The importance of Taos Pueblo’s cultural heritage was acknowledged when it was declared a National Historic landmark in 1965 and again, when it was admitted to the World Heritage Society in 1992 as one of the most significant historical cultural landmarks in the world.
Taos is the northernmost of the surrounding nineteen New Mexico Pueblos. Intercultural events held among the pueblos, include a Pow Wow, held each July, which brings Indians from many tribes to Taos for a Native American weekend of trade and social festivities. Another multi-tribal event at Taos Pueblo is the San Geronimo Day fair held each September.
The most significant event in the recent history of Taos Pueblo was when 48,000 acres of mountain land including the Pueblo’s sacred Blue Lake were returned to the Pueblo by the US government in 1970. It was taken by the U.S. Government in 1906 to become part of the National Forest lands. The Blue Lake is the most important ritual site where Taos people convene for ceremonials. This achievement was a notable tribute to the tenacity of Pueblo leaders in the prolonged effort to have the land returned to the Pueblo. The Blue Lake and surrounding mountains are now off-limits to all, except members of the Taos Pueblo.
The main structures of Taos Pueblos’ multi-storied adobe buildings are thought to have been constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D. They appear today much as they did, when the first Spanish explorers arrived in Northern New Mexico in 1540. The Spanish conquistadors believed the Pueblo was one of the fabled golden cities of Cibola. The pueblo’s two main structures are called Hlauuma (north house) and Hlaukwima (south house). Taos Pueblo is the only Native American community designated both a National Historic Landmark and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Pueblo is constructed of adobe bricks made from earth mixed with water and straw, which is either poured into forms or made into sun-dried bricks. The walls are several feet thick. The roofs of each of the five stories are supported by large timbers or vigas, which have been transported from nearby mountain forests. Smaller pieces of pine or aspen, called latillas, are positioned side-by-side on top of the vigas to create the roofs, which are then covered with packed dirt. The outside surfaces of the Pueblo require continuous maintenance and are frequently re-plastered with thick layers of mud. The structure’s interior walls are carefully coated with thin washes of white earth to keep them clean and bright. The Pueblo complex is comprised of many individual home units, built side-by-side with common walls but no connecting doorways. For security in earlier times, the Pueblo had no doors or windows; access to dwellings was gained by climbing ladders and entering from the top.
The Pueblo is generally occupied by about 150 people who live there full time. Pueblo traditions dictate that no electricity or running water will be allowed within the Pueblo walls, therefore most Pueblo members live in conventional homes outside the village walls, but still occupy their Pueblo houses for ceremonials. There are currently over 1,900 Taos Indians living on Taos Pueblo lands. Tiwa is the native language spoken by the Taos Pueblo people, along with English and Spanish which are also spoken there.
The present San Geronimo or St. Jerome (the patron saint of Taos Pueblo) Chapel was completed in 1850. It replaced the original church, which was destroyed by the U.S. Army during the War with Mexico in 1847. Ruins of the original church first built in 1619, then destroyed in the Spanish Revolt of 1680, then rebuilt on the same site, still exist on the west side of the village.
Although the Pueblo Indians are about 90% Catholic, they still practice their ancient Indian religious rites, too. Both the church and a kiva are important aspects of Taos Pueblo life.
The Pueblo is governed by a tribal governor and war chief, along with their staffs. They are appointed yearly by the Tribal Council, which is a group of about 50 male tribal elders. The tribal governor and his staff deal with civil and business issues within the village and also handle relations with the outside world. The war chief and staff are responsible for the protection of the Indian lands and mountains outside the Pueblo walls.
The Pueblo has a centralized management system and tribal members are employed in a variety of occupations. The tourist trade, arts, traditional crafts and food concessions provide employment and revenue for the Pueblo. Some tribal members are also employed in the Town of Taos.
Taos Pueblo artisans are known for their mica-flecked pottery and silver jewelry, which is sold at many of the individually owned curio shops within the Pueblo. The Taos Indians are also famous for their craftsmanship of moccasins, boots and drums made from animal skins. There is also a growing number of contemporary fine artists from the Pueblo, who combine traditional Indian images with modern artistic expression.
Education of Pueblo children is handled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which maintains an elementary school in the village. Most of the teachers are Indian. There is also a preschool program for three and four-year-olds. An education committee comprised of Pueblo members oversees the education of students and monitors a scholarship program for students who desire a higher education. Indian children of middle and high school age attend public schools in the Town of Taos.
As a sovereign nation within the United States, it is Taos Pueblos’ prime concern, “ To preserve our ancient traditions in the face of the advancement of modernization.”
The Pueblo is generally open to visitors daily from 8 am to 4:30 pm, except when tribal rituals require closing the Pueblo in late winter to early Spring for about ten weeks.
For further information call 575-758-1028
the Pueblo’s website at:
Information for this story was edited from
the Pueblo’s website.