157 years before the invention of the telegraph, a Pueblo man known as Po’pay managed to unite distant Pueblo villages and spark a revolt against the Spanish in New Mexico on a single day in August of 1680.
Po’pay is one of the most intriguing figures from New Mexico history and is credited for preserving many aspects of Pueblo cultures and religions today. If the revolt never happened, the Spanish would likely have been successful in eradicating all sacred elements of Pueblo belief systems, including Pueblo languages.
The story, as historians believe, tells us Po’pay used knotted cords, each with five knots. He then sent runners to distant Pueblos with instructions to untie one knot per day. On the final day, the Pueblos united and revolted against the Spanish, kicking them out of present day New Mexico.
The revolt was a righteous uprising after years of enslavement, oppression, abuse of native peoples by the Spanish who arrogantly believed they were the superior race with God on their side. During those violent days in August of 1680, churches were burned and Catholic images and statutes were desecrated.
The Spaniards fled to modern day El Paso and didn’t return for another 12 years. And while many people like to claim their return to New Mexico was peaceful, there were still attempted uprisings and many violent clashes between the Spaniards and Pueblo peoples.
This past week I drove back to Colorado after a visit to New Mexico and thought much on the road about life and conflict between Pueblo peoples and the Spaniards hundreds of years ago. I wonder what people back then would think of their descendants today.
Here are some links about Po’pay if you’re interested in reading more: