. Larger population groups became possible with effective agriculture and ways to store food surpluses. Within the context of a relatively stable existence, the people devoted increasing amounts of time and attention to religion, arts, and crafts. The Anasazi pueblo of Chaco, in northwest New Mexico, is thought by some to be the ancestral home of the Taos Indians.

In the 1200s, the Anasazi abandoned their traditional canyon homelands in response to climatic and social upheavals. A century or two of migrations ensued, followed in general by the slow reemergence of their culture in the historic pueblos. The Tiwas were probably the first of the Tanoan Pueblo people to enter the northern Rio Grande region. The earliest archaeological sites near Taos date from 1000 to 1200; these are not at the site of the present pueblo, however, and most remain unexcavated. "Modern" Taos dates from roughly 1400.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado visited Taos in 1540. In 1598, Juan de Onate arrived in the area with settlers, founding the colony of New Mexico. Onate carried on the process, already underway in nearby areas, of subjugating the local Indians; forcing them to pay taxes in crops, cotton, and work; and opening the door for Catholic missionaries to attack their religion. The Spanish renamed the Pueblos with saints’ names and began a program of church construction, establishing the mission of San Geronimo at Taos in the early seventeenth century. At the same time, the Spanish introduced such new crops as peaches, wheat, and peppers into the region. In 1620, a royal decree created civil offices at each pueblo; silver-headed canes, many of which remain in use today, symbolized the governor’s authority.

Taos played a leading role in the Pueblo rebellion of 1680. For years, the Spaniards had routinely tortured Indians for practicing traditional religion. They also forced the Indians to labor for them, sold Indians into slavery, and let their cattle overgraze Indian land, a situation that eventually led to drought, erosion, and famine. Pope of San Juan Pueblo and other Pueblo religious leaders planned the great revolt at Taos, sending runners carrying cords of maguey fibers to mark the day of rebellion. On August 10, 1680, a virtually united stand on the part of the Pueblos drove the Spanish from the region. The Indians killed many Spaniards but refrained from mass slaughter, allowing most of them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso.

Santa Fe was officially reconquered in 1692, after which the Taos fled to the mountains and to their Plains friends, the Kiowa. The Spanish sacked Taos Pueblo in 1693, after which the Indians returned and rebuilt. Another short-lived rebellion occurred in 1696. Although Pueblo unity did not last, Spanish rule was notably less severe from then on. Harsh forced labor all but ceased, and the Indians reached an understanding with the Church that enabled them to continue practicing their traditional religion. By the 1700s, excluding Hopi and Zuni, only Taos, Picuris, Isleta, and Acoma Pueblos had not changed locations since the arrival of the Spanish.

In general, the Pueblo eighteenth century was marked by smallpox epidemics and increased raiding by the Apache, Comanche, and Ute. The people practiced their religion but more or less in secret. During this time, intermarriage and regular exchange between Hispanic villages and Pueblo Indians created a new New Mexican culture, neither strictly Spanish nor Indian, but rather somewhat of a blend between the two.

Mexican "rule" in 1821 brought little immediate change to the Pueblos. The Mexicans stepped up what had been a gradual process of appropriating Indian land and water, and they allowed the nomadic tribes even greater latitude to raid. As the presence of the United States in the area grew, it attempted to enable the Pueblo Indians to continue their generally peaceful and self-sufficient ways and recognized Spanish land grants to the Pueblos. A political rebellion by Indians and poor Hispanics in 1837 over the issue of taxes led to the assassination of the governor of New Mexico and his brief replacement by a Plains/Taos Indian. In 1845, a few Tiwas from Taos, along with local Hispanics, killed the U.S. governor and attacked several officials over depredations committed by U.S. troops as well as long-standing land issues. The troops replied with a slaughter.

In an attempt to retain their identity, Pueblo Indians clung even more tenaciously to their heritage, which by now included elements of the once-hated Spanish culture and religion. By the 1880s, railroads had largely put an end to the traditional geographical isolation of the pueblos. Paradoxically, the U.S.decision to recognize Spanish land grants to the Pueblos denied Pueblo Indians certain rights granted under official treaties and left them particularly open to exploitation by squatters and thieves.

After a gap of over 300 years, the All Indian Pueblo Council began to meet again in the 1920s, specifically in response to a congressional threat to appropriate Pueblo lands. Partly as a result of the Council’s activities, Congress confirmed Pueblo title to their lands in 1924 by passing the Pueblo Lands Act. The United States also acknowledged its trust responsibilities in a series of legal decisions and other acts of Congress. Still, especially after 1900, Pueblo culture was increasingly threatened by Protestant evangelical missions and schools. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also weighed in on the subject of acculturation, forcing Indian children to leave their homes and attend culture-killing boarding schools.

