An Ethnohistoric Appraisal of the  “Teyas” Attack on Pecos Pueblo in 1526 and Subsequent Attacks on Keres Pueblos Along the Rio Grande 
By Jeffery R. Hanson


Warfare and conflict within pueblo groups and between pueblo groups and nomadic tribes has played a significant role in the culture history of the American Southwest. One such encounter, between the Teyas and Pecos pueblo pueblo, around 1526, was recorded by the chronicler of the Coronado expedition, Pedro De Castañeda.  Using this account and comparing it with a similar account collected from a Cochiti informant by Adolf Bandelier some 350 years later, Dolores Gunnerson and Bandelier concluded that Castañeda erred in attributing the attack to the Teyas. Rather, they asserted that the Apaches were the attackers. A review of these and other accounts, coupled with ethnohistorical evidence, Keres legend, and ethnograpahic evidence on warfare, suggest that the Castañeda and Bandelier accounts referred to two separate events around sixty years apart. In addition, evidence is presented to suggest that it is more likely that the 1526 attacks on Pecos and the Keres pueblos along the Rio Grande in the 1580s or 1590s were conducted by either the Tompiro pueblos, perhaps in concert with their Jumano allies from the plains, or the Iscani band of the Wichita tribe.


In the ethnographic and historical records of the Rio Grande Puebloans, there have been numerous references to warfare and the destruction of pueblos by various enemies.  One such episode has been captured by a set of narratives purportedly surrounding the Teyas attack on Pecos Pueblo, around 1526 (Gunnerson 1956; Lange and Riley 1966; Tyler1964). One of the most intriguing aspects of this episode is the tribal identity of the Teyas. One interpretation, advanced by Dolores Gunnerson, is based on the internal evidence of two narratives: the Castañeda narrative of the Coronado expedition of 1540-42; and one collected by Adolf Bandelier almost 350 years later (Gunnerson 1956; Lange and Riley 1966).  After comparing the two accounts, Gunnerson concluded that the “Teyas” were not the attackers; rather, she believed the perpetrators were “Querechos,” or, as this Coronado-era group has come to be known, Apaches. Specifically, Gunnerson asserted they were Jicarilla Apaches or perhaps Lipan Apaches. Her reasoning for this will be explained later.

These are not, however, the only two accounts of hostile forces attacking the pueblos along the Rio Grande, the Galisteo Basin, or Pecos during this early time period. Other sources, including one mentioned by Gunnerson, but given only a cursory glance, is a story collected by Leslie White at the Pueblo of Santo Domingo in 1935 (White 1935).  A review of these three narratives, along with other ethnohistorical evidence, suggests a number of possibilities: 1) that Gunnerson was right and that the narratives refer to a single large scale destructive raid by Apaches at Pecos and other pueblos, particularly those of the Tanos in the Galisteo Basin and perhaps the eastern Keres along the Rio Grande; 2) that the narratives collected by Bandelier and White relate to a different set of events than the one collected by Castañeda; 3) that these narratives are best understood not as a re-telling of a particular historical episode, but rather, are reflective of themes of conflict, village abandonment and epic heroism that formed a coherent part of Keres folklore.

The Keres-Galisteo-Pecos (KGP) narratives, can be divided into primary and secondary accounts. They have been referred to as folklore (Gunnerson 1956), wherein stories or legends of these attacks have been passed down through several generations and as a result have distanced themselves from the real events, and have often been imbued with supernatural actions. Attempting to ascertain the group or groups responsible for these attacks has been made problematical due to several factors, including language barriers, the passage of time, and perhaps the motives of those relating the stories. A review of these accounts shows a rather complex interplay between historical facts and cultural framing. The ultimate sources for reporting this attack were the Pueblo Indians themselves, and must be viewed within the prism of Keres cultural themes and historical narratives as well as the sociopolitical relations between Rio Grande Keres, the Tewa pueblos upstream, the Tanoan pueblos of the Galisteo Basin, and the Pueblo of Pecos to the east.


The Castañeda Account

In 1541 the Coronado expedition interacted with numerous Pueblo “provinces” and nomadic groups in the high plains to the east on its way to Quivira. Many of the details of the expedition are found in the narrative of Pedro Castañeda. At one point in the narrative, Castañeda (Hodge 1907: 356-357) was discussing the region between the Keres pueblos on the Rio Grande and Pecos, specifically a number of pueblo ruins between them in what was all likelihood was the Galisteo Basin. Assuming they had been recently destroyed he wrote:

“All that I was able to find out about them was that, sixteen years before, some people called Teyas had come to this country in great numbers and had destroyed these villages. They had besieged Cicuye [Pecos] but had not been able to capture it, because it was strong, and when they left the region, they had made peace with the whole country. It seems as if they must have been a powerful people, and that they must have had engines to knock down the villages. The only thing they could tell about the direction these people came from was by pointing toward the north. They usually call these people Teyas or brave men, just as the Mexicans say Chichimecas or braves, for the Teyas whom the army (Coronado’s) saw were brave. These knew the people of the settlements, and were friendly with them, and they went there to spend the winter under the wings of the settlements.”

