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The zenith of Puebloan culture developed in northern New Mexico with the Pecos peoples. Reaching its peak around 1500, this civilization built pueblos of as many as fifteen rooms arrayed over five stories out of bricks of mud and straw. A prosperous group, it traded actively with tribes from the northern Great Plains in a vast marketplace, which stood on the grasslands before their massive pueblo structure. The arrival of the Spanish in the 1540s hailed the beginning of the end of the great Pecos civilization. The Spaniards came to Pecos with dual objectives: religious conversion and colonization. The assignment of a friar to Pecos led to tensions resulting from the destruction of Indian idols. The construction of a mission church in the immediate proximity of the pueblos exacerbated the already contentious Spanish-Pecos relationship.
Imposition of heavy demands by the Spanish led to the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, a coordinated uprising by Puebloans at sites across the New Mexico Territory. Indians sought out Spanish missionary and secular structures and successfully forced the Spanish to temporarily relinquish control of the colony. The Spaniards returned twelve years later, willing to make greater accommodations for local religious beliefs. The Pecos were also more receptive to the Spanish. Since the Spanish had left, Comanche raids had taken an increasing toll upon the Pecos peoples. By the late eighteenth century, the Comanches, population movement, and outbreaks of disease had diminished the Pueblo civilization. The last of the Pecos left the site in 1838, joining relatives that had formed other tribes in the area.
mission convento (friar's quarters)
History can be experienced at Pecos National Historical Park simply by standing and observing the remains of the massive pueblo structures. The active preservation of five-hundred year old pueblo bricks allows visitors to appreciate the grandeur of architecture achieved by Puebloan cultures. Even more striking are the mission church and neighboring pueblo, likely housing those Pecos who willingly converted to Catholicism under Spanish rule. The massive north pueblo, somewhat removed from the church, framed the marketplace area that facilitated the Pecos' active trading with Plains peoples and the Spanish. Kivas, sacred rooms, are stone-framed structures built into the ground (constructed in a circular shape at Pecos), one of which was built in the mission church's convento to spite the exiled Spanish after the 1680 revolt. The north pueblo was also surrounded by low brick walls, which interestingly were more likely social/political boundaries for visitors than defensive structures. The park effectively interprets the site for visitors through an introductory film, site markers with artists' renderings of the historic buildings, and knowledgeable guides. Walking into the remnants of these structures solidified the visit to Pecos as one of the historical experiences of a lifetime.