On this date in 1599, Acoma Pueblo, the sky city, fell.
Rising above the desert plain, perched atop smooth sandstone cliffs that reflect brilliant orange in the morning sun, Acoma had been there since the 1100s. It was the oldest continuously inhabited place in the United States. A nearly impregnable natural fortress, it was America’s Masada.
When Governor Juan de Oñate swept thru New Mexico in 1598, Acoma persisted untouched. When he sent his nephew to demand their obedience and vassalage, they threw his body from the cliffs.
A year later, Oñate planned his revenge. Acoma must be made an example of, or all the pueblos may be emboldened. A priest explained: “peace was the principal end for which war was ordained.”
It took three days, but in the end the mesa was breached. Viewed from afar, Acoma was a lit city on a hill, burning for all to see. For the only time in history, invaders rose from below, took the stairs, burned the town, and killed and captured everyone.
The trial was held in Kewa Pueblo, renamed Santo Domingo. It also took three days. All of Acoma was found guilty.
– Children under twelve were be given to the priests.
– All between the ages of twelve and twenty-five were sent to serve twenty years in servitude.
– The elderly were sent to the Great Plains.
Oñate had a final touch.
– “The males who are over twenty-five years of age, I sentence to have one foot cut off and to twenty years of personal servitude.”
The sentence was applied to at least twenty-four men.
Fifteen years later, Oñate was banished, losing all his wealth acquired in New Mexico. Acoma persisted. In fact, it still persists. It is still the oldest continuously inhabited place in the United States.