In 1906, the U.S. government included Taos’s holiest site, the Blue Lake region in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, as part of a national forest. Under the leadership of longtime governor Severino Martinez and others, the tribe fought to get it back. In 1965 they received title to the land and were offered a cash payment, but they held out for the land. In 1970 the government returned Blue Lake, along with 48,000 surrounding acres. Since the late nineteenth century, but especially after the 1960s, the Pueblos have had to cope with onslaughts by (mostly white) anthropologists and seekers of Indian spirituality. The region is also known for its major art colonies at Taos and Santa Fe.

Religion In traditional Pueblo culture, religion and life are inseparable. To be in harmony with all of nature is the Pueblo ideal and way of life. The sun is seen as the representative of the Creator. Sacred mountains in each direction, mountain lakes and other natural places, plus the sun above and the earth below, define and balance the Taos Pueblo world. Many Pueblo religious ceremonies revolve around the weather and are devoted to ensuring adequate rainfall. To this end, Pueblo Indians evoke the power of katsinas, sacred beings who live in mountains and other holy places, in ritual and masked dance.

In addition to the natural boundaries, Pueblo Indians have created a society that defines their world by providing balanced, reciprocal relationships within which people connect and harmonize with each other, the natural world, and time itself. Unlike the situation in most Pueblos, the heads of the kiva societies, rather than the cacique, were the most important religious leaders. In fact, the cacique had both religious and secular duties.

Seven kiva or ceremonial societies were active at Taos. Each had special functions and separate religious knowledge. Feathers of birds such as eagles, hawks, and ducks, as well as wildflowers, were important ceremonially. Traditionally, all preteen boys underwent religious training, and a select few were chosen for an 18-month initiation, culminating in a pilgrimage to Blue Lake, into one of the kiva societies. Only initiated men could move from "boys" to "elders" and hold secular office.

Much ceremonialism is also based on medicine societies, and shamans who derive powers from animal spirits use their supernatural powers for curing, weather control, and ensuring the general welfare. Corn dances are held in summer and animal dances in winter. Most ceremonies at Taos are still kept secret from outsiders. Although most Taos Indians consider themselves Catholics, it is a form of Catholicism that coexists with their traditional religion. The Native American Church was introduced at Taos in 1907. Although controversial, it remains active.

Government Pueblo governments derived from two traditions. Offices that are probably indigenous include the cacique, or head of the Pueblo, and the war captains. These officials are intimately related to the religious structures of the pueblo and reflected the essentially theocratic nature of Pueblo government. At Taos, the cacique plus the tribal council (kiva society heads plus secular officials) ruled religious matters.

A parallel but in most cases distinctly less powerful group of officials was imposed by the Spanish authorities. Appointed by the traditional leadership, they generally dealt with external and church matters and included the governor, assistant governors, and fiscales. The authority of their offices was symbolized by canes. Community announcements were called out from the roof of the governor’s house. During the 1950s and 1960s, the All Indian Pueblo Council (of eastern villages) became increasingly active in asserting rights and solving problems.

Customs One mechanism that works to keep Pueblo societies coherent is a pervasive aversion to individualistic behavior. Children were raised with gentle guidance and a minimum of discipline. A high value is placed on generosity and reciprocity. Pueblo Indians were generally monogamous, and divorce was relatively rare.

Taos Indians enjoyed regular contact with other Pueblos and Plains Indians, and they have borrowed freely from other cultures over the centuries. However, they are very protective of their own society and have maintained a fundamental cultural isolation. Most people who married out of the Pueblo have stayed away.

Corpses were dressed in their best clothes and buried with food. Household members observed a four-day vigil, after which they set out prayer feathers and cornmeal for the spirit of dead. In modern times photography by outsiders is discouraged.

Dwellings Taos was formerly walled, as a defense against the Comanche raids of the 1700s. The Pueblo features two clusters of apartment-style buildings, as high as six stories, on either side of Taos Creek. The buildings are constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with beams across a roof covered with poles, brush, and plaster. Floors are of wood plank or packed earth. The roof of one level serves as the floor of another. The levels are interconnected by ladders. As an aid to defense, the traditional design included no doors or windows; entry was through the roof. There were also a number of adobe houses scattered around the Pueblo. Seven pit houses, or kivas, serve as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. The village plaza, around which all dwellings are clustered, is the spiritual center of the village where all the balanced forces of world come together. A racetrack is part of the village, built to accommodate ceremonial footraces.

Diet Before the Spanish arrived, Taos people ate primarily corn, beans, and squash. They also grew cotton and tobacco. A relatively short growing season necessitated a greater dependence on hunting and gathering. They hunted deer, mountain lion, bear, antelope, and rabbits. Men from Taos also traveled east to hunt buffalo. The people also gathered a variety of wild seeds, nuts, berries, and other foods and fished in rivers and mountain streams. The Spanish introduced wheat, alfalfa, chilies, fruit trees, grapes, sheep, cattle, and garden vegetables, which soon became part of the regular diet.

