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Date of visit:
September 30, 2008

For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
Location of Salinas Valley Missions, NM

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Site Highlights:
 Las Humanas
 Two churches
 Indian Pueblos
 Partially excavated
 No water source
 Trade and Barter
 Tompiro Indians


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Gran Quivira Mission - Background

Gran Quivira Ruins SiteGran Quivira (also known as Las Humanas), largest of the Salinas pueblos, was an important trade center for many years before and after the Spanish entrada. The people resisted the newcomers at first, but they reconciled themselves to the Spanish presence and borrowed freely from them, as they had from other cultures.

The pueblo's black-on-white pottery took on new forms reflecting European styles. Other artifacts from the site recall the Spanish presence: Chinese porcelain, metal tools, religious medallions, and evidence of cattle, goats, sheep, horses, and pigs.

Gran Quivira MissionDocuments from the 1600s tell of strife between missionaries and the encomenderos, who complained that the friars kept the Indians so busy studying Christianity and building churches that the encomenderos could neither use Indian labor nor collect their tributes.

In the 1660s friars burned and filled kivas in an effort to exterminate the old religion. Hurriedly altered above-ground rooms converted to kivas attest to the Pueblo priests' response. A second church was begun around 1659, but was never completed, partly because Apache raids had begun. In 1672, further weakened by drought and famine, the inhabitants (only 500 by that time) abandoned the pueblo.

Black-on-white potteryGran Quivira was established as a national monument in 1909, making it one of the oldest units of the National Park System.

It was combined with the New Mexico state monuments of Abo and Quarai in 1980 to form Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.

Exploring Gran Quivira Mission

Gran Quivira Mission c. 1660s

Gran Quivira Mission c. 1660s

EXPLORING LAS HUMANAS ... ... The many names associated with this low ridge - Cueloze, Las Humanas, San Buenaventura, and, most recently, Gran Quivira - hint that its 800-year history is layered and complex. The Tompiro Indians whose plazas and apartments you will explore lived on the edge of survival, far from other pueblos and in a town with very little water.

Gran Quivira site

The site's 1/2-mile trail shown above (dotted line), winds its way up to the ruins. The top is just 50 feet higher than the base at the Visitors Center.

In Depth ... Over the years, this pueblo has been known by several names. The Pueblo people who lived here spoke a dialect called The Tompiro. While we can't be sure what they called this place, it apparently sounded something like Cueloze to the Spanish. After Juan de Onate's visit in 1598, and throughout the next century, the Spanish called it Pueblo de Las Humanas.

Spanish explorers had previously encountered nomadic Indians with striped faces out on the southern plains and had called them Humanas. Unique in the Pueblo world, many of the people at this pueblo also had striped faces and so they and their village were given the same name. The Tompiro people of Las Humanas and Abo were related to the Piro Indians who lived along the Rio Grande in the area that is now Socorro, New Mexico.

How the name Gran Quivira got attached to the pueblo is still a mystery. The first known use of the name occurred around 1835, more than 150 years after the place was deserted. Despite the reference to the mythical Cities of Gold for which Coronado searched in vain, there is no credible evidence that any treasure or riches ever existed at this Gran Quivira.

Early housesUNDERGROUND HOUSING ... The first people known to live in this area built their homes partially underground with upper walls and wooden roofs covered by thick layers of earth. For many centuries, these pithouses were the most typical dwellings to be found in the Southwest.

Jacals (pronounced hah-CAHLs), with woven wicker walls plastered with mud, replaced pithouses about 900 years ago. Above-ground stone pueblos, like Las Humanas, began to appear only in the 1300s.

The first settlers built small communities on Chupadera Mesa, the high ground in the distance, nearly 1,200 years ago. Distinctive pot sherds link these tornado Mogollon people to Indians living in the deserts far to the south.