But, Castañeda continues, the Teyas were not too friendly:

“The inhabitants do not dare to let them come inside, because they cannot trust them. Although they are received as friends, and trade with them, they  do not stay in the villages over night, but outside under the wings. The villages are guarded by sentinels with trumpets, who call one another just as in the fortresses of Spain.”

Castañeda went on to note that there were seven other villages “along this route, toward the snowy mountains, one of which has been half destroyed by the people already referred to. These were under the rule of Cicuye.”

We do not know the source for Castañeda’s reporting of this attack, but circumstantial evidence points to his two Pecos guides, Cacique and Begotes. If this is so, it is possible that both of these men were alive when this alleged attack occurred in 1526 and were perhaps eyewitnesses, at least to the attack on Pecos. They perhaps also may have had first-hand knowledge of the attacks on the other villages if they in fact occurred.

At this point, what we learn is that a large and powerful force from the north attacked and destroyed some unnamed villages, were repulsed at Pecos, and then they made peace. These attackers were called Teyas, or brave men. Castañeda equated these Teyas with those encountered by Coronado’s army, because they too were brave. Castañeda’s reference to the Teyas in this latter context reveals that he understood the attackers were nomadic people from the plains that the expedition encountered on their way to Quivera, and who traded and wintered near the pueblos. We also learn that there were villages toward the mountains that were under the rule of Pecos, attesting to their power.

The Bandelier Accounts

The next primary account of an attack, the one that Gunnerson used to corroborate Castañeda, is one collected by Adolf Bandelier in the early 1880s.  Contrary to what Gunnerson has written, Bandelier did not get the account from anyone at Santo Domingo, as he was unable to penetrate their suspiciousness toward outsiders. In his journal he writes that it was his Cochiti informant who told him about a Santo Domingo folktale. From his journal he writes (Lange and Riley 1966:254):

“The pueblo of Santo Domingo was formerly on the north side of the Galisteo Arroyo and was called Guipuy. While there, a warlike tribe came from the east, called Quirauash and threatened the pueblos from that side. Some ill-disposed people of Santo Domingo held secret intercourse with them and conspired to plan an attack upon the village.”

As the story goes, a coyote was heard howling nightly, foretelling the coming of enemies. In a ruse, the people of Santo Domingo caught the coyote, who then revealed himself as a Quirauash warrior, and who discloses the plot, whereupon:

“They (people of Santo Domingo) set him (the Quirauash) free to return to his people, who, seeing that the plot had failed, abandoned it, and fell upon the Tano villages, destroying them all or nearly all. Thence they crossed the river with the intent of attacking Cochiti, but were foiled. Finally, they made an onslaught upon Santo Domingo but were repulsed with great loss and left.”

In this account then, we are told that the Santo Domingo pueblo of Guipuy was located on the north side of Galisteo Creek, to the northeast of their present location. A faction from Guipuy conspired with the warlike tribe from the east, the Quirauash to attack their own village. When the plot was foiled, the enraged Quirauash turned their wrath toward several Tanoan pueblos. In heroic Keres fashion, both the pueblos of Cochiti and Santo Domingo repulsed the invaders. A further piece of information is crucial. Bandelier’s Cochiti informant told him that this attack on Guipuy “happened after the first conquest” (presumably Coronado). He also told Bandelier that a flood subsequently destroyed Guipuy after 1689 (1966:255).

The White Account

The following tale was collected by Leslie White from a Santo Domingo informant in the 1930s (White 1964: 179-182). It relates multiple attacks on Keres villages from a formidable force from the east. The locations of these villages were plotted by White on a map (Figure 1) (White 1964: 180). As the story goes:

“A long time ago when the Domingo people were living at Gikyatsagya there were some little people called Kirawac that lived at a place right in front of the sun. They started out to go west. They were dressed just like the Opi. They came on west. Whenever they came to a pueblo they killed all the     people. The first village they came to was one right near Galisteo (1). They killed all the people there. Then they moved on to a village right near Kashenti (2); they killed all the people there. Then they went down south and destroyed Mictya (3), then Kodyomonic (4). Then they crossed the river and killed all the people in a pueblo called by the Spanish name Cubero (5). Going north they destroyed Kwicte (6) and Kwibocuko (7) and Cinata (8). Then they crossed the river and went over to a village called Berakana (9), near Pena Blanca today. They killed all the people in Berakana. Then they got ready to go down to Gikyatsagya and kill all the Domingo people.”

Figure 1. Map provided by White on the locations of the villages attacked by the Kirawac.

As the story continued, the people of Santo Domingo were tipped off by a fox of the impending attack on their village. With the help of a swarm of bees, they defeated the Kirawac, whereupon they “took away their skirts, wabani (prayer feathers), bows and arrows and everything away from the Kirawac and let them go” (White 1964: 182).

What we learn here, from a descendent of those directly involved in the attack, is that a group of warriors from the east, dressed like members of the Santo Domingo War Society and carrying prayer feathers, attacked them after destroying other pueblos. Like the Bandelier account, this account places the Keres villagers as heroic actors, repulsing the enemy. We also learn that the village under attack was not the current village, but one that existed to the northeast. White suggests that the village of Gikyatsaga was most probably Guipuy.

