Cicuique (Pecos Pueblo)

by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint

The ruins of the pueblo of Cicuique, now known as Pecos Pueblo, are located on a small rock outcrop eighteen miles southeast of Santa Fe in the Pecos River Valley. The site was designated a New Mexico State Monument in 1935 and subsequently transferred in 1965 to the National Park Service, becoming a National Historical Park. Occupation of the upper Pecos Valley to Anton Chico by the people of Cicuique spanned slightly more than five centuries, AD1300s to the early 1800s.

Cicuique, the designation for the home of the most eastern of the Puebloan people, first appeared in documents from the Coronado expedition. The origin of the word itself remains unclear. It may derive from the Tiwa people of the Rio Grande Valley, Jemez Pueblo, Cicuique’s linguistic cousins, or, as anthropologist Albert Schroeder posited, from the people of Cicuique\'s self-designation.

The first Europeans to encounter the Towa-speaking people of Cicuique were members of the Coronado expedition of 1539-1542. While camped at Hawikku (one of the ancestral pueblos of Zuni) in western New Mexico at the end of August 1540, a delegation from Cicuique led by Bigotes, Mustaches as the Europeans called him, arrived to offer Captain General Francisco Vázquez de Coronado the friendship of their pueblo. "[He said] that if [the Christians] had to travel through their land, they would consider them allies." Both parties exchanged gifts, which mutually intrigued and astounded them. The Europeans were greatly interested in the bison hides and the Indians marveled at the glass beads and drinking vessels. The Captain General then dispatched Hernando de Alvarado to accompany the Bigotes party back to Cicuique.

The chronicler Pedro Castañeda de Nájera recounted Alvarado\'s impressions of Cicuique and its people: After traveling five days beyond the Rio Grande Pueblos "[Alvarado] reached Cicuyc, a very strong pueblo with four-storied [buildings]. The [people] of the pueblo came out to welcome Hernando de Alvarado and their [own] captain with demonstrations of happiness. They took [Alvarado] into the pueblo with drums and flutes, of which there are many there similar to fifes. And they offered him a large gift of clothing and turquoises, of which there are a great many in that land." Unfortunately, the "demonstrations of happiness" were not to last.

Bigotes offered a captive Plains Indian called El Turco, "because by his appearance he seemed like one," as guide to lead Alvarado farther to the east. Alvarado\'s commission having expired, he returned to the Rio Grande with El Turco. Due to the fantastic tales told to the Captain General by El Turco, Alvarado was again sent to Cicuique to confront Bigotes regarding the withholding of certain "golden arm bands which this Turco said they had taken from him when they captured him." Despite repeated denials of the existence of the armbands, Alvarado deceived Bigotes and the pueblo\'s cacique (principal leader), took them captive, put them in chains, and hauled them back to Tiguex on the Rio Grande. There they were held captive six months and tortured. Needless to say, the Indians of Cicuique never again trusted the Europeans and displays of open hostility were common.

Later, the expedition traveled through Cicuique lands several times affording Castañeda de Nájera the opportunity to record important details of the people and the pueblo itself. He noted that there were five hundred warriors much feared throughout the Pueblo world and its total population was about 2,000 residents. Despite their fierce reputation, the people of Cicuique feared the nomadic Teyas of the Great Plains more. In order to mitigate possible hostilities the people of Cicuique maintained a wary alliance with the Teyas, trading with them and allowing them "to spend the winters there [at the pueblo], beneath the edges of the roofs of the settlement."

Cicuique was deemed to be partially civilized and to be "of the same state and [have the] same customs as the other pueblos." It was also noted that the Indians of Cicuique were too far from the Rio Grande River to harvest cotton or to keep domesticated turkeys, although it was noted elsewhere that a few turkeys were present there. Juan Jaramillo also added these observations: "they have corn, beans, squash, hides, and some feather robes. [These latter] they make by twisting together feathers and strands of yarn, from which then they make an excellent cloth in the same way they make the mantas with which they protect themselves from the cold."

