- Oldest Culture in the U.S.
The Pueblo Indians, situated in the
Southwestern United States, are one of the oldest cultures in the nation. Their name is Spanish for "stone masonry village dweller.” They
are believed to be the descendants of three major cultures including the
Puebloans (Anasazi), with their
history tracing back for some 7,000 years.
During their long history, the
Ancient Puebloans evolved from a nomadic,
hunter-gathering lifestyle to a sedentary culture, primarily making their
homes in the Four Corners region of
Though they didn’t give up hunting, they began to expand into an
agricultural culture, growing maize, corn, squash and beans; raising
turkeys, and developing complex irrigation systems.
They also developed
great skills in basket weaving and pottery making. It was during this
time that they also began building villages, often on top of high
mesas or in hollowed-out natural caves at the base of canyons. These
multiple-room dwellings and apartment like complexes, designed with
stone or adobe masonry, were the forerunner of the later
Ancient Puebloans way of life
declined in the 1300's, probably due to drought and intertribal warfare
and they migrated south, primarily into New Mexico and Arizona,
becoming what is today known as the Pueblo people.
Little has changed at the Taos Pueblo in the last
century, September, 2008, Kathy Weiser.
This photo available for prints & downloads
For hundreds of
years, these Pueblo descendants continued to live a similar lifestyle,
continuing to survive by hunting and farming, and also building "new”
apartment-like structures, sometimes several stories high. These
structures were made cut sandstone faced with adobe -- a combination
of earth mixed with straw and water; or the adobe was poured into
forms or made into sun-dried bricks to build walls that are often
several feet thick. The buildings had flat roofs, which served as
working or resting places, as well as observation points to watch for
approaching enemies and view ceremonial occasions. For better defense,
the outer walls generally had no doors or windows, but instead, window
openings in the roofs, with ladders leading into the interior.
Each family generally
lived in a single room of the building unless they grew too large, at
which time; side-rooms were sometimes added. The houses of the pueblo
were usually built around a central, open space or plaza in the middle
of which was a "kiva,” a sunken chamber used for religious purposes.
Each pueblo was an
independent and separate community, though many shared similarities in
language and customs. Each pueblo had its own chief, and sometimes two
chiefs, a summer and winter chief, who alternated. Most important
affairs, such was war, hunting, religion and agriculture; however,
were governed by priesthoods or secret societies.
The Pueblo people continued to utilize
irrigation methods to grow corn, beans, pumpkins, cotton and tobacco.
In the beginning, they hunted with spears, rather than bow and arrows,
but were never known to fish. The only domestic animal was the dog,
which was used as a beast of burden. They also continued to make
elaborate baskets and pottery, as well as becoming expert wood carvers
and decorating ceremonial clothing with shells, turquoise, feathers
The vast majority of
Pueblo tribes lived in a clan system, with many of the
Hopi, Zuni, Keres, and Jemez, descending matrilineally. Thus, the
women owned the house and garden, providing them with more respect than in
other northern tribes of the times.
Their traditional enemies before Europeans
began to inhabit the area were the
Francesco Vasquez de Coronado
The Zuni were the first to become known to the
Europeans in 1539 when Fray Marcos of Niza, a Franciscan, journeyed
northward from Mexico, in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola.
When guides were sent forward, they discovered the Zuni settlement of
Hawikuh. and though they were killed by the
Fray Marcos continued on, long enough to plant
a cross and declare his "find" part of New Spain. He then returned to
Mexico with glowing reports.
Soon, a new expedition
was organized under Francesco Vasquez de Coronado was sent into the
region arriving in July, 1540 and taking the Zuni community before
expanding into other parts of what is now New Mexico and Arizona. The
Spaniards first found the
Indians friendly, but after wielding their
authority and forcing their religion upon the
Americans, they begin
to resist resulting in the Tiguex War during the winter of 1540-41. After
putting down the
Indians, killing thousands of them, Coronado continued in
his journey as far as
Quivira in central Kansas.
The war with the
in New Mexico and the many diseases that the Spanish brought later
resulted in the abandonment of many of the pueblos. Afterwards, Europeans
were no longer welcomed at the pueblos and were often attacked. This;
however, did not stop the Spanish missionaries and many new inhabitants
who would come later.
By 1617, eleven
Franciscan churches had been built and some 14,000 natives baptized and by
1637, 43 missions stood on or near the pueblos. However, in 1680, the
rose up again against the Spaniards in what is known as the Pueblo Revolt,
which successfully expelled the Spanish for 12 years.
However, the Spanish re-conquered the pueblos in 1692 and aggressively
began to civilize the
by again bringing in numerous priests and forcing Christianity upon them.
Though many of the
Pueblo Indians were converted, their lifestyle changed little except for the
addition of new animals and crops into their midst, including horses,
cattle, sheep and goats; as well as agricultural products such as peaches,
wheat, grapes and apples.
With the re-conquest,
most of the tribes settled down, though
there was only minor intermittent resistance until June, 1696, when about
half of the pueblos rose again,
killing five missionaries and a number of other Spaniards. The natives
were once again forced into submission by the Spanish.
By 1800 there were only
about eleven missions still in use and by 1811, only five missionaries in
the nineteen pueblos of New Mexico.
In 1821, Mexico became independent from Spain and though mission support
further declined, some Taos
once again attempted a revolution but were soon defeated. The final revolt
occurred in January, 1847 when
Taos Indians once again revolted, this time against the newly established
American government, killing Governor Charles Bent, and about twenty other
Americans. In retaliation, their pueblo was stormed by U.S. Troops who
killed some 150
Indians, destroyed the San Geronimo Mission, and
afterwards, executed 16
Indians for their part in the revolt.
Today, the inhabited
pueblos are governed by their tribes and though the vast majority, with
the exception of the Hopi of Arizona and about ˝ of the Laguna members,
remains Catholic, they also adhere to their ancient rites.
Numbering about 35,000 tribal members, today’s Pueblo
Indians live primarily in
New Mexico and
Arizona along the Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers. Most of the
open to the public and many of their ceremonies can be attended. Each
pueblo has its own rules and etiquette for visitors, which should be
reviewed before visiting.
of America, updated January, 2016.
Pueblo Peoples Slideshow:
All images available for photo prints & editorial downloads
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