Zuni Tribe

Zuñi Indians. The popular name of a Pueblo tribe, constituting the Zuñian linguistic family, residing in a single permanent pueblo known by the same name, on the north bank of upper Zuni River, Valencia County, New Mexico, and, in summer, the three neighboring farming villages of Pescado, Nutria, and Ojo Caliente. Their tribal name is A´shiwi (sing. Shi´wi), ‘the flesh.’ The name of their tribal range is Shi´wona, or Shi´winakwin, which Cushing renders ‘the land that produces flesh.’ Their common name, Zuñi, is a Spanish adaptation of the Keresan Sünyítsi, or Sü´nyitsa, of unknown meaning. It has no connection with “people of long finger-nails,” as has been erroneously said.

According to Cushing, the Zuñi are descended from two parental stocks, one of which carme originally from the north, the other from the west or south west, from the country of the lower Rio Colorado. The latter, who resembled the Yuman and Piman tribes in mode of life, joined the others after their settlement in the Zuñi valley. To this nucleus there were many accretions from other tribes and stocks, as well as many desertions from it, in both prehistoric and historic times.

Although indefinite knowledge of an Indian province containing seven cities in the far north existed in Mexico soon after the conquest, the first real information regarding the Zuñi tribe and their 7 pueblos was gained by Fray Marcos of Niza, who in 1534 set out, with a Barbary Negro named Estevanice (who had been a companion of Alvar Nunez Caheza de Vaca on his famous journey from the Gulf of Mexico across Texas and into Mexico), to explore the unknown region to the north west. Sending the Negro and some Indian guides ahead to prepare the tribes for his coming and to report on the prospects of the country, the friar pursued his way through Sonora and into the present Arizona, where he received word from some of the Indians who had accompanied Estevanico that the Negro and some of their own people had been killed by the natives of Cibola. After placating his Indian followers, who threatened his life, Fray Marcos again pressed on, viewing the first of the Cibola villages from an adjacent height. He then started on his return to Mexico, where he made a report of his discoveries, representing the ‘Kingdom of Cibola,” from what he had heard from the Indians along the route, as a rich and populous province containing 7 cities, of which Abacus (Hawikuh) was the principal one. His glowing accounts led to the fitting out of an expedition the next year, 1540, under Francisco Vasquez Coronado, the advance guard of which, after crossing the arid region to the south, met the first party of the Zuñi near the mouth of the riser of the same name. The first meeting was friendly, but a collision spun occurred, and after a sharp skirmish the Indians retreated to their villages. Continuing their advance, the Spaniards approached the town described by Fray Marcos under the name of Cibola, but which Coronado called Granada. This was Hawikuh. After a contest outside the walls the place was carried by storm, July 7, 1540, when it was found that the warriors had previously removed the greater part of their property, together with their women and children, to their stronghold on Taaiyalone mesa, whither they also fled. The magnificent Kingdom of Cibola, with its 7 cities filled with gold and precious stones, proved to be only a group of ordinary Indian pueblos, and the disappointed Coronado was moved to declare in his official report that the friar had “said the truth in nothing that he reported.” Coronado found the 7 towns all within 4 leagues, each having a distinct name, and the largest containing 500 houses, while Cibola (derived from Shiwona, above mentioned), was found to be the name of the whole territory. From Cibola, on the identification of which with the Zuñi country all scientific students agree, expeditions were sent to Tusayan (the Hopi country), the Grand canyon of the Colorado, and to the Rio Grande and beyond, and after the arrival of the main force the Spaniards moved to the latter stream, there to enter winter quarters.

