Delivery alert

There may be an issue with the delivery of your newspaper. This alert will expire at NaN. Click here for more info.

Recover password

Pueblo independence celebrated in Jemez

SANTA FE, N.M. — There was no flag waving, no speeches from politicians, nor a parade – save for the group of more than a dozen runners that ran the last leg of a ceremonial run that started in the Walatowa plaza on Jemez Pueblo and finished up the road at the tribe’s ancestral village of Giusewa, now the Jemez Historic Site.

By the time the runners finished midmorning last Sunday, few of the hundreds of people who came out for Pueblo Independence Day were on hand to witness perhaps the most poignant part of the commemoration of the start of the Pueblo Revolt on Aug. 10, 1680, which changed the course of history in New Mexico.

Eugene Tafoya, left, of Jemez Pueblo, and Michael Garcia, of Acoma Pueblo, prepare to climb down into the kiva after completing the pilgrimage run.

Eugene Tafoya, left, of Jemez Pueblo, and Michael Garcia, of Acoma Pueblo, prepare to climb down into the kiva after completing the pilgrimage run. ( T.S. Last/Albuquerque Journal)

After completing the approximately 10-mile pilgrimage, the runners climbed down a wooden ladder into a kiva, where they were met by the head of the fall season clown society.

“The head man of the society gives a talk, and gives thanks and prays for good health and a good hunting season,” Eugene Tafoya, a part of the tribal leadership at Jemez Pueblo, said of the subterranean ceremony. “It’s very important to us because it has to do with the site here and carrying on our traditions.”

Sometimes called America’s first revolution, pueblos in northern New Mexico in 1680 revolted against the Spanish.

The Spanish were driven out, but returned 12 years later in what history has sometimes falsely painted as a bloodless reconquest.

To be sure, blood was shed and horrid acts of violence were committed on both sides of the conflict. And while, 400 years later, the Native, Spanish and Anglo cultures have blended to make New Mexico a culturally rich and diverse place, resentments between the races still linger.

In recent years, Native groups have disrupted the “Entrada” – intended as a re-enactment of the Spaniards’ return to northern New Mexico that is held during the Santa Fe Fiesta every September – with protest.

The protesters say the Entrada is revisionist history, inaccurately portraying the Spanish as being welcomed back by Pueblo people.

Organizers of the Entrada say there was in fact a peaceful moment when Don Diego de Vargas led the Spanish return to Santa Fe, and that the script for the re-enactment has been revised and other changes have been made to make the event more inclusive.

Another protest at this year’s Entrada, scheduled on the downtown Plaza on Sept. 8, seems likely. At an anti-racism rally on the Plaza earlier this week, a small group took up a chant of “Abolish the Entrada,” just as protesters did during last year’s Entrada.

Running an important tradition

During last Sunday’s run to Jemez Historic Site, Tafoya wore a belt with loose shells attached that jingled as he ran “to let our ancestors know we’ve come,” he said.

Running is one of the traditions practiced by the Jemez people and on other pueblos, and centuries ago it served as their line of communication.

“Back in the early days, if you wanted to get a message to one of the other pueblos before the sun went down, you’d run,” said Cornell Magdalena, an authority on the pueblo’s running tradition.

He talks about local heroes like Steve Gachupin, who won the Pikes Peak marathon six straight years from 1966 to 1971, and the La Luz trail run up Sandia Mountain five times, and Al Waquie, who won La Luz eight straight times (1977-85), the Pikes Peak marathon twice and the Empire State Building Stair Climb six straight times. The running tradition has propelled Jemez Valley High School to numerous boys and girls cross-country state championships.

“We still practice our way of life and this helps educate our children so they know, and when they get older they can pass it on to the next generation,” said Tafoya, who says the Jemez people today “live in two worlds.”

Running also played a key role in the Pueblo Revolt.

Po’pay, a leader of the revolt from Ohkay Owingeh, sent runners carrying knotted cords to all the pueblos. The leadership at each pueblo was instructed to untie one knot each morning. After the last knot was untied, it was time for them all to rise up in unison against the Spanish.

Michael Garcia, of Acoma Pueblo, carries a knotted cord in one hand and a prayer staff in the other to honor his ancestors who fought the Spanish

Michael Garcia, of Acoma Pueblo, carries a knotted cord in one hand and a prayer staff in the other to honor his ancestors who fought the Spanish.

Michael Garcia of Acoma Pueblo carried such a cord during the run on Sunday. In the other hand, he clutched a prayer staff, attached to which were two eagle feathers, two hawk feathers, his grandfather’s World War II service pin and a button from the Veteran Freedom March.

“To me, running is a form of spirituality, a form of prayer,” he said. “The prayer staff is symbolic and a way to carry out our prayers.”

Also tied at the tip of the staff was a much smaller cord with 20 knots.

“The first 19 represent each of the pueblos,” he explains. “The last one represents the Hopi, because that’s how far the messengers went.”

