Region III Quarterly

Volume 2 - No. 3

July, 1940


By Erik K. Reed,
Regional Archaeologist.

In the summer of A.D. 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado found the Pueblo Indians living in three areas: in thoe Zuni country, or Cibola; in the Hopi country, then known as Tusayan; and in central New Mexico, scattered from north to south along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. In prehistoric times the Pueblo Indians had occupied a far greater extent of country. Drought, disease, attacks of enemy peoples, and other factors, caused a great decline of population and forced the relinquishment of one region after another, until by Coronado's time the Pueblos had concentrated into these three province where - after still more reduction - they are found today.

The great urban centers of the Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico, had been among the first to be deserted, in the 12th century. At the time of the great drought in the last quarter of the 13th century, 250 years before the coming of Coronado, the cliff-dwellings of the Mesa Verde and the Tsegi country (including Navajo National Monument), Wupatki, and other northern sites were abandoned. Finally, about a century and a half before Coronado's time, the surviving sites outside the three historical pueblo areas were deserted. The people of the great pueblos of Chaves Pass (southeast of Flagstaff), Homolovi (near Winslow, Arizona), and the Verde Valley (such as Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot, and the Clear Creek ruin), moved in to join the Hopi; the people of the White Mountains and of four late-surviving sites in the Petrified Forest joined the Zuni. Even after this concentration into the three provinces, further reduction and retraction went on.

Cibola in 1540 comprised six Zuni towns, of which Hawikuh, the first pueblo settlement seen by Europeans, is the best-known. Matsaki was, however, the largest. One of the six, Halona, survives as the present pueblo of Zuni, having been the only town reoccupied after the twelve-year retreat of the Zuni to Corn Mountain during the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680.

Acoma Pueblo

Tusayan, or Totonteac, as the Spaniards called the Hopi country, was visited from Hawikuh in July, 1540, by Don Pedro de Tobar, Fray Juan de Padilla, and twenty soldiers, of Coronado's expedition. There were apparently seven Hopi pueblos at that time: Oraibi, on Third Mesa; Old Shongopovi and Old Mishongnovi, in Polacca Valley at the foot of second Mesa; old Walpi, at the foot of First Mesa; Sikyatki, atop First Mesa; and Awatovi and Kawaioku, on the edge of Antelope Mesa above the Jeddito Valley. There seems to be some question as to whether Sikyatki actually was still occupied; there is the possibility that, as in Cibola, there were actually only six towns of Tusayan and that the Spaniards were mistaken or misled in saying there were seven.

Oraibi is still in the same location, though nearly deserted now. Shongopovi, Mishongnovi, and Walpi moved up onto the mesa-tops in the 17th century. Awatovi, the last of the Jeddito pueblos, was destroyed by the Hopis in the winter of 1700-1701. Sikyatki and Kawaioku evidently were abandoned during the second half of the 16th century. Kawaioku apparently was destroyed by Tobar in 1540, and must have been reoccupied, as Espejo found it inhabited in the spring of 1583. Kawaioku was finally abandoned sometime before the arrival of Onate in 1598. In contrast to Zuni, there are now several additional Hopi villages which were not in existence in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Rio Grande area was far more intensively and extensively inhabited in the 16th century than today. There were some sixty villages, of which only sixteen survive (plus one pueblo, Laguna, established after the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680; and plus little fanning villages seasonally occupied from Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna). These protohistoric villages extended from Acoma on the west to Pecos on the east, from Taos on the north to below San Marcial on the south.

Acoma, on its high mesa, still thrives, vying with Oraibi for the title of the oldest continuously inhabited town in the United States. Pecos was finally abandoned, in 1838, by the remnant of its once large population, the seventeen survivors joining their congeners at Jemez. Taos, with its two great terraced houses, still prospers, but the area south of Isleta from Belen through Socorro to San Marcial, was abandoned 265 years ago.

