Indigenous Archaeology and the Pueblo Revolt

The Jemez mission of Guisewa. Photo by Michael Wilcox

The widely held, history-book narrative of Native peoples in America is one of conquest and devastation, of Indigenous cultures long ago wiped out by acculturation, violence and disease. Michael Wilcox, author of The Pueblo Revolt and the Mythology of Conquest, finds that this narrative is a myth, and needs to be reexamined.

In fact, Native peoples repeatedly resisted conquest, in revolts that are documented in Spanish records and in Indigenous oral traditions, but omitted from history books. The Spanish accounts reveal the extent of colonial brutality, as well as how ideology served to rationalize and quiet moral conflict about their actions. And far from vanishing, Native cultures still exist today. “The presence of four and a half million Native Americans in the United States is a complete mystery to most people. There is no story that explains what they are still doing here”, said Wilcox, quoted in the Stanford Report. Rather than trying to explain the supposed disappearance of Native cultures, Wilcox asks the more interesting question of how to understand their continued presence, and how to reconcile the European conquest narrative with the Native American narrative of resistance.

Wilcox explores one of the most successful Indigenous revolts in America, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when Pueblo leaders expelled Spanish colonists from New Mexico in an organized attack. Dispelling the myth that Native Americans swiftly succumbed to acculturation and disease brought by Europeans, Wilcox takes an indigenous approach that explains both the continued presence of Native Americans and instances of resistance like the Pueblo Revolt. He shows how an indigenous archaeology can bridge the gap between the study of Native American cultures and the living members of those cultures. In this video from Stanford University, Wilcox discusses the Pueblo Revolt and its implications for today.

5 thoughts on “Indigenous Archaeology and the Pueblo Revolt

  1. The Following article appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on March 28, 2010. The Author is Karen Peterson.

    Front Page north

    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    Conflict of ‘The Conquest’ Continues to This Day