In Depth ... The Gran Quivira area was a cultural crossroads before European's arrived. Early pithouse-dwelling members of the Jornada branch of the Mogollon culture interacted with nomadic Plains Indians from the east and Pueblo Indians from the west. Eventually pithouses were transformed to above ground jacal structures. The change from below- to above-ground living was gradual at first but seems to have been fueled by an influx of cultural ideas from migrating Pueblo people from the Rio Grande valley.

By around 1300, the village had a predominantly Puebloan feel. Large, aboveground masonry house blocks arranged around central plazas and the modification of the pithouse from living quarters to religious structure (kiva) completed the architectural and cultural transformation.

Gran Quivira Water BasinA TRAP FOR RUNOFF ... Any town in dry country must hunt hard for enough water. But the people who lived on this ridge 400 years ago had no stream nearby to tap for drinking, cooking, and building.

Look for a hollowed-out shape on the ground. Such a basin is just one of more than thirty such shallow pits built on this slope to catch runoff from sporadic rains. Water held here for a few weeks supplemented the wells and roof-fed cisterns of Las Humanas.

Tompiro Indian potsIn Depth ... Unlike the pueblos of Abo and Quarai, there was no permanent water source nearby. Yet it is known there was water or the pueblo could not have survived.

Some archeologists feel that basins were not catchments or "reservoirs" at all, since in recent times only a few inches of standing water has been observed in them and then only for short periods after heavy rain.

The basins do, however, retain moisture and may have served as a good place for growing dryland crops.

If this is so, then, where did the water come from?

The main water supply was probably a series of 32 wells, ranging from 20 to 50 feet in depth, approximately 3/4 of a mile to the west.

Archeologists have also found a series of clay-lined pits dug into the bedrock within the pueblo and at other sites nearby.

It's possible they were cisterns to store runoff. Whatever the source of water, it was limited.

Historical documents indicate that drought was one of the leading factors in the abandonment of the pueblo in 1672.


DRYLAND CROPS AND GAME ... Drought-resistant corn, planted eight inches deep on this north slope, was the staff of life for this pueblo. Archeology here reveals tiny fragments of beans, squash, pinon nuts, yucca, and prickly pears, along with the bones of tens of thousands of jackrabbits, cottontails, deer, pronghorns, and even bison. After Spanish priests and settlers came to New Mexico, European wheat, cattle, sheep, and goats joined these earlier Indian foods.

Hunters straightened and smoothed their arrow shafts on special grooved stones, arming them with points made of jasper, chert chalcedony, or obsidian. Salt from nearby lakes preserved the game meat.

In Depth ... In a semi-arid land that's at best marginal for subsistence farming, survival often depended upon a flexible diet. At favorable locations along the north and south slopes of the pueblo, drought resistant varieties of corn, beans, and squash were cultivated using dryland farming techniques.

The gathering of seasonal wild foods supplemented the harvest. The people of Las Humanas also hunted and trapped pronghorn antelope, deer, cottontail, jackrabbit, and smaller mammals.

Located on the western edge of the Llano Estacado, or staked plains, trade with nomadic tribes, especially for bison, was also crucial to securing a steady supply of meat and hides for the pueblo.

Trade and barter at Las Humanas

PLAZA - HEART OF THE PUEBLO ... The central plaza was a busy place in the 1500s. Here the Puebloans of this village - called "Cueloze" - cooked, made pottery, fashioned tools, performed ceremonies, and traded their wares. Located at a gateway between Rio Grande Pueblo and Plains Indian worlds, and near valuable salt lakes, Cueloze was a regional trade center. During trade fairs and religious ceremonies, hundreds of Pueblo and Plains Indians would gather in this plaza.

This plaza had several kivas. The smaller one was probably used by an individual clan. The larger one beyond was likely used for events involving the entire pueblo.

In 1598 Don Juan de Onate elicited this pueblo's obedience to the Spanish crown. He called it "Pueblo Las Humanas" for the striped-faced Indians he encountered here.

