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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

(Pecos Pueblo)
New Mexico

Location. San Miguel County, on N. Mex. 63, about 4 miles north of U.S. 84-85; address, P. O. Box 418, Pecos, NM 87552-0418.

Significance. The pueblo, whose ruins are among the most impressive in the Southwest, is of exceptional historical importance because it was visited by many early Spanish explorers, it supported a mission for nearly the entire period of Spanish settlement, and it figured prominently in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

One of the largest pueblos of New Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries, Pecos served as the gateway to the buffalo plains for several of the Spanish explorers. Plains tribes brought buffalo hides, "alibates flint," and other items to the pueblo to exchange for cloth, turquoise, and corn. Hernando de Alvarado, one of Coronado's lieutenants, and a few of his men were the first Spaniards to visit it, in 1540. At this pueblo Alvarado obtained the services of a Plains Indian slave—called "The Turk"—whose tales of wealth in a land called Quivira drew Coronado and his followers far out into the Plains, as far as present Kansas, in a fruitless quest; Ysopete, another Plains Indian who joined the Spaniards at Pecos Pueblo, denied these claims. One of Coronado's friars remained at the pueblo.

mission ruins
Pecos National Historical Park.

Castaño de Sosa and Oñate visited the pueblo in the 1590's. In the early 1600's, when the pueblo had about 2,000 inhabitants, the mission of Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciúncula was established. Its church, on the south end of the mesa, was partially destroyed during the Pueblo uprising of 1680. The inhabitants of Pecos joined wholeheartedly in the war against the Spanish and against the Tewa and Tano people who remained too friendly to the Spanish. They also participated in the lesser rebellion of 1696.

The mission was reestablished on orders of Gov. Don Diego de Vargas, but by the middle of the 18th century the pueblo had declined notably. The attacks of the Comanches, who began moving south through eastern New Mexico in the early 1700's, were damaging, as were also the diseases that they introduced. As a result, by 1749 the population had dropped to 1,000. After further decline and especially a smallpox epidemic in 1788, only 152 inhabitants remained in 1792. The pueblo was then made a visita rather than a mission. In 1838, the surviving 17 residents departed to join their linguistic kinsmen at Jémez, to the west. The ruins were a well-known landmark to travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, which passed close by.

mission ruins
Ruins of Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciúncula Mission, at Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico. The pueblo, visited by many Spanish explorers, figured prominently in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. By the mid-19th century, it had fallen into ruins.

Present Appearance. In the 1500's, the pueblo was a quadrangle surrounded by houses four stories high, the upper stories of which were surrounded by covered walkways. The nearby mission church was large; even today its walls, in ruins, stand 50 feet high in places. These walls have been stabilized by the State, but heavy rains in recent years have done further damage. The church has been excavated, but adjacent mission buildings have not. Low walls, however, outline the pattern of the convento.

The pueblo, north of the mission, was partially excavated and stabilized during the period 1915-29. The exposed portions, of stone construction, are typical of pueblo architecture, but most of the pueblo still lies underground. Mounds indicate terraced houses, which were at one time four stories high. One large kiva has been restored and is open to visitors, and the stone defensive wall that once surrounded the entire pueblo has been rebuilt to a height of 3 or 4 feet. The ruins are open to the public. [45]

[On June 28, 1965, the President signed the act of Congress authorizing Pecos National Monument as a unit of the National Park System.]

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005