    By Karen Peterson
    Of the Journal
    Stanford University professor Michael Wilcox has been getting hate mail from New Mexico. He’s been called “a fool” and a “clown,” “Dr. Jackass” and a “tap-dancing moron.” A perpetuator of “hateful propaganda,” someone who deserves “anything badly that is said of him.”
    Wilcox says he was stunned by the e-mail onslaught that followed a recent newspaper report on his new book re-examining the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and what he calls “the mythology of conquest” from the perspective of the archaeology, anthropology and the American Indians.
    “I thought I might get backlash from the Pueblo people first, because they don’t like other people telling their story,” he said.
    Instead, he said, the critics seem to be from old New Mexico families.
    “It was the exact phenomena I describe in the book — the desire to maintain and defend a narrative written from a Colonial perspective,” he said.
    Wilcox’s book is not quite what those critics, who include members of the Hispanic Roundtable and the League of United Latin American Citizens, suppose: yet another Anglo-American exposition of the evil ways of the Spanish conquistadors who invaded the Southwest in the late 16th century and thinly settled it before the Pueblo Revolt briefly expelled them from what is now New Mexico.
    In fact, Wilcox thinks that “Black Legend” of the Spanish conquest has lost all usefulness as a historical interpretation except, he says, that it continues to unfortunately suggest “that Spanish Colonial violence was a fiction.”
    Fictionalizing violence (as “legend”) has something in common with another common historical interpretation of the European invasion of the New World that Wilcox believes is equally worthless — namely, that disease, not human action alone, was the prime mover in the subjugation of native people and the destruction of their culture.
    Both views of history, he writes, perpetuate a “mythology that is equally damaging to Native Americans: the Invisible Indian.”
    “Native Americans literally disappear from most history texts soon after contact,” he said. “Very little scholarship has been devoted to explaining what Native Americans are still doing here. We have been ‘disappearing’ longer than any group on the planet.”
    Not only Pueblo Revolt but also New Mexico’s contemporary culture and customs offer abundant evidence that the Indians were not invisible and didn’t “disappear” because of either new diseases or because they were absorbed by the conquering cultures, says Wilcox.
    Just take a look at Pueblo ceremonial dances, he explains. Both illustrate how New Mexico’s three cultures did and continue to coexist — the dances combine Pueblo religious rituals with Catholic observances in a public display for spectators who may not know anything about either.
    “As an outsider,” Wilcox says of his experience watching the Corn Dance at Cochiti Pueblo, where some of his research was conducted, “I don’t get to know what the dance means. The (Catholic) priest doesn’t get to know. But the Pueblo community knows.
    “It demonstrates first that as an outsider, you’re not allowed to know, and second it’s a negotiation between the Catholic world and the ancient world,” he said. “Among other things, it seems to work out the tension between those two conflicting identities.”
    New Mexico’s famous “tricultural heritage” is both rooted in and a product of conflict, says Wilcox — between the Spanish and the Indians beginning in the 16th century and, three centuries later, between the Spanish (who were by the 19th century Mexican) and another round of invaders from the U.S.
    Both the Colonial record written by the Spanish and the archaeological record — which shows that Pueblo peoples often fled their settlements in the Rio Grande Valley for defensive sites in the nearby mountains or joined the Navajo and other nomadic tribes — detail clear evidence of those conflicts, Wilcox said. Pueblo people used migration and mobility as a means of protecting themselves from labor and tribute demands, as well as forcible conversion.
    “What creates very powerful social identities is persecution,” he said. “People who are persecuted understand themselves in a very different way than people who are not.”
    Wilcox’s approach is not so unusual these days — increasingly, scholars have undertaken to include the Indian point of view in their discussions of the Spanish Colonial frontier. Recent examples include Ramón A. Gutierrez, a history professor at the University of California, San Diego, who described the Spanish Catholic impact on Pueblo marriage customs and religion in his 1991 book, “When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away.” And, in 2001, James Brooks took a look at slavery — Indians enslaved by the Spanish, as well as vice versa — and described its impact on the early New Mexico community in “Captives and Cousins.”
    And Wilcox notes that he, like nearly every other historian, gleaned most of his facts about the role of violence in the Spanish occupation from official documents written by the Spanish themselves. In contrast, “the Colonial ventures of English settlement in the seventeenth century were equally brutal,” he writes. But those accounts were “locked in the internal communiques of some of the word’s first transnational corporations,” like the joint stock company formed to colonize Jamestown, and “the moral justifications for both slavery and the forcible removal of the Indians were never seriously debated” as they were in Spain.
    “The (Spanish) documentary history reveals a people and a nation deeply concerned with the morality and ethics of colonization,” he said. “But this made little sense to the Pueblos.”
    Wilcox offers his own family history as an example of how New Mexico maintains the idea of tricultural harmony in the face of a past full of evidence to the contrary.
    His father’s family was Yuman (Quechan) from the borders of California, Arizona and Mexico, although Wilcox claims no tribal membership himself. His father grew up in a Spanish-speaking home in East Los Angeles. Wilcox’s mother was Irish.
    “Ethnicity and identity are often pretty messy, and I’m no different in that regard,” he said.
    “New Mexico works — and immigrant-based, multiethnic societies work — because people forget where they came from,” he says. “Writing this kind of history stirs up memories — I think all this anger (about the book) is directed at me because people still haven’t come to terms with the conflicts.”
    “The Pueblo Revolt and the Mythology of Conquest: An Indigenous Archaeology of Conquest” by Michael Wilcox, University of California Press, 2009.
    Blog about this book at

  2. I sent the following message in response to the messages I received via email and telephone:

    Thank you for your thoughtful remarks and comments. You certainly dont have to, but before responding to a newspaper article about the book, it might be helpful to have a look at the book. I’ll send your group a copy if you like. But it might be helpful to think about a few ideas before attacking me personally:

    Is Spanish colonization the same thing as Hispanic culture?

    Aren’t Indigenous People an important part of Hispanic culture in the Southwest?

    The Pueblos spoke Spanish almost exclusively until the early 20th century. Are they not part of hispanic culture too?

    Remember, all of the criticisms in my book of Spanish colonial policies were not dreamt up by me- they were written by the Spanish colonists themselves. I was not there, but they were. How do any of the people on this list know that their ancestors were not the ones who were writing the letters, making the reports and testifying in court against those who were guilty of violence? How do we know that our names are not among the protesters? Why identify with the aggressors?

    Being critical of Spanish colonial policy is really quite different from criticizing Hispanic culture. Hispanic culture and history is not one thing, but many. Did you know that Charles V ( the king of Spain at the time of the entradas) was ethnically German? Or that the idea of a single Spanish national identity was always contested? most recently being imposed by General Franco upon the Basques, the Catalans, Galicians etc. in the 1940’s? Spain is also not one thing or one idea. Spain was internally stratified in a hierarchy of Old Christians, Converts, Jews and Moors. That worldview was projected upon the Americas and many of our ancestors (mine included) had to struggle against the rigidity and limitations imposed by Spanish colonial rule. That’s what the book is really about. Some of you might actually find it interesting.

    I have actually lived in Spain- In Sevilla, with a very conservative religious family. Spain is a wonderful country, and I love New Mexican culture- all of it. And the anti-hispanic racism in America is very real. I write about that in the book too, but I have the sinking suspicion that no one who attacked me had actually read the book. There is a whole section in there about the black legend.