In Depth ... When Don Juan de Onate visited Las Humanas, he persuaded the pueblo leaders to sign the Acts of Obedience to the King of Spain. But it was Frey Alonso de Benavides who first introduced Christianity to the people of the pueblo.

When Benavides arrived in 1627, the pueblo already had a highly evolved and complex religious system. It should come as no surprise that the shaman, a prominent and highly respected religious leader of the pueblo, viewed Fray Benavides and his new religion suspiciously. Fray Benavides most certainly viewed the shaman and the events of the day through the lens of his own culture as well. Thus the stage was set for the cultural and religious conflicts soon to come.

Trade and barter played a crucial role in the economy and existence of Pueblo de Las Humanas. Jumano and later Apache bands from beyond the Gallinas Mountains to the east often journeyed here to trade. They brought bison products and other raw materials to exchange for the goods that only a sedentary culture could produce such as corn, blankets, and pottery.

Large clumps of salt from nearby salt lakes, called salinas by the Spanish, were common in pueblo excavations, indicating its value as a trade item. Flint nodules from the Alibates quarries in northern Texas were traded to the pueblo for locally produced pottery such as Tabira and Chupadero Black-on-white.

It also appears that the people of Las Humanas may have served as middlemen, facilitating the transfer of products such as cotton and pottery from the pueblos along the Rio Grande to the nomadic tribes of the Plains. So close became this relationship that it appears a part of the pueblo's year-round population may have been from the Plains.

...when I began preaching at Las Humanas an Indian sorcerer became infuriated (when) he saw they were satisfied with my explanations and that the whole town had decided to be Christian. He shouted: `You Spaniards and Christians must be crazy! And you live like fools, and you want to teach us so that we might be crazy too!'... he must have seen some procession in a Christian town during Holy Week, for he said: `You Christians are so crazy that you go together through the streets whipping each other like madmen, spilling blood and that's the way you want it, so that these people would also be fools: And with that, he left town shouting vey angrily, saying he didn't want to be a fool. The things is, everyone was left laughing, and I even more so, ...being persuaded to myself that he was the Devil, who had been put to flight, humiliated by the power of the Divine Word.

Friar Alonso de Benavides preached his first sermon to this pueblo on April 4, 1627, probably in this plaza. A Christian woman and a Pueblo war captain translated for him.

UNDERGROUND WORSHIP ... Franciscan missionaries tolerated the kachina dances of the Tompiro religion at first. For a while, a new church coexisted next to the kiva you see just down the hillside behind you. But by the 1660s, changes in church policy forced traditional believers to hide non-Christian ceremonies in underground rooms within the pueblo complex you see here. Many hidden kivas have been found among these walls.

There is a sweat room (kiva) painted all over with large and small idols in the same manner that they paint devils here. In the middle are sculpted idols of stone or wood to which they offer maize, small birds of various colors, reeds, lizards, and other reptiles, and when they make a sacrifice, they all join in a great circle to dance...
Marcelo de Espinosa,1601

In Depth ... Due to changes in church policy, the friars of the 1660s began to vigorously suppress Native religious practices, particularly the katsina dances, which most viewed as idolatry. At the same time, resentment spread between the Franciscans and the Spanish civil authorities.

Governmental officials tried to undermine Franciscan religious authority by encouraging or even coercing the Puebloans to openly practice their Native religion. This placed the Puebloans in an awkward position - torn between the church, civil officials, and their own clan allegiances.

As the situation worsened, the Puebloans simply moved their religious activities underground, far from the prying eyes of the Franciscans. In several of the inner rooms of Mound 7 (below), archeologists have found walls plastered with spiritual murals. A small stone fetish and two small mountain lion effigies were also found, along with possible storage areas for sacred objects.

FLOOR PLAN CHANGE ... Archeologists explored mound 7 in 1967, and discovered clues that this pueblo once looked completely different from the layout one sees all around you. Looking down a shaft., the wedge-shaped wall below is part of an earlier pueblo where the rooms were organized in concentric circles around a grand kiva.

