Pueblo Weaving

For more than a thousand years, American Indian agriculturalists have been living in villages in what is now Arizona and New Mexico. When the Spanish first encountered these villages, many of which had multi-story apartment complexes built from stone, they referred to them as “pueblos,” the Spanish word for village.  

Europeans have grouped these diverse people together under the designation Pueblo Indians based on a few common traits: they are agriculturalists who grow corn, beans, and squash; they built permanent villages with a central plaza; and most have kivas (underground ceremonial centers). They are not, however, a single people, tribe, nation, or group: the peoples grouped together as Pueblos speak six mutually unintelligible languages and occupy more than 30 villages in a rough crescent more than 400 miles in length.

NM Pueblo Map

The map above shows the current Pueblos in New Mexico. Not shown are the Hopi Pueblos which are in Arizona.

The Pueblos are generally divided into two major groups: (1) eastern (Tanoan and Keresan speakers) with a permanent water source which enables them to practice irrigated agriculture, and (2) western (Hopi, Hopi-Tewa, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna) who rely on dry-land agricul¬ture.


Acoma Pueblo is shown above.

Zuni Pueblo 1850

An 1850 sketch of Zuni is shown above.

The Pueblos have a long tradition of weaving. For many centuries prior to the European invasion of North America, Pueblo weavers were making cloth which was traded over long distances. Fabrics were woven from a variety of different plant materials-both domestic and wild-and it was not uncommon for human hair, dog hair, and wild animal hair to be incorporated into fabrics. The important plant materials used for weaving textiles included milkweed, hemp, mesquite, cliff rose, willow, yucca, agave, stool, and bear grass. In addition, both feathers and fur were also used in weaving. Bird feathers were used in making warm blankets.

One of the plant fibers used for weaving was, and sometimes still is, yucca which can be processed to produce a linen-like fabric. Among the Zuni, the central leaves of the yucca plant were gathered and each leaf was folded into a piece that was about 10 centimeters (3.5 inches) long. These pieces were then placed in a pot of boiling water together with some wood ash. The skin would then be removed from the leaves and chewed (generally by the children). After this, the fibers could be separated and straightened. After the fibers had dried-usually by hanging them in a storage room-they would be soaked in cold water and then rubbed between the hands to soften them. The softened fibers would then be pulled into a fluffy mass which would allow them to be spun and woven like cotton.  

Pueblo weavers used two basic types of looms. The back strap loom was used to make sashes and belts. The vertical loom was used for producing larger fabrics, including blanks, ponchos, and cloth for making dresses and shirts. The vertical loom can be anchored on a ceiling beam on the top and then on four floor anchors on the bottom.

The backstrap loom is attached to an interior wall and then tension is maintained by a backstrap which allows the weaver to change the tension in the loom by changing the position of the body. The cloth produced using the backstrap loom is narrower than that produced with the vertical loom.  

Pueblo Sash

Shown above is a sash.

The development of loom weaving in the Southwest coincided with the introduction of domesticated cotton. By 425 BCE, the Hohokam in Arizona were raising cotton and trading it widely. By 700 CE, the Ancestral Puebloan people (sometimes called Anasazi by archaeologists) were growing cotton in New Mexico. Upright looms appear shortly after this.

By 1260 CE, the Hopi village of Homol’ovi was the center of cotton trade between the Hopi and other tribes in the Southwest. Homol’ovi had 200 rooms and had an estimated population of about 200 people.

At Zuni Pueblo, men traditionally spun and wove cotton. The cotton they used, however, they did not grow themselves, but obtained from the Hopi.

Among the Hopi, weaving was a traditional male activity. Hopi cotton cloth was a highly valued trade item among Indian people in the region. Hopi textiles, including the coarse white cotton lengths used for kilts, sashes, and shawls, was traded throughout the Southwest and south into Mexico.  

According to the Hopi oral tradition, it was Spider Woman who taught the Hopi how to weave cotton in the ancient time. The efforts of the weaver are therefore viewed as a manifestation of the creative power of spirituality. Weaving is not seen as an act in which one creates something by oneself; it is seen as an act in which one uncovers a pattern that was already there.

After sheep were introduced to the area by the Spanish, wool began to replace cotton in Pueblo textiles.  

Mount Taylor and the Pueblos

The Pueblo Indians, who have lived in the American Southwest for thousands of years, do not draw a distinction between the secular and the sacred: everything is spiritual. This spirituality permeates all aspects of their lives, including their interaction with the land, with other peoples, and with the supernaturals. All life is interrelated, balanced, and interdependent. Human beings, therefore, must maintain harmony with the rest of the universe. One of the places that is important for the maintenance of harmony and the spiritual health of the people is the mountain which the Americans call Mount Taylor.