Key Technology Precontact farming implements were wooden. Most pottery was basically utilitarian. Tanning tools were made of bone and wood. Musical instruments included drums of animal hide. Men hunted with juniper bows and arrows. The Spanish introduced metal tools and equipment.

Trade All Pueblos were part of extensive aboriginal trading networks. With the arrival of other cultures, Pueblo Indians also traded with the Hispanic American villages and then U.S. traders. Taos Indians traded for cotton since they could not grow it themselves. At fixed times during summer or fall, enemies declared truces so that trading fairs might be held. The largest and best known was at Taos with the Comanche. In fact, Taos served as a Pueblo trade gateway to the Plains tribes north and east. Nomads exchanged slaves, buffalo hides, buckskins, jerked meat, and horses for agricultural and manufactured pueblo products. Pueblo Indians traded for shell and copper ornaments, turquoise, and macaw feathers.

Despite the proximity of Picuris Pueblo (18 miles by trail), the two peoples interacted relatively infrequently and traded little but mountain plants. Trade along the Santa Fe Trail began in 1821. By the 1880s and the arrival of railroads, the Pueblos were dependent on many American-made goods, and the Native American manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.

Notable Arts In the Pueblo way, art and life are inseparable. Taos arts included moccasins, drums, songs, dances, and dramas. Many Pueblos experienced a renaissance of traditional arts in the twentieth century, beginning in 1919 with San Ildefonso pottery.

Transportation Spanish horses, mules, and cattle arrived at Taos Pueblo in the seventeenth century. Horses were especially important at Taos.

Dress Men wore Plains-style fringed and beaded buckskin shirts, leggings, and moccasins. Women wore deerskin dresses and white buckskin moccasins (married women). Rabbit skin and buffalo hide were also used for blankets and robes.

War and Weapons Though often depicted as passive and docile, most Pueblo groups regularly engaged in warfare. The great revolt of 1680 stands out as the major military action, but they also skirmished at other times with the Spanish and defended themselves against attackers such as Apaches, Comanches, and Utes. They also contributed auxiliary soldiers to provincial forces under Spain and Mexico, which were used mainly against raiding Indians and to protect merchant caravans on the Santa Fe Trail. After the raiding tribes began to pose less of a threat in the late nineteenth century, Pueblo military societies began to wither away, with the office of war captain changing to civil and religious functions.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Taos Pueblo contains roughly 95,000 acres. Twenty-two civil officers are appointed annually by the traditional religious leadership. The all-male council consists of roughly 60 members (1990).

Economy Most people obtain money by working in Taos and by making and/or selling arts and crafts, especially drums and moccasins but also woodcarvings, weavings, pottery, and rabbit-skin blankets. Tourists also pay parking and camera fees to the Pueblo. There is also some work available with the tribe.

Legal Status Taos Pueblo is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life Although holding on to their identity is increasingly a challenge, Pueblo people have deep roots. In general, change has come very slowly to Taos. Many of the old ceremonies are still performed; the religion is largely intact, as is the language and entire worldview; and there is a very palpable and intentional continuity with the past. Community duties include cleaning irrigation ditches, repairing fences, plastering the church, and dance and other ceremonial activities. English is replacing Spanish as the Pueblo’s second language. Control of their own day school since the 1970s has been a key in maintaining their culture, although most students go to high school in the town of Taos. Taos Pueblo copes with a number of health problems, including diabetes, alcoholism, and drug use.

Since the 1930s, the traditional multistoried pueblos have contained glass windows and some doorways, although no electricity or running water. Now fewer than 100 people live there, and the buildings are falling into disrepair. Most people live in single-family adobe houses, more and more of which include commercial building materials. Buildings outside the old walls have been electrified since 1971, although indoor toilets are still unusual. Some so-called crackerbox houses put up by the Department of Housing and Urban Development also dot the pueblo. The ruined village walls remain important in Taos thought: Anything within them is considered sacred. A few Indians keep summer homes in nearby towns.

Older people still wear the dress of an earlier era, such as braids, blankets, moccasins, simulated leggings, and brightly colored shawls. The extended family remains important. Birth, death, and marriage rituals reflect the Catholic influence. Divorce is becoming more frequent, and interpersonal conflicts are more likely to be handled outside of the pueblo (in state court, for example). An elaborate kiva initiation for boys begins between ages 7 and 10. San Geronimo Day (September 29-30) is the major harvest/feast day. Taos Indians maintain frequent contact with their non-Indian neighbors, yet they retain firm cultural boundaries.

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