Pope (c. 1630–1690) of the Tewa Pueblo was a medicine man of San Juan, New Mexico, who used sorcery to lead a rebellious fight against Spanish settlers. Pope claimed to be the representative of el Demonio, the Devil.

When the Spaniards settled along the rio Grande in New Mexico in the late 16th century, they established an imperialistic rule and subjugated the native Pueblo. They overtook the Pueblo villages and began forcing the natives to convert to Christianity. They confiscated Pueblo goods and food, forcing many into starvation. European diseases took their toll. Pueblo began abandoning their villages. Pueblo leaders and medicine men tried to hold their villages and culture together by emphasizing their traditional ways and beliefs.

Around 1650, Spanish Franciscan friars became alarmed at the increasing influence of Pueblo medicine men. The missionaries believed their work was being obstructed by diabolical spells and hexes. They began a program of persecution in an attempt to discredit the medicine men. The friars summoned royal troops to raid their homes and confiscate their magical tools, which were publicly burned. These acts infuriated the medicine men and made them more determined than ever to turn their people against the missionaries.

The Spaniards retaliated in turn, flogging, imprisoning and executing Pueblo medicine men and leaders. A crisis occurred in 1675, when four Pueblo were hanged and 47 were publicly whipped. many others were jailed. The charges were witchcraft murders of several missionaries and the bewitchment of a church inspector. All of the accused were found guilty of witchcraft, idolatry, communion with the Devil and plotting a rebellion with neighboring Apache.

Outraged, a large contingent of Pueblo chiefs and warriors descended upon Santa Fe, where they confronted the Spanish governor and demanded the release of those still in jail. They offered in return choice hides, chickens, eggs, beans, hay and tobacco. The governor complied.

By then the action was too little too late. One of the whipped medicine men was Pope, who dedicated himself to overthrowing the Spaniards. Declaring himself the representative of el Demonio, Pope set up headquarters in Taos, 70 miles north of Santa Fe, where he conducted magical rites in an underground kiva, or ceremonial room. He let it be known that he was conspiring with the Devil himself in order to fan superstitious fears. He was said to travel about on a whirlwind. His strategy worked, and he united the pueblo communities that were still independent, along with some Hopi and Zuni.

Pope communicated with the village chiefs by sending messengers bearing knotted ropes. The chiefs were to untie a knot every day. When the last knot was untied, the Indians were to rise up in a united rebellion and attack the Spaniards. Word leaked out to the Spaniards, and Pope had to advance his timing by several days and got the message to the chiefs.

On August 10, 1680, the Pueblo and their allies attacked and killed 21 priests and more than 400 soldiers and government officials in northern New Mexico. many Spaniards fled south to El Paso, and others banded together in Santa Fe to fight back. The Pueblo won their independence. It was a humiliating blow for Spain. The missionaries were banished.

Pope systematically destroyed Christian churches and missions in an attempt to obliterate the Spanish from the landscape. He became leader of several Tewa villages, which he ruled with a harsh hand. Internal opposition arose, weakening the Pueblo force, which the Spaniards were able to exploit. The Pueblo also were vulnerable to raids and attacks by Navajo, Apache and Ute forces.

Pope died in 1690, and the Pueblo united front crumbled. In 1692, the Spaniards retaliated, led by General Diego de Vargas. Spain reclaimed its territory, and Franciscan missions reopened. Santa Fe attracted an influx of settlers and new towns were founded. The missionaries, however, never returned to their strident denunciation of the Pueblo medicine men, and witchcraft beliefs along the rio Grande remained strong.

Further Reading:

Simmons, Marc. Witchcraft in the Southwest: Spanish and Indian Supernaturalism on the Rio Grande. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.