[Welcome to part two of my discussion of the town of Taos and the nearby Indian pueblo that predates it. (If you haven’t read part one, which gives some background and sets the scene for this exploration, I recommend going back to my last ROT post and catching up first.) This section mostly covers the history of the area, both the Indian people through colonial times and the modern town in the 20th century. If you consider the history as I’ve outlined it, you’ll get an inkling of why so many different people, from the Pueblo Indians themselves to the artists and writers centuries later to the hippies of the 1960s, were attracted to this area of the country and why some people have fought so fiercely to hold on to it and the life they made there.]
Spain conquered the territory of Nueva México between 1540 and 1542 when Francisco Vázquez de Coronado took a huge force north to find the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. The first Spanish governor of New Mexico, Juan de Oñate, was appointed in 1598. The Spanish remained in control of New Mexico until 1821, when Mexico wrested its independence from its mother country and took command of Nueva España and all its North American territories. Texas broke away in 1836 to become an independent state allied to the United States, and after the Mexican-American War, the U.S. took the territories of Arizona, New Mexico, California, and part of Colorado as booty in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The residents of the Taos Valley, Indian, Spanish, and Anglo, shifted ostensive allegiance with each change of administration. Many things changed with each shift, as you might imagine, often not for the best for one party or another.
When the Spanish first settled in Taos, relations with the native Indians were friendly for the most part. Pueblos aren’t generally hostile and their society is built on accommodation and appeasement, not aggressiveness and competition. They’re also not acquisitive so territorial conquest isn’t part of their epistemology. Land isn’t a commodity to be owned in any case, so sharing it with others, as long as everyone leaves everyone else alone to live their lives as they see fit, is not a problem. The Pueblos had been sharing the land for centuries with each other, the Hopi and the Navajo, and, less easily, the Apache. But as the Spanish grew more numerous and the reach of the Inquisition spread to New Spain, the Taos Indians felt threatened and oppressed as missionaries, looking for converts, meddled in the Indians’ religious affairs and the colonial leaders demanded tribute and slave labor. Indian men were locked up or whipped for breaking the Spaniards’ laws and forced conversions became the rule. By 1640, the tensions had grown to the boiling point and the Taos natives revolted, killing the priest and several settlers. The Indians left the pueblo for 21 years, until they were persuaded to return by the new governor, López de Mendizábal.
The situation only got worse. Punishment for infractions was brutal and arbitrary and when 40 men were hanged for refusing to abandon their native religion, Taos Pueblo became the center of a rebellion organized by Popé, a medicine man from San Juan Pueblo hiding in Taos. Popé quietly traveled from village to village, and on 10 August 1680, all the pueblos rose up in the Pueblo Revolt. The Indians killed almost 500 settlers and 21 priests in the churches the Spaniards had imposed on the villages. They tore down the churches, destroying the records of the settlements, and every Indian who’d been forcibly baptized was bathed with amole, a ritual cleanser made from yucca plants, to remove the stain of Spanish corruption. The Spanish invaders retreated back to Mexico and for a time, Nueva México and the Four Corners area was once more free of its colonial masters after 82 years. The Spanish abandoned Pueblo territory for a dozen years.
The Spanish reinvaded New Mexico in 1692, but the Pueblos remained restive, striking at the invaders from the mountains, until 1696 when Governor Diego de Vargas defeated the Indians at Taos Canyon. The Pueblos disarmed and moved back to their villages. In the 18th century, the Spanish governors of New Spain and New Mexico executed many royal land grants that carved up the territory into large tracts controlled by powerful Spanish families and soldiers rewarded for service to the Spanish Crown. The conditions for both settlers and Indians in New Mexico and Taos remained mostly unchanged into the 19th century. In 1821, Mexico won independence from Spain and gained control of all of New Spain including New Mexico; the people of Taos, however, felt little change in the far-northern outpost of the new nation. Until the opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1826, that is.
