Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

Encyclopedia Article


Acoma is both the name of a pueblo group who reside in western New Mexico and the name of the actual pueblo, also known as Sky City. Acoma Pueblo is situated on top of a high mesa top, and until a road was constructed in 1950’s from the valley floor to the top of the mesa, the only way to access the pueblo was by a steep foot path. The community of Acoma includes residential pueblo houses and ceremonial kivas. This pueblo is one of the oldest continually occupied settlements in North America.

Although the Pueblo culture is generally considered peaceful, Pueblo communities often found themselves the target of raids by their more mobile neighbors, including the Navajo, Apache, Comanche, and Ute. In addition, the Spanish first made contact with the pueblo around 1540, when Coronado was exploring the Southwest. However, it wasn’t until the second Spanish attempt to conquer this region in 1598 that tensions between Pueblo groups and the colonizers heightened. These tensions eventually led to a battle in the streets of Acoma against Vincente de Zaldivar, the nephew of the first governor of Nuevo Mexico, Don Juan de Onate. During the skirmish, Zaldivar fell to his death off the mesa. Three days later, Onateled a second attack and accomplished the massacre of between 800 to 1,000 Acoma. Onate then subjected the survivors to further penalties, including mutilation of males over the age of 25 and years of forced servitude for women and children. The historical trauma of this event is still very much alive today. In 1998, a group of Acoma cut off the heavy bronze foot of a statue dedicated to Onate in symbolic protest to the celebration of such atrocities.

Photo Credit: 

"Acoma Village, Acoma Pueblo, NM," photograph, Lee Marmon Pictorial Collection (2000-017-B15-F03-1). Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.