    I think that we should all consider that our freedoms have been won only through struggle- We enjoy free speech, freedom to congregate, freedom to worship, freedom to own property and the ability to defend our rights in courts. With the exception of the last one (freedom to testify in court), none of these options were available to the Pueblos or any other Indian until the 20th century in Mexico. Many of the revolutions fought in mexico were organized by Indigenous Peoples, Clergy AND Mestizos in an effort to liberate themselves from Spanish colonial policies and authority. They were certainly critical of Spanish colonization. Does that make them anti-Hispanic?

    Finally, can you imagine a world in which images of Jesus were confiscated, religious services and prayer were outlawed and priests arrested? This may seem absurd, but this is what Pueblo people told me that their ancestors endured. It is a difficult history, but there is no doubt that these things happened in New Mexico.

    I’d be happy to have a dialogue with you or even talk about my book to you. I think that the publisher is making a blog. If they set it up I’ll be happy to list your comments, but please, take a look at the book first.

    Many thanks for your responses,

    Most sincerely,

    Michael Wilcox
    Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

  3. Since the publication of this book, I’ve received a number of comments via email. Below is a sample of the responses I have received:

    (Message One)—————————————————

    Dr. Wilcox,

    Maybe you should live the life of a New Mexican before you try and distance learn about New Mexico from Harvard or Stanford. I can care less what schools you have attended, if you haven’t lived the life here in New Mexico, you don’t know a damn thing about us, the relationship we have with our Native American brothers and sisters or the history and contemporary life we lead.

    It is tap dancing morons like you who are full of BS (for lack of a better term) that perpetuate the Black Legend in your efforts to advance themselves and your jellyfish backbone careers to please and kiss the coat tails of your Department Heads.

    Read some of the e-mails below and get a REAL education Dr. Jackass!! It’s hard to get a true historical perspective by distance learning. Maybe after reading and researching this information you will have something real to present that is backed by facts and dates.

    Ralph Arellanes,
    Chairman, Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico

    (Message Two)——————————————————-

    Sent: Monday, March 15, 2010 5:58:09 PM GMT -07:00 US/Canada Mountain
    Subject: Re: Spanish cruelty?

    Ruben… Another example of why your periodic “FORUMS”… and articles like my “The Hispanic Inferiority Complex in New Mexico” are so important….! To inform and teach those who read books by the Wilcox’s and statements like Sharpe’s… that there IS another side to the myth’s promulgated by those who would paint all Hispanos with the broad brush of masked hatred…!
    The conspiracy to promote the Black Legend lives on…

    Left unchallenged, the world would have all Hispanos nailed to crosses in order to shift equal and greater crimes they commit.., off THEIR backs and onto ours…!!!

    As usual, your response is right on and as we all know, there is much more that you could have said…!

    After so many years, the cry against all Hispanos of “Remember the Alamo” is still heard loud and clear, even if only in more modern terms and smoother dialect…. but the hatred against Hispanos is still the same………

    Louis F. Serna

    (Message Three)——————————————————-

    RE: “The Pueblo Revolt and the Mythology of Conquest”.
    Author is: Michael V. Wilcox.
    Publisher is: The Univ. of California Press.

    The front page article in the NEW MEXICAN is by: Tom Sharpe – and the first para starts off:

    “The Spanish conquest of New Mexico was even more brutal then
    has been depicted in history, a Stanford Univ. anthropologist says
    in a new book.” Also “Since the 1880’s, historians have downplayed
    the “Black Legend” of Spanish atrocities as Anti-Hispanic, but
    Wilcox’s book documents horrific violence in the colonial southwest.”

    Comparative History: Indian Affairs

    Spain, its people and its Church, are often accused of cruelty toward Indians. Most Americans have a low level of genuine historical knowledge on the subject so here is a synopsis (all of which can be documented) of salient events concerning Indians in what is now the USA.

    1540-1543: Coronado [New Mexico]: Battles; No
    extermination/deportation of Indians.
    1599—Acoma Uprising [NM]: Dismemberments (?); No death sentences;
    no extermination/deportation of Indians.
    1609-1644– Powhatan Wars [Virginia]: Warring Indians virtually
    1675—King Philip’s War [New England]: Warring tribes virtually
    1680—Pueblo Revolt Massacre [NM]: Hispanic victims.

    1680-1730 [Carolinas]: English policy is enslavement of Indians.

    1692—[NM]: Vargas leads a peaceful reentry into New Mexico.

    1693—Battle for Santa Fe [NM]: Some 70 warriors executed.

