Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and their Customs

Whatever changes have been made in the daily life, manners, and customs of the Pueblos are shown in the reports of the special agents, but change is the exception with these people. Comparing present conditions with the descriptions for 30, 50, or 300 years ago, one finds the Pueblos in many details now about as then. Marriages are performed in some of the pueblos after courtship and are celebrated by a priest when there is one at hand, but the old ceremonies of the Pueblo faith are also performed, either before or after the marriage, by the priest. H. H. Bancroft, in his works (volume I, pages 548, 540, 1880), writes of marriage and other customs among the Pueblos as follows:

Among the Pueblos the usual order of courtship is reversed. When a girl is disposed to marry she does not wait for a young man to propose to her, but selects one, to her own liking and consults her father, who visits the parents of the youth and acquaints them with his daughter’s wishes. It seldom happens that any objections to the match are made, but it is imperative on the father of the bridegroom to reimburse the parents of the maiden for the loss of their daughter. This is done by an offer of presents in accordance with his rank and wealth. The inhabitants of one village seldom marry with those of another, and, as a consequence, intermarriage is frequent among these families, a fertile cause of their deterioration. The marriage is always celebrated by a feast, the provisions for which are furnished by the bride, and the assembled friends unite in dancing and music. Polygamy is never allowed, but married couples can separate if they are dissatisfied with each other. In such a contingency, if there are children, they are taken care of by the grandparents, and both parties are free to marry again; fortunately, divorces are not of frequent occurrence, as the wives, are always treated with respect by their husbands. To the female falls all indoor work and also a large share of that done out of doors. In the treatment of their children these people are careful to guide them in the ways of honesty and industry, and to impress their minds with chaste and virtuous ideas. Mothers bathe their infants with cold water, and boys are not permitted to enter the estufas for the purpose of warming themselves; if they are cold they are ordered to chop wood or warm themselves by running and exercise.

The staple food of the Pueblos is corn. The Pueblo corn is a very hard, flinty species, and red, black, or yellow. Frequently all 3 colors are found on the ear. The stock grows short and stubby, seldom exceeding 4 feet in height, sending out the ear well down toward the ground. To prepare corn for food; the grains are shelled of the cob and boiled in a pot with a bit of lime to soften the outer skin, which is pulled off. The women get on their knees and place the grains on a hollow, oblong stone, a “metate”, and grind them to meal by rolling over them a long, round stone resembling a rolling pin. Water is added, forming a mush. This mush is laid in thin layers, like buckwheat cakes, on hot stone or copper or iron griddles, and baked almost instantly. These cakes are usually a greenish gray in color when cooked, and are most palatable. Tortillas is the Mexican name.

With the Pueblos thrashing is done with herds of goats, flocks of sheep, or with ponies in a mud plastered ring, with poles around it for a fence, and straw or other thatch sometimes woven in and out to make the inclosure strong enough to keep the animals in. The wheat or grain is placed on the floor of the ring, the animals are turned in, and forced to run round and round until the grain is trampled out. The chaff and grain mixed, after the animals are withdrawn, is thrown or tossed in the air, in order to have the straw blown away. The grain and dirt is put in water and the debris washed out. The women also grind this grain with the metate, and the flour is ready. The bread made from this flour is gritty and hard to eat, but nutritious.

The women of the Pueblos are most ingenious pottery makers. They mix the clay and form all the decorations by hand. They use their hands or a flat water worn stone to smooth the outside, but they frequently roll an ear of corn around the jars, producing a pitted surface. The jars are perfectly rounded and then burned by placing them in a pile surrounded by a thick covering of straw and dried ashes or cows’ dung. The decorations are put on with a split stick or a small brush after the pottery is burned. None, of this pottery is hard finished and no silica is used as a glazing. It is all soft, brittle, and porous. The color of the pottery depends upon the clay in the vicinity of the town where made. There is an almost endless variety of this pottery. Their bread baskets are neat and tidy. The Pueblo women are great imitators, and they not only decorate their pottery with animals and clouds, but recently, at one of the pueblos, they produced a series of figures from a theatrical bill they had seen at Santa Fe, including a figure of Colonel Sellers.