Mt taylor

In 1849, shortly after the United States acquired New Mexico from Mexico the Americans, ignoring any possible Native American names for the mountain, renamed it after President Zachary Taylor. The mountain is called Dwankwi Kyabachu Yalanne by the Zuni; Kaweshtima by the Acoma; Tsibina by the Laguna; and Tsiipiya by the Hopi.

Zachery Taylor

Zachery Taylor, shown above, gained fame as a military officer in his campaigns in the Black Hawk War and the Seminole Wars.

With regard to the Zuni and Mount Taylor, Zuni Governor Cooeyate has said:

“The Zuni relationship to Mount Taylor, as an important place on the landscape and as a marker of the extent of the Zuni homelands, has been documented through historic records for more than 300 years. First by the early Spanish representatives in the eighteenth century, later by American military personnel and early anthropologists throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and more recently in land claims cases in the latter half of the twentieth century. While the importance of Zuni’s relationship to Mount Taylor can be found in writings that are very old, our relationship to the mountain exceeds the historic record by many centuries.”

In addition to being a sacred area for these Pueblos, the mountain is also a sacred area for a number of non-Pueblo tribes including the Navajo. The Navajo name for the mountain is Sootdzit. From this mountain, the people gather soil, tobacco, minerals, medicines, and other resources which are used to create the Mountain Soil Bundle which is used in the Blessing Way Ceremony.

With regard to its physical geography, Mount Taylor is a stratovolcano located midway between Albuquerque and Gallup in the southwestern corner of the San Mateo Mountains. It rises to an elevation of 12,000 feet and is the highest point in the Cibola National Forest. The mountain is largely forested and rises like a blue cone above the desert. The forest on its slopes was an important source of timber for the Pueblos.

In 1905, without consulting the tribes or taking into consideration the sacred nature of Mount Taylor, the United States incorporated the land into a national forest to be administered by the Secretary of Agriculture. Since the primary focus of the Forest Service is on resource development, over the past century the cultural resources on Mount Taylor including pilgrimage trails, shrines, and archeological sites have been threatened by increased development.

In 1978, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) which was designed to pro¬tect and preserve traditional religious practices, including access to sacred sites, the use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through traditional ceremonies. The Act directed federal agencies to survey their rules and regulations and to try to accommodate the practice of Indian religions. The Act directs federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, to adopt land management policies which will be sensitive toward tribal religious needs concerning federal public lands. As a result of this Act, federal agencies began to formally consult with American Indian tribes about how proposed federal developments might harm sacred places. The law, however, did notinclude an administrative mechanism for Indian tribes to contest agency decisions.  

In 2009, Mount Taylor was designated as a Traditional Cultural Property. According to Acoma Pueblo Governor Sanchez:

“This designation highlights the rich historic and cultural connections that each tribe maintains with the mountain, especially for the Pueblo of Acoma.”

The designation serves as guidance for any future development of the area and calls for tribal consultation on any proposed development.


Acoma Pueblo is shown above.

The United States and the Pueblos

When the United States acquired what is now New Mexico and Arizona in 1846, a number of Pueblos were brought under American rule according to the Discovery Doctrine. The Pueblos created a few problems for the Americans, however, as they did not conform to the stereotype of nomadic Indians whose lives centered around hunting. There were, in fact, debates about whether or not the Pueblos should actually be considered as Indian tribes. It would take thirty years until the Supreme Court would issue a ruling on this question.  

A second problem faced by the new American rulers was religion. As a Christian nation, United States policies regarding Indians required their conversion to Christianity, preferably Protestant Christianity. The Pueblos, when under Spanish rule, had nominally become Catholics. While American policies actively discouraged Indian pagan practices, the Americans at this time did not care much for Catholicism either. The American government, therefore, found itself supporting Protestant missionaries to the Catholic Pueblos. Under Spanish and Mexico rule, the Pueblos had adopted Catholicism and had combined this with their own religious practices without any loss of the basic fabric of their life. With the Americans, however, they were faced with proselytizing Christians who sought to destroy Pueblo culture.

In 1847, the New Mexico territorial legislature passed an act entitled “Indians” which recognized the Pueblos as political and corporate bodies. According to the act, the Pueblos were living in towns and villages on lands granted to them by the Spanish and Mexican governments. In effect, the territorial legislature enacted a fantasy which did not recognize the Pueblos as the original owners of the land, but claimed that their occupancy rested on grants of land by foreign governments.

