Western Trips

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pecos National Historical Park and the Pecos Pueblo / New Mexico

pecos national historical park ruins
Pecos Pueblo mission ruins
The Pecos National Historical Park and the adobe Spanish mission ruins is a very unique site. The adobe ruins of the settlement of the old Pecos Pueblo are fascinating. The kivas, mounds and adobe ruins mark the site of the old Pecos Pueblo and the Spanish mission complex that was part of it. The Pecos Pueblo was at one time considered the largest Indian pueblo in the southwest. This national historic site tells the story of some 7,000 years of human habitation in the immediate area. The park also tells the story of the Spanish exploration of North America.

If your road trip or southwest vacation takes you along Interstate 25 about twenty-eight miles east of Santa Fe, you will be wise to add this stop to your trip planner. As you can see from the photos in this article, the ruins are quite extensive and represent some of the best New Mexico pueblo ruins to be viewed. The Pecos National Historical Park is located about two miles south of Pecos New Mexico and about one mile north of Interstate 25. It's about a forty minute drive from Santa Fe and very well worth the visit.

pecos national historic park
Pecos National Historical Park grounds
What is known today is that recorded history of the Pecos Pueblo area began at about 800 A.D.  It is believed by archeologists and historians that pueblo settlers moved up to the upper Pecos Valley from the Rio Grande Valley about that time. Beginning about 1100 A.D., the pueblo Indians spread out to the east over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and settled in villages. Some two centuries later they moved into pueblo settlements that resemble much of what you see today in New Mexico. Their populations grew substantially over the next centuries prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. The first Spaniard expedition that led into present day New Mexico was the Coronado Expedition of 1540. One of Coronado's officers did have contact with the Pecos Pueblo Indians during that first expedition but nothing more was heard from the Spaniards until about 1590. What the natives did hear that year was the storming of their pueblo by the Spaniards who took control and had a priest live in the settlement beginning in 1598. For most intents and purposes, change was to come to the Pueblo tribes throughout the region at about the very end of the 1500's. On a historical perspective, Santa Fe, just to the west of Pecos Pueblo, was founded during the first decade of the 1600's.

Prior to the invasion of their lands by the Spaniards, the location of Pecos Pueblo proved advantageous to the Indians. The pueblo was between the agricultural producing Indians to the west along the Rio Grande Valley and the nomadic tribes on the plains to the east. Trade thus became a big factor.

pecos adobe ruins
Adobe brick wall structure at Pecos Pueblo
The first Spanish mission church was built at Pecos Pueblo in 1621. At the time it was the largest of the New Mexico Spanish missions and named "La Mission de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles".This large mission was much like others of the region. Included were quarters for the Franciscan friars, classrooms, workshops, grazing land and cattle corals. Of supreme importance to the Franciscan missionaries was the task of converting the Pueblo Indians into Christianity. This first mission, like most others, were destroyed during the very bloody Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Historians will remember that this was the uprising by pueblo tribes against Spanish rule of the colony. Much of the trouble arose from the forced conversion to Christianity and the strict rules laid down by the Franciscans banning a return to their old practices. There was also a large measure of forced labor put upon the Indians for the construction of churches. Religious persecution was the rule. All of this combined to set off a revolt that was especially violent. Spanish settlers were murdered as were the friars and Indians who were captured during the fighting were executed. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the end result was that the Spaniards were effectively driven out of Nuevo Mexico or New Mexico today down the Rio Grande into then New Spain or present day Mexico.

pecos national historical park visitor center
Pecos National Historical Park Visitors Center
The next mission at Pecos Pueblo, though smaller than the original, was constructed in 1692, the year the Spaniards returned to the area after their exile. The Spaniards returned under new leadership and with a different attitude toward the native population. A very good book you can read on this subject is The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 by author Andrew L. Knaut. Another is The Pueblo Revolt by author David Roberts. Both of these books go into detail as to how the Spaniards ruled the region during the 1600's and what took place during the revolt.

During the 1700's, the Pecos Pueblo went into a decline. The trade was decreasing and there were a significant number of deaths from disease introduced by the European occupiers. The Indian's immune system couldn't fight the new strains of serious disease. This same story played out during the 1800's with the advance of white settlers from the eastern U.S. westward into the great plains and beyond. Disease decimated native populations during almost two centuries.

In 1782 the Pecos mission was abandoned, its people then being ministered by a priest from Santa Fe. The Pecos pueblo population had dwindled to 152 between 1790 and 1793, most likely because of a Comanche raid in which nearly every man in the tribe was killed. By the year 1801 the Pecos pueblo tribe declined to 104. In 1838 the pueblo was finally abandoned completely and seventeen survivors moved to Jemez to the west where there are now about 25 Indians of Pecos blood, only one of whom however was born at the mother pueblo.

Two additional travel articles with photos that are excellent combination trips to the Pecos National Historical Park are the Wagon Ruts at Fort Union New Mexico and the Turquoise Trail and Madrid New Mexico just south of Santa Fe.Also see our article Breckenridge Colorado / Old Mining Town and Year Round Resort

The Pecos National Historical Park is a unique western travel stop which I'm sure you'll enjoy while traveling America's Southwest.

(Photos and article copyright Western Trips)

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