The first Europeans to settle in what is now the United States were the Spanish led by Don Juan De Oñate and Don Pedro de Peralta, the founder of Santa Fe. They found the region already occupied, however, by approximately one hundred small Native American city-states, which the Spanish called “Pueblos”.
Spanish officials demanded that Pueblos pay tribute to the Spanish Crown by working for encomenderos, a small number of privileged Spaniards to whom Spanish officials entrusted the Pueblos and their labor.
While the Pueblo vastly outnumbered the Spanish, after the Spanish made an example of the Acoma Pueblo, the Pueblo tolerated the Spanish for 80 years without serious incident. In addition to their superior weapons, the Spanish brought with them horses, livestock, and variety of tools and crafts which made life in the Rio Grande Valley considerably easier, and gave the Pueblo strong allies for fighting off the “savage” (i.e. semi-nomadic) Apaches and Navajos.
From 1667 to 1671, epidemics, Apache raids, and a five year drought ravaged the land of the Pueblos. At the same time, the Franciscans became ever more strident in their intolerance for Native American religion. In 1675, Governor Juan Francisco Treviño's soldiers confiscated religious items, burned kivas, and arrested 47 religious leaders. Four were hanged, the rest were publicly flogged in the plaza of Santa Fe for witchcraft. Pueblo warriors surrounded the plaza and demanded the release of their leaders. They were appeased.
One of the leaders publicly whipped was a Tewa named Popay (or Popé). Over the next five years, Popay travelled among the pueblos and organized a revolt. The Pueblos were not a unified people. Language and differing customs separated the people, but they found they had in common their hatred of the encomienda, and the suppression of their religious practices. They were tired of having their people sold into slavery in Mexico. They were tired of starving while the Spaniards lived off the fruit of their labors.
On August 9, 1680, leaders from five of the southern Tewa pueblos rode to Santa Fe to warn Governor Antonio de Otermín of the plot. The rumor was confirmed when two runners were captured, carrying ropes with knots marking down the number of days to when the Pueblo world would rise up against the Spaniards.
Athough forewarned, the Spanish underestimated the extent and organization of the revolt. On August 10, a coordinated uprising killed more than 400 Spaniards, including 21 of the province's 33 Franciscans, and sacked or destroyed every building and church. Those who survive fled to Santa Fe, where they were surrounded by a combined force of 2,500 warriors who mocked their persecutors, now barricaded in the Governor's Palace, by chanting phrases from the Latin Mass. After a skirmish which temporarily drove the Indians back, the Spanish retreat to El Paso.
Popé eradicated all signs of the Christian religion, but he retained elements of the Spanish political system, setting himself up in the Governor's Palace as ruler of the pueblos and collecting tribute from the once autonomous communities of the region until his death in 1688.
In 1692, Don Diego de Vargas lead a band of 200 soldiers from El Paso to Santa Fe. He called on the Indians to surrender, pledging clemency if they will swear allegiance to the King and return to the Christian faith. After a decade of abuse by their own leaders and ever-more ferocious Apache raids, the Pueblo are willing to come to terms with the Spanish. De Vargas re-establishes the alliance with the Pueblos, and “conquers” New Mexico. The most successful Native American revolt in North America is over. However, from this time forward, the Pueblo are allowed more autonomy than any other indigenous people in North America, and unlike many nations and tribes, still retain their ancestral lands.