Living on the Mesa

Hanat Kotyiti, A Post-Revolt Cochiti Community in Northern New Mexico

By: Robert W. Preucel

Originally Published in 2000

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On August 10, 1680, the Pueblo Indians of the Spanish province of New Mexico, along with their Navajo and Apache allies, rose up against their overlords to initiate one of the most successful revolts in the history of the New World.

After eighty-two years of living under Spanish rule. Pueblo leaders forged an alliance that tran­scended longstanding village rivalries. For nine days, Pueblo warriors besieged the Spanish capi­tal of Santa Fe, forcing the Governor of New Mexico, Antonio de Otermin, to retreat with his followers to what is now Juarez, Mexico. A total of 401 Spanish colonists and 21 Franciscan mission­aries lost their lives in the uprising. The number of Pueblo people killed is not recorded.

Surprisingly, given its historical significance, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 has not been the sub­ject of sustained archaeological research. Early 20th century investigators, such as Nels Nelson and A. V. Kidder, conducted some of the first excavations at mission pueblos in the course of establishing scientific archaeology in the Ameri­can Southwest. Their chief concern, however, was with understanding the origins of the Pueblo people and they saw mission pueblos as a way to work back in time “from the known to the unknown” (Nelson 1914:9). Other archaeolo­gists, such as Adgar Lee Hewett, were more inter­ested in ruins stabilization and the promotion of tourism than in mission pueblo economy and Pueblo-Spanish social dynamics.

In order to gather new archaeological data about this period, I established the Kotyiti Re­search Project in 1995 as a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the Pueblo of Cochiti. Our focus of investigation is Hanat Kotyfti (“Cochiti above”), an ancestral Cochiti community located on Potrero Viejo, a mesa in north central New Mexico (Figs. and 2). Kotyiti figures prominently in South­western history because it was the setting of one of the final battles of the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico. Our ongoing research addresses a number of interrelated questions, such as: How did Pueblo people reconstruct their lives in the period following the revolt? What is the archaeological evidence for the different groups of Pueblo people known historically to have been present at Kotyiti? What are the current mean­ings of Kotyiti to the people of Cochiti?

The Pueblo Revitalization Movement

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was more than a successful military campaign to overthrow the Spaniards. It was part of a broad-based cultural devitalization movement carefully crafted by Pueblo leaders. Anthony Wallace (1956:265) has defined a revitalization movement as “a deliberate, orga­nized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture.” The Pueblo  movement combined as­pects of messianism, nativism, and revivalism.

The messianic component of the Pueblo revi­talization movement is perhaps the least well de­veloped of the three. Messianic movements usu­ally “emphasize the participation of a divine sav­ior in human flesh” (Wallace 1956:267), and al­though some accounts identify a San Juan Pueblo burn the images of the holy Christ, the Virgin Mary and the other saints, the crosses … burn the temples, break up the bells, and separate from the wives whom God had given them in marriage and take those whom they desired” (Hackett and Shelby 1942:247). To purify themselves, they were to plunge “into the rivers and washing themselves with amok (yucca root)… with the understanding that there would thus be taken from them the character of the holy sacraments” (ibid., 247).

There was also a strong revivalistic character to the movement. Revivalism emphasizes “the in­stitution of customs. values. and even aspects of nature which are thought to have been in the (worldview) of previous generations but are not now present” (Wallace 1956:267). During the in­spection tour, Pope and his associates urged the houses located some 150 meters to the east (Figs. 3 and 4). The plaza pueblo is securely dated to the post-Revolt period on the basis of historical documentation, dendrochronology, and ceram­ics. What has been debated by archaeologists is the age of the secondary village.

Adolph Bandelier, the pioneering anthro­pologist, first proposed the idea that the sec­ondary village predated the plaza pueblo. He vis­ited the mesa in 1880 with Juan Jose Montoya, the Governor of Cochiti, and gave the following interpretation: “The oldest ruins on the mesa, which hardly attract any attention, are those of a prehistoric Queres [Keresl] pueblo; the strik­ingly well preserved ones are those of a village built after the year 1683 and abandoned in April, 1694” (Bandelier 1892:178).

