The Taos Indians

Learn about the history, culture and way of life of these ancient people, Taos Indians.

The Taos Indiants have lived in the Taos Valley of New Mexico for more than 800 years. When the Spanish arrived in the Taos Valley in 1540, they believed that they had found the fabled golden city of Cibola. The pueblos that the Taos live in are made of adobe. This is earth mixed with water and straw. They are then made into sun dried bricks. The pueblo is made of a large number of dwellings constructed in this way.

After the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores came the Franciscan Friars, who attempted to convert the Taos to the Christian religion. The mission was set up under the name of San Geronimo de Taos. However, the Franciscans viewed the Taos as basically a free labor force to be used and abused. They endeavoured to rechannel the tasks of the Indians towards things that would be of benefit to themselves. It was their vision to live off the hard work of the natives with the use of forced labor. They imposed a system of taxation on the Taos, which forced them to pay with corn, labor and blankets.

The Taos have always been a religious people, viewing their spirituality as a way of establishing harmony with the universe. They were prepared to give the new religion - Christianity - a chance to see if it helped to further that harmony. The result was an integration of Christian belief into their own spirituality. Jesus Christ is, thus, on a par with their own spiritual messiah, Pohe - Yomo.

The Taos people played a prominent role in the great Pueblo Uprising of 1680. The leader of the rebellion, a warrior by the name of Pope, was headquartered at Taos Pueblo. The two missionaries stationed at Taos Pueblo were murdered. Fifteen years later the land was retaken by the Spanish and the missions were re-established. The numbers of the Taos population were constantly dwindling, however. Attacks by neighboring Ute and Navaho tribes and battles with the whites killed many of the Taos. After the Mexican War, the Taos people resisted the occupation of the Americans. They killed the newly appointed Governor, Charles Bent. The result of this was the invasion of Taos, Pueblo by the United States Army. About 150 Taos Indians were killed. Later 16 more Taos were executed for their part in the rebellion. Another rebellion threatened in 1910, when United States troops were again called to Taos Pueblo. This time, however, bloodshed was avoided.

The Taos are a proud and fiercely independent people. They have for centuries enforced a strict policy that forbids marriage outside of the Pueblo. This has served to maintain the blood line of these people. Their strong sense of community has also helped to maintain their sense of tribal identity. The people have a tradition of secrecy which has kept many of their sacred beliefs and customs from the outside world.

The Taos speak the Tiwa language. They are farmers of the land. With the coming of the Europeans the Taos got involved in the raising of horses and cattle. They have also been hunters of the land. In the mountains and plains surrounding Taos Pueblo game was plentiful, including buffalo, deer, bear, elk and birds. Gathering parties would occasionally leave the village in search of wild vegetables, which could be added to the food supply. Parties were periodically also sent out to the saline lakes in the Estancia Valley for salt supplies.

In the 1930's the Taos people attempted to regain control over the Sacred Blue Lake which was now located in National Forest land not far from Taos Pueblo. A permit was issued to them by Congress that would allow them the exclusive use of the Blue Lake Shrine. In the 1960's, however, the Shrine began to be desecrated by the increasing numbers of people moving in to New Mexico. The Taos People were dismayed at this and petitioned Congress to grant them ownership of the Lake and surrounding area. For over a decade the Taos kept up this struggle until they achieved victory when 48,000 acres of Carson National Forest, including the Blue Lake, was placed in Trust for the sole use of the Taos Pueblo.

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