Mound 7

Gran Quivira Mission - Mound 7

In Depth
... The height of Mound 7 prior to excavation seemed to indicate that a multi-storied pueblo was buried here. However, excavation revealed rooms built in the 1300s lay beneath rooms built in the 1500s and 1600s. Also surprising, the plan of the upper pueblo is roughly rectangular, while the lower rooms were laid out in a circular pattern.

Standing on top of one of the later rooms, and looking "through" the floor into a lower room, the room appears to be about 300 years older. The older rooms were filled with debris prior to construction of the upper rooms, perhaps indicating a period of disuse. There was also a lesser quality transitional or "Middle Phase" of construction when the room pattern started to change from circular to rectangular.

This change in building style in the mid-1550s coincides with two other significant changes at the pueblo. The appearance of a new pottery type, called Tabira Black-onwhite, and the introduction of cremation to the earlier flexed position burial practices, indicates significant cultural change.

Although it can't be sure, it's possible that these new ideas came with newcomers from the north and west. By the time they arrived at Las Humanas, these newcomers may even have already had contact with the Spanish of Coronado's expedition of 1540-1542.

Mound 7

ROUND TOWN ... This circular pit was a kiva - an underground room for meetings and ceremonies. Indians built a community of more than 200 wedge-shaped rooms in rings around this kiva 700 years ago. Clay-lined pits, probably cisterns to collect rainfall, surround the outermost wall.

Excavations of this mound in 1967 uncovered concentric circular walls below the more recent structures we see above ground today.

In Depth ... Centrally located, this kiva was still in use 300 years after its construction. Four support posts set in the floor and walls held up a flat, timbered roof, covered with dirt. A square roof opening provided access by ladder. It also served as a smoke hole for afire pit in the floor near the east wall.

KivaWhat looks like a chimney in the east wall was actually a ventilator shaft. Fresh air was drawn in as smoke and heat rose and escaped through the roof opening.

Placing a large flat stone like that in the middle of the room in front of the shaft opening regulated the flow of air. In the 1560s, a retaining wall was built around the kiva to keep debris from the surrounding house blocks off and to stabilize the rooms directly above it.

The Pueblo people practiced their own religion for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. Clans and various societies each had their own kivas. Members, mostly men, performed sacred ceremonies and rituals, carried out initiation rites and instructed the young.

To promote the general welfare, prayers were offered for blessings of good rainfall, health, crops, and hunting. Kivas were also used as clubhouses, workrooms, and as lodging for pueblo guests. Today, although influenced by Christianity to varying degrees, many Pueblo cultures continue these traditions.

Gran Quivira Mission c. 1660s

MISSION CHURCH 1630-1670 (above) ... For almost 30 years, no priest lived at the mission established for this pueblo. The first Franciscan assigned here, Francisco Letrado, started the church walls in 1630. After only two years' work, Friar Letrado left Las Humanas to go west to the Zunis. Five more years passed before workers led by Francisco de Acevedo, the priest at Mission Abo, could finish this church. This church - called San Buenaventura de Las Humanas in its later years - was the only church ever used for worship in this pueblo.

New believers helped Friar Letrado convert the corner rooms of the apartment block to your left into his living quarters and a small chapel.

In Depth ... The naming of the churches at Las Humanas is a subject mired in ambiguity. Apparently, since there was no church in 1627, Fray Benavides dedicated only the conversion effort at Las Humanas to San Isidro. In 1629, Fray Letrado arrived and continued the conversion by establishing a temporary chapel in a room of Mound 7.

Since it did not have a permanent altar, this chapel may not have been dedicated. After Letrado left, Fray Acevedo of Abo completed the first permanent church in 1636. He dedicated the church to San Buenaventura. A second church was begun, but never completed. Thus, this church, San Buenaven-tura, was probably the only church ever named at Las Humanas.

