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Antonio de Otermín and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680

by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint

The decades of the 1660s and 1670s were ones of looming catastrophe for the Spanish province of New Mexico. There had been repeated disputes between Franciscan clergy and royal governors over use of Indian labor and conflicting attitudes toward native religious practice. Caught in the middle were the Pueblo people of the province, their beliefs alternately persecuted and condoned and their labor and its products routinely appropriated by government officials and over-zealous missionaries. At the same time, the Hispanic community was riven by rancorous disputes and occasional violence, as partisan factions vied for preeminence.

The resulting widespread misery in New Mexico was exacerbated by unrelenting drought, the ravages of contagious disease, and a surge in Apache raiding against all segments of the Spanish colony. The impact of this combination of circumstances reached its severest level during the 1670s. The crescendo of torment increased with the arrival in Santa Fe of a new governor, Juan Francisco Treviño, who served from 1675-1677. Under his administration, an unprecedented assault on Pueblo religious practice was launched. The governor ordered kivas, Pueblo ceremonial rooms, destroyed, along with great quantities of native religious paraphernalia. In his first year in office, Treviño had 47 Pueblo religious leaders arrested and publicly whipped. Four of them were then executed by hanging.

Pueblo reaction was swift and forceful. A large force of warriors surrounded the provincial capital of Santa Fe, while a party of 70 surreptitiously entered the town and broke into the governors' palace, taking Treviño prisoner. In exchange for his life, the governor released the remaining Pueblo religious leaders. The immediate crisis had been defused, but Pueblo anger and resentment remained unquenched. As later events would show, agitation and planning for a widespread Pueblo uprising against Spanish domination were underway almost immediately. One of the freed leaders was Popé , from San Juan Pueblo. He was said to be the principal force behind Pueblo plans to oust the Hispanic colonists.

It was into this situation of explosive possibilities that don Antonio de Otermín arrived as Treviño's replacement in the governor's office in 1677. It is unknown how much Otermín knew about the precariousness of New Mexico before he assumed the governorship. But he did little to assuage the enmity that increasingly divided Hispanos and Pueblos.

It is generally thought, for instance, that a colonist named Francisco Javier, who had served as Treviño's secretary of government and war, was the leading advocate of the stringent campaign against native religious observance. Yet Otermín retained Javier in the same position, with corresponding influence, in his administration. Understandably, therefore, harassment and abuse of Pueblo religious leaders continued unabated. Javier seems to have targeted Popé in particular, causing him to flee from San Juan to Taos.

On August 9, 1680, Otermín, at his office in Santa Fe, received word of an impending uprising. Leaders from the pueblos of the Galisteo Basin, who remained generally friendly to the Spanish authorities, had sent a message. They had been approached by two men from Tesuque with instructions for launching attacks on Spanish towns and Franciscan missions in three days. Upon receipt of that message, Otermín ordered his maestre de campo Francisco Gómez Robledo to apprehend the two messengers from Tesuque. Under subsequent questioning, the two men, Catua and Omtua, revealed what they knew about the planned uprising. Not only were all Hispanos and Franciscan friars to be killed, but also any Indians who refused to participate in the coordinated attacks.

The capture and interrogation of the messengers put the colonists in Santa Fe on alert, but it also revealed to the Pueblo conspirators that they had been discovered. Governor Otermín immediately dispatched warnings to the missions, settlements, and ranches throughout the province. But the Pueblo insurgents moved up their planned attacks. Thus, the governor's messages of alarm had barely been sent when the Pueblos attacked. Only those colonists nearest to Santa Fe had time to flee to the capital for protection.

About seven o'clock in the morning on August 10, a soldier, Pedro Hidalgo, arrived in Santa Fe from Tesuque to inform Otermín that bloody attacks were underway there and at neighboring Cuyamungue. Fray Juan Pio had been murdered while attempting to say mass. The governor immediately convened his principal assistants to send them all on urgent business. The colonists of the municipal jurisdiction of Santa Fe were admonished to assemble in the casas reales, or government buildings, of the capital. Weapons and ammunition were distributed to as many people who lacked them as was possible. A squad of mounted men-at-arms was stationed at the cathedral, and a cordon of sentinels was established around the perimeter of the town.

That day passed without any assault on Santa Fe. The colonists, anxiously gathered there, had no news of developments beyond the confines of the town's immediate neighborhood until five o'clock in the evening. At about that time, Nicolás Lucero and Antonio Gómez arrived from Taos. Although they had left Taos prior to the outbreak of hostilities, they had rested briefly at Santa Cruz de la Cañada, where the colonists of the area had assembled to defend against Pueblo attackers who had already killed a number of Hispanic residents. Indeed, Lucero and Gómez had to run a gauntlet of Pueblo ambushes in order to reach Santa Fe.

With receipt of the horrifying news from Lucero and Gómez, the governor detailed Gómez Robledo to reconnoiter in force the region of the Tewa pueblos around the junction of the Rio Grande and Chama River. On the twelfth, Gómez Robledo was back in the capital with doleful news of at least 30 colonists and friars killed in the Tewa area alone. On the heals of that news, came word of killings at many other places across the province. Otermín could be sure that an attack on even the populous town of Santa Fe was imminent.

By dawn of August 15, 1680, the population of Santa Fe had swollen to about 1,000, with the influx of refugees from outlying missions, homes, and settlements. Those nervous colonists found themselves surrounded by Pueblo war parties, some of whom could be seen gutting buildings in the Barrio de Analco, a largely Indian suburb across the Santa Fe River to the south of the capital proper. Otermín arranged a conference with Juan, a Pueblo leader from the Galisteo Basin. Juan offered only two choices: the Hispanic colonists could withdraw from New Mexico without further harm or they would be annihilated by massive native force. The initial reaction of Otermín and his advisors was to stand and fight.

