What We Learned on Our Vacation to New Mexico Part III: The Taos Pueblo

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On our final full day in the mountains of northern New Mexico, we visited Angel Fire Resort, where we rode the chair lift to the top of the mountain, and played disc golf at 10,600 feet. After that, we drove to Taos for lunch and visited the Taos Pueblo. We walked and looked around on our own as we waited for our guided tour to begin. Unfortunately, it was threatening to rain and the wind was pelting us with sand.

I really like touring historical sites, so I didn’t let the impending storm dampen my excitement. I can’t say the same for the rest of my family. Unfortunately, our tour guide seemed to side with my family as he rushed us through what seemed to be an impromptu abridgment of the normal tour. Nevertheless, we learned a few interesting facts about the pueblo.

History

  • The pueblo is actually a small walled city with two large residential structures, reminiscent of modern apartment buildings. The city would have been very similar to the walled cities of Jerico and Jerusalem that most of us have read about in the bible.
  • It’s not known exactly when the pueblo was built, however it is somewhere between 600 and 1000 years old.
  • The Taos Pueblo Indians speak Tiwa. Interestingly, Tiwa is not (even to this day) a written language, so Pueblo history has been passed down by word of mouth for centuries.
  • Richard Nixon is a hero to the Taos Pueblo Indians. In 1906, the U.S. government took over possession of part of the Pueblo people’s land, including the sacred Blue Lake. In 1970, during the Nixon administration, Blue Lake and the rest of the land was returned to the Taos Pueblo Indians. I guess, a crook to some, can be a hero to others.

Nearly Impenetrable Defense System

  • There is a wall surrounding the pueblo. Though it’s only 5 feet tall now, it was once up to 30 feet high (according to our guide). If invaders were somehow able to get past the wall, they still had a formidable obstacle.
  • When you visit or look at a picture of the Taos Pueblo, you will see doors and windows. This hasn’t always been the case. When the two large pueblos were built, there were no outside doors or windows. Entrance could only be gained by climbing a ladder up onto the roof and then going down inside an entrance from above. Sort of like an ant hill. If invaders came, the residents would run up their ladders and pull them up onto the roof. The adobe walls were too thick and hard to penetrate, making it nearly impossible to get inside.
  • Unfortunately, for the Taos and other pueblos, in 1540, Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the area, with guns and cannons which enabled them to penetrate the Pueblo’s defense system. For the next 300 years, the Taos Pueblo Indians endured conquest, revolts, forced conversion to Christianity, and enslavement.

Today

  • Most Taos Pueblo Indians have Spanish surnames and are Catholic, however, they still practice elements of their traditional religion as well.
  • The Taos Pueblo Indians still cook much of their food, including bread, in outdoor ovens called Hornos.
  • There are about 150 people who continue to live in the Pueblo. Besides the private residences, there are dozens of Indians who run shops and restaurants in the pueblo and then at night go to their own homes outside of the pueblo.
  • There is no electricity or running water allowed in the pueblo. The tribe’s goal is to preserve the pueblo’s original state. That means the 150 or so people who choose to live there, go without modern conveniences in order to maintain their heritage. Though I have to say, I did see one cheater who had a generator running behind their shop. They probably needed it for their fridge.

But What About The Whys

I really enjoyed the visit to the pueblo. We learned so much about both the Pueblo Indians, as well as the invading Conquistadors. We learned lots of who’s, what’s, when’s and where’s. But it was the lack of why’s that have been eating at me since our return from our trip.

  • Why did the Catholic missionaries use force to convert the Pueblo Indians to Christianity. Did they actually care about the salvation of their subjects?
  • Did the Conquistadors see the pueblo peoples as human beings who deserved dignity or some subhuman race to be exploited?
  • Why did the Conquistadors choose to enslave the Pueblo Indians rather than become trade partners with them?

I’ve had so many questions since our return from vacation, and it got me to thinking. What if one or two of my kids wonder about the why’s of history shouldn’t I, as a homeschool teacher, give them the opportunity to ask those questions? More importantly, shouldn’t I help them to become more curious? What about helping them to figure out what important historical questions should be asked and just as important, how to get the answers?

So, Who Learned More?

In the end, I think I was the big winner during our tour of the Taos Indian Pueblo. While my family, and our tour guide were distracted by all of the weather going on around us, my brain was on overdrive (and has been since) about the following:

  • What can I do to teach history in such a way as to foster curiosity in my kids?
  • How can I teach history so that my kids will learn about human motives and behaviors?
  • Finally, how do I teach my kids how to ask the why’s of human history and not just the who’s, what’s, when’s where’s, and how’s?

How About You?

Are you a homeschool teacher? Are you interested in taking your young historians beyond the people, places, and dates of history? Does your curiosity take you past “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?” If so, stay tuned for my next article. The final installment in my What We learned on Our Vacation to New Mexico series.

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Brian Wood

Daddy Go To Timeout

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