The Pueblos are inveterate dancers and have dances on all occasions of interest; they also keep alive and indulge in many old games. One of the most common games is “patol”, which is quite intricate and very ancient, and is common to many of the Indians of the southwest.

In stature, features, and personal appearance the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico much resemble some of the wild tribes of the United States and the Moguls. They are not unlike the Comanches or the Kiowas, and are fine types of the red men of North America, both in complexion and manlier; while they are town dwellers and residents, and called peaceful, they have shown and still show some of the most savage traits of the wild Indian. Their walk, manner, eyes, and hair indicate a common origin with the Indians of the plains of the United States, and the supposition by some is that in olden times they pushed down the Rio Grande from the north, copying the houses of the Mexican aborigines who had come up from the south; or, it may be, they captured and drove the aboriginal Mexicans away to the south. They are fair horsemen and ride a great deal, differing in this respect from the Indians of 6 of the Moqui pueblos of Arizona. The Pueblos of New Mexico have forage for horses, the Moqui Pueblos have but little, and this may account for the former being horsemen and the latter generally pedestrians.

The lights used by the Pueblos of New Mexico in their houses or estufas are the same as those used by the Moqui Pueblos of Arizona.

The Pueblo women of New Mexico are faithful wives, industrious housekeepers, and affectionate mothers. They are fond of dress and bright colors, and covet the Moqui dresses and gay clothes of the traders. Their jewelry is silver and turquoise. The men are extravagantly fond of turquoise for ornaments.

The Pueblos, Navajos, and other Indians have always valued the turquoise found at Los Cerrillos, New Mexico, above any other ornament. They polish it by rubbing it against rock or metal; this, of course, makes a dull polish. They do not care so much for gold as silver, as they have been so frequently deceived by false gold; silver not being as valuable as gold, there is less incentive to cheat in it. Los Cerrillos is 26 miles south by west from Santa Fe, and is a mining region of some note in the Placer, Sandia, Manzana, and other gold and silver bearing mountains, which make a chain lying to the east of the Rio Grande. Bonanza and Carbonateville are mining camps on the road. Passing through these camps over a dry and dusty road, the turquoise mines are reached at Mount Chalchuite. They are called the 3 turquoise mines.

The Pueblo women wear dresses which much resemble blankets. They loop them up over one shoulder and under the other. These garments reach to the knees or below them and are fastened down to the right side with large silver pins. These pins, peculiar to the Pueblo women, are usually made with 2 or more silver quarters, frequently polished and engraved, soldered on each pin. The pills on the dresses have a pretty effect.

The Pueblos, in common with other North American Indians, cradle their children on a board. They wrap them to the board with lengths of cotton cloth, slid a child thus wrapped to a board hanging from a rafter of the house by strings of buckskin, or standing against the wall, or being carried by the mother, is frequently seen. Some of the Pueblo women have the same basketwork over the board that the northern tribes have.

All the Pueblos of New Mexico are claimed to be nominally Catholic. The total number of churches of all kinds or structures used for churches in the 19 pueblos is 19. Some Pueblos as, for instance, Zuñi, have no church or church service.

Missions and Pueblo Superstitions

The Bureau of Catholic Missions and the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions have mission houses. There are two missionaries, besides the priests, engaged in work with the Pueblos.

Governor L. Bradford Prince thus writes of the Pueblos of New Mexico:

In local government the Pueblos have always been practically independent, Each one elects annually a governor, a war captain, and a fiscal, and in each is a cacique, usually an aged man, who holds his position for life, and is consulted on all matters of special importance. These officials govern the community according to their own rules of justice, and to this time no criminal complaint has over been made by one Pueblo Indian against another in any territorial court. Industrious, frugal, honest, and hospitable, they still retain the characteristics which were noticeable in the days of Cabeza do Yaca and Coronado, and remain in the midst of surrounding changes the most interesting existing illustration of the higher aboriginal life of the native American people.