The Santa Fe Trail was an early-19th-century version of an Interstate Highway, stretching from Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Even though New Mexico and most of the West was part of Mexico, Americans took advantage of the relatively easy route (for the day, mind you) and came to New Mexico in droves to benefit from the open land, fertile soil, and untapped opportunity; one early such traveler was 16-year-old Christopher Carson, known since childhood as “Kit,” who became a prominent and famous Taoseño. (In 1835, those same kinds of American settlers had become a powerful force in the Mexican territory of Tejas and declared the territory independent of Mexico. A revolution, including the famous Battle of the Alamo in 1836, eventually established the Republic of Texas.) By the 1830s, though, Mexican rule had reached Taos and in 1837, the alcalde (mayor) of Don Fernando de Taos was arrested and imprisoned by the Mexican government for taking a bribe to release a relative from jail. Everyone in town took up arms and on 3 August, with some Indian allies, freed the alcalde, launching the Revolt of 1837 (also called the Chimayó Rebellion). Albino Pérez, the regional governor, hearing of the uprising, headed north from Santa Fe on 9 August. When Pérez’s force met the rebels en route, his militia abandoned him and joined the insurrectionists. Pérez returned to Santa Fe for safety but fled the city with a few loyal soldiers. Pérez was intercepted by a band of Indians who killed and beheaded him; the northern rebels sent his head back to the capital. The norteños selected José Gonzales, a Taos Indian, as governor.
Gonzales’s government was no more popular than its predecessor, committing many outrages, mostly outside Gonzales’s control, and a counterrevolution ensued. Upon defeating the forces of the rebel government, the counterrevolutionaries under Manuel Armijo, a prominent soldier and politician, arrested Gonzales. The former governor and others were given amnesty, but after a month the revolt resurged and Armijo, appointed governor of New Mexico in January 1838, marched north to quell the new uprising. This time, on 23 January 1838, he executed four of the original rebels, including the alcalde of Taos who had been the catalyst for the revolt. He marched on Gonzales’s forces and the former governor fled, only to be captured and publicly executed in the plaza of Santa Cruz. Armijo remained in office until the United States Army took over the territory at the start of the Mexican-American War.
After the United States occupied New Mexico at the start of the Mexican War, the pueblo staged the Taos Rebellion in 1847. On 19 January 1847, a mob of Mexicans and Indian allies broke into Governor Charles Bent’s home in Taos, shot him with arrows, and scalped him in front of his family while he was still alive. The insurrectionists killed Brent, the sheriff, the circuit attorney, and the brothers-in-law of Bent and Kit Carson in front of the women, including Carson’s wife, and children. The next day, a larger rebel force murdered seven men at Arroyo Hondo and shot eight traders passing through the village of Mora. The American response followed quickly: Colonel Sterling Price, the military governor of the territory, marched north from Santa Fe with 300 men and routed the larger but untrained rebel force. Fifteen hundred revolutionaries took refuge in Taos Pueblo, barricading themselves behind the thick adobe walls of the Mission San Gerónimo. Colonel Price stormed the pueblo walls with axes and ladders and the Americans bombarded the church with howitzer fire and breached a hole in the wall through which Price continued to fire, killing about 150 of the rebels with rifle fire as they fled. The U.S. force captured some 400 insurrectionists in hand-to-hand combat at a loss of about seven American soldiers. In the aftermath, 28 of the rebels were tried for murder and treason and hanged in Taos. There were a few more skirmishes after the Siege of Taos, but after they were put down, the New Mexicans and Indians ceased armed rebellion.
In 1922, Taos Pueblo was a leader in forming the All Pueblo Council, aimed at defeating the Fall-Bursum bill, passed by the U.S. Senate to transfer the title of pueblo lands to American squatters living on them before 1902. The bill, requested in 1921 by President Warren G. Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, and proposed by Senator Holm O. Bursum of New Mexico, was defeated in the House of Representatives with the help of several sympathetic Anglo organizations. In 1926, when governmental pressure was exerted to break pueblo ceremonialism, the entire Taos Tribal Council went to jail for defying an order forbidding the Taos Indians from keeping their sons out of school for kiva initiation. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs had informed the Taos council that their religion made the boys “half animals” and prohibited them from staying out of school for initiation rites. The members of the council refused to comply and were jailed for violating the religious-crimes law. They were released by a federal court under public pressure.
