San Juan Pueblo

A view of the mission church built in 1898
The Chapel of Nuestra Senora de Lourdes at Ohkay Owingeh
    Ohkay Owingeh: Village of the Strong People
  • Language: Tewa
  • Size: 12,230 Acres
  • Population: 2000

Pueblo History

About 30 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, San Juan Pueblo has been continuously inhabited for more 700 years, and more than 100 of its original buildings still survive. The Spaniard Don Juan de Onate arrived at the pueblo on an exploration survey in 1598. Impressed by the friendly people he met he christened the pueblo San Juan de Caballeros (Saint John of the Gentlemen) and decided the pueblo would serve well as the first capital of Spanish Nuevo Mexico. The capital at San Juan lastewd ten years, then the Spanish governor ordered the capital be moved to an uninhabited area in 1608. That new capital was later named "La Villareal de la Santa Fe de San Francis de Assisi" (The Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi, later shortened to Santa Fe).

San Juan bowl
Bowl from an unknown San Juan potter

Popé, an important leader during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was from San Juan. Popé was a traditional pueblo medicine man and he was flogged by the Spanish for performing traditional religious ceremonies. In the late 1670's, he and leaders from other pueblos began to organize a rebellion against Spain. When the Spanish were informed of the plan by an informant, Popé took refuge at the pueblo of Taos where he finished his plans and then put those plans into action. The revolt took place simultaneously in all of the Pueblos except Isleta and Hopi (the Hopi threw out the Spanish shortly after while most of Isleta sided with the Spanish). Spanish settlers and priests were killed and churches burned. The Spanish that survived fled to Santa Fe and took refuge in the Palace of the Governors. The pueblo warriors followed them laying siege to the Palace and cutting off their water supply. When the Spanish decided to leave the Palace, the warriors let them go peacefully but followed them closely as the Spanish retreated south down the Rio Grande Valley to the El Paso area. The Spanish returned in 1692 with Don Diego de Vargas leading his Conquistadores, and they re-conquered New Mexico.

San Juan Pueblo today has two churches: the Chapel of Nuestra Senora de Lourdes was built of cut stone in 1898 while the red brick San Juan Bautista church was built in 1913. San Juan is home to the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Northern Pueblos Agency. It also houses the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, which coordinates many programs including education, health, social services and economic development among the northern pueblos. San Juan organizes and hosts the well known Eight Northern Indian Pueblo Arts and Crafts Fair each July.

San Juan Pueblo has also officially changed the pueblo name to Ohkay Owingeh, although there has been considerable push-back from the US Postal Service.

Jar by an unknown San Juan potter
Jar by an unknown San Juan potter

Pottery History

Pottery from San Juan has long been prized as sturdy utilitarian ware. Even during the Spanish occupation, many Hispanic households in northern New Mexico used it regularly, due to its durability. Before 1900, San Juan pottery was either red or black and usually undecorated. In the 1930's Regina Cata, a Spanish woman who had married into the pueblo, introduced a new style of pottery. Regina organized a group of potters, including Crucita and Reyecita Trujillo, Crucita Talachy, Gregocita Cruz, Luteria Atencio and Tomasita Montoya, to study ancient Potsuwi'i incised pottery shards dating from around 1450-1500. The shards had been discovered in the abandoned ancestral village of San Juan, across the Rio Grande from the current pueblo. The new pottery style consists mostly of redware and is heavier than previous San Juan pottery. The rim and base of the pots are usually polished red with an unslipped, buff-colored band in between. The band is either carved and decorated with red, buff, and white matte paints or incised with a micaceous slip applied before firing. Typical designs include geometric patterns, flowers, feathers, kiva steps, spirals, rainbows and sun/cloud patterns.

A view of san Juan Bautista Church, built in 1913
San Juan Bautista Church at Ohkay Owingeh