Tesuque Pueblo (Native Americans of the Southwest)

Tesuque is a Hispanicization of the Tewa word tecuge, which means "structure at a narrow place" or "dry, spotted place." 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.

Location Tesuque Pueblo is located 9 miles north of Santa Fe, on the Tesuque River.

Population Perhaps 200 people lived at Tesuque Pueblo in 1680. In 1990, 232 Indians lived there, out of a total population of almost 700. There were 488 enrolled members of Tesuque Pueblo in 1993.

Language Tesuque Indians spoke Tewa, a member of the Kiowa-Tanoan language family.

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. In prehistoric times, the Tewa were generally north and west of their present locations and have inhabited numerous prehistoric villages on both sides (though mostly the west side) of the Rio Grande and the Rio Chama.

Two members of the Tesuque tribe at Tesuque Pueblo in the late nineteenth century. Today, Tesuque Pueblo contains roughly 17,000 acres. In 1993 there were 488 enrolled members of Tesuque Pueblo.

Two members of the Tesuque tribe at Tesuque Pueblo in the late nineteenth century. Today, Tesuque Pueblo contains roughly 17,000 acres. In 1993 there were 488 enrolled members of Tesuque Pueblo.

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. Tesuque Pueblo had at least one (unknown) location previous to its present site, which dates from 1694.

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 a mission known as San Lorenzo at Tesuque 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.

In 1680 Pueblo Indians organized and carried out a major revolt against the Spanish. 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 revolt, sending runners carrying cords of maguey fibers to mark the day of rebellion. The revolt began on August 10, 1680, probably at Tesuque. 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 them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso.

Although Pueblo unity did not last, and Santa Fe was officially reconquered in 1692, 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. Tesuque Indians abandoned their pueblo after 1680 but rebuilt it on the present site in 1694.

In general, the Pueblo eighteenth century was marked by smallpox epidemics and increased raiding by the Apache, Comanche, and Ute. Occasionally Pueblo Indians fought with the Spanish against the nomadic tribes. 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. A political rebellion by Indians and Hispanic poor 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. 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. Paradoxically, however, 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.

Especially after 1821, the Pueblos underwent a steady acculturation. Toward the late nineteenth century, the United States reintroduced religious repression. The government and Protestant missionaries branded Indian religious practices as obscene and immoral, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs forcibly removed Indian children to culture-killing boarding schools. As part of the effort to retain their traditions, Indians more deeply embraced customs once seen as alien, such as Catholicism. By the 1880s, railroads had ended the traditional isolation of most pueblos. Instead of treaties, the United States recognized old Spanish land "grants" of pueblo land. Ironically, this put them outside official treaty rights and left them particularly open to exploitation by squatters and thieves.

Tesuque ran out of water in the early twentieth century as a result of diversions by recent Anglo settlers. A series of dams and basins restored much of their water by 1935. Partly because of lobbying from the All Indian Pueblo Council, 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. In the late 1950s, Tesuque Pueblo received no tribal income other than the interest from funds on deposit with the government. Since the late nineteenth century, but especially after the 1960s, Pueblos have had to cope with onslaughts by (mostly white) anthropologists and seekers of Indian spirituality. The region is also known for its significant 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, plus the sun above and the earth below, define and balance the 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. According to tradition, the head of each pueblo is the religious leader, or cacique, whose primary responsibility it is to watch the sun and thereby determine the dates of ceremonies. 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. Especially in the eastern pueblos, most ceremonies are kept secret. Since at least the eighteenth century, Catholicism has strongly influenced traditional religion and ceremonialism.

Winter (Turquoise) and summer (Squash) groups divided the pueblo. Each had a cacique and a kiva. Ceremonial societies included katsina, curing, clowning, hunting, and defense. The caciques and the heads of societies, or priests, ran the religious and the political life of the pueblo. All rituals were performed within the winter-summer context.

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.

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, two lieutenant governors, sheriffs, and fiscales. The authority of their offices was symbolized by canes. Nontraditional positions also often included a ditch boss, who was in charge of the irrigation ditches, as well as a town crier and sacristan. Also, a council of principales (present and former officers) had justice-related responsibilities. The Spanish canes, plus canes given them by President Lincoln, were a symbol of authority. In addition, the All Indian Pueblo Council, dating from 1598, began meeting again in the twentieth century.

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. Pueblo Indians were generally monogamous, and divorce was relatively rare. The dead were ceremonially prepared and quickly buried. Their possessions were broken and placed on the grave, along with food, to help them journey to the spirit land. A vigil of four days and nights was generally observed.