Out of these conflicts evolved the Blue Lake Controversy of 1933. In 1906, the United States Government had seized tens of thousands of acres in which the Taos Indians had hunted and worshipped for centuries. By executive order, President Theodore Roosevelt placed 130,000 acres of Taos landscape, including Blue Lake, 25 miles north of town at an altitude of 11,000 feet up Mount Taos (Wheeler Peak), into Carson National Forest, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. Decades later, in an attempt to secure property rights for Anglo residents of Taos, the U.S. Congress negotiated with the Taos Pueblo, whose Spanish land-grant title to the land had been recognized by the U.S. Government, to purchase the land on which the town of Taos sits. The pueblo council rejected the proposal because they preferred secure rights to their sacred Blue Lake, referred to as the Indians’ “cathedral.” Despite Congress’s efforts, the Taos Council refused to sign the land deal and finally Congress agreed to exchange the Taos land for secure rights to the Blue Lake area. The Taos Indians relinquished payment of $142,000, but got what they wanted: undisputed access to the home of the kachinas, the sipapu, the source of all their blessings. (Many Native Americans believe that the sipapu is where souls emerge from beneath the Earth at birth and where they return to the spirit realm after death. Arguably the most sacred site in Indian theology, it is also the gateway to the home of the gods and where prayers must go to reach them. Each tribe and pueblo has its own sipapu; Blue Lake is the Taos Indians' traditional place of emergence.)
The Blue Lake dispute was not finally resolved until 15 December 1970, however, when President Richard Nixon signed Public Law 91-550, the Blue Lake Wilderness Protection Act. Sentiments in Taos County were divided when that bill was before Congress, according to the weekly Taos News: the Taos Town Council supported the bill; the Taos County Commission opposed it, citing concern for the water rights in the Rio Pueblo de Taos Watershed, the only source of domestic water for the pueblo and the town. There is evidence that the president’s final decision was influenced by a special viewing of a documentary, made during the San Gerónimo Festival period of 1969 and aired in November 1970 on NET (the predecessor of PBS) as the penultimate episode of Our Vanishing Wilderness, an eight-part ecology series. The film, The Water Is So Clear that a Blind Man Could See, made by Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman and their collaborator, John N. Hamlet, focused on the environmentalism of the Taos Indians. “Our ancestors came out of Blue Lake, long ago,” said an elderly Indian trying to explain the significance of the legislative action. “Blue Lake nourishes everything. It is the source of our wisdom, of our life. . . . Do you understand?”
Again, in 1936, Taos incited a revolt against the dominance of pueblo affairs by the influence of a woman Indian agent; and still again, in 1949, it rebelled against demands for a new ‘democratic’ government to supplant the old council, a system of elders and heredity. In an outgrowth of the 1948 extension of the right to vote to Native Americans, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, supervised plebiscites in all pueblos to decide if the old council system should be supplanted by an elected pueblo government. Most pueblos voted to change their systems, but the ultra-conservative Taos Pueblo sent the BIA representative away, though the pressure to change the system remained strong both from within the pueblo, split between the younger residents and the older ones, and from outside. Nonetheless, the pueblo is still governed the old-fashioned way: a governor, responsible for civil and business affairs within the pueblo and relations with the Anglo world, and a war chief, in charge of safeguarding the mountains and Indian lands beyond the village walls, are appointed annually by the Tribal Council, made up of about 50 male elders. None are elected democratically.