Gunnerson’s Analysis

In examining Gunnerson’s interpretations, it is important to set the context. Her frame of reference was the timing of the migration of the southern Athabascans into the southwest which, at the time, was a topic of significant interest.  She set the tone by discussing the two plains nomadic groups, the Teyas and Querechos, encountered by Coronado near the Texas panhandle in 1541, and their bison hunting, tipi-dwelling nomadic lifestyle (1956: 346).  She also noted the fact that these groups were regular traders at Pecos and other pueblos. However, relations were not always friendly, and here Gunnerson recites the Castañeda account of the Teyas attack on Pecos. Gunnerson (1956: 348) cited the work of Nelson (1914: 12-22), who suggested that the Tanoan pueblos seen by the Coronado expedition, and
attacked, were the Pueblos of Tungue, Galisteo, San Lazaro and San Cristobal.  Gunnerson then asserted that an account collected by Bandelier was of the same event. She writes a secondary account from Bandelier’s version: (1956:346):

“… a wild tribe from the plains made a sudden interruption into the valley of the Rio Grande [threatened Santo Domingo, attacked Cochiti, and]… enraged at their failure, withdrew toward the plains. Their retreat carried them past the most southerly pueblos of the Tanos, which they were able to surprise and utterly destroy.”

Regarding the White account, Gunnerson believed it to be a folkloric variation of the account from Bandelier, and that the Bandelier and Castañeda accounts were so similar they had to refer to the same event (1956: 348).  Evidence will be presented below to suggest that this was not the case.

Gunnerson noted that Bandelier recognized the similarity of the words Kirauash and Querecho, and who concluded that Castañeda erred and should have said that the Querechos rather than the Teyas destroyed these pueblos. This view had also been expressed by Nelson (1914). Gunnerson used other linguistic evidence to make a Kirauash-Querecho connection, namely the word Tágu-kerésh, the Jemez-Pecos word for Apaches (1956: 351). Going further, she suggested an equivalence between Tágu-kerésh and Teya-Querecho, a term she says was apparently used by Jemez-Pecos people for Lipan Apaches (1956: 351).  How does Gunnerson reconcile the association of these terms with Plains groups to the east? By suggesting that the Lipan referred to were actually part of the Jicarilla, an Apache group who historically lived to the north of the pueblos in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (1956: 352).  From this series of linguistic transformations, she conjoined the portion of Castañeda’s account wherein the attackers “came from the north,” with her theory of a relatively recent arrival of the southern Athabaskans into the Southwest. This view also lends the impression, picked up by others, that the Apaches constituted some large scale, organized invading force (Hickerson 2003: 188). However, this view is a misunderstanding not only of Apache sociopolitical organization but Apache warfare as well.


While Gunnerson created a plausible case for the JicarillaTeyas-Querecho attack of 1526, there are several problems with her interpretations of the narratives themselves, as well as some critical omissions. By up streaming the narratives, that is, taking the most recent and working back in time to Castañeda’s original account, there is room for different interpretations.

The White Account

A review of the White account, collected at Santo Domingo shows that Gunnerson, who concentrated almost solely on the name of the tribe (Kirawac) left out critical pieces of information. First, the account explicitly states that the attackers came from a place right in front of the sun, east, not north. Second, at the time of the attack there were Santo Domingo people living to the northeast, a matter of no small importance. Third, the attackers were dressed like members of Santo Domingo’s own Opi, the war captains or war society, and when defeated, their skirts and prayer feathers were taken from them. This gives strong indication that the attackers were Puebloan warriors, not Apaches. Furthermore, the reference to “little people” is intriguing. Among the Tewa, the war captains are most often referred to as “little people” (Arnon and Hill 1979: 298). In this context, the story does not mention anything about a rampaging group of warriors attacking the Tanos on their way back to the plains.

The Bandelier Account

In Bandelier’s account, the Santo Domingo village “to the northeast” is explicitly identified as Guipuy.  In addition, he was told that the attack on Guipuy happened after the first conquest, which presumably meant sometime after Coronado. This can be corroborated.  In Diego Pérez De Luxán’s narrative of the Espejo expedition through the Rio Grande region in 1582-83, upon reaching the Quires (Keres) province he noted that it included five occupied pueblos, which he named: Catiete, Gigue, Tipolti, Cochita, and Sieharan (Hammond and Rey 1929: 117). These have been interpreted respectively as San Felipe, Guipuy, Santa Ana, Cochiti and Zia (1929: 117).  It is somewhat problematical that Espejo did not in all likelihood visit any of these except San Felipe. According to Schroeder and Matson, both the current Santo Domingo and Guipuy were inhabited when visited by the Rodruiguez-Chamuscado expedition in 1581-82 (Schroeder and Matson 1965: 158):

“At that time the most northern Keres pueblo visited on the Rio Grande (Santo Domingo) was called Talavan and had eighty houses of three and four stories. Beyond Talavan, on the north side of a large tributary stream, a large pueblo called La Nueba Tlascala was reported. This pueblo had 500 houses from one to seven stories high. Here they learned there were other pueblos farther on, one large one ten days to the north. Thus in 1582, Gipuy on Galisteo Creek appears to have been larger than Santo Domingo.”