    1696–Pueblo Uprising [NM]: Battles; No death sentences;
    no extermination/deportation of Indians.
    1700—[NM]: Hispanos and Pueblo people become stalwart allies. The
    alliance holds well into the American period of NM history.
    1763–Pontiac’s War [Great Lakes region]: : English give smallpox-
    infested blankets to Indians to defeat them.

    1786—Comanche Peace [NM]: Anza makes peace with Comanches.

    1830—[USA] Law passed for deportation of Indians to Oklahoma.
    1862—Sioux Uprising [Minnesota]: 38 Indian leaders hanged.
    1864—Sand Creek Massacre [Colorado]: Indian victims.
    1868—Washita Massacre [Oklahoma]: Indian victims.
    1871—Camp Grant Massacre [Arizona]: Indian victims.
    1890—Wounded Knee Massacre [South Dakota]: Indian victims.

    [If you are so inclined, I invite you to compare the sentencing meted out to the Acomas after the 1599 uprising with the sentences given out after the Minnesota Sioux uprising of 1862.
    Suggested references: THE LAST CONQUISTADOR by Marc Simmons (for 1599); THE LONG DEATH by R.K. Andrist (for 1862). ]

    (Message Four)——————————————————–

    Dr. Wilcox, in my opinion this email sent to you from Mr XXXXX is unprofessional and I am shocked at his behavior as someone in such a position, his frustration is obvious and shared by many. We as a family would hope that we be involved in helping you learn first hand about our culture based on our personal history and records. I am sure you have not done such extensive studies to stop learning now. Your job is critical to our mission to continue to correct inaccuracies that exist where our culture is concerned.

    I will pray for you and your efforts, and that we can work together to make a difference that includes our input. Many feel it has not been included in the past.

    Thank you and welcome.

    (Message Five)—————————

    His mind is made up as he already published his book for the world to see and read. You are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine. In my opinion, he’s not worth the dialogue when this junk is published. Besides, I’m sick of his kind and I don’t have to be nice to anybody that produces trash, like it or not. That is my position and I’m sticking to it.

    (Name Withheld)

    (Message Six)——————————————————-

    I am with you. There is no excuse for such blatant misinformation. He deserves anything badly that is said about him. RPQ

    La Verdad con orgullo de ser Hispano

    (Message Seven)—————————————————–

    Attention; Dear (Name Withheld) I thought I stated my piece on this subject earlier and was through with it. When I read your apology to Mr. Wilcox over Ralph’s statements, I immediately felt a sort of reflux coming up from the pit of my stomach… the way I ususally get when I read willful attacks against our Hispanic culture..!!!

    Although well intended.., your apology is typical of those who would try to “keep the peace” with the “Wilcoxes” who attack our culture with the knowledge that there will always be many who will take the bile they dish out and keep their mouths shut..! and if anyone dare speak up or against their lies and abuse, there are always those who out of fear of being further denegrated, will actually apologize to the aggressor..! Annette…, better to say nothing than to try to get on the good side of Hispano bashers like Wilcox and others like him, by apologizing on behalf of all of us…! Please…, DO NOT apologize on MY behalf…!! I will let Ralph speak for himself…!
    I urge you (and others who may feel as you do…) to read a little more of our history and look deeply behind the reasons why the Wilcoxes of the world would try to keep us New Mexico Hispanos “in our place”, before you sympathize with THEIR writings…! Since the early 1800’s, there has been an on-going effort, (since the first Americanos came into this land), to keep Hispanos down-trodden, under-educated, un-informed, and politically servile so that we remain dis-organized and a reliable source for Democrat votes and nothing else…, with no objection to any of the political garbage we are subjected to. Do I need to recall for you all the reasons we are number one in the worst categories in this state and nation? and last in anything that is positive about Hispanos? Please don’t write me off as just another old crank…! Think…, before you apologize to those who would like to see us wiped off the face of the earth, if only they could…!

    Have you stopped to wonder what possible reason anyone would have to write a book that singles out and denegrates the Hispanos of New Mexico? What good could possibly come to us from books like this?

    Louis F. Serna

    (Message Eight)———————————————-

    I did not apologize to Mr. Wilcox on your behalf, sir. I respect your work tremendously and never meant to offend you but I do feel I am entitled to my “opinion”. I am and have always been an optimist. I try to never loose faith in change and people. Once again, these are my feelings and I never professed to speak for anyone but myself, even though there are many who share my opinion. Never give up the good fight. We are so proud of the Christianity that we brought to this country. We need to reflect that in our actions. I am sorry that this has been so difficult for you and for so many.

    With respect and best wishes


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