The Taos area experienced other upheavals unassociated with the Native American population of the territory. There are still Latino and Chicano families in Taos County who trace their lineage back to the original Spanish settlers and whose land is part of old Spanish land grants going back to the 16th and 17th centuries. For them, this wasn’t the southwest—it was El Norte, the North. These norteño families, many of whom speak no English or very little (and even then, only begrudgingly), have lived in the valleys of northern New Mexico since long before Anglos came there in any numbers, when the Santa Fe Trail opened the way. Many of the present-day norteños live on the very same land that their ancestors from New Spain and later Mexico had defended against raiding Comanches. These residents of the secluded Taos Valley, which resisted assimilation into the dominant culture even by the Latino settlers—there’s just something in the water up there!—adamantly kept their traditions and Spanish/Mexican culture. Though some, especially the later generations, learned English, they maintained their fluency in Spanish even after the region became part of the United States. They don’t speak standard Spanish, however, or even contemporary Mexican Spanish, but a backwoods norteño dialect full of archaisms, colloquialisms, and contractions. Some of the villages look like towns the current residents’ ancestors might have inhabited in Renaissance Spain. These families have roots that predate the Declaration of Independence, going back to when there were no people living in the valley other than Indians. And this doesn’t even take into consideration that the Spanish settlers, unlike the English to the east, frequently intermarried with the Indian people among whom they lived so that the forbears of these northern New Mexicans include the native peoples who settled the Taos Valley centuries earlier.
Now, New Mexico’s a territory that has generally respected its Hispanic inhabitants. The upstart Anglos may have gained economic and political dominance, and prejudices and biases continue to exist, but the descendants of the norteños are among the region’s “first families,” with members in high political office, business and professional leadership, artistic prominence, and importance all across the middle class of local society. Over the decades, however, when New Mexico was a territory of the United States (1846-1912), Anglo land speculators, assisted by Chicano allies, corrupt officials, and biased courts, surreptitiously wrested title of the grant lands from the norteños, effectively stealing the legacy of their forbears without their even realizing it until it was too late. Eventually, the grantees sued, but their lawyer asked only that the court restore the title to their homes and the land they farmed; control of the remaining 21,000 acres of common land, grazing and forest land amounting to up to 90% of the grant, was retained by the Anglos who sold it for a profit. Whereas Congress eventually acted in behalf of the Taos Indians in the Blue Lake matter, the U.S. courts didn’t uphold the rights of these unworldly Latino citizens, guaranteed in 1848 by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, acting instead as an instrument of their victimization. On 5 June 1967, the resentment and anger broke out into violence in neighboring Rio Arriba County when a band of Chicanos led by Reies Lopez Tijerina, a Tejano and one-time evangelical preacher, protested the repression by police and political officials of the land-grant heirs’ attempts to press their claims and tried to make a citizen’s arrest of a local district attorney in the county seat, Tierra Amarilla. The plan went wrong and several town officials were wounded, two were kidnapped, and the National Guard—complete with tanks—occupied the town while police conducted an indiscriminate round-up of Chicano residents. This incident became known as the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse Raid. (Though acquitted in a state trial before a sympathetic Hispanic jury, Reies was retried on federal charges in Las Cruces, transferred from Albuquerque, before an all-Anglo jury hostile to Mexicans. Reies ended up sentenced to prison time and eventually moved to Mexico in the 1990s.)