A company of armed colonists and soldiers carried battle to the Indian warriors in the Barrio de Analco and its adjacent fields. With the resulting high number of native casualties, the colonists thought that by nightfall, they would prevail and repel the attack. But by morning light on the sixteenth, it was clear that heavy Pueblo reinforcements had arrived from Taos, Picurís, and the Tewa pueblos. Pueblo fighters now occupied the high bluffs north of the Santa Fe Plaza and began to infiltrate the town itself. Finally, they cut the acequia, or water canal, that supplied the Palace of the Governors and the rest of the government complex.

In these straits, Governor Otermín called a council of war, at which it was resolved to counterattack once more. On August 20, colonists and men-at-arms suddenly broke out of their fortified enclave, taking their Pueblo besiegers by surprise and overrunning their positions. Although there were many Indian casualties, far more than the colonists suffered, the position of Santa Fe did not improve substantially. The town was still cut off from all outside help, and reports from Pueblo captives indicated that almost all of the rest of the Hispanic population of the province had been killed.

Otermín and his council concluded that their only hope for survival was to abandon Santa Fe and join other survivors of the uprising thought to be at Isleta Pueblo. The governor distributed his personal store of supplies to his fellow colonists before leading them in an escape en masse on August 21; twelve days after the uprising had begun. Shadowed by Pueblo warriors, but not attacked, the colonists made their way southward. When they reached Isleta on September 3, they found that the other group of refugees had fled from there almost three weeks before.

Three days later, the governor's party met Alonso García, Otermín's lieutenant governor, in charge at Isleta. The governor immediately had García arrested for desertion but after hearing his defense, Otermín exonerated the lieutenant. At about this same time, the forward unit of the long-anticipated regular mission resupply caravan arrived. And on September 13, the refugees from Santa Fe overtook those from Isleta, uniting all the survivors of the uprising for the first time since it had begun more than a month earlier.

After taking advice from the colonists and friars, Otermín directed that they all proceed south to El Paso and establish there a secure settlement, before attempting to force reentry into the Pueblo world. Accordingly, the capital of New Mexico in exile was established at El Paso, and neighboring missions were set up for Pueblo allies who had fled south with the colonists. Security was far from universally felt among the refugees and many left El Paso, although that was expressly forbidden. They traveled south to Parral and the interior of what is today Chihuahua and west into Sonora, in search of a less precarious existence. Supplies of all sorts were to remain scarce for years to come.

By November 1681, Governor Otermín and a number of the other New Mexico exiles were anxious to attempt a return to their homes in the north though some former residents of Santa Fe and other exiles looked unfavorably on the return. Only after some haranguing and arm twisting was an expedition assembled. On the fifth of that month a force comprised of 146 Hispanic men-at-arms and a nearly equal number of Indian allies left El Paso. They found the pueblos of Senecú, Socorro, and Sevilleta empty, and the churches and other religious structures at all three pueblos burned or demolished.

On reaching Isleta and finding it populated, the governor's force attacked. Despite brief, fierce resistance from the Pueblo defenders, the colonists and their allies gained the plaza, and the native leaders capitulated. Together with fray Francisco de Ayeta, Franciscan superior of the province, Otermín conducted a formal ceremony re-establishing Spanish authority over the pueblo and absolving its residents of any guilt in the eyes of the Church. The governor also requisitioned a supply of corn from the people of Isleta, a demand clearly resented by most residents of the pueblo.

Otermín then dispatched Juan Domínguez de Mendoza and a company of Hispanic men-at-arms and Pueblo allies to travel north to the Tiwa and Keres pueblos of the modern Albuquerque and Bernalillo area. All those pueblos Domínguez found deserted, but finally, near Cochití, he was able to find and talk with Pueblo leaders. He concluded what he thought was an agreement for the Tiwas and Keres to return to their homes and submit to Spanish authority. Pueblo informants, though, revealed that the agreement was only cover for a plan to attack and kill the returning colonists. Convinced by this intelligence, Domínguez ordered a retreat to where the governor was camped, north of Isleta.

Even in the face of Domínguez's news of planned treachery, Otermín led his reunited force north. As had Domínguez, the governor found all the pueblos empty. In addition, the weather, now late in the month of December, turned increasingly severe. Otermín again convened a series of councils of war, soliciting the opinions of the captains and other leaders of the expedition. Finally, on January 1, 1682, the governor announced his decision to return to El Paso, taking the people of Isleta with him, and to burn the empty pueblos left behind. By the second week of February, the governor and his armed force were again at the exile capital.

Seen as a weak and vacillating leader by many of the colonists at El Paso, Otermín finished out his term as governor, simply biding time. In August 1682, Otermín's replacement, Domingo Jironza Petrís de Cruzate took over the reins of government, and don Antonio faded from New Mexico history.

Sources Used:

Hackett, Charles Wilson and Charmion C. Shelby, ed. and tr. Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Otermín's Attempted Reconquest, 1680-1682. 2 vols. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1942.

Kessell, John L. Spain in the Southwest, a Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

Knaut, Andrew L. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Sánchez, Jane C. "Spanish-Indian Relations during the Otermín Administration, 1677-1683." New Mexico Historical Review, 58(2) (April 1983), 133-52.