The pueblo itself was variously described as consisting of two separate room blocks of four stories each with a central plaza or: "four and five stories high and has eight large patios, each one with its portal." Within the central plaza were kivas, or underground ceremonial chambers. Jaramillo observed that "all [of the pueblos] have underground estufas [kivas]. Although [they are] not beautiful, they [are] very good shelter from the cold." Castañeda de Nájera was also quite impressed with an architectural feature: "At each of the first two stories [the pueblo] is completely surrounded by covered passageways. [It is] by means of them that one walks through the whole town. They are like balconies that extend outward."

Cicuique\'s defensive posture and strong, stone construction apparently had prevented its being overrun by hostiles from the Great Plains. "In time of war [the people] communicate with each other by means of the interior doors. [The pueblo] is surrounded by a low stone wall. Within [the pueblo] there is a spring of water which [the people] can impound. The people of this pueblo boast that no one has been able to subjugate them and that they subjugate [whichever] pueblos they want to." Remains of that wall are still visible along the eastern side of Pecos ruins.

The pueblo of Cicuique was also described as being "in a small valley between mountain ranges and lands forested with great stands of pine. It includes a small stream, which has many fine trout and beaver. Many large bears and excellent falcons flourish around there." The small stream is Pueblo (or Glorieta) Creek, which flows along the western base of the eminence on which the ruins of Pecos Pueblo stand and the mountain ranges are home to the headwaters of the Pecos River and comprise the Pecos Wilderness Area.

Leaving fray Luis de Úbeda behind to convert the Indians of Cicuique, the Coronado expedition retreated back to Mexico in 1542. It wasn\'t until forty years later that Spaniards once again visited Cicuique. The expeditions of Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado and fray Agustín Rodríguez (1581) and Antonio de Espejo (1582) only briefly mentioned details of the pueblo. Diego Pérez de Luxán of the Espejo expedition described "Siqui" as consisting of 2,000 armed men and reports from the earlier Chamuscado-Rodríguez expedition mention Cicuique, which they called "Nueva Tlaxcala," as consisting of 500 houses, varying from 2-7 stories tall.

Ten years elapsed before the Gaspar Castaño de Sosa expedition of 1591 made its way to Cicuique. The people of Pecos, as it was now called, exhibited hostility toward the Spaniards and were attacked. Little had changed from the time of the Coronado expedition. Castaño de Sosa confirmed the use of overhangs as walkways and noted that the people had a ready supply of timbers at hand for any future construction project. He also "found many cellars and passageways, which came out underground to other house blocks and kivas that they have underground." He counted sixteen whitewashed kivas. The house blocks were still 4-5 stories tall and he estimated that each house consisted of 3-4 whitewashed rooms on each level, giving a total of 15 or 16 rooms per family. He counted five plazas. Defensively the pueblo had "little ramparts, defensive walls and staggered passages."

Castaño de Sosa also described the dress of the men as consisting of a cotton blanket, highly decorated breechcloth and a buffalo hide, when needed. The women wore a blanket knotted at one shoulder, a sash, and either a manta or turkey feather robe in cold weather. The abundance of corn was ground in three separate bins, each time making the flour finer a method still used today. Pecos also grew beans, herbs and squash.

Governor Juan de Oñate in 1599 assigned the first missionary, fray Francisco de San Miguel, to Cicuique, renaming it Santiago. In the early 1600s fray Alonso de Benavides made an inspection tour of Pecos Pueblo noting that 2,000 souls still inhabited the pueblo. He also thought that they were Indians who had "strayed out of their territory," meaning the Jemez nation, since they both spoke the same language. He declared the Pecos Indians to be "well trained in all the crafts, and in their schools of reading, writing, singing, and instrument-playing." He thought the land not very fertile and that the Indians survived by planting a great quantity of corn.