By 1591, however, things appear to have changed. In March of that year, as Gaspar Castaño de Sosa was marching down Galisteo Creek toward Santo Domingo, “ we slept in a deserted pueblo a league from the [P]pueblo of Santo Domingo” (Schroeder and Matson 1965: 157). According to Schroeder and Matson (1965: 158), this deserted pueblo is LA 182, Guipuy.

So, piecing together the information provided by Bandelier’s Cochiti informant, White’s Santo Domingo informant, and Spanish documentation, Guipuy, was an ancestral Keres village along Galisteo Creek, one of two occupied by the people of Santo Domingo in 1581-82. It was attacked by people from the east, subsequent to Coronado’s entrada, by warriors who dressed like other pueblo warriors. By the time Castaño saw Guipuy in 1591 it was abandoned.  Thus, the circumstantial evidence is strong that Guipuy was attacked sometime between 1582- and 1591. If this is true, then Gunnerson is wrong in her assertion that the accounts provided by Bandelier and White refer to the 1526 attack related by Castañeda.

Another of Bandelier’s informants, from San Felipe, told him that Guipuy was destroyed by the Tanoans from La Bajada and Tungue (Lange et al. 1975: 71).  Assuming that the Tanos also had warrior societies like other Puebloan groups, this statement is consistent with White’s Santo Domingo informant when he said that those who attacked Guipuy dressed like their own warriors, carried prayer feathers, and “lived at a place right in front of the sun.”

If taken literally, it is entirely possible that the Bandelier and White accounts related to the attack and eventual abandonment of Guipuy, and attacks on other Keres pueblos, sometime between 1582 and 1591, not by Apaches or other nomadic tribes, but perhaps by the Tanos. If so, what might have prompted the attack? A possible clue lies in Espejo’s narrative in 1582. Upon leaving the Tiguas (southern Tiwas), Espejo marched north up the Rio Grande (Bolton 1967: 181):

“…we heard of another province called Quires (Keres) up the Rio del Norte one day’s journey, a distance of about six leagues from where we had our camp. With the entire force we set out for the province of the Quires, and one league before reaching it many Indians came out to greet us peacefully, and begged us to go to their pueblos. We went therefore and they received us well, and gave us some cotton mantas, many turkeys, maize, and
portions of all else they had.”

Luxan is more specific (Hammond and Rey 1929:116):

“We left his place (Tiguas) on the twenty-third of the month and marched four leagues up the river, persuaded by some Indians of the Quites (Keres) nation belonging to another settlement who had been present at the death of the friars. We stopped at a place an harquebus shot from the pueblo of these natives. This pueblo was called Çachiti. The people are very peaceful. They gave us maize, tortillas, turkeys and pinole. We bartered very fine buffalo skins for sleigh bells and small iron article.”

It would appear, then, that at least some of the Rio Grande Keres had welcomed the Spanish and expressed interest in commerce. However, it also could be that the Keres were fearful because of what the Spanish had done in the Tiwa pueblo of Puala (Puaray), where they had executed sixteen people and burned many more to death in retaliation for the killing of Fray Chamuscado (Hammond and Rey 1929: 116). At any event, later, when Espejo returned from the pueblos west of the Rio Grande, he marched to the Keres where he was again well receive and where he tried, but failed, to entreat the Tiwa to make peace. He then went toward the east looking for mines. In doing so the expedition came to another province (Bolton 1967:

“It consists of three very large pueblos, which seemed to us to contain more than forty thousand souls. It is called the province of the Tamos (Tanos). Here they did not wish to give us food.”

According to Luxan, they encountered  “a people more bellicose than those of other provinces. They possess well built houses, as the most astute people of war.” Due to being outnumbered and because of the reception they received, Espejo decided not to press the issue, and headed east to Pecos (Hammond an Rey 1929: 119).

While the idea that it was the Tanos who attacked the Keres seems plausible enough, left out is the portion of the narrative from Bandelier that mentions that the Tanos themselves were attacked by the marauding tribe.  If we look closely at the first Bandelier account and compare it with the one cited by Gunnerson, one immediately sees they are not quite the same. The account cited by Gunnerson came from Bandelier’s final report, written in 1892 (Bandelier 1892: 116-117), while the first account came from his journals from 1880-1882. The journal version does not mention that the Kirauash were “a wild tribe from the plains,” nor does it say that they were returning to the plains when they attacked the Tanos. It only says that the attacking tribe came from the east. These are not the same exact accounts, though they may be similar versions. Why the difference? There are two possible reasons.

First, is entirely possible that Bandelier injected this new information at a later date based on Castañeda’s referencing of the Teyas and Querechos living on the plains, and Bandelier’s own beliefs that the Querechos, that is, Apaches, were responsible for the attacks.

Second, in the section of Bandelier’s final report where this version appears, he was trying to account for the abandonment of Tanoan territory just prior to the historic period. In reading Castañeda, Bandelier knew that the Querechos traded with the neighboring pueblos in the 1540s. Putting the pieces together as he viewed it, he might have concluded that both accounts were recounting the same event, and he inferred that the Querechos must have conducted the attacks.  Circumstantial evidence certainly could lead that conclusion. What about the possibility that the attacking tribe from the east was not the Tanos, but rather warriors from Pecos?  This seems doubtful. According to Schroeder (1979: 436), the Keres name for Pecos is Peypkona, which does not resemble Kirauash or Kiriwac in any way. Had the attackers been from Pecos, it stands to reason that the Keres informants would have used that term.

