Acoma Pueblo: The Oldest Continuously Inhabited Settlement in The United States

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Acoma Pueblo, in Valencia County in West Central New Mexico, is believed to have been established in the 12th century or even earlier, making it the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. The pueblo or village is located atop a 110-meter tall sandstone bluff, and until recently, could only be reached by a near vertical hand-cut staircase carved into the rock face. Acoma Pueblo’s soaring location has earned it the nickname of “Sky City”, and has impressed everybody who has laid eyes on it —from the first European to the modern visitor.

The first European contact with Acoma was made by the Spanish conquistador and explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in 1540, who described it as "one of the strongest places ever seen, because the city was built on a high rock”. “The ascent was so difficult that we repented climbing to the top," he wrote.

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Photo credit: www.acomaskycity.org

Almost sixty years later, the pueblo was nearly destroyed when colonial governor Juan de Oñate began raiding Native American pueblos in the area. Anticipating an attack on Acoma, the villagers made the first move killing a number of Onate’s men, including Oñate's nephew. This had dire consequence for the villagers two months later. To avenge the deaths, the Spaniards burned down the village, murdered more than 600 people and imprisoned approximately 500 others. Prisoners were sentenced to either forced slavery or bodily mutilation. At the end of the massacre, Acoma’s population of 2,000 people was reduced to approximately 250. These survivors began the long process of rebuilding their community.

The Spanish, who had firm control over the area by then, began to impose taxes on crops, cotton, and labor on the Acoma and other villages. They also brought Catholic missionaries into the area. Between 1629 and 1640, the villagers were forced to build a church in Acoma. All of the building materials, including some 20,000 tons of earth and stone, and 30-foot beams were hauled up the steep slopes of the mesa.

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Acoma Pueblo is located on top of that soaring mesa. Photo credit: Jacqueline Poggi/Flickr

These abuses of power by both religious and political authorities eventually led to the Pueblo Revolt. On August 10, 1680, some 17,000 thousand Puebloans, including 6,000 warriors rose up in vengeance against the 3,000 or so colonists. The tribes struck mission churches, killing 22 of 33 friars, and demolished and burned many of them. All the Spanish settlements in New Mexico were wiped out. Some 400 people were killed, the rest were driven out.

Over the next few centuries, Acoma continued to suffer from raids and invasions from the Apache, Comanche, and Ute tribes. On occasions, the Acoma would side with the Spanish to fight against nomadic tribes. By the 1880s, railroads brought the pueblos out of isolation. Although they did succeed in retaining their land, they couldn’t prevent missionaries and schools from coming into the area, and Acomans reluctantly gave way to modern life. By the 1920, most children from the community were in boarding schools.

Today, the village has about 300 adobe buildings, but fewer than 50 permanent residents. Basic facilities such as electricity, running water, or sewage disposal are still absent at Acoma, so the remaining residents chose to live in nearby villages where such facilities are available.

Also read: 11 Oldest Continuously Inhabited Cities in the World

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Aerial view of Acoma. Photo credit: Marshall Henrie/Wikimedia

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Photo credit: NRCS NM/Flickr

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Hand-cut stairway to Acoma. Photo credit: Richie Diesterheft/Flickr

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Today, a road leads to the top of the mesa. Photo credit: Richie Diesterheft/Flickr

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Photo credit: Ethan Kan/Flickr

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Photo credit: NRCS NM/Flickr

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The mission church of San Esteban Rey at Acoma Pueblo. Photo credit: Karla Kaulfuss/Wikimedia

 Acoma Pueblo, NM

Photo credit: Jacqueline Poggi/Flickr

 Acoma Pueblo, NM

Photo credit: Jacqueline Poggi/Flickr

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Photo credit: Jacqueline Poggi/Flickr

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Photo credit: Jacqueline Poggi/Flickr

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Photo credit: Tony Hisgett/Flickr

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Sources: Wikipedia / Legends of America

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