In 1850, James S. Calhoun, the first Indian agent in New Mexico, negotiated a treaty between the United States and the Pueblos of Santa Clara, Tesuque, Nambe, Santo Domingo, Jemez, San Felipe, Cochiti, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, and Zia. The treaty stated that the boundaries of each Pueblo

“shall never be diminished, but may be enlarged whenever the Government of the United States shall deem it advisable.”

In addition, the treaty stated that the Pueblos shall be governed by their own laws and customs. The treaty was never ratified by the United States Senate. However, the treaty was understood by the Pueblos as the standard for governing their relations with the federal government.

In 1850, a delegation of Hopi from Arizona visited Agent James S. Calhoun to determine what the policies of the United States were toward them and to complain about Navajo raids. From the Hopi, Calhoun learned that the Hopi pueblos were autonomous. He reported:

“From what I could learn from the Cacique, I came to the conclusion, that each of the seven Pueblos, was an independent Republic, having confederated for mutual protection.”

In 1851, 12 New Mexico Pueblo tribes met with the American Indian agent and expressed their desire to maintain their traditional customs and usages. There is no indication of the response by the American government to this desire.

In 1852, five leading men from Tesuque-José María Vigil, Carlos Vigil, Juan Antonio Vigil, José Domingo Herrera, and José Abeyta-traveled by horseback, steamboat, and train to Washington, D.C. where they met with President Millard Fillmore. The purpose of the delegation was to argue for the rights promised in a Pueblo treaty signed in 1850. The delegation spent six weeks in Washington and was taken to all of the standard destinations, including the Smithsonian Institution. In their meeting with the President, Fillmore indicated that he personally would look into the matter of their treaty.

In 1852, a delegation from Santa Ana Pueblo traveled to Santa Fe to meet with the American superintendent to raise the issue of infringements on their land. The superintendent, however, was not present and the Americans simply dismissed their complaints as “trifling” and “no business of any consequence.”

The New Mexico territorial legislature passed a law in 1853 prohibiting the sale of liquor to Indians and declared that “Indian” did not include the Pueblo Indians.  

In 1855, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs asked Congress to repeal the law which defined the Pueblos in New Mexico as corporate entities which could sue and be sued in local courts. He explained that the Pueblos had suffered greatly from this law because most suits were filed by non-Indians with an interest in obtaining Pueblo land. However, Congress did not act on this recommendation.

An 1858 Congressional act confirmed the Spanish land grants to several New Mexico Pueblos: Acoma, Jemez, Chochiti, Picuris, San Felipe, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Zia, Isleta, Nambe, Pojuaque, Sandia, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Taos, and Tesuque.  The Spanish land grants to Indians had been superimposed upon Indian aboriginal rights dating from time immemorial. It would now seem that the Pueblo Indians should be claiming rights both under the land claims and under their original rights as first owners of the land.

In 1864, the Pueblo governors were given “Lincoln canes” as symbols of their office and authority. Engraved on the silver head of each cane is the name of the Pueblo, the year, and “A. Lincoln.” The canes originally cost $5.50 each.

The United States issued land patents in 1864 for Nambe, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Picuris, Zia, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Pojuaque, San Juan, Santa Clara, Taos, Tesuque, and Santo Domingo Pueblos in New Mexico.

In 1867, the territorial chief justice in United States v Ortiz  ruled that the Pueblos were not Indians under the definition of the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834. The Pueblos protested the decision. The Indian agent for the Pueblos, noting that the federal government had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, asked the government to protect the Pueblos.

The United States officially established an Indian Agency for the Hopi in 1869. However, the agency was located in Fort Wingate rather than near the Hopi pueblos in Arizona. In addition, the agency was officially named the “Moqui Pueblo Agency,” a name which the Hopi felt was insulting. Two years later, the agency was moved from Fort Wingate to Fort Defiance. In 1873, the agency was moved from Fort Defiance to Keams Canyon which is about 13 miles away from the Hopi pueblo of Walpi.

In 1869, in the case of United States versus Lucero, Chief Justice Watts characterized Indians as “wild, wandering savages”, but noted that this description did not hold for the Pueblos who, he claimed, have been cultivating the soil for three centuries. The judge’s comments seem to imply that the Pueblos learned agriculture from the Spanish and appear to reflect ignorance regarding many centuries of Indian agriculture prior to the Spanish arrival in the Americas.

In 1869, a special inspector for the Indian Office recommended that the Pueblos be declared citizens and required to pay taxes on their crops, herds, and orchards.

Congress in 1869 passed legislation which formally recognized the Santa Ana Pueblo land grant in New Mexico.