The Castañeda Narrative

Both Gunnerson and Bandelier believed that Castañeda erred when he reported that it was the Teyas that had attacked Pecos and the other pueblos. Castañeda’s narrative is especially important for two reasons. First, his account is the least removed from the time at which the alleged attack on Pecos occurred. Second, he was an eyewitness to the Coronado expedition. He was with the army as it marched onto the plains and encountered the Teyas and Querechos. In his ethnographic description of these two tribes, he was clearly aware of the differences between them.  It also stands to reason that the people at Pecos and the Wichita captives that led Coronado to Quivira also knew the difference between them. Alvarado, one of Coronado’s captains, mentioned that his guides told him that those who attacked Pecos “painted their eyes.”  This is a clear reference to the Teyas.

Assuming the linguistic evidence is correct that the Pecos-Jemez word for Apaches was Togo-Keresh, and that Harrington is correct when he says that the Jemez people, and probably the Pecos as well called the Navajos and Apaches something akin to “Kerech-tsaa” and added to it  Tagu (“east” ) to designate the eastern Apaches or “Plains Apache” (Harrington 1916: 573; Foster and McCollough 2001:940), and is synonymous with Querechos, if it had been Apaches that attacked Pecos then they would have told Castañeda that it was the TogoKeresh or Quercheos, not Teyas who attacked them in 1526.  Finally, there is broad consensus that the Querechos were, in fact, Plains Apaches (Blakeslee et al. 2003; Boyd 1997, 2001; Habicht-Mauche 1992; Kenmotsu and Boyd 2012). It is clear from the Castañeda and subsequent Spanish accounts that the Querechos and Teyas were enemies. Since it was generally true that Apache bands did not fight one another, then it adds further evidence that the Teyas were not Apaches.

The idea that it was the Teyas rather than the Apaches also makes sense in two other respects. First, if, as has been suggested by others (Arnn 2001; Hickerson 1994), the Teyas were actually Jumanos, they also fit the folkloric criteria from the Bandelier and White accounts of the attacking tribe “coming from the east” or “living in a place right in front of the sun.”

Second, it stands to reason that whoever came through the Galisteo Basin and attacked well-protected pueblos with sizable populations and destroying some, had to have been a substantially large invading force. Castañeda estimated that Pecos itself had 500 warriors. It is tempting to think that the Apaches were responsible, given the fact that though they traded with Pecos and other pueblos they were not trusted to enter the villages. However, could pre-horse Apaches who were never described as having large populations in the sixteenth century, muster the force to launch such attacks? This is not to say that there were not quarrels or minor skirmishes between them, nor that Apaches did not harass trading caravans. The fact that the pueblos kept them at arms length during extended visits testifies to some degree of tension and suspicion that could lead to grievances and minor flare-ups. However, as John sums up the issue (1975: 59):

“How often quarrels precipitated fights between Apaches and Pueblos, or how accumulated stores at pueblos tempted raiders in pre-colonial times, is uncertain, but Apaches were usually cautious fighters and pueblos were formidably defended bastions. As long as their capacity to attack and to escape depended solely on their own swift moccasins and as long as the amount of loot could not exceed that which a man could carry on foot, the scale of Apache depredations against pueblos was necessarily limited.”

Most of what is known about Apache warfare comes from historical and ethnographic accounts after they had acquired horses, when clearly they posed a much greater danger to sedentary Pueblo villagers. Still, some conclusions can be drawn about pre-horse Plains Apache warfare. One of the earliest ethnographic accounts of Apache tribes was supplied in 1799, by Jose Cortes, a lieutenant in the Royal Corps of Engineers. Cortes describes Apache rancherias as ranging from as many as one hundred families to as few as twenty or less (John 1989: 62). Most of the time the rancherias operated as independent units that, on occasion would coalesce into multi-band encampments, usually for bison hunting (1989: 65). The fifty “tents” of Apaches encountered by Zaldivar in 1598 in the Llano Estacado fits well within this range.  Regarding warfare, it is probably safe to assume that the pre-horse Apache relied more on the stealth and ambush tactics described by Cortes than an outright assault and destruction of villages. He writes (John 1989:72):

“To carry out the attack they first set up an ambush in the place most favorable to them, then dispatch several small parties of the boldest and swiftest Indians to steal horses, mules, or other livestock in order to provoke the people into pursuing them. They attack them by surprise and create bloody carnage.”

This is consistent with Haley’s description of Apache warfare as preference for ambushes and avoidance of pitched battles (Haley 1997: 119), and with Britten’s descriptions of Lipan Apache warfare as small-scale episodes involving war parties of twenty or fewer warriors geared toward ambushes and raids for horses and captives (Britten 2009:13-14).  Even into the 1870s and 1880s, when Apaches had horses and highly effective firearms (including the Springfield breech loaders and Winchester repeating rifles), their most effective and deadly military tactics were ambushes away from major settlements (Watt: 2012).  As for causing the abandonment of entire villages, U.S. military officers in the 1880s noted that the ruins of Mexican settlements was due not to direct assaults or sieges, but to relentless small scale raids over a period of time. The Apaches preferred to conduct their military operations away from the villages, at a time and on turf of their own choosing.