Artists were drawn to the Taos Valley in a "passive invasion” beginning in the late 19th century, in part because it had remained isolated. It is remote enough from the rest of civilization that, as one recent photographer resident remarked, the mountains keep the critics far enough away that no effort is needed to avoid hearing them. This influx of newcomers into Taos was made up of artists such as Ernest L. Blumenschein and Bert Geer Phillips who arrived in 1898 and helped establish an art colony in Taos. They were studying painting in Paris when painter Joseph Henry Sharp, considered the “spiritual father” of the Taos art scene, advised them to “paint the west before it is gone.” Sharp had come to New Mexico and visited pueblos, though not Taos, in 1883, becoming the first artist to visit the territory. Blumenschein and Phillips were on a sketching trip from Colorado to Mexico when a wheel on their surrey broke and Blumenschein carried it on horseback to the nearest village for repair. That village was Taos and when the painter saw it, he knew he’d found his home. The Taos artists, who enlivened Taos, captured a way of life that was quickly disappearing and their paintings are now valued for both their artistry and their depiction of the old days of Taos. Taos evolved into a world-renowned art colony due to its mix of beauty, mountain light, culture, and tradition. The avant-garde intellectuals and artists who recognized Taos's charm included painter Georgia O'Keeffe, photographers Ansel Adams and Paul Strand, psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and writers D. H. Lawrence and Frank Waters. They were all to one degree or another a part of the salon of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy East Coast heiress who married Tony Luhan, a Taos Pueblo Indian, and built a home known as Las Palomas, a well-known Taos landmark. Today, Taos is still an active art center, both for working artists, many of whom maintain studios in and around the town, and galleries all over the county that sell their work. Many of the artists are themselves Native American, both from Taos Pueblo and other nearby tribes and from as far away as Colorado and California. In fact, art is something of a local industry, drawing visitors to Taos both for art tourism and serious collecting. (In Santa Fe, just 70 miles south of Taos, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts exhibits Indian artists and the Institute of American Indian Arts there trains artists from Native American cultures from all over North America.)
From the mid-1960s through the end of the decade, Taos Valley was invaded by another kind of newcomer: hippies. Thousands of flower children from the East and West Coasts, fleeing the “middle-class values” of bourgeois families, moved to the area, establishing or joining communes, or settling into individual crash-pads and, consequently, buying up property. With names like the Five Star Farm, Morningstar, the Reality Construction Company, New Buffalo, Lorien, Lila, the Tree Frog Farm, the Hog Farm, The Family, and so forth, some of these experiments in communal living and subsistence farming were financed by rich guys whose wealth was generated by the profits of large corporations. The newcomers didn’t always ingratiate themselves to the locals: they arrived not knowing the ground rules or the culture, they flouted the conventions of society, they often brought cash into the largely poor territory to buy up land. The freaks, as they were often called by both themselves and others, lived without running water or electricity in places so remote they could only bring in their supplies on foot or horseback. The newcomers offended the locals by bathing, laundering diapers, and washing pots and pans in streams and culverts where families downstream got their drinking and cooking water. Hippies, having responded to the rumors of “free land,” were overburdening the arid, desert soil that barely provided meager subsistence to the people who had been living there for generations (and who, as we’ve seen, had already suffered the theft of their land by larcenous speculators—who, like the hippies, were Anglos). Commune leaders were desperately spreading the word that new arrivals were no longer welcome. Locals complained about the conditions in which the commune dwellers lived and their apparent disregard for other residents, invoking “[p]eople who didn’t know how to dig a hole . . . shitting in the river, spreading amoebic dysentery.”
By the 1970s, the animosity had grown so bad that The New Mexico Review and Legislative Journal, a leftist monthly publication, reported, “The vibrations in Taos are bad,” and cited signs visible in shops and on vans around the county: “DESTROY THE HIPPIES” and “HELP KEEP AMERICA BEAUTIFUL, TAKE A HIPPIE TO A CARWASH”; “every fourth or fifth pickup truck” bore a gun rack holding “a rifle or two” and an “AMERICA, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT” bumper sticker. Local restaurants announced that they “reserve the right” not to serve anyone deemed a “health menace” and stores and public agencies distributed a right-wing, red-baiting, mimeographed “venom sheet” titled SPOTlight (from the Society for the Protection of Taos) that was rabidly anti-commune. The city of Taos had canceled its long-held summer fiesta because, as the arch-conservative Taos News reported, the residents did not want to encourage a greater influx of hippies. The Taoseños responded to “the hippie problem” with “police harassment, vigilante action, intimidation, violence.” The New Mexico Review reported, for instance, that the state’s General Construction Board had planned a “red tag” raid on Taos-area communes to designate structures that did not meet building codes. The Taos school board “officially” labeled hippies “this cancerous epidemic” and the courts were routinely harsher with longhaired defendants than with native residents or tourists with money and the locals, of both ethnicities, harbored the same sentiment. Vigilante gangs, many made up of Anglo high school boys spurred on by parents, teachers, Taos News editorials and letters, and even the Chamber of Commerce, patrolled Taos County. Said one local: “The thing to do is just shoot every goddam longhair”—even if that action callously eliminated a few desirable writers and artists (not to mention traditionally longhaired Indians). “It doesn’t matter. Just shoot every guy with long hair.”
