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The First American Revolutions

By the middle of the 17th century, after half a century of tyranny, certain of the Pueblo Indian groups were moved to a desperate action. They forged an alliance with their hereditary foes, the Apaches, who were envied and feared for their skill as warriors (the very word apache comes from a Zuni term meaning enemy). After several abortive attempts at rebellion, the Apaches seized the initiative and, during the 1670s, terrorized the Spanish Southwest. In this they were soon joined by people of the pueblos, who waged a long and disruptive guerrilla war against their Spanish masters. At last, Governor Antonio de Oterrmin moved against 47 so-called medicine men whom he identified as ringleaders of the rebellion. He hanged three and imprisoned the remainder in Santa Fe, the territorial capital. Among the prisoners was an Indian leader from the Tewa pueblo named Pope. Released after several years of cruel imprisonment, Pope went into hiding in Taos and began covertly organizing what he planned as a final, decisive rebellion.

Despite almost universal outrage among the pueblos, achieving unified action was no easy task. Pope managed to persuade all but the most remote pueblos (which were least oppressed by the Spanish) to join him. Next, in order to coordinate action, he sent runners to the various towns, each bearing a knotted cord designed so that the last knot would be untied in each pueblo on the day set for the revolt: August 13, 1680. So determined was Pope to maintain secrecy that he had his brother-in-law murdered when he suspected him of treachery. Despite such precautions, word of the rebellion leaked to the colonial authorities, and Pope was forced to launch his revolution early, on the 10th. Despite the sudden change in schedule, the rebellion was devastating to the Spanish. The major missions at Taos, Pecos, and Acoma were burned and the priests murdered, their bodies heaped upon the altars of their despised religion. The lesser missions were crushed as well, and ranches were destroyed. Those who did not flee were killed. At last, on August 15, Pope led a 500-man army into Santa Fe. Four hundred settlers and 21 of 33 missionaries perished. Although the armed garrison at Santa Fe consisted of only 50 men, they were equipped with. a brass cannon, which they used to resist the invasion for four days before evacuatingGovernor Oterrmin includedon August 21. Some 2,500 survivors of the onslaught fled as far as present-day El Paso, Texas, abandoning all their possessions to looters.

Sadly for the Native people of the pueblos, Pope capped his triumph by installing himself as absolute dictator and one who was as oppressive as any Spanish overlord had been. For the next eight years, he extorted a ruinous tax from his people, executing anyone who resisted. By the time of Popes death (from natural causes) in 1688, the pueblo region was in a state of chronic civil war. The Indians were vulnerable, and, a year after Popes death, the Zia Pueblo was retaken by the Spanish. In 1692, Governor Don Diego de Vargas laid siege to Santa Fe, entirely cutting off its water and food until it collapsed in surrender. During the course of the next four years, all of the pueblos submitted once again to Spanish rule, except for the Hopis, who were somehow simply overlooked by colonial authorities.

All was not entirely quiet. In 1695, the Pima Indians of lower Pimeria Alta-the region of present-day Sonora, Mexico, and southern Arizona-looted and burned Spanish settlements. The uprising was quickly suppressed, and more than 50 years would pass before the Pimasthese of upper Pimeria Alta, many descended from earlier rebels who had fled northstaged another uprising, which degenerated into a century and a half of smoldering guerrilla warsfirst against the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and finally the Americans.


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