Marauding attacks and the sacking of sedentary villages by purely nomadic hunting groups had to await mounted warfare.  This was beginning to happen by the late 1590s as the Spanish, eager to develop trade with the plains Apaches, began to trade them horses (John 1975: 134). Once Apaches became mounted, then they became a more dangerous trading partner with the eastern Pueblos. By the 1700s, the Comanches had turned the tables on the plains Apaches, displacing them with far larger forces and mounting their own assaults on Pecos (Schroeder 1979a: 431). This tribe fought differently than Apaches, and were much more likely to attack directly in large numbers,

The idea of Apaches sacking pueblo villages also begs the question of why they would destroy a source of maize, turquoise, cotton and other products as well as an outlet for their bison hides, tallow, and salt? It seems more plausible that the wholesale destruction of pueblos would be conducted by large populations with substantial numbers of warriors, motivated by serious grievances, and who stood to lose nothing in terms of trade. This does not fit the descriptions by Casteñeda of the size of Querecho rancherias, nor later data on the size of Apache camps (Cortes 1989).

There is yet, another possibility to be considered, and that is that those who attacked Pecos were Wichita. One Wichita name for themselves is Kirikiris “raccoon eyes” said to be a reference their custom of having tattoos around the eyes (Newcombe, Jr. 1979:564). According to others, this was the name of a Wichita band, and a variant of that names is Kirikirish, which is as similar to Kirawac or Quirauash (Lesser and Weltfish 1932: 10) as Tagu-Keresh is to Teyas-Querecho. Amongst Plains tribes such as Kiowa, the name for Wichita was “face mark”, and Kiowa-Apache, “they have painted face.” They were known by the French as Panis Piques, “tattooed Pawnee.” Cheyenne and Comanche names also reflected tattooing of the body (1979: 564). In his book on the Wichita Indians, Scott (2000) identifies the Teyas encountered by Coronado as the Iscani band of Wichitas who were bison hunting on the Llano Estacado at the time. Let’s recall that at the time of Coronado, Pecos held two Wichita captives, which implies some degree of conflict between the two groups.

Whether the Wichita could have provided the kind of powerful invading force that could attack well defended pueblo villages, especially Pecos, can be answered by pointing out that in 1626, the Wichita sent a delegation of six hundred warriors to New Mexico to gain the friendship of the Spanish and request aid against their enemies (Gunnerson 1974: 65). Recall that the account of the Kirawac collected by White is very specific about the widespread, large-scale destruction wrought by this group on pueblo villages. 

Taking into account the fact that folklore could capture real events, and that tales such as this one can lump multiple events into one as time passes, it is hard to imagine that the Apaches or some other pre-horse nomadic hunting tribe could have delivered this kind of carnage. If taken literally, these stories suggest it is highly likely that both the Kirauash and Kirawac tales marked the same event. Moreover, if the attack on Guipuy was part of the event sequence, then it happened sometime between 1583 and 1591. The two versions contain too many similarities. The most obvious similarity is linguistic, but there are others. In both version, the attackers came from the east, the warriors dressed like Pueblo fighters, their leader was thwarted in a ruse, and the attackers were defeated by Santo Domingo.  In both versions the attackers had crossed the Rio Grande to attack both Santo Domingo and Cochiti. There are, however, differences in the accounts. In the Kirauash account, the Tanos are also victims. This does not appear in the Kirawac account although the it does refer to nine pueblos being destroyed, some of which had to have been Tanoan given the locations provided to White. But what about the statement by Bandelier’s San Felipe informant that those who attacked Guipuy were Tanos from Tunque and La Bajada?

Assuming a singular event, and that a Puebloan group was the attacker, several possibilities exist. One is that the attackers were the Tano. This is problematical given that in the Kirauash tale, the Tano were also attacked.  Two, is that the attackers were Jumanos living in the Tompiro pueblos east of the Manzano Mountainsperhaps aided by their Teyas (Jumano) allies from the plains. Or three, the attacks in the Kirauash- Kirawac episodes relate separate events.  If the Kirauash and Kiriwac tales reflected the same event, and both Keres and Tano pueblos were attacked, then another Puebloan group was responsible. If these tales reflect different events, then the Tanos were the attackers in one case, and victims in the other. The tales themselves are so strikingly similar that it is tempting to conclude they are relating the same event but in the re-telling over time details have either been dropped or added to produce variation.

If these two tales reflect a single episode, it is seems clear that a necessarily large force could have been supplied by the Tompiro pueblos, who, when visited by Espejo in 1583 lived in 11 villages east of the Manzano Mountains in the saline country.  He described them as warlike (Schroeder 1979b: 240) According to Hickerson, the Tompiros, or at least some of them, were sedentary Jumanos living at the Salinas pueblos (Hiickerson 1994: 53-55). Such an assault could also have been complemented with the large villages of nomadic Jumanos, the latter of whom were described by Castañeda as having large villages in the barrancas of the Llano Estacado (Hodge 1907: 333).  The involvement of the Jumanos from the plains is made more evident from the account of Alvardo in 1540. Upon passing some recently abandoned villages in the Galisteo Basin, he was told by his Pecos Pueblo guides that those villages had been destroyed by “those Indians who paint their eyes…they say that these live in the same region as the cows and that [they] raised maize and had houses of straw” (Habit-Mauche 1992: 251). The reference to painted eyes or faces fits with Castañeda’s description of the Teyas, The reference to corn and straw houses is problematical. It could also refer to a more distant tribe like the Wichita, or as Habit-Mauche has suggested, the large villages of Teyas that extended for three days in the canyons of the Llano Estacado could have been part-time agriculturalists related to the Caddoans (1992: 251). Either way, the evidence points away from the Apaches.

