Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
Ownership and Administration. Taos Tribal Council.
Significance. This famous, much-pictured, multistoried pueblo, more than any other Indian community of the Southwest, exemplifies native resistance to the Spanish and American invaders of New Mexico. From the earliest times it was of great importance because of its size, strategic location, and trading activities with the Plains Indians. It was visited by most of the Spanish explorers of New Mexico, including Hernando de Alvarado, one of Coronado's officers, in 1540; another member of his expedition, the next year; and the explorer-colonizer Oñate in 1598.
About 1620, Franciscan friars built the first church, San Gerónimo de Taos, at the pueblo, one of the earliest in New Mexico. At that time, the population of the pueblo was estimated at 2,500 persons. In 1639, the inhabitants destroyed the church, and tension mounted to the point that 2 years later the Spanish sent a punitive expedition against Taos. Almost a decade later, some Taos residents fled to the Plains, in present Scott County, Kans., where they took refuge among the Apaches, with whom they had long had trading contacts. When Spanish officials later induced many of these refugees to return from the Plains, they rebuilt the church and mission.
Popé, a medicine man, plotted and directed the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 from Taos. Before the Taos warriors descended the Rio Grande to join other Puebloans, attack Santa Fe, and drive the Spaniards out of New Mexico, they again razed the Church of San Gerónimo de Taos and murdered the priest. Pope and other Taos Indians apparently held positions of leadership in Santa Fe during the dozen years of the Spanish expulsion, and they were among the last to submit when Don Diego de Vargas returned in 1692 to reassert Spanish authority. The Taosenos fled twice rather than submit, and De Vargas sacked the pueblo. In 1696, the Indians revolted again, but De Vargas pursued them into a nearby canyon, where finally they surrendered. The population of the pueblo declined from about 2,000 in 1680 to 505 by 1760.
Relationships improved during the 18th century, as Spaniards and Taosenos drew together for protection from Ute and Comanche raids. Something of this cooperative spirit was rekindled in 1847 when, instigated by Mexicans who resented the U.S. occupation of New Mexico, Taos led another rebellion. Governor Bent and other Americans were killed at the nearby Spanish-Mexican village of Taos. When troops arrived from Santa Fe, the Taos Indians took refuge behind the thick walls of San Gerónimo Mission, only to be blasted out by American artillery fire. The church has never been rebuilt, but has been replaced by a new structure at another site. Indian graves are located all around and within the crumbling walls of the ruined church, which has a roofless bell tower.
Present Appearance. The pueblo, still inhabited, has a population to day of more than 1,200. It appears much the same as it always has, mainly because of the conservatism of its residents. It is divided into two compact units, northern and southern, by a small stream that flows from the nearby rugged mountains. Each unit is still five or six stories high, built now entirely of adobe and featuring many doors and windows. In earlier times, the upper stories were largely constructed of wood, and ceiling hatchways provided the only exterior entrances and illumination of the chambers. Each story is still terraced back, about 15 feet, from the story below. Few of the portales, or wooden porches, which formerly covered the terraces, remain. 
NHL Designation: 10/09/60
Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005