Clans, or Gentes

Clans, or gentes; were common to the Pueblos of New Mexico. Of the clans of Zuñi, Captain John G. Bourke says:

Nanabe, a Mogul Indian living among the Zuñis, told. Me at Zuñi, in November 1881, that “in the days when the world was created God gave to his children certain things; such things as they wished for and cried for he gave them, and these became their gentile or clan emblems”.

Mr. Frank Cushing’s data as to the pueblo of Zuñi, given to the public at various times since 1880, 1 are of great interest and have excited a desire for farther investigation. It is said that Acoma, Jemez, Laguna, and other pueblos will bear as much study as Zuñi. 2

Population and Number of Pueblos, 1583 TO 1890

Espejo estimated the Indian pueblo population of New Mexico at about 300,000 in 1583. If his list of pueblos be correct, considering the resources and conditions of the country and the known exaggerations of natives and explorers, a total population in the section named of 90,000 to 100,000 would be more reasonable.

The Spanish explorers universally found the Indian stories false in the matter at resources and numbers of people, and, unfortunately for history, some of the deceived Spaniards retailed the fabrications to a large constituency in Mexico and Europe.

Seventy pueblos are mentioned by Coronado in his “Relations”, or according to Castenada’s list; but how many are named merely on rumor is a question. The existing pueblos are 19 in number.

But few pueblos are noted as having passed away between 1583 and 1890; still, some have passed away even since 1819. The removal or rebuilding of pueblos, however, is frequently noted.

In 1796 Spanish priests (missionaries) gave the population of the pueblos of New Mexico at 9,453. In 1798 the same authority gave 9,732; but Albiquiu and Belen, Spanish towns, are included in both estimates.

Governor Chacon took a census of the pueblos of New Mexico (except the Moguls) in 1796, giving the population at 9,732. This included some foreigners and some Pueblos, not Indians.

In 1805 Governor Alencaster certified a census of the pueblos at 8,172: males, 4,094; females, 4,078.

A census of the 19 pueblos was made by General Mariano Martinez, governor, in 1844, and the population was given at 14,700. The totals after each town are all in round numbers, showing them to be estimates, and some Spanish towns are also included.

In 1846 the population of the pueblos was given at 11,380. This included the 19 pueblos of New Mexico and the 7 Mogul pueblos of Arizona, in all 26 pueblos.

In 1847 the population of the pueblos of New Mexico above 5 years of age was given under a census ordered by the legislature of New Mexico at 6,524. Why the children under 5 years of age were omitted is not noted.

In 1850 the pueblos were not separately enumerated in the United States census.

In 1863 the population of the 19 pueblos of New Mexico was given at 5,866.

In 1864 a census by John Ward, special agent, gave the population at 7,066.

In 1865 the population of the 19 pueblos of New Mexico was given at 7,010 by J. K. Graves, United States special Indian agent.

August 20, 1869, J. M. Gallegos, superintendent of Indian affairs for New Mexico, gave the population of the 19 pueblos at 7,000.

In 1870-1871 Army’s report gave the pueblo population at 7,310.

In 1880 the population of the 19 pueblos was given at 9,500 by Benjamin M. Thomas, United States Indian agent.

In 1880, in the Tenth Census, the civilized Indians of New Mexico were given at 9,772; pueblos, estimated, 8,000.

In 1887 the Indian Office report gave 8,337.

In 1889 the Indian Office report gave 8,254.

In 1890 the Eleventh Census gave the population at 8,287.

During the 45 years the Pueblos have been citizens of the United States they have gained in population, as is shown by every accurate census.