What could have been the motives for such attacks, by the Tompiros or Jumanos on Pecos, the Galisteo pueblos, and later the Keres pueblos along the Rio Grande? One reason could have been competition over water. The Sixteenth century saw some of the worst droughts in the Southwest, and disputes over water, coupled with accusations of witchcraft could have easily fueled intra-Pueblo warfare.  Water scarcity had to have been a problem at the Tompiro pueblos, an area where irrigation was not feasible, and agriculture was dependent upon uncertain rainfall.  According to tree ring data, a severe drought began in 1510 and didn’t end until around 1530 (Stahle et al.: 121). Another severe drought, clearly one of the most severe droughts in the Southwest, lasted from about 1550 to 1595 (Grissino-Mayer 1996: 199; Stahle et al 2000: 121). It may not be coincidental that this drought correlated with the abandonment of many pueblos during this time as well as the drawn out war in northern Mexico between the Chichimec’s and Spanish settlers and supply caravans (Stahle et al. 2000: 125). During this time, the Pueblos might have been particularly reticent or unable to provide the Spanish with foodstuffs. Luxan, traveling with Espejo in 1583, makes mention of this fact when attempting to procure provisions at the Tano Pueblo of “Pocos”  (San Cristobal) (Hammond and Rey 1929: 120):

“They did not wish to give any provisions to four men who went to ask for them. They said they did not have any; that there was a lack of rain and they were not certain they would gather any maize. They raised their ladders and no one would come down.”

They received the same treatment at Pecos and had to use the threat of force to receive pinole (1929: 120).

Coupled with drought, attacks on other Pueblo provinces by the Tompiros could have been motivated by an attempt to monopolize the plains trade coming from the Apaches and the nomadic Jumanos, or to seize control of the turquoise mines in the Cerillos Hills area.  A third reason could be revenge as the result of a series of escalating disagreements or actions. This is not unknown among agriculturalists. For example, in their analysis of prehistoric Oneota warfare in central Illinois and a general discussion of small-scale society warfare, Milner et al. (1991: 593) noted how a series of opportunistic hostilities motivated by revenge can snowball:

“Hostilities occasionally escalate to outright massacres and destruction of considerable amounts of valuable property. Such incidents are likely to occur over grievances over past wrongs and discrepancies in a group’s perceived strength compared with that of the enemy, especially if a particularly favorable opportunity to attack presents itself.”

It is important to note that large, dense, populations fueled by extensive agriculture characterized Oneota culture in this area. These kinds of situations can result in a dynamic social landscape where large communities can fission, smaller communities could aggregate for protection, expedient alliances can be made and territorial boundary zones are depopulated or abandoned (Milner, et al. 1991: 593)

This scenario fits well with Puebloan history. Intra-Pueblo warfare as a result of deteriorating social relations was not uncommon, as witnessed by settlement patterns of pueblo villages on defensible locations and aggregations of populations (Lambert 2002: 209) along with historic reference to Pueblos attacking one another, particularly during the early Spanish period.  At this time expedient allies were formed between Puebloan groups and grievances between pueblos were acted out, especially between those rebelling against the Spanish and those not so inclined. In late 1692, for example, Pueblo peoples of San Felipe, Cochiti and some Tanos were attacked by other Pueblo groups for agreeing to make peace with DeVargas (White 1932: 9-10).

All the foregoing presumes that the Bandelier and White folkloric accounts recall real events. However, there is also the possibility that these accounts are not to be taken as much literally as thematic of Pueblo cultural constructs regarding hostility and conflict. In addition, many Pueblo oral traditions relate references to feuding and fighting in their migration traditions, resulting in group fissioning and abandonment of boundary zones.  For example, according to Parsons, at one time the people of San Felipe, Cochiti and Santo Domingo all lived together in the Frijoles Canyon area, but were driven south by the Tewas, who lived to the north (Parsons 1966: 901).   Bandelier collected another account of an attack on the Keres, specifically on San Felipe and Cochiti, while both groups were living at Kuapa, a Pueblo to the north in Cañada de Cochiti. An informant from the Pueblo of San Felipe told him (Lange, et al. 1975: 70):

“He told me that their tradition is that all the Queres together lived at Cuapa [Kuapa] and while there were attacked by a people of Pygmies called Pi-ni-ni who, while small, were very strong and slew them all except one woman who hid behind a metate-frame with a guacamayo [macaw or parrot] and a boy who concealed himself in a storeroom. When the Pygmies had gone, the three came forth and started the new generation of Queres.”

