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Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

People from neighboring Acoma and other pueblos established Laguna Pueblo in the last years of the 1600s. In 1699, Governor Cubero of Nuevo México formally named the pueblo San José de la Laguna (“Saint Joseph of the Lake”). The name refers to the beaver pond that was on the San José River.

Laguna Pueblo“Laguna Pueblo,” Kenneth M. Chapman (Photographer)

The Laguna people live in six major villages. At the center is Kawaika or Old Laguna, which is set high on a mesa. Laguna shares the Río San José with Acoma Pueblo. The river provides water for crops, people, and livestock. Laguna and Acoma lie along an age-old travel route, which was later followed by the Santa Fe Railroad and Route 66 (now Interstate 40). Its location along a trading and tourism trail brought many changes to Laguna.

Both Laguna and Acoma trace their ancestors to the peoples of the Four Corners area. They had abandoned their cliff dwellings and moved south, possibly going by way of Chaco Canyon.

During the Spanish colonial era, Pueblo populations of the Middle Rio Grande survived conquest and occupation. In 1680 the Pueblos successfully rebelled against Spanish rule and Catholicism. When Don Diego de Vargas reoccupied the area in 1692, many Pueblo people lived along the Rio Grande. Some of them fled to the more isolated outlying areas of Laguna and Acoma.

After Mexico won her independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government controlled Nuevo México. From this time until the early 1900s, Utes, Comanches, Navajos, Apaches, and Spanish carried out slave raids. Laguna and Acoma were far from the protection of Mexican settlements. To defend themselves, they often joined forces with Mexican soldiers against the raiders.

Boys Standing Outside Laguna Church“Boys Standing Outside Laguna Church,” Unidentified (Photographer)

In the late 1800s, Americans arrived as government agents, missionaries, teachers, anthropologists, and traders. They provoked further tensions between factions at Laguna. Because of these conflicts, forty traditional Lagunas moved to Isleta Pueblo.

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad also reached Laguna in the late 1800s. Laguna potters sold their pots to tourists at the station. This trade meant a new cash economy for the pueblo.

During the 1940s, so many Laguna men worked for the railroad that sister settlements developed in Richmond, California, and Flagstaff, Arizona. In the early 1950s, the construction of Route 66 along the rail line introduced another wave of cultural encounters.

The discovery of uranium near Gallup and Laguna in the 1950s brought further change to the pueblo. At one point, more than 800 Lagunas worked in the uranium mines. Uranium mining provided an economic boom for Laguna until the mines closed. Unfortunately, working in the mines also took a terrible toll on the health and lives of the miners and their families.