Two entire tribes, or language-groups, disappeared between 1540 and 1800: the Tanos of the Galisteo Basin, and the Piros of the lower river. In the 16th century there were sixteen Tiwa villages in the region of modern Bernalillo and Albuquerque; now there are two, Sandia and Isleta. The Tewa and Keres tribes, occupying the Rio Grande between the northern (Taos and Picuris) and southern Tiwa, have likewise been reduced considerably. Modern Jemez is the lone survivor out of ten or a dozen 16th century Jemez villages.

Coronado then found the Southwest occupied by sedentary, agricultural Pueblos in essentially the same three areas as today, but with many more towns, and much larger populations, in two of those areas, Cibola and the Rio Grande. The Hopi have more villages today than in protohistoric times, but only a fraction of the 16th and 17th century population.

Modern Southwestern Indians include four groups in addition to the Pueblos. These are: the Navaho, the Apache, the Yuman tribes of western Arizona, and the Piman tribes of southern Arizona. The Navaho were originally one of the many Apache tribes. They were not encountered by Spaniards during the 16th century, appearing in New Mexico history only after 1620. Yuman tribes on the lower Colorado were visited by Alarcon in his naval excursion up the Gulf of California and the Colorado River in 1540, but none of Coronado's main party went into Yuman territory in western Arizona. Real information about the Yumans begins with the expeditions to western Arizona of Antonio de Espejo in 1583, and of Don Juan de Onate in the winter of 1604-1605. Coronado did pass through southern Arizona, of course. Incidentally after his return to Mexico in 1542 the Pimans (Pima, Papago, Sobaipuri, etc.), were not visited again by Spaniards for almost exactly 150 years. The Coronado documents give us very little information about the Pima. There evidently was considerable contact and intercourse between the Pima and the Zuni.

The report of Melchior Diaz, on his reconnaissance in advance of Coronado's army, makes it clear that not only had Pimas gone to Hawikuh with the negro Esteban earlier in 1539, but there were individuals among the Pima who had spent years in Cibola. Fray Marcos de Niza talked in southern Arizona in 1539 with an old Zuni living among the Pima (or Sobaipuri).

Coronado neither encountered nor heard of Apaches in Arizona or western New Mexico, unless possibly the primitive folk of Chichilticalli "the most barbarous people yet seen", were, as has been suggested, western Apaches. In the plains of eastern New Mexico, however, on the way to Quivira, he passed settlements of the Querechos, very possibly eastern Apaches. The Teyas, also nomads on the plains of eastern New Mexico, perhaps were Jumano Indians. These non-pueblo peoples are not well known in early times. Considerable information is given about the Pueb1o, however, by the Coronado documents and by narratives of later 16th century explorers. This ethnological knowledge can be supplemented by archaeological data, from excavations and surveys at sites occupied in that period.


The Pueblos in the 16th century lived in large, compact flat-roofed, several-storied villages. They were farmers, growing corn, pumpkins, and beans. They also hunted deer and other game. They made a good deal of pottery of various sorts; they had stone axes, grinding stones, knives, scrapers, and other tools, and used the bow and arrow. They wore garments of cotton and of skins, and ornaments of turquoise and sea-shell. They had no metal, no wheels or vehicles, no fruit trees, and no livestock, though dogs and turkeys were kept. The Pueblos are not all just alike today, and they were not all alike in the 16th century. Each of the Pueblo groups spoke a different dialect or language; there are today six different Pueblo Indian languages, of which at least one is not at all related to the others.

The Hopi and Zuni villages of Cibola and Tusayan, Acoma, and sites east of the Rio Grande - Pecos and sites in the Galisteo Basin and the Salinas - were of stone masonry, plastered over with mud. Most Rio Grande villages were built entirely of adobe. The Zuni were cremating their deed at this time. The others, as has always been normal among the Pueblos, buried the dead, usually in a contracted position.

Cotton apparently was grown only by the Hopi and, to a less extent, in Tiguex, the other villages trading for it. The Zuni did their own weaving; though getting their cotton from the Hopi. A later explorer, however, in 1583, says the Zuni are poor, with little cotton, using yucca-fibre blankets. Taos and Pecos, specifically, raised no cotton and kept no turkeys. An interesting point, not mentioned in the Coronado documents, is that the Hopi were using coal for fuel at this time, and had been since the 13th century, earlier than coal was generally used in Europe.