1970 began with what was locally known as “the Hippie-Chicano War,” a campaign of vandalism and even violence directed against the communards largely orchestrated by the Anglo power structure; there were many violent incidents, including bombings, shootings, and assaults, between the local residents of both Anglo and Hispanic blood and the longhaired newcomers. Calling the town “provincial,” the unidentified Review reporter (whom I believe was novelist John Nichols) alleged that “there’s nothing that quite wakes up the good citizens of the town like shooting or beating a stranger.” Though both Anglos and Chicanos resented the immigration of these outsiders, for many of the same reasons—the new arrivals’ life styles and behavior (especially their hygiene and sanitation practices), their drug use, and their acquisition of local land and real estate—the Chicanos began to see that their attention to the hippies and other newcomers was being encouraged and manipulated by and for the benefit of the Anglos—the descendants of the crooks who’d stolen their land the first time around.
By the end of the decade, though, most of the communes had run into financial problems, exacerbated by stricter regulations of building codes and sanitations laws, and individual hippies found the reality of living off the land harder and less romantic than the notion seemed in San Francisco or upstate New York. Some communes were simply evicted from their subsidized land. A few of the communes continued, but the flood of newcomers subsided and eventually halted, with a number of the former flower children staying on as, simply, new New Mexicans—as protective of the land as any of their predecessors. The Taos artist colony still thrives and is an integral part of the region’s culture, but the hippie invasion, which generated such an upheaval in the isolated little valley, has pretty much disappeared. The period is preserved, however, in numerous contemporaneous books and one remarkable amateur film, made by The Family commune in December 1969 or January 1970. Entitled Peace, Love, 2 Hours—Taos, 1970, the documentary was never released publicly, either commercially or underground, and the film isn’t listed in any catalogue or index of independent or documentary movies.
Today, Taos County is New Mexico’s third largest county and one of the poorest in the state which is 45th in per capita income in the United States. Taos, however, is a center of tourism and recreation, making the contrast stark. The ’60s mindset is still in evidence, embraced by the art community, and a certain freedom of personal expression in appearance and behavior prevails. Taos has over 20 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, including both Taos and Picurís Pueblos and the Downtown Historic District of the modern town, so there’s much of interest for the sightseer and the history or archeology buff. The Pueblo is open to visitors most days except when there’s a tribal ritual to which outsiders aren’t invited. (Cameras are permitted except during religious ceremonies like San Gerónimo, but the pueblo charges a small fee, as it does for admission, and the pueblo closes for about ten weeks in the late winter and early spring.) The ski slopes and the casino both bring in large numbers of entertainment-seekers and the art center and hundreds of galleries and studios attract art tourists and serious collectors both. The Taos Art Museum, at the Fechin House north of the town plaza, is a little gem that’s devoted to the art of Taos’s past, focusing on the early 20th century. It houses some 300 works by 50 Taos artists. (There’s also a University of New Mexico art museum, the Harwood Museum of Art, in town. Both museums charge admission; the studios, open to visitors at the pleasure of the artist, and galleries do not.) If you’re a culture vulture like I am, you can easily spend several days poking around the galleries, shops, and historic sites of Taos—and never go near the casino, ski slopes, or hiking trails!