In 1871, the Indian agent for the Pueblos reported that holdings by non-Indian squatters on Pueblo lands were of such great value that the United States government could not afford to compensate them if they were forced to move. Instead, he recommended that the Pueblos sell their lands to these squatters.

Congress authorized the extension of federal services to New Mexico’s Pueblo Indians in 1872.

In 1873 the Bureau of Indian Affairs considered relocating the Hopi from their Arizona pueblos to land along the Little Colorado River or to Oklahoma. The Hopi vowed to resist any relocation as their ancient contract with the Great Spirit Massauw makes removal from the land impossible. After discussions with the Hopi, the Indian Agent recommended that a separate Hopi reservation be established.

The United States Supreme Court, in the 1876 United States versus Joseph, declared that the Intercourse Act of 1834 was not applicable to the Pueblos of New Mexico. The Court viewed the Pueblos as having a settled, domestic existence and therefore were not subject to laws which were passed for the protection and civilization of “wild Indians.” Furthermore, the Court asserted that Pueblo land titles were given to them by the Spanish government. As a result, 3,000 non-Indians settle on Pueblo lands.

The Supreme Court ruling denied the Pueblos the protection of the federal government and placed them within the jurisdiction of the local courts and officials. The Court did not define the Pueblos as citizens, and thus they did not have the right to vote, nor did they have the right to hold public office. While the Court excluded the Pueblos from participation in political life, it opened up the way for their lands to be appropriated for private enterprise by non-Indians.

Tigua: The Forgotten Pueblo

( – promoted by navajo)

In 1680, the Pueblo Indians of what is now New Mexico united in a revolt against the Spanish. As a result the Spanish were driven from the area. Not all of the Pueblos, however, joined in the revolt. The Tiwa-speaking pueblo of Isleta did not join the Pueblo Revolt and 1,500 Spanish settlers from the lower river area took refuge in this pueblo before fleeing south into Chihuahua, Mexico.  

The Spanish re-conquest of the New Mexico Pueblos began in 1681. At Isleta the Spanish found a thriving community with the church in ruins. The villagers told the Spanish that they did not want any visitors. The Spanish, however, were not deterred and forced their way into the pueblo. Here the pueblo leaders approached their guests peacefully. The Spanish threw all of the Pueblo ceremonial masks, ceremonial clothing, prayer sticks, and katcina dolls into a flaming pyre. They baptized the babies born in the past year and sent messengers to the other Pueblos promising pardon and demanding submission. The initial Spanish attempt at re-conquest was not successful and they burned the village of Isleta. They took 385 people from Isleta as captives with them as they retreated to El Paso.

When the retreating Spanish soldiers arrived in El Paso with their Indian captives, the Franciscans established three new pueblos for Indians: Senecu, Socorro, and Ysleta. Each pueblo was named for its old pueblo and given the designation of del sur (“of the south”). Thus the people from Isleta, later known as the Tigua, came to live in Ysleta del Sur.

In 1751, the Tigua were given canes by the Spanish which symbolized the recognition of their sovereignty. The Spanish Crown also provided them with a land grant totaling 17,712 acres. The land grant was intended to provide the Tigua with a permanent and protected land base. This would safeguard them from threats posed by non-Indian encroachment and would afford Pueblo governors some measure of authority and sovereignty. The Tigua reestablished their ceremonial and political life around the mission church at Ysleta del Sur.

Ysleta del Sur went from being a part of the Spanish Empire to being a part of Mexico, and then, following a brief war between the United States and Mexico, it became a part of the United States. In 1850 Congress passed an Organic Act which established the boundaries of Texas. With this Act, El Paso became a part of Texas which meant that the Tigua in Ysleta del Sur were now in Texas. The Tigua were thus separated from the other Pueblos in New Mexico.

In 1895, the Tigua established a compact which set forth some rules and regulations regarding the government of their pueblo. The officers for the pueblo, according to the compact, were the cacique, lieutenant-cacique, governor, lieutenant-governor, war captain, and subordinate war captains. José Tolino Piarote was the cacique who served for life as both chief and spiritual leader. As with the New Mexico pueblos, the governor carried a staff of office. The war captain preserved order at the public dances and regulated hunts.

In 1935, Tigua Cacique Manuel Ortega lamented that the title to their Spanish land grant had been lost and stated:

“Our neighbors soon learned of the loss, and, denying our ownership, gradually usurped our rights.”

In 1956, the city of El Paso annexed Ysleta, the home of the Tigua. The annexation meant that the Tigua, who had inhabited the pueblo for centuries, now had to pay city property taxes. The property taxes were more than $100 per year in a community in which the average annual income was less than $400. The Tigua maintained that their land was part of a Spanish land grant and was thus exempt from taxation as the land grant implied sovereign status.

