Ancient & Modern Pueblos – Oldest Cities in the U.S.

Taos Pueblo and River

Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2008.

Situated throughout the southwest are dozens of historic pueblos, some of which date back for centuries. These Pre-Columbian towns and villages, which are primarily located in the American Southwest, were often situated in defensive positions on high mesas, cliffs, and in canyons.

The term “pueblo” was first used by Spanish Explorers to describe the communities they found that consisted of apartment-like structures made of stone, adobe mud, and other local material. “Pueblo” also applied to the people who lived in these villages, which meant in Spanish “stone masonry village dweller.”

The Pueblo Indians, who built these communities, are thought to be the descendants of three major cultures including the Mogollon, Hohokam, and Ancient Puebloans, with their history tracing back for some 7,000 years.

These apartment-like structures, sometimes several stories high often surrounded an open plaza and were occupied by hundreds of thousands of Pueblo People.

The structures were usually made of cut sandstone or sun-dried bricks faced with adobe — a combination of earth mixed with straw and water. The outer walls were very thick, sometimes several feet, which provided not only insulation but, also defense. Normally, outer walls had no doors or windows, but rather, openings on the roofs with ladders leading into the interior. In case of an attack, outside ladders could easily be pulled up. The buildings had flat roofs, which served as working or resting places, as well as observation points. Each family generally lived in just 1-2 rooms. Each pueblo was an independent and separate community, though many shared similarities in language, customs, and leaders.

Today, many of these centuries-old adobe pueblos are still maintained and occupied and Pueblo Indian tribes number about 35,000 people who live primarily in New Mexico and Arizona along the Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers. Most of the pueblos are 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.

In addition to contemporary pueblos, there are numerous ruins of ancient communities throughout the Southwest.

Inhabited Pueblos:

Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico by Detroit Photographic Co., about 1900

Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico by Detroit Photographic Co., about 1900

Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico –  Also called “Sky City, the Acoma Pueblo, located 12 miles East of Grants, New Mexico, is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement within the United States, dating from the twelfth century. Sitting atop a 367-foot sandstone bluff, only about 50 people now inhabit the ancient town, which has no electricity or running water. Today, most of the Acoma people live in the nearby communities of Acomita, Anzac, and McCartys, New Mexico. The pueblo provides a museum, visitor center, casino, hotel and shops. Permission needed for cameras and tours. Contact information: Acoma Pueblo, P.O. Box 309, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico 87034; 888-759-2489 or 505-552-6604. See article HERE.

Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico – The northernmost Keresan Pueblo in New Mexico, the old community is located about 35 miles southwest of Santa Fe. The pueblo administers 53,779 acres of reservation land and possesses concurrent jurisdiction over the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The people of Cochiti continue to retain their native language of Keres. They maintain their cultural practices and have instituted programs dedicated to teaching and educating the younger generations in pueblo traditions and cultural practices emphasizing the native language. The Cochiti are well known for their craftsmanship in making jewelry, pottery, and drums. Visitors are welcome at the 1628 church and during certain ceremonies, as well as at Cochiti Lake. Photos and sketching are prohibited. Contact information: Cochiti Pueblo, 255 Cochiti Street, P.O. Box 70, Cochiti, New Mexico 87072; 505- 465-2244.

Hopi Pueblo

Hopi Pueblo

Hopi Tribe, Arizona – The Hopi Indians trace their history in Arizona to more than 2,000 years, but their history goes back many more thousands of years, as their legends tell they migrated north to Arizona from the south, up from what is now South America, Central America and Mexico. Their present villages were settled around 700 A.D. The Hopi Reservation today, located in northeastern Arizona occupies some 1.5 million acres with several pueblos, most notably Walpi and Old Oraibi. Most villages are closed to their Kachina dances but some social dances remain open to the public. Photography, sketching, and recordings are prohibited. Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, P.O. Box 123, Kykotsmovi, Arizona  86039; 928-734-2441. See article HERE.

Isletta Pueblo, New Mexico – Isleta Pueblo was established prior to the 1598 Spanish occupation of New Mexico and was burned during the Spanish attempt to re-conquer the area following the 1680 Great Pueblo Revolt. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Isleta became one of the largest and most prosperous pueblos in New Mexico and was noted for its crops and orchards. The oldest section consists of adobe buildings around a central plaza surrounded by cultivated lands. Contact information: Isleta Pueblo, PO Box 1270, Isleta, New Mexico 87022; 505-869-3111. It is located 15 miles south of Albuquerque off I-25. See article HERE.

Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico – The last remaining Towa-speaking pueblo, the Jemez absorbed the Towa-speaking survivors of Pecos Pueblo when it Pecos was abandoned in the 1830’s. Today, the Jemez Nation is a federally recognized American Indian tribe with some 3,400 tribal members. The pueblo itself is closed to the public except during feast days. However, Walatowa, the main village, is open to the public. Nearby is Jemez Red Rocks Recreation Area, Jemez Springs, and Jemez State Monument. Photography, sketching, and recording are prohibited at pueblo. Located about 30 miles northwest of Bernalillo via NM44. Pueblo of Jemez-Walatowa Visitor Center, 7413 Hwy 4, P.O. Box 280, Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico 87024; (575) 834-7235.

Santo Domingo Peddler, Carl E. Moon, 1906

Santo Domingo Peddler, Carl E. Moon, 1906

Kewa Pueblo, New Mexico – Formerly called the Santo Domingo Pueblo, these people descending from Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi Indians living at Mesa Verde, Colorado and Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The Kewa Pueblo is located near the ancient Cerrillos turquoise mines north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of the largest of the eastern Keresan-speaking pueblos, the Kewa people have a long history of making fine jewelry and pottery. A cultural center and small museum provide opportunities for visitors to learn more about the pueblo, which is home to more than 3,100 people. The pueblo is located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque off I-25 at exit 259, then north four miles on NM 22, and west one mile on a local road. 505-465-2214. See article HERE.

St. Joseph Church at Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico

St. Joseph Church at Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico –  With their Kares speaking ancestors dating as far back as 3000 B.C., the pueblo was established about 1300 A.D. Located west of Albuquerque, it is composed of six villages including Old Laguna, Paguate, Mesita, Paraje, Encinal, and Seama. Each town has its own fair and feast day. Today, the villages are called home to some 3,800 tribal members. The interstate and historic Route 66 bisect the heart of the 42-square-mile pueblo lands. The pueblo is located 45 miles west of Albuquerque off I-40. Photography and sketching prohibited on the land but welcomed at historic 1699 San Jose Mission Church. Contact information: Laguna Pueblo, P.O. Box 194, Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico 87026; 505-552-6654. See article HERE!

1 thought on “Ancient & Modern Pueblos – Oldest Cities in the U.S.”

  1. i have stumbled upon an older civilization of native healers who while not known by name were perhaps the origin of southwestern native american medicine. i have no other resource except a tale told to me while in college in pueblo, colorado. if anyone knows about this lost race please contact me at thank you.

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