Bandelier noted that “Pygmy” could be a corruption of “Pinini”, but the fact is this event follows the theme of destruction by a foreign tribe, attributed at Cochiti to the Tewas who lived to the north of Kuapa, although Bandelier indicated that the “Pygmies” also came from the east.

Ruth Benedict collected what appears to be a variant of the destruction of Kuapa (Benedict 1931: 187) in a tale entitled “The Destruction of White Shell Pueblo”:

“At Kubero (Pojoaque) the Tewa were living (who afterwards went to Hopi). They came down against White Shell Pueblo (Hishi; the old site of San Felipe) and overcame the people and destroyed the pueblo. The people went farther south and settled on the site of San Felipe.”

But judging the area not to be safe, the people moved across the Sandia Mountains to a place called ‘Cranquebila.’  After living there awhile, there was no water for the crops and the people returned to the Rio Grande (1931: 187). Regarding the Pueblo of Santa Ana, Strong writes (1979:404):

“Like other Keresans, the people of Santa Ana trace their origins to the north. That’s where they emerged and then moved to a place to the south called White House. Here a quarrel arose between the people and the Kachinas. The Kachinas left, and when the people continued to quarrel the “Mother” priest was angered and gave the quarreling factions different tongues.”

Thus it is feasible that the area between Frijoles Canyon and Canada de Cochiti became an uninhabited boundary zone with Tewas to the north and Keres to the south. In similar fashion, it is conceivable that the contraction and abandonment of Tanoan territory during late prehistoric and early historic periods was similarly due to conflict with Puebloan groups to the east, south and west.


Warfare and conflict within Pueblo groups and between them and nomadic tribes has played a significant role in the culture history of the American Southwest. One such encounter, between the Teyas and Pecos pueblo, around 1526, was recorded by the chronicler of the Coronado expedition, Pedro De Castañeda.  Using this account and comparing it with a similar account collected from a Cochiti informant by Adolf Bandelier some 350 years later, Gunnerson concluded that Castañeda erred in attributing the attack to the Teyas. Rather, the Apaches were the attackers. Bandelier also attributed the attack to the Apaches. Gunnerson relied heavily on a series of linguistic transformations to conclude that the attacks specifically were conducted by the Jicarilla Apaches. It is important to view her interpretations in the context of timing the migration of the southern Athabaskans into the Southwest, which was Gunnerson’s principal concern. 

A critical review of narratives, historical evidence, and Keres origin and migration narratives presented here within the context of Gunnerson’s analysis of 1526 Teyas attack on Pecos and other Pueblos has three main conclusions. First, the accounts of Castañeda and Bandelier refer to two separate events, rather than one. The Bandelier account of the attack on the Santo Domingo Pueblo of Guipuy probably occurred between 1583 and 1591. Second, contrary to Bandelier’s idea that the attackers of Guipuy were a “wild tribe from the east,” the evidence suggests that the attackers were more likely Puebloans whose warriors dressed similarly to Santo Domingo warriors. Furthermore, evidence has been presented to suggest that the attackers were Tanos from the east. Third, it is suggested that the 1526 attack on Pecos and the destruction of other pueblos (likely in the Galisteo Basin) could not have been carried out by nomadic groups prior to the introduction of mounted warfare, nor would it have been in their economic interest to do so.  Rather, only tribes with sizable populations and large contingents of warriors could inflict such damage in a cultural climate of competition for water, trade or other resources.  Thus, those looking to discover the perpetrators of this attack should perhaps look to the Tompiros, some of whom may have been Jumanos, perhaps in conjunction with the nomadic Teyas (if they were also Jumanos) encountered by Coronado living on the plains to the east of Pecos.  A second possibility is that the Teyas were a band of Wichitas, perhaps the Iscanis band, and that it was they who were the perpetrators of the attack on Pecos

Finally, one might ask the rhetorical question, what is the scholarly value or significance of reconciling or dissecting these several accounts to figuring out who attacked Pecos, Santo Domingo, and other Native pueblos in the sixteenth century prior to Spanish settlement of New Mexico? Three points can made here.

First, no matter what one might think regarding the rather arcane nature of the topic, it is still important to get the historical record as accurately as possible, given the strengths and weaknesses of the data, the ambiguities and gaps in the historical and ethnohistorical documentation. Furthermore, the attack events themselves contribute to a broader understanding of the socio-cultural dynamics during the late pre-contact and early contact Puebloan periods that included drought, reactions to Spanish policies and inter-pueblo conflict.

Second, this paper is a demonstration that facts do not speak for themselves, but rather the nature of what is a “fact” needs to be understood within an historical context. In this case, the context of the original proposition that Pecos was attacked by Apaches, a position taken by Gunnerson and Bandelier, was one that viewed the Athabaskan migration as a rather recent phenomenon just prior to 1540. As I have tried to show, it is this context, or theory, that led them to use selective data and ignore other narrative evidence.

Third, it is important to acknowledge that history is multi-faceted in the sense that it can be viewed as historiography and a set of linear events through time, or it can be viewed as nested within mythic narratives about cultural origins and social relations. Dissecting the documentation to address the timing of the attacks on Pecos and other Pueblos emphasized the former, while the underlying cultural themes of the Keresan narratives have shown the latter.


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