Pottery differed between tribes or groups, as it does between villages, or groups of villages today. Sixteenth-century Tusayan pottery was very much like modern Hopi pottery, since the latter is an imitation of the former. A Hopi woman was inspired by the pottery found by Dr. Fewkes in the excavation of Sikyatki in the 1890's. The Zuni, having given up glaze-decoration of pottery, were making polychrome ware similar to that of the Hopi. Acoma was making glaze-painted ware such as the Zuni had formerly made, and again made in the 17th century. The Piro, Tiwa, Keres, Tano, and Pecos were all making the same sort of pottery, with minor differences between groups: yellowish-white ware decorated in slipshod manner with dark red paint and greenish to dark brown glaze. The Jemez were making black-on-white pottery in the old, prehistoric, Chaco-Mesa Verde tradition, and the Tewa were making a black-on-gray ware of similar derivation. There was considerable trading of pottery between villages, even over considerable distances.

Pueblo religion and ceremonial evidently were much the same 400 years ago as today. Prayersticks and offerings to springs are mentioned in the Coronado documents. The kivas of Hawikuh, however are described in all the Coronado documents as "hothouses" (estufas) used in winter for protection from the cold. There is little mention of religious use of kivas; but use as men's "clubhouses!" is indicated. Castaneda says: "There are estufas, or places where they gather for consultation. . . .It is a sacrilege for the women to go into the estufas to sleep." He adds that the young men sleep in them, also any divorced men, and that the women enter them only to bring food to the men. In an account written 200 years afterward, but based on the notes of Pedro de Tobar, the men's-club idea is more fully stated: "The Indian men stayed there days and nights gaming, and the women brought them food." There is little discussion in the Coronado documents of kivas of other pueblos; although they are mentioned for Pecos, for Taos ("the largest and finest estufas in the whole country"), and for Tiguex, the Tiwa villages around Bernalillo and Albuquerque. Use of kivas for dances is, however, mentioned for the Piros and for villages east of Rio Grande by Luxan 40 years later, in his narrative of the expedition of Antonio de Espejo in 1582-1583. Espejo also saw a snake-dance at Acoma, apparently comparable to the modern Hopi snake-dance. Luxan describes shrines among the Hopi and Zuni, and idols among the Jemez and in villages east of the Rio Grande.

Coronado and his men 400 years ago evidently were forced to consider the Pueblo Indians a fairly civilized people, despite their paganism and despite the Spaniards' disappointment at finding no gold or jewels. Coronado wrote the viceroy from Hawikuh, "The people of the towns seem to me to be of ordinary size and intelligent, although I do not think that they have the judgment and intelligence which they ought to have to build these houses the way they have.....They are very good houses, where there are very good apartments and good rooms with corridors...." Another document says, "The houses are too good for Indians, especially for these, since they are brutish and have no decency in anything except in their houses." These remarks, and statements by later explorers, are pretty restrained, all things considered; more tolerant than those made by many modern Americans.

We can only guess at the impression that was made on the natives by these conquistadores, the first Europeans ever seen by the Pueblo Indians. The Indians undoubtedly were amazed, probably frightened, or at least made uneasy, by the strange pale men with beards, wearing unheard of clothing, carrying strange and effective weapons, and traveling by riding on huge dog-like creatures. Often the Indians resisted the Spaniards, always unsuccessfully; sometimes they cordially invited them to visit. We may imagine that they all heaved sighs of relief at the Coronado's departure, and after a few years, thought no longer about strangers, except as a subject for reminiscing to the youngsters. The visit of Coronado probably had very little effect on Pueblo culture, even though a small number of Mexican Indians remained. Even after the visits of Espejo, and others later in the century, the Indians probably never envisioned the two and one-half century domination of the Southwest by the Spaniards, which lasted froum around 1600 until the arrival at Santa Fe of General Stephen W. Kearnery with the Army of the West, in the summer of 1846.

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Date: 17-Nov-2005