In Texas, the mayor of El Paso wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) voicing the opinion that the Tigua should have the same rights, privileges, and protections as other American Indian tribes. In response to this letter, the BIA pointed out that with one exception (the Alabama-Coushatta) the federal government had never assumed responsibility for any Indian tribe in Texas. According to the BIA, Texas entered the Union as a fully self-governing state and thus there were no public domain lands nor any trust responsibility for any tribes living upon them.  Alan Minter, the Assistant Attorney General of Texas, wrote:

“When Texas became a state in 1845, it was the beginning of the end for the Indian.”

In 1965, attorney Tom Diamond began an inquiry on the status of the Tigua. He was told by anthropologists that the Tigua were extinct. The Tigua, however, maintained that their culture still existed. The problem for outsiders, such as anthropologists, was that Tigua culture had changed and it had been kept hidden from the surrounding non-Indian community.

The following year, Tom Diamond, acting as the attorney for the Tigua, notified the city of El Paso that tribal members would no longer be responsible for taxes to any local division of government. The notification was based on the fact that the Texas Legislature in 1854 recognized that the Tigua held title to the Ysleta Land Grant. Local authorities were cooperative and receptive to the Tigua claim.

In 1966, a study by University of Arizona anthropologist Nick Houser showed that the Tigua were still a culturally distinct Indian tribe. The Texas State Historical Survey Committee acknowledged the accuracy of the report and passed a resolution stating that the tribe was entitled to federal recognition. The following year, the Tigua of Yselta Del Sur were recognized as an Indian tribe by the state. At the recognition hearing, Cacique Jose Granillo performed ceremonial songs. Isleta Pueblo governor Andy Ayeta testified that the Tigua ceremonial songs were identical to those performed in Isleta. The National Congress of American Indians also supported the Tigua claim for recognition. State recognition made the tribe eligible for a tax-exempt reservation as well as special state programs.

In 1968, the Tigua were given limited federal recognition through Congressional action. While the federal act recognized the Tigua as Indian people, it denied them federal services and transferred any federal responsibility to the State of Texas.

In 1985, the Tigua sought full federal recognition through Congressional action. The bill which would give them federal recognition was supported by the Isleta Pueblo (to whom they are related), the All Indian Pueblo Council in New Mexico, the Kiowa, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association. Unfortunately, the bill got tangled up with the national debate on Indian gaming. Two years later, however, Congress did give the Tigua federal recognition.  The restoration act passed by Congress requires that tribal members have at least 1/8 Tigua blood quantum.

With federal recognition came the right to operate gaming facilities and in 1993, the Tigua opened their Speaking Rock Casino. Most of the residents in the El Paso area supported the casino.

In 1998, the Tigua made a small contribution to a gubernatorial candidate who was well-known for his support for Indian tribes. In response, the campaign team for Governor George W. Bush called Indian tribes the same as drug dealers and called for the other candidate to return the money. An article in Indian Country Today (October 2001, p. A3) quotes Bush’s press secretary as saying:

“If he wouldn’t take money from drug dealers, why would he take it from Indians?”

At this time, Bush led in the polls by over 2 to 1.

The political problems of the Tigua increased and in 1999 a candidate for mayor of El Paso aired a series of commercials claiming that the Tigua did not pay taxes. The Tigua responded with a series of ads pointing out that 80% of the tribal members lived off the reservation, that they paid sales taxes, and the Tigua provided the city with both property and sales tax revenues.

The 1987 Congressional Act which gave the Tigua federal recognition required any changes in tribal enrollment requirements to be approved by Congress. Thus, in 2000, the Tigua asked Congress to change the required blood quantum for tribal membership from 1/8 to 1/16. Moments before the Senate was to vote on the measure, one Texas Senator had the bill withdrawn from consideration. The Pueblo’s governor, Albert Alvidrez, commented:

“Texas has a long record in promoting segregation, racism, and failing to recognize the contributions Native Americans have made in this country and our rights as indigenous people. The genocide and government eradication of Native Americans in this state is a hallmark of Texas politics.”

Without the change in blood quantum it was estimated that tribal enrollment would fall to a handful within three generations.

In 2001, a state court ruled that Indian tribes, including the Tigua, have no more rights in Texas than do associations and ordered the tribal casino to be shut down. While the tribe argued that gaming was allowed under the 1987 Pueblo Restoration Act, the judge declared that there were no Indian tribes in Texas because the state legislature appropriated all Indian lands in 1871. The following year, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Tigua and upheld the earlier ruling. As a result of this ruling, the Tigua closed their profitable casino.