In 1580 the tribe was visited by Francisco Sanchez Chamuscado, in the account of whose journey the name of the province is printed Cami (Cuñi). It was reported to contain 6 villages. In 1583 the province was visited by Antonio de Espejo, who for the first time called the place Zuñi, adding that its other name was Cibola, and who found there some Mexican Indians who had been left by Coronado. Espejo attributed to Zuñi the greatly exaggerated population of 20,000 in 6 villages (one of which was Aquico= Hawikuh = Coronado’s Granada), thus indicating that one of their pueblos had been abandoned between 1540 and 1583. Zuñi was again visited by Juan de Oñate, the colonizer of New Mexico, in 1548, when this and several other pueblo provinces were given under the ministerial care of Fray Andres Corchado, but there was no resident missionary at Zuñi at this time. In 1598 the Zuñi still occupied 6 villages, recorded by Oñate as: Aguicobi or Aguscabi (Hawikuh), Canabi (Kianawe?), Coaqucria (Kiakima), Halonagu (Halona), Macaqui ( Matsaki) and Aquinsa (Apinawa?). The ruins of those that are identified beyond doubt are still plainly to he seen.

The first Zuñi mission was established at Hawikuh by the Franciscans in the summer of 1629. Fray Roque do Figueredo, Fray Agustin do Cuellar, and Fray Francisco de Madre de Dios being its missionaries, although one or two of these probably were established at Halona. Between this date and 1632 Fray Francisco Letrado was transferred from the Jumano, in east New Mexico, to the Zuñi, but was murdered by them on Feb. 22 of the latter year, and 5 days later Fray Martin de Arvide, who had passed through Hawikuh on his way to the Zipias, was killed by 5 Zuñi and a mestizo who accompanied him. As in Coronado’s time, the Indians again fled to their stronghold on Taaiyalone mesa, where they remained until 1635. From this time until 1670 the history of the Zuñi is almost a blank. On Aug. 7 of the year named the Apache or Navaho raided Hawikuh, killed its missionary, Fray Pedro de Avila y Ayala, and burned the church, his remains being recovered the next day by Fray Juan Galdo, priest at Halona. Hawikuh was never re-established as a mission, and it is even possible that it was not reoccupied at all, Ojo Caliente sprung up, a short distance away, as a summer farming settlement.

At the time of the great Pueblo rebellion of 1680 the Zuñi occupied but 3 towns, excluding Hawikuh. These were Halona, Matsali, and Kiakima; the first at the site of the present Zuñi, on both sides of the river; the other two, which were visitas of the Halona mission, at the north west and south west base of Taaiyalone, respectively. The Zuñi participated in the rebellion, killing their missionary and again fleeing to Taaiyalone, where they remained until New Mexico was reconquered in 1692 by Diego de Vargas.

The people from this time were concentrated on the site of Halona, which meanwhile had fallen to decay, where, chiefly on the north side of Zuñi River, they built a new pueblo—the present Zuñi. A church was erected here about 1699, but the village was soon again without a resident priest owing to the killing, in 1703, of a few Spanish soldiers who had treated the natives harshly, causing them again to flee to their stronghold. The Indians remained on Taaiyaloue until 1705, when they again settled in the plain and the missionary returned to them. A garrison was kept at the pueblo for some years, and from time to time they were at enmity with the Hopi, but peace was restored in 1713. The subsequent history of Zuñi is not noteworthy. A mission was in existence throughout the 18th and well into the 19th century, but the church gradually fell in ruins and only occasionally was it visited by priests. For some time after the territory calve into possession of the United States following the war with Mexico, Zuñi was entirely abandoned by white people, but in the 70’s various attempts were made to missionize the pueblo, with little success. In recent years the Government has built extensive irrigation works and established a large school, and the younger generation are becoming educated in the ways of civilization and have learned the English language.

In character and customs the Zuñi resemble the Pueblo tribes generally. They are quiet, good tempered, and industrious, friendly toward the Americans but jealous and distrustful of the Mexicans, and bitter enemies of the Navaho. They adhere tenaciously to their ancient religion, which is closely interwoven with their social organization. For information concerning their customs and beliefs, see Pueblos, and consult Cushing

The population of Zuñi at the period of the Pueblo rebellion of 1680 was about 2,500, since which time it has steadily decreased, chiefly by reason of smallpox epidemics. Between 1788 and 1799 the population ranged, according to various estimates, from 1,617 to 2,716; in 1820 it apparently had dwindled to 1,597. In 1880 the population was 1,630; at the present time (1910) it is 1,640, having re-covered from an epidemic in 1898–99 which carried away about 250.


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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