Map Showing Location of Pueblos in New Mexico
Map Showing Location of Pueblos in New Mexico

The Spaniards, when possible, in New Mexico, changed the names of the Indian towns; always so, when making missions at or near them. Richard H. Kern, of the. United States topographical survey, gives the following names used by Coronado for Indian towns with the modern or present names (see Schoolcraft, volume iv, page 39):

Cibola, old Zuñi; Tusayan, Moguls (pueblos); Acuco, Acoma; Tigouex, Isleta or some’ pueblo in its vicinity; Tutahaco, the position can be identified but not the places; Quirix, San Felipe and adjoining pueblos; Cicuye, Pecos or Santa Fe; Hemez, Jemez; Aguascalientes, perhaps near the town of the same name; Yuque-Yaugue, possibly Abiguiu; Braba, Taos; Chia, Silla or Zia.

The Spaniards tried to write the Indian names as they were pronounced by the Indians, as may be seen by reference to the narratives of the chroniclers who accompanied the several expeditions. Attempts to identify the many Indian towns noted by the early Spaniards would now be useless in the face of the great number of ruins found. The map of the pueblos and grants in New Mexico shows their locations and counties.

The following table of pueblo land grants gives the pueblos of New Mexico occupied by Pueblo Indians, with name of agency, tribe, area, and law establishing the reservation. Except the first column, the table is taken from the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1890, page 440. The first column is added to show the mission names,

Pueblo Land Grants

  1. Confirmed by the United States patents in 1864, under old Spanish grants; acts of Congress approved December 22, 1858, volume XI, page 374, and June 21, 1860, volume XII, page 71. (See General Land Office report for 1876, page 342, and for 1880, page 658.)
  2. Executive orders, march 16, 1877. May 1, 1883, and March 3, 1885. (Area of original Spanish grant, 17,581.25 acres.)

Languages Of The Pueblos, 1890

The same division of languages exists now among the Pueblos of New Mexico as existed when Coronado first saw them in 1540. There are 4 or 5 distinct languages.

  • The Queres group (Keresan stock) are the Pueblos of Santa Ana, San Felipe, Cochiti, San Domingo, Acoma, Zia, and Laguna.
  • The Tequas group (Tewan or Tanoan stock) are the Pueblos of San Juan, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Nambe, Pojoaque, and Tesuque.
  • The Piros group (also of Tewan or Tanoan stock) are the Pueblos of Taos, Picuris, Sandia, and Isleta. The Jemez is used by the Pueblos of Jemez, who are of Tewan or Tanoan stock.
  • The Zuñi is used by the Pueblos of Zuñi, who are of Zuñian stock.

The Pueblos of New Mexico are probably all of Shoshonean stock. Time and isolation have caused the, Varieties of languages.

Censuses Of The Pueblos, June 30, 1864, To June 1, 1890

The most complete and exhaustive census of the Pueblos of New Mexico taken prior to 1870 was by John Ward, United States Indian agent, 27 years ago. It gave no data as to crops. Some data from this census are given. The total population of the 19 pueblos of New Mexico in 1864 was 7,066; in 1890, 8,287, a gain of 1,221 in 26 years, and this in the face of several epidemics of smallpox and diphtheria.

In the year ended June 1, 1890, there were 719 deaths; all but 8 of these were from smallpox and diphtheria, and all but 86 were of children 5 years of age and less.

Vital and Social Statistics, 1890

The population and certain social statistics for 1890 are given in full for each pueblo in the table compiled from, the general schedules. Certain crop and vital statistics were obtained from the agent’s books at the Pueblo agency and confirmed in part by special inspection. The census of John Ward is given in a column for comparison.

Population and Social Statistics of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, 1864 and 1890

Pueblo Population 1864

a. Many refused to answer.
b. One man 110 years old and his wife 93.
c. One man 103 years old,
d. One man 100 years old and his wife 90.

Pueblo Population 1890

a. Includes 2 traders 1 at Jemez, 1 at Zuñi; 1 medicine man at Zuñi; 7 teachers 3 at Isleta, 1 at Jemez. 1 at Santa Clara, 2 at Zuñi; 3 clerks 1 at Jemez, 2 at Zuñi; 5 cooks at Zuñi; 1 blacksmith at Zia; 11 pottery makers 2 at Nambe, 7 at Santa Clara, 2 at Tesuque; 1 carpenter at 1 Isleta 1 governor at San. Domingo; 1 officer at Zuñi; 2 telegraph operators at Islets; 2 priests 1 at Isleta, 1 at Jemez; 3 storekeepers, 1 author, and 1 tailor at Isleta; 1 candy maker at Zia.