It is clear that Bandelier’s main criterion for the two villages. Because so-called Glaze F ceram­ics are found at both sites, Mera believed both were occupied during the Revolt period (Mera 1940:24, 25). More recently, Charles Lange has written that “all the glaze-paint forms (of the secondary village) are of Group F, and it would seem well justified to look upon these structures as the work of late arrivals after the double plazas had been enclosed or to consider them merely, detached portions of the main ruin” (Lange and Riley 1966:146, n. g8).

In 1979, Julia Dougherty directed an archae­ological survey of the Kotyiti area for the Santa Fe National Forest (Dougherty 1980). Like Ban­delier and Nelson before her, she interpreted the two villages as being successively founded with the secondary village dating to between AD 1150 and 1275 (ibid.), leader named Pope as the overall architect of the revolt, he is unlikely to have been a true “mes­siah.” In Pueblo society ritual leaders were not considered to be divine. In any event, he was certainly not the only leader of the Pueblo Revolt. Rarely cited historical sources identify El Saca and Al Chato of Taos Pueblo, Francisco Tanjete of San Ildefonso Pueblo and Alonzo Catiti of Santo Domingo Pueblo as prominent leaders. Pope, however, seems to have been the public spokesperson, the person most responsible for the rhetorical form and persuasive power of the movement.

The nativistic component of the movement, in contrast, is clearly in evidence. Nativism is expressed by “a strong emphasis on the elimina­tion of alien persons, customs, values or material from (a people’s worldview)” (Wallace 1956:267). Immediately following the revolt, Pope and his associates conducted a formal inspection tour of the Pueblo villages. At each one, they demanded that the people eradicate every trace of Chris­tianity. They were instructed to “break up and Pueblo people to renew their kivas and once again hold their katcina ceremonies. If they lived in accordance with “the law of their ancestors,” they would harvest “a great deal of maize, many beans, a great abundance of cotton, calabashes, and very large watermelons and cantaloupes and that they could erect their houses and enjoy abundant health and leisure” (Hackett and Shelby i942:248).

In 1932, H. P. Mera of the Museum of New Mexico made surface collections of ceramics at Kotyiti is of special interest as one of several mesa-top communities known to have been founded in the aftermath of the Pueblo Revolt. As such, Kotyiti should be able to provide new information on the ideology and practice of the Pueblo revitalization movement.

Two Villages: Successive or Contemporary?

There are two distinct villages on Potrero Viejo—a formal plaza pueblo with six roomblocks containing two kivas, and a secondary village composed of a loose clustering of individual differentiating the ages of the two villages is the condition of the architecture. He described the plaza pueblo as “two stories high in some places, very well preserved, and built of fairly regular parallelepipeds of tufa [tuff, a volcanic rock]” (1892:167) (Fig. 5). He described the secondary village as a group of “utterly shapeless” small houses located 2i0 meters east of the plaza pueblo and speculated that these were possibly “traces of the first occupation of the Potrero Viejo by the Queres [Keresr]” (ibid., 168).

In 1912, Nels C. Nelson began excavations at Kotyiti as part of the American Museum of Natu­ral History’s Southwestern Program (Figs. 6 and 7). Nelson (n.d.) was an advocate of Bandelier’s thesis and speculated that the ruinous condition of the eastern village was due to its building stone having been robbed for reuse in the construction of the plaza pueblo.

At present, there are two competing hypoth­eses regarding the age of the secondary village on Potrero Viejo. The Bandelier thesis holds that the secondary village was occupied some­time during the prehistoric period. The Mera thesis proposes that the secondary village is con­temporaneous with the plaza pueblo and that both were occupied after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. One of the first goals of the project was to resolve this conflict.

Ceramics and Chronology

Our studies of the ceramics from the two villages demonstrate that the villages are indeed contemporaneous (Table I). This conclusion is based upon our analyses of the painted ware as­semblages that were collected by Nelson and Mera as well as our ongoing studies of the architecture of the two villages.

The painted ware assemblage of the plaza pueblo is dominated by historic Kotyiti glazewares (Glaze F) and Tewa matte paint polychromes (Fig. 8). In fact, these wares are so common that the site has been identified as the “type site” for the two ceramics (Hawley 1936). Both of these wares are securely dated to the Revolt period. There are also small amounts of trade wares. such as Jemez Black-on­White and Panama Polychrome, as well as a few European ceram­ics, such as majolica and olive jars.