The climate and weather, not to mention the natural beauty of the environment, of Taos County makes the town and its environs pleasant all year round. Summer daytime temperatures can get very high, but there’s little rainfall and evenings, even on the hottest days, are cool. Summer activities include hiking and camping, fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting, horseback riding, and many other outdoor pastimes. Two thirds of the Carson National Forest is in neighboring Rio Arriba County, but one third, including Wheeler Peak, is in Taos County. (If you enjoy outdoor pursuits, you could die happy here. The scenery alone could knock you out.) Taos is 1½ hour’s drive north of Santa Fe, 2½ hours northeast of Albuquerque, and 1½ hours northeast of Los Alamos.
[A few words about . . . well, words. In particular, some of the ones I used above. This article is especially loaded with words from Spanish and Indian vocabularies, some of which don’t translate exactly and carry connotations that we don’t necessarily spot readily. On the simplest level, many of the Indian words have various spellings because none of the American Indian languages had written forms until Western anthropologists invented them for the purposes of transcribing native vocabularies and creating dictionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Looking the words up will be hard unless you know that there are different ways to write most of them. Sipapu, for instance, can be spelled shipap, shipapu, shipapulima, or shipapuyna; and chiffonetti is also written chiffoneti, chiffoneta, and other variations (not to mention other, completely different words referring to the same figures in other Indian languages). Anglo, which I said means anyone who isn’t Hispanic or Indian, can refer to someone of German or even African-American heritage. In some contexts it can be a synonym for white or American, but not always. The word’s not inherently insulting or derogatory, but in the right circumstances is can have a pejorative edge, like gringo (a world I didn’t use in this article, but which is part of the same milieu), a polysemous word as it is used among the Chicanos of the Taos County mountains. Depending on its context, it can be endearing, factually descriptive, or insulting.
[Among the other words denoting the various cultural groups which I mentioned in “Taos & Taos Pueblo,” Chicano refers to people specifically of Mexican background—whether they have immigrated to the United States after 1821 (or 1846), or came here with the original Spanish colonists in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. A Tejano (or Tejana) is a Latino person whose family came from Texas when it was still part of New Spain or Mexico, before the Republic of Texas was declared in 1836. (There’s a regional demonym for Texans who are descended from the Americans who established the republic, which only existed from 1836 until 1845, when Texas became the 28th state of the Union. Citizens of the modern state are Texans; citizens of the Republic of Texas are known locally as Texians.) Norteños, as I used it in the article, is a name only for those New Mexican Latinos who migrated from central Mexico in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries to the northernmost territories of New Mexico like Taos County. It shouldn’t be confused with Norte Americanos, which simply means anyone from the United States and Canada—the former British (or Franco-British) colonies of North America. Someone is a Norte Americano whether he comes from New England, Florida, Arizona, Ontario, Alaska, or the Yukon. A norteño only comes from the northern New Mexico counties and traces his ancestry back to the Spanish settlers. He can’t be from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, or Gallup, and he or is forbears can’t have moved into the state after, say, 1846. It’s also pretty much a local appellation, probably meaningless beyond northern New Mexico.
[Finally, pueblo can be a confusing word because it can mean three different (though related) things. (The word is Spanish for ‘people’ or ‘town.’) Capitalized, Pueblo means the group of Indians, sometimes called Puebloans, from the desert southwest who dwell in the adobe villages like the one I’ve described here. It can also be part of the name of a specific Indian village, such as Taos Pueblo or Picurís Pueblo. Uncapitalized, pueblo refers to the village itself. One last word on this topic: I use both Native American and Indian in “Taos & Taos Pueblo.” Basically, I did that for variety, but while I was in New Mexico, many of the Indians I met there were very clear that they actually preferred that name to Native American, despite common wisdom and political correctness. It’s the name they all grew up with and it has more context than the neutral, artificial Native American. Indian may have been a name given by mistake, a white man’s appellation that bears no relation to the names Indian peoples use for themselves, but Native American can mean any non-European, native people from Inuit and Aleuts to Hawaiians and Samoans as well as American Indians. At least Indian refers explicitly to their own distinct group of people.]