At Tesuque, a summer and a winter cacique, appointed for life, oversaw the pueblo. Society was divided into two patrilineal groups, summer (associated with the Squash kiva) and winter (associated with the Turquoise kiva), which united in times of crisis and for the welfare of the Pueblo. These groups were further divided into relatively weak and ill-defined clans. A number of secret societies also existed. For instance, the warrior society was concerned with hunting, war, crops, fertility, and curing. Each society had its own dances and ritual paraphernalia. Numerous life-cycle rites, as well as songs, crafts, communal activities such as maintenance of irrigation canals, prayer retreats, and performing dances, also ensured that one spent one’s life "becoming" a Tewa.

Dwellings Tesuque Pueblo originally featured apartment-style dwellings of up to five stories constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with pine beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush, and plaster. Floors were of wood plank or packed earth. The roof of one level served as the floor of another. The levels were interconnected by ladders. As an aid to defense, the traditional design included no doors or windows; entry was through the roof. Pit houses, or kivas, served as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. The village plaza, around which the church and all dwellings were clustered, was the spiritual center of the village, a place where all the balanced forces of the world came together.

Diet Before the Spanish arrived, people from Tesuque Pueblo ate primarily corn, beans, and squash. They also grew cotton and tobacco. They hunted deer, mountain lion, and antelope, and they also fished. They also gathered a variety of wild seeds, nuts, berries, and other foods. The Spanish introduced wheat, alfalfa, chilies, fruit trees, grapes, sheep, cattle, and garden vegetables, which soon became part of the regular diet.

Key Technology Tesuque people traditionally diverted water from the Rio Grande via irrigation ditches. They used wood shovels and hoes, stone axes, and woven fiber baskets. They fished with pointed sticks and yucca-fiber nets.

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. 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 the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Tesuque Pueblo traded primarily with other Pueblos, Navajos, and Plains tribes. They traded cornmeal, wheat flour, bread, and woven goods for jerked meat, buffalo robes, pipe pouches, tortoise shells, buckskins, and horses. They also traded for baskets, Navajo blankets, shell and copper ornaments, turquoise, and macaw feathers. 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 manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.

Notable Arts In the Pueblo way, art and life are inseparable. Traditional arts at Tesuque included pottery, weaving, masks, songs, dances, and dramas. Tesuque joined in the great Pueblo arts revival, begun at San Ildefonso in 1919.

Transportation Spanish horses, mules, and cattle arrived at Tesuque in the sixteenth century.

Dress Men wore cotton and buckskin shirts and kilts. Womens’ traditional dress featured buckskin or spun cotton dresses and leather sandals or high moccasin boots. Rabbit skin was also used for clothing and robes.

War and Weapons Though often depicted as passive and docile, most Pueblo peoples 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. Tewas occasionally raided Navajos for goods. After the nomadic 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 Tesuque Pueblo contains roughly 17,000 acres. Government is by tradition, with officers elected annually by the division chiefs. At Tesuque, the office of governor rotates between four men. The fiscales have responsibilities outside of the church. The Tesuques have no sheriff, unlike the other Tewa pueblos. The council, consisting of the officers, past governors, and the war chief, acts as liaison to the outside world. Tesuque is a member of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council.

Economy Many people work in Santa Fe or Los Alamos. Some good pottery is produced, but there is generally little art or crafts. Subsistence farming, the basis of the economy into the 1960s, still exists, as does grazing and sales of timber. Income is also derived from leasing land to non-Indian businesses as well as from a bingo parlor.

Legal Status Tesuque Pueblo is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life Although the project of holding on to their identity is a strong challenge, Pueblo people have deep roots, and in many ways the ancient rhythms and patterns continue. Many of the old ceremonies are still performed; the religion is largely intact, and there is a palpable and intentional continuity with the past. Almost all Tesuques are Catholic. Tesuque was one of the first pueblos to have electricity and housing put up by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in addition to the traditional adobe houses.

Tesuque is traditionally the most conservative of the Tewa pueblos. Many people still speak Tewa, and English has served as a common second language since the 1960s. Children attend a day school on the reservation and public or private high school in Santa Fe. Health problems, including alcoholism and drug abuse, continue to plague the Pueblos. Indian Health Service hospitals often cooperate with native healers. The annual katsina dance in October is closed to outsiders. In 1970, the pueblo entered into an extremely controversial, long-term lease with a non-native company to develop thousands of acres of tribal lands. They also gave up some water rights. After years of litigation, Tesuque canceled the lease in 1976. The annual feast day is November 12.

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