Garcia says last Sunday’s run was a way to commemorate the message runners of the Pueblo Revolt, give thanks and honor the pueblo’s ancestors for the sacrifices they made.

He also wore a deerskin pouch filled with cornmeal “to give a prayer offering when I run.”

Garcia said remembering the revolt, and remembering ancestors, is important.

“Had it not been for our ancestors, I don’t think any of us (pueblo people) would be around today,” he said, believing that the Spanish would have forced them to give up their ways and religion.

Name change expands scope

Marlon Magdalena, Cornell’s nephew, works at Jemez Historic Site as instructional coordinator.

He says this is the 14th year they’ve held a Pueblo Independence Day at the site.

The first two years, actually, were in remembrance of the July 24, 1694, battle that took place at Maqyashi, or Thumb Mesa, he said.

Two years after de Vargas led the Spanish resettlement of northern New Mexico, and with the help of allies from Santa Ana and Zia pueblos, the Spanish attacked a Jemez settlement atop Thumb Mesa, a few miles north of the current Jemez Pueblo. More than 80 Jemez people died, some burned alive in their homes and others leaping off a cliff to avoid being one of the more than 350 people taken captive.

Magdalena said the tribute was changed to a Pueblo Independence Day event to expand the scope and include other pueblos, though few others from outside Jemez showed up on Sunday.

“The primary reason for doing this is to educate people about the Pueblo Revolt and why it’s important,” he said.

The Spanish had come to “Christianize” and impose their ways upon the pueblo people.

“They changed our way of life,” he said.

Many pueblo people relented, succumbing to the Spanish, paying them taxes in the form of food and blankets, and adopting their religion. But others resisted and fought back – the Cross of the Martyrs overlooking downtown Santa Fe commemorates 21 Franciscan friars killed in the warfare.

But little was said about the revolt during Sunday’s low-key day of commemoration. The speakers were few and those who spoke – including Matthew Barbour and Patrick Moore with the state Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees operation of the historic site, and Magdalena – kept their comments brief and spoke mostly about their affection for the Jemez Historic Site and its significance.

“Most people come here to see the mission,” Magdalena said in an interview. “But people don’t remember this was a Jemez village long before the Spanish arrived.”

The village of Giusewa is believed to have been first occupied in the 1300s.

The San Jose de los Jemez Mission, with its stone walls 7 feet thick in some places and a bell tower rising to a height of 50 feet, was built around 1623 using the Jemez people at Giusewa as slave labor. The mission is believed to have been in use for only about 20 years, the Franciscans choosing to concentrate efforts to convert the Jemez people at the San Diego de la Congregacion mission at Walatowa.

Visitors were left to learn about the conflict by perusing the displays at the visitors center, and reading the information boards along a trail that winds through the ruins of the Giusewa village and mission church.

“The oppression bred resentment and led to several uprisings. The people of Giusewa burned the church and killed the priest,” says one panel inside the visitors center. “The Spanish returned, and in time we accepted portions of Catholicism and incorporated some of its beliefs with ours.”

Magdalena said the history of the Pueblo Revolt is complicated, even for the pueblo people. Many of them sided with the Spanish and it created divisions within their own people.

“It’s not a one-sided story, or even a two-sided story,” he said, “and some pueblo people were caught in the middle.”

But those details weren’t part of Sunday’s festivities. It was instead a celebration of the culture that survived the revolt.

“We celebrate through dance and music,” said Magdalena, an accomplished flutist who was wearing a flute he made from the wing bone of an eagle encased in a pouch around his neck.

Young dancers from Jemez Day School perform the rainbow dance as part of the festivities for Pueblo Independence Day

Young dancers from Jemez Day School perform the rainbow dance as part of the festivities for Pueblo Independence Day.

The event included a few dozen vendors, who sold handmade jewelry, pottery and clothing. Attendees could sample fry bread, Indian tacos and atole, a drink made from blue cornmeal. Drummers and dancers performed throughout the day.

Dave and Elise Peixotto, who live in Bernalillo, but have a cabin in Jemez Springs, were among the visitors and were familiar with the Pueblo Revolt.

Drummers keep the beat for dancers as part of the festivities for Pueblo Independence Day

Drummers keep the beat for dancers as part of the festivities for Pueblo Independence Day. (T.S. Last/Albuquerque Journal)

“It was certainly historically significant to this area and it’s nice to see that it is recognized as the significant event it was,” Elise said.

The day after an ugly clash between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly, Elise said the celebration of Pueblo Independence Day was timely.

“It’s interesting, time-wise, with the current events, because it’s about people being repressed and minimized, and these people would not be repressed,” she said. “They have such a beautiful culture, and they’ve been able to maintain their traditions, language and culture. This country was built on diversity and we need to embrace that.”

Albuquerque Journal seeks stories of our community's pandemic loss

If you’ve lost a loved one to COVID-19 and would like for the person to be included in an online memorial the Journal plans to publish, please email a high-resolution photo and a sentence about the person to Please email
Please include your contact information so we can verify, and your loved one’s name, age, community where they lived and something you want our readers to know about them.