The professions or callings are shown by the schedules. One thousand five hundred and sixteen called themselves farmers, 133 herders, 157 stock raisers, 527 day laborers, 2 traders, 1 medicine man, 7 teachers, 3 clerk; 5 cooks, 1 blacksmith, 11 pottery makers (but most of the women are pottery makers in. the pueblos where pottery is made), 1 carpenter, 1 governor, 1 officer, 2 telegraph operators, 2 priests, 3 storekeepers, 1 author, 1 tailor, and 1 candy maker. The number of Indian apprentices. learning trades during the year is given at 250. Three hundred and sixty-eight answered that they spoke English, 357 read English, 352 wrote English; 1,715 answered that they spoke Spanish, 28 read Spanish, and 21 wrote Spanish; 4,871 answered that they spoke Indian only, 65 read Indian, and 48 wrote Indian.

It is probable that of the 8,287 Pueblos 6,084 (deducting the children below 1 year of age and those Who speak English and Spanish, 2,203) speak Indian exclusively.

School Statistics of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, 1890

The school age, for Indian children under the rule of the Indian Office is for day schools 6 to 18 years and boarding schools 6 to 16 years. The enumeration above is of children from 5 to 18 years of age, inclusive, and the number is 2,690.

Of the Pueblo children, 913 are attending the schools provided principally by the United States and aided by missions or churches. The United States has school room for 1,332 Pueblo pupils in the vicinity of the pueblos. The following table is from the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1890 (pages 323, 329):

Statistics Of Schools in New Mexico, Supported in whole or in part by the Government, At Which were Pueblo Children, for the Year Ended June 30, 1890

Of the total cost to the United States for the education of the 913 Pueblo school children, including the 131 at Carlisle, $18,750 was approximately the sum paid for the service to missionary societies and churches.

Comparison of Certain Statistics of Ward’s Census of 1864 with the Eleventh Census, 1890, of the 19 Pueblos




The Pueblo Census of 1800

The Pueblo Indian of New Mexico lives in terror of the tax collector and hopes much from Washington. The illusion of a United States Indian agent at Santa Fe keeps the hope of this material aid from the treasury alive in his breast. He has received from the United States in money and supplies and indirectly over $500,000 since 1849.

The census of 1890 was taken by regular enumerators under the direction of the supervisor of census for New Mexico. 3 The Pueblos coupled the enumerators and the special agents with tax collectors or the propagators of a new creed. They are afraid of both. Naturally suspicious, they are doubly so when a government official comes in sight. The special agents and others were obliged to estimate in some cases.

The Pueblos are not poor; they are well housed, have good clothes, and plenty to eat.

The United States Indian agent for the Pueblos at Santa Fe is the person to whom they look for protection and scarcely a day passes but he is appealed to by the Pueblos to protect them from their fellow citizens. His duties are principally those of a law officer for these people.

The Pueblos, besides being farmers, herders, and pottery men, work on railroads as contractors and section men, and hire out to farmers as day laborers; a few are mechanics, and the receipts from this kind of work are quite large.

At each of the pueblos are traders’ stores, usually kept by white men; but at Isleta there are 3 Indian storekeepers, at whose stores all kinds of supplies can be bought. At a few of the pueblos pottery is sold to an advantage, and is a source of considerable income.

The water about the pueblos commands immense areas of adjacent grazing land, which is owned and utilized by the Indians. The grape crop is considerable at 4 of the pueblos, and good and wholesome wine is made. An estimate has been made of a total of 1,100 barrels of wine per year. Isleta is the chief wine-producing pueblo.