The ceiling of the church was perhaps 20 feet above the dirtfloor. Wooden posts placed upon flat stones inside the entrance supported a small choir loft. The white plaster walls were decorated with red and black dados. The round masonry pedestal just inside the doorway was the base of the sacrarium or baptismal font.

Christian Indians received religious burial within the walled campo santo in front of the church. The stone structure one sees in the cemetery probably held a cross. During stabilization of the cemetery walls, a mass burial was found, possibly a result of famine in the late 1660s.

Larger ChurchA LARGER CHURCH ... Work on the massive walls of this complex started after a new priest, Diego de Santander, was assigned to live here in 1659.

Men of this pueblo carved and placed the wooden beams. Women and children mixed mud mortar, laid stones, and plastered walls.

The convento rooms were finished by 1670, when all work came to an abrupt halt.

Larger Church SanctuaryThe ambitious cross-shaped sanctuary was never fully completed. People left Las Humanas before this church was consecrated for worship.

In Depth ... With the arrival of Fray Santander, Las Humanas was restored to mission status. Fray Santander probably completed enough of the convento to live in. But as work on the church progressed, he was seriously injured in an accident from which he never fully recovered. Santander left Las Humanas in 1662, and an unknown friar took his place.

Work continued sporadically on the church but construction was never finished. Recent evidence, including the amount of debris found within the church, suggests that the walls of the church probably did not extend much above what they do today.

The cross-shaped (cruciform) floor plan of this church is typical of large Spanish churches of the period. The outside length of the church is 140 feet, with walls five to six feet thick. The room on the right as one enters was to be the baptistery. Overhead, a choir loft was being built; the large holes in the walls once held corbels and a viga to support the 1 front of the choir loft. Plans called for the main altar to be located in the apse at the far end of the church, with side altars at each end of the transept.

STARVED FOR RAIN ... When the rains stopped falling in the 1660os, this water-poor pueblo was in mortal danger. Famine quickly followed the drought; some 480 people started to death here in a single winter. The Franciscans transferred tons of grain, beans, and livestock from mission to mission in armed convoys, but bad roads, Apache raiders, and sheer distance made it impossible to feed the Salinas missions. Crops failed, year after year.

In 1670, the people of Las Humanas fled to Abo. Theirs was the first pueblo forced to move. Within seven years, all the missions of the Salinas jurisdiction were abandoned for the relative safety - and still flowing waters - of the Rio Grande, south and west of the nearby mountains.

In Depth ... In an already marginal environment, severe drought is devastating. In a letter dated April 11, 1669, Fray Juan Bernal explains:

For three years no crop has been harvested. In the past year, 1668, a great many Indians perished of hunger, lying dead along the roads, in the ravines and in their huts. There were pueblos (as instance, Las Humanas) where more than four hundred and fifty died of hunger. The same calamity still prevails, for, because of lack of money, there is not a fanega of corn or wheat in the whole kingdom.

Gran Quivira Mission ResidentSmallpox and other European diseases exacted a heavy toll on an already weakened population, as did Spanish demands for labor and tribute and a deepening church-state conflict. After migrating to other pueblos on the Rio Grande, the Tompiro speakers were further dispersed by the effects of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Many went south with the Spanish and settled near what is today El Paso, Texas. Others dispersed and remained allied with the northern pueblos. By the late 1800s, anthropologists no longer considered Tompiro speakers to be a distinct linguistic group.


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Site Gallery - Gran Quivira Mission
Exploring Gran Quivira Mission
Gran Quivira Mission Gran Quivira Mission Gran Quivira Mission
Gran Quivira Mission Gran Quivira Mission Gran Quivira Mission
Gran Quivira Mission Gran Quivira Mission Gran Quivira Mission
Gran Quivira Mission Gran Quivira Mission Gran Quivira Mission

Mission text and images (not photos) source: Gran Quivira Trail Guide Brochure, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, published by Western National Parks Association, written by John Kuehnert, illustrations by Ricahrd Schlezht,
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