Jemez Pueblo tells a story of resistance against and accommodation to Spanish missionaries as a people strove to preserve their cultural identity during colonization.
The people of Jemez Pueblo speak Towa, a branch of the Kiowa-Tanoan language. Originally from the area of Largo Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, the Jemez (traditionally called Hemish) migrated south in the fourteenth century to the southwestern Jemez Mountains in north-central New Mexico. When a scouting party from Francisco de Coronado’s expedition explored the Jemez Mountains in 1541, it found approximately 11 villages distributed across the mountains and mesas along the Jemez River. After Juan de Oñate claimed New Mexico for the Spanish crown as a province of New Spain in 1598, these villages were consolidated into the three pueblos of Astialakawa, Patoqua, and Giusewa (Gyusiwa).
Giusewa, which means the “place of boiling waters” in Towa, in reference to nearby hot springs, was both the largest of the three and the ancestral village of Jemez Pueblo. At that time, it had an estimated population of 500-800 and consisted of about 350 small square rooms made of volcanic tuff masonry and puddled adobe, with flat earthen roofs supported by vigas and latillas. These were terraced to form room blocks of two to three stories that clustered around several square plazas.
Fray Alonzo de Lugo, who arrived with Juan de Oñate in 1598, was assigned to missionize the Province of Jemez and is believed to have erected the first mission church at Giusewa sometime around 1600. But the Jemez, whom Fray Alonso Benavides characterized in 1626 as “one of the most indomitable and belligerent of the whole kingdom,” resisted conversion as well as Spanish attempts to consolidate them into villages they could control. By 1610, the mission had been abandoned and the Jemez had scattered to fortified pueblos on high, inaccessible mesas.
Around 1621, Benavides assigned Fray Gerónimo de Zárate Salmerón as the next custos or missionary custodian of Jemez. Hoping to gather and convert the dispersed population, Salmerón began construction of the mission church of San José de Giusewa in 1621–1622. Around 1623–1625, this church was damaged by fire in a Navajo raid. The Jemez again fled north into the mountains and Salmerón was replaced in 1628 by Fray Martin de Arvide; he finished rebuilding the mission, which he might have rededicated to San Diego de la Congregación. As part of the ongoing attempt to consolidate the Jemez, Arvide simultaneously established a second mission at Walatowa, located 13 miles south of Giusewa at the present site of Jemez Pueblo. Despite the suggestion that there might have been a second church at Walatowa, more recent scholarship has argued that there was only a church at Giusewa, which served both pueblos until after the Pueblo Revolt.
Arvide was transferred to Zuni, where he was killed in 1632. The Jemez remained at Walatowa even as they continued to resist the attempts of Christianization by subsequent friars assigned to the mission at Giusewa. They intermittently rose up against the Spanish and participated in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680–1692, when they perhaps occupied the abandoned friary ( convento) of San Diego.
When the Spanish under Diego de Vargas reconquered New Mexico in 1692–1693, the Jemez fled to a mesa between the San Diego and Guadalupe Canyons, from which they invaded the pro-Spanish Pueblos of Zia and Santa Ana in 1693. In July 1694, de Vargas led an attack on the Jemez in which 84 men were killed and 361 women and children were captured and taken to Santa Fe. Returned to Walatowa in 1695, they were instructed to build a new mission church under the supervision of Fray Francisco de Jesús. The construction of the new church, first dedicated to San Juan de los Jemez, was abandoned, however, when the Jemez warrior Luis Cunixu killed Fray Jesús in 1696.
The Jemez again fled to the mountains though many returned within a few years. By 1706, construction of the church at Walatowa had resumed. Now dedicated to San Diego, the church was destroyed by Apache raiders in 1709; subsequently rebuilt, it was a fully functioning mission by 1744. Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez both visited this church on his 1776 tour of New Mexico’s missions and acknowledged the ruined mission church at Giusewa: “In the vicinity, higher up, at various short distances there are ruins of old pueblos. One of them is the former site of this mission, and even today it keeps the name of the old pueblo of San Diego.”
Domínguez also described the pueblo: “It all stands behind the church and convent, extending to the north. It consists of five blocks, or tenements, all of adobe, and two of them stand at the ends, one on the east and the other on the west, because the other three run across between them, one behind the other…and there are very good streets between them.” Typically, the church stood at the edge of the pueblo. Flat-roofed, terraced adobe housing blocks clustered around a long rectangular dance plaza with one or two kivas; these sacred ceremonial and gathering sites were underground and accessed by a ladder.
The pueblo has changed since the eighteenth century, though its layout around a long, linear dance plaza is largely the same. A few two-story housing blocks remain, but most have been replaced with one-story detached adobe houses, some with attached barns and stables built of wood and adobe with corrugated metal roofs. In other respects, Jemez has retained its cultural traditions and practices. The community remains agriculturally self-sufficient, and many residences maintain small gardens for the cultivation of native vegetables: beans, corn, chile, and squash.
The pueblo is open to the public on certain annual feast days, and the Walatowa Visitor Center is open during regularly scheduled hours. Photography is not permitted.
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