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Cerrillos, New Mexico
On the banks of the Arroyo del Chorro, in New Mexico’s Galisteo Basin, lie the ruins of the San Lazaro Mission and pueblos. A Pueblo community of Tano Indians settled at the site in the 13th century and lived there until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. During the early Spanish colonial period in New Mexico, Franciscan priests founded a small mission at San Lazaro. Located seven miles southeast of the town of Cerrillos in Santa Fe County, San Lazaro is a National Historic Landmark. It is nationally significant for its adobe ruins and petroglyphs that date back to pre-contact and Spanish eras, as well as for its role in Pueblo history, Spanish colonization of the Southwest, and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Spain colonized New Mexico in 1598 and founded its capital at Santa Fe a decade later. The first major European expedition through the territory was in 1540, when Coronado led 2,000 soldiers, civilians, slaves, and priests north out of Mexico to explore the present American States of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. No one knows if Coronado made contact with the Tano at the San Lazaro pueblo, though he likely passed near it as his party moved west. Contact between the Pueblo and Spanish was infrequent prior to 1598, but after Spain established the New Mexico province that year, Catholic missionaries moved into indigenous communities to convert the Pueblo Indians to Christianity and introduce them to Spanish culture.
Spain employed this mission system throughout the Americas to bring the indigenous nations under the dominion of the Spanish empire. Catholic priests, often from the Franciscan and Jesuit orders, were willing to live on the edge of European civilization to carry out their mission of saving souls. Franciscans founded several missions in the Galisteo Basin. They established the San Lazaro mission in 1616 and built a church at the pueblo on the east bank of the arroyo. The Franciscans downgraded the San Lazaro mission to visita status by mid-century. “Visita” was a Spanish designation for a small community not deemed important enough to have its own priest in residence, but had a chapel for priests to use when they visited the pueblo from the larger mission towns. San Lazaro, which the Tano called Malagón, was a visita attached to the mission at San Marcos pueblo.
The colonization of New Mexico was often violent, especially when the Pueblo did not consent to follow the Spanish priests and soldiers, and there were large and small instances of resistance throughout the 17th century. Decades of warring, insensitive relations with Pueblo society, and suppression of the indigenous culture led up to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. In 1680, the Pueblo nations worked together to launch a successful large-scale, highly coordinated rebellion to drive the Spanish from the New Mexico province.
The Tano of San Lazaro participated in the Pueblo Revolt, and San Lazaro warriors, including the Tano governor Cristóbel Yope Tete, joined with Pueblo nations across northern New Mexico and Arizona to remove the Spanish colonists. Rebels from San Lazaro participated in the assault on Santa Fe, which had a population of approximately 2,500 Hispanic colonists in 1680. The revolt forced the Spanish to retreat from New Mexico, and Spain did not return for 12 years. After the war, Cristóbel Yope continued to lead San Lazaro. When Spain returned in 1692 to recolonize New Mexico, Yope attempted to reconcile with the Spanish peacefully. The Tano abandoned San Lazaro pueblo during this period of political unrest. They dispersed west to join Navajo and Hopi communities in Arizona. Their descendents live at Hano Pueblo.
The Tano deserted San Lazaro pueblo by 1696 and the site fell into ruin afterward. The San Lazaro site is located on the east and west banks of the Arroyo del Chorro, with the precontact pueblo on the west bank and the historic pueblo on the east. Between 1912 and 1914, the American Museum of Natural History sponsored the first excavation at San Lazaro. Archeologist N.C. Nelson led the dig, which excavated 60 rooms in the precontact and post contact pueblos. Nelson discovered that the precontact pueblo was made of adobe and the historic pueblo was of stone and adobe. The Tano probably removed stones from the old pueblo when they constructed the second. There are ruins of 1,950 ground-floor rooms at San Lazaro in total, with 488 of them at the post contact pueblo. The precontact pueblo is irregular, with 14 separate and semi-contiguous room blocks. The post contact pueblo occupied during the Spanish period contains four buildings that neatly surround a central plaza, where archeologists discovered the ruins of a kiva--a Pueblo ceremonial room--during a 1969 excavation. East of this building block are the ruins of the San Lazaro church, which was 28.5 feet by 64 feet with walls 3 feet thick. Another excavation at the site of the post contact pueblo in the 1990s uncovered a broken church bell that archeologists and historians believe the Tano smashed during the Pueblo Revolt.
San Lazaro today is part of the Bureau of Land Management’s San Lazaro Special Management Area in the Galisteo Basin Archaeological Sites region. The historic San Lazaro pueblos are on remote, private land in the Management Area and are not open to the public. National Park Service Pueblo culture sites in the Albuquerque area that are open to visitors include Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, and Petroglyph National Monument.