The painted ware assemblage of the secondary village is entirely comparable with that of the plaza pueblo. It too is dominated by late, historic glaze and Tewa wares. And it too has trade wares, specifically Puname Polychrome. However, there are no prehis­toric ceramics in any of the exist­ing collections and, moreover, we saw none during our three sea­sons of fieldwork. The absence of these ceramics at this village directly contradicts the Bandelier hypothesis.

Thus we consider both of the villages to have been occupied during the post-Revolt period and therefore to constitute a single interacting community. This view is consistent with the ear­lier observations by Mera and Lange.

The Changing Kotyiti Community

The question that emerges next is who were the people who lived in the Kotyiti community? Where did they come from? In order to address these and other questions, we have carefully ex­amined the documentary record, particularly the new translations of the journals of Diego de Var­gas (Kessell and Hendricks 1992; Wessell, Hen­dricks, and Dodge 1995, 1998).

When Vargas first visited Kotyiti in I692, the community was inhabited by people from Cochiti and refugees from San Felipe and San Marcos (Kessell and Hendricks 1992:515). Vargas was told that the people had moved up onto the mesa out of fear of their enemies. A year later, Vargas re­turned and was greeted by two separate groups of men and women (Wessell, Hendricks, and Dodge 1995:425). By this time, the San Felipe people had left to establish their own mesa-top village, Old San Felipe. It thus seems likely that the two groups Vargas encountered in 1693 were the peo­ple from Cochiti and San Marcos, each under their own leader. Vargas identified El Zepe as the leader of the Cochiti, and Cristobal as the leader of the San Marcos. He also learned that the people of San Marcos occupied a roomblock in the “second plaza” of the village (ibid., 200).

By 1694, pro- and anti-Spanish tensions within the community escalated to the point that El Zepe ordered the death of Cristobal and his brother Zue (ibid., 200). Their crime was that they had served as Spanish informants. In re­sponse to this act and the threat Kotyiti posed to the friendly villages, Vargas attacked the village on April 17, 1694, with a combined force of over 150 men, the majority being composed of allied Pueblo warriors from San Felipe Santa Ana, and Zia. Although Vargas captured the vil­lage in an early morning attack, most of the war­riors escaped. Four days later, the warriors coun­ terattacked and succeeded in freeing half of their women and children.

These accounts document that Kotyiti was a Cochiti village led by El Zepe. They also reveal that it was a village in flux as people from other Pueblo villages periodically joined and left the community. There are strong indications of in­ternal unrest; some people wanted to surrender peaceably to the Spaniards, while others planned to resist. These disputes severely weakened the community, causing changes in leadership for the San Marcos people and leading to the emigration of San Felipe people and their subsequent alli­ance with the Spaniards.

Evidence for Revivalism

What traditional practices did the people of Kotyiti reinstate as part of the Pueblo re­vitalization movement? Did they actually stop using Spanish food and material culture? To answer these questions. we have begun an anal­ysis of the artifacts excavated by Nelson and curated by the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Although the comparative data on Pueblo foodways in the pre-Revolt mission communities is sparse. we suspect that one of the traditional foods that was reinstated (or specially empha­sized) after 1680 was piki (wafer bread). Nelson found specially prepared stones used in the mak­ing of piki bread in more than thirty rooms of the plaza pueblo (none are yet known from the secondary village). This food is still used today by Pueblo people on important ceremonial occa­sions such as marriages and initiations.

It is clear, however, that the Kotyiti people chose not to reject all Spanish foods. For ex­ample, Nelson found bones from cows, sheep, and goats in seven rooms of the plaza pueblo. Presumably. these bones are evidence for the use of these animals as food. Vargas stated that one of the reasons that he attacked the village was because of its frequent raids on the Spaniards’ herds. After capturing the village, he recorded that he seized more than 900 head of sheep and goats. 400 of which belonged to settlers from Santa Fe (Kessell, Hendricks, and Dodge 1998:193).