White interlopers and trespassers are numerous on the pueblo grants and are estimated at 500 in number.

The poverty of one or two of the pueblos is quite apparent, the pueblo of Pojoaque being an illustration. This people have sold their granted lands, until at present they have but 25 acres. The pueblo contains a total population of 20. They have 8 cows, 12 burros, 2 wagons, 7 pigs, 1 set of harness, 1 ox cart, 1 small wagon, and 4 plows. The 25 acres, supplemented by their work for outside parties, sustains the entire 20 people.

The land grants of the Pueblos confirmed by act of Congress in 1858 and patent in 1863, except as to 3, are very valuable, being originally about 950,000 acres, and, exclusive of the towns, would bring as a whole more than $3,000,000, which is quite a property for 8,287 people: By a practical system of irrigation and the saving of the water now wasted on arable lands the amount could be increased from 13,000 acres now irrigated or cultivated to 30,000 acres.


The condition of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico in 1890 warrants the following suggestions for their advancement.

Let the laws of the United States and the territory of New Mexico be immediately extended over the Pueblo Indians, and let crime with them be punished as it is with other citizens. Such extension will not require an act of Congress, as the Pueblos are already citizens, having been made so by the eighth and ninth articles of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of February 2, 1848, with the republic of Mexico. The Pueblos were counted as civilized and citizen Indians in the census of 1880 and as a part of the population of New Mexico.

Let the quasi or nominal control of the United States cease at once and the agency at Santa Fe be abolished.

Let the United States courts alone hear all suits in anywise affecting the lands of the Indians and enforce penalties for trespass on the Pueblos. Legislation found necessary, to be by Congress.

Let the district attorney of the United States observe the condition of the Pueblos from time to time, and report to the Secretary of the Interior and see that the United States and territorial authorities do their duty toward the Pueblos as toward other citizens.

Let there be no interference with the community system of government by the Pueblos and the holding of land; but let acts committed in violation of the law of the land, even if ordered by community authority, be punished.

Let the Pueblos worship as they please. Schools should be located among them under the territorial school law. The United States government should not dictate in this matter. Let the district attorney for the, United States for New Mexico have an additional allowance of money for a time for his attention to these people.

Let the Pueblo Indian know that he can protect his property, by force as well as by law, and his thieving fellow citizens will not trouble him after this is found out.Citations:

  1. See also “A few Summer Ceremonials at Zuñi Pueblo”, by J. Walter Fowkes, 1891.[]
  2. Mr. Charles P. Lummis, under the title “An Odd People at Home“, in “Some Strange Corners of our Country”, 1812 (pp. 220.261), says[]
  3. The Superintendent of Census having his attention called to the reduced number of persons in the pueblo of San Domingo, New Mexico, he wrote for an explanation to the supervisor of New Mexico, who answered as follows:

    Santa Fe, Now Mexico, September 1, 1800.
    Dear Sir:

    Upon comparing the census returns of the pueblo of Santo Domingo with the returns of the last census, I found that the Indians had decreased about 50 per cent, and not believing that to be correct, I went there personally and took with me F. F. Pino one of the clerks of this office, and sent for the enumerator Mr. Amado C. de Baca, who also was there on time. I went straight to the governor’s place and had him to call all the Indians he could to meet us there. We had a great many Indians present, and I explained to them the object of the meeting, and after that I made the clerk read a list of the Indians enumerated before, and I asked the governor to consult with his most reliable mon and tell all of those that were not on the list; and he did so, and we found that only 79 persons had been left out, and that it was not the fault of tho enumerator as I had at first thought. The enumerator had gone to their homes, and they being absent their neighbors would give no information whatever. Then I asked them how was it that they were fewer than when the last census was taken, and they answered that 2 years ago they lost over 250 people from the diphtheria, and also the year before they had lost quite a number of their people. I believe from personal observation that the census returns from that pueblo are correct.

    Respectfully yours,
    Pedro Sanchez, Supervisor of Census for New Mexico

    “To The Superintendent Of Census”[]


Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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