At the time of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt the Pecos Indians destroyed their church and killed their priest. But when Governor don Diego de Vargas laid siege to the pueblo in 1693, the Pecos Indians capitulated and became Spanish allies.

In the late eighteenth century fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez also made an inspection tour of the mission churches, stopping in Pecos in 1776. He described both the north and south pueblos perched on a rock surrounded by an adobe wall. The pueblo, consisting of 100 families, or 269 persons, had by this time diminished greatly from the population high of 2,000 souls. He noted their wells for drinking water and both irrigated and dry land farms. Apparently, they still plied their carpentry craft and adobe making skills learned from the early friars.

The archeological record bears out much of the historic. Archaeologist Alfred V. Kidder working during the years 1915-1929 uncovered the general plan of the north and south pueblos, their construction techniques, their pottery and other daily artifacts. Kidder determined that, in fact, the north pueblo had a rectangular configuration and that "excavation has so far fully confirmed" Castañeda de Nájera\'s description from the Coronado expedition.

His excavations ascertained the existence of 660 rooms housing approximately 110 families, staggered passageways, seventeen subterranean round kivas, and four above-ground square kivas he called "guardhouse kivas." He determined that the pueblo had as many as four stories, with some flimsy superstructures accounting for some five-story units. In several rooms he uncovered remains of the covered walkways and subterranean connecting passageways as described by Castaño de Sosa.

Kidder also identified some "un-Puebloan deviations," confirming information contained in the historical record of a prolonged and extended contact with Plains Indians. He was able to track the gradual abandonment of both the north and south pueblos, showing the inhabitants moving out of the southern parts of both pueblos and consolidating in their northern sections.

Although Kidder posited that "the failure of the town is, in the present state of our knowledge, impossible to explain," the decline of Pecos Pueblo was exacerbated by relentless Comanche raids and smallpox epidemics. Also, Schroeder has pointed out that: "This decline so affected membership in various Pueblo societies, clans, and ceremonies that customs, observances, kivas, and the entire fabric of their way of life no longer could function or cope with the daily needs." As the 18th century wore on, Pecos Indians drifted to Santo Domingo, Cochiti and San Felipe Pueblos along the Rio Grande and Hispanic towns in the Pecos Valley. By the early 1800s there were no more than 40-50 people living at Pecos and in 1838 the few remaining survivors made their final exodus to Jemez Pueblo, deeding their land to Mariano Ruiz, an adopted member of the tribe.

Sources Used:

Adams, Eleanor B. and Fray Angelico Chavez, eds. and trs. The Missions of New Mexico, 1776: A Description by fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez with Other Contemporary Documents. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1956; Reprinted, 1975.

Ayer, Mrs. Edward E., tr. and ed. The Memorial of Fray Alonso de Benavides, 1630. Chicago: 1916; reprint, Albuquerque: Horn and Wallace Publishers, 1965.

Flint, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint, eds. and trs. Documents of the Coronado Expedition, 1539-1542: "They Were Not Familiar with His Majesty, nor Did They Wish to Be His Subjects. Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 2005.

Hammond, George P. and Agapito Rey, ed. and tr. The Rediscovery of New Mexico, 1580-1594: The Explorations of Chamuscado, Espejo, Castaño de Sosa, Morlete, and Leyva de Bonilla and Humaña. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1966.

Kessell, John L. Kiva, Cross, and Crown. 2nd edition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.

Kidder, Alfred Vincent. Pecos, New Mexico: Archaeological Notes. Papers of the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, vol. 5. Andover, MA: Phillips Academy, 1958.

Sando, Joe S. Nee Hemish: A History of Jemez Pueblo. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.

Schroeder, Albert H. "Pecos Pueblo." In Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest, edited by Alfonso Ortiz, 430-37. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983.


First encountered by Europeans of the Coronado expedition in 1540, missionized by Franciscan friars in the early 17th century, the pueblo of Cicuique, later called Pecos, was finally abandoned in 1838.