Very few objects of Spanish manufacture were discovered. Although Governor Overman’s men noted metal tools such as ploughshares, adzes, and axes at several of the villages they visited in 1681 (Hackett and Shelby 1942), Nelson found none of these objects at the plaza pueblo. Only a few rooms contained Spanish artifacts and these are mainly religious paraphernalia possibly seized from Cochiti mission. Nelson found a portion of the top end of a copper censer in Room 2 and a part of a copper candle holder (?) in Room 23 (Fig. 9). The practice of preserving certain religious articles was observed by the Spaniards at several other pueblos. These objects may have been valued by the Pueblos for use in future political negotiations with the Spaniards. In a few cases, Pueblo people transformed Span­ish artifacts into objects with new uses. For exam­ple, majolica sherds were reworked into spindle whorls for the spinning of thread. Nelson found examples of these at both the plaza pueblo and the secondary village.

There is strong evidence of Pueblo ceremo­nialism at the plaza pueblo. Nelson found 14 whole or fragmentary miniature vessels in Room 4.4. (Fig. IO). Similar miniature vessels are known from other villages and have been associated with rainmaking rituals. This suggests that a Rain Priest lived in the room suite composed of Rooms 44/45. Nelson found five examples of rectangular ceramic vessels of a type that has been termed a “prayer meal” bowl. These vessels may have contained corn meal and were likely used in several different rituals. A distinctive pipe very similar to those excavated at Pecos Pueblo by Kidder was found in one of the three very large rooms in the center of Roomblock III (Fig. IT). This pipe could have belonged to an individual from Pecos Pueblo living at Kotyiti (perhaps the leader of a medicine society), or it may perhaps represent a gift denoting a special relationship between a Pecos and Cochiti medicine society.


The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 is one of the most important events in Puebloan history. More than a military success, it was part of a cultural revi­talization movement that gave new meaning to people’s lives and still provides inspiration for many Pueblo people today. Kotyiti is a promi­nent example of the new mesa-top communities established in the northern Rio Grande following the Pueblo Revolt. It was built by the Cochiti people as a mountain stronghold and it attracted refugees from the distant villages of San Marcos and San Felipe. Disputes between the leaders of these different groups, however, created social instability and this eventually facilitated Vargas’s military campaign.

The artifacts from Nelson’s excavations at the plaza pueblo provide suggestive evidence for the revivalist aspects of the Pueblo revitalization movement. Traditional foods, such as piki bread, were prepared and traditional ritual practices, such as rain ceremonialism, were reinstituted (or at least practiced more openly). This “return to tradition,” however, was not dogmatic and cer­tain elements of Spanish material culture were retained, such as religious paraphernalia, while others were put to new uses, such as the majolica spindle whorls. Although additional studies are needed, these results highlight some of the ways in which Pueblo people attempted to create new collective identities and social meanings during the latter part of the [7th] century.


I am especially grateful to the people of C0chiti Pueblo for the opportunity to conduct this collaborative research. I also wish to thank Mi­chael Bremer, Chip Wills, Fred Dixon, Becky Mullane, and Douglas Bailey for facilitating per­mitting, site access, and housing. I am indebted in many ways to my project colleagues and interns, including Leslie Atik, Patricia Capone, Alga Jefferis, John Patrick Montoya, JAR. Mon­toya, Thurman Pecos, James Quintana. Gilbert Quintana, Wilson Romero, Robert Sharer, Nick Stapp, Jeff Spina, Loa Trailer, April Trujillo, Martina Valdo, Michael R. Walsh, Courtney White, Michael Wilcox and Lucy Williams. David Hurst Thomas facilitated the loan of the Nelson collection from the American Museum of Natu­ral History. I am grateful to Mark A. Lewis, S.J., for his efforts to obtain permissions on my be­half. This research was supported by grants from the American Philosophical Society, the Univer­sity of Pennsylvania Research Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the gen­erosity of Ruth Scott, Annette Merle-Smith, and Douglas Walker. H. Fred Schoch took the photo­graphs in Figs. 8—II.


Cite This Article

Preucel, Robert W.. "Living on the Mesa." Expedition Magazine 42, no. 1 (March, 2000): -. Accessed February 28, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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