Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986

These ruins in Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico have lasted since they were deserted by the Pueblos about the year 1400-evidence of
excellent native architectural skills employed long before the Spaniards came.

Pueblos, Adobe, and El Paso's
Mission Trail
By John 0. West

( hen Spanish explorersconquistadores
and padrescame
into the American Southwest in
the 1500s, they did not find the Indians
living in houses constructed of the adobe
building blocks they were familiar with in
the Iberian peninsula. Even though
adobe buildings have since become common
in West Texas and New Mexico, the
use of such materials-and even the
name, at tuba-originated in North Africa
and Egypt. Early pyramids in Egypt
were made of adobe blocks faced with
stone, and buildings in that area are often
made of adobe today.
Many of the natives were living in
multistory houses, communal type dwellings
that the Spaniards called pueblos (as
they also named the varied tribes who
had settled down and turned to farming
instead of hunting and seed gathering).
The homes they lived in, judging by the

surviving buildings to be viewed in Mesa
Verde, or Chaco Canyon,or many other
Southwestern sites, were made of stone.
Such ruins vary in architectural technique,
depending upon their age. The
people we consider primitive learned by
doing, often showing considerable skill.
The veneer technique found at Chaco
Canyon, for instance, arranges shaped
stones neatly on the outside, with rubble
piled within the walls. Other Southwestern
tribes, of course, built pit houses or
freestanding homes with walls or parts of
walls made of adobe mud, shaped by hand
or even molded with forms of branches
and split wood.
In pueblo building technique, the ceiling
of one room became the floor of the
room above-large beams called (by the
Spanish) vigas had smaller limbs, or even
split wood, laid on top and covered with
several inches of earth. These architec

tural techniques which the New World
natives used in pueblos and pit houses
were soon joined with Spanish techniques.
Indians in Ysleta Pueblo in New
Mexico developed a technique called
corte de terron, sod cut into building
blocks that were used to erect homes and
outbuildings. With the addition of Spanish
methods to native skills, the padres
used Indian labor to produce a host of
missions and churches in the Southwest.
In 1680 came an upheaval of monumental
effect-the revolt by Pueblos of
northern New Mexico. They resented the
padres, feared the supplanting of their
own gods, and hated the labor they were
subjected to by the Spanish priests.
Christianized Indians fled with their
Spanish leaders, coming to the El Paso
del Norte area on the Rio Grande. Construction
of places of worship soon followed,
using the architectural techniques
19

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45440/. Accessed July 24, 2014.