Pueblo (/ˈækəmə/) is a Native American pueblo approximately
60 miles (97 km) west of
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico in the United
States. Four villages make up Acoma Pueblo: Sky
City (Old Acoma),
Acomita, Anzac, and McCartys. The Acoma
Pueblo tribe is a federally
recognized tribal entity. The historical land of Acoma Pueblo
totaled roughly 5,000,000 acres (2,000,000 ha). The community
retains only 10% of this land, making up the Acoma Indian
Pueblo is a National Historic Landmark.
According to the 2010 United States Census, 4,989 people identified as
Acoma. The Acoma have continuously occupied the area for more than
800 years, making this one of the oldest continuously inhabited
communities in the United States (along with
Hopi pueblos). Acoma
tribal traditions estimate that they have lived in the village for
more than two thousand years.
3.1 Origins and prehistory
3.2 European contact
3.2.1 San Esteban Del Rey Mission
3.3 19th and 20th century
3.4 Present day
4.1 Governance and reservation
4.2 Warfare and weaponry
4.4 Family life
8 See also
10 External links
The English name Acoma was borrowed from Spanish Ácoma (1583) or
Acóma (1598). The Spanish name was borrowed from the Acoma word
ʔáák’u̓u̓m̓é meaning 'person from Acoma Pueblo'.
ʔáák’u̓u̓m̓é itself is derived from ʔáák’u (singular,
plural: ʔaak’u̓u̓m̓e̓e̓ʈʂʰa). The name does not have any
meaning in the modern Acoma language. Some tribal authorities connect
it to the similar word háák’u 'preparedness, place of
preparedness' and suggest that this might be the origin of the name.
The name does not mean 'sky city'. Other tribal elders assert that
it means 'place that always was' while outsiders say it means 'people
of the white rock'.
Acoma has been spelled in various other ways in historical documents.
ákuma, ákomage, Acus, Acux, Aacus, Hacús, Vacus, Vsacus, Yacco,
Acco, Acuca, Acogiya, Acuco, Coco, Suco, Akome, Acuo, Ako, and
A’ku-me. The Spanish mission name was San Esteban de Acoma.
Pueblo is the Spanish word for ‘village’ or ‘small town.’ In
general usage, it is applied both to the people and to the unique
architecture of the southwestern native tribes.
The Acoma are called ʔáák’u [ʔɑ́ːk'ù] in Western Keresan,
Hakukya in Zuni, and Haak’oh in Navajo.
Main article: Keresan languages
The Acoma language is classified in the western division of the
Keresan languages. In contemporary Acoma
Pueblo culture, most
people speak both Acoma and English. Elders might also speak
City aerial view
A view of the Acoma
Pueblo mesa from the northwest
Origins and prehistory
Pueblo people are believed to have descended from the Anasazi,
Mogollon, and other ancient peoples. These influences are seen in the
architecture, farming style, and artistry of the Acoma. In the 13th
Anasazi abandoned their canyon homelands due to climate
change and social upheaval. For upwards of two centuries, migrations
occurred in the area. The Acoma
Pueblo emerged by the thirteenth
century. This early founding date makes Acoma
Pueblo one of the
earliest continuously inhabited communities in the United
Pueblo is situated on a 365 feet (111 m) mesa, about 60 miles
(97 km) west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The isolation and
location of the
Pueblo has sheltered the community for more than 1,200
years. They sought to avoid conflict with the neighboring
The first mention of Acoma was in 1539. Estevanico, a slave, was the
first non-Indian to visit Acoma and reported it to Marcos de Niza, who
related the information to the viceroy of New Spain after the end of
his expedition. Acoma was called the independent Kingdom of Hacus. He
called the Acoma people encaconados, which meant that they had
turquoise hanging from their ears and noses.
Captain Hernando de Alvarado of conquistador Francisco Vázquez de
Coronado's expedition described the
Pueblo (which they called Acuco)
in 1540 as "a very strange place built upon solid rock" and "one of
the strongest places we have seen." Upon visiting the Pueblo, the
expedition "repented having gone up to the place." Further from
These people were robbers, feared by the whole country round about.
The village was very strong, because it was up on a rock out of reach,
having steep sides in every direction... There was only one entrance
by a stairway built by hand... There was a broad stairway of about 200
steps, then a stretch of about 100 narrower steps and at the top they
had to go up about three times as high as a man by means of holes in
the rock, in which they put the points of their feet, holding on at
the same time by their hands. There was a wall of large and small
stones at the top, which they could roll down without showing
themselves, so that no army could possibly be strong enough to capture
the village. On the top they had room to sow and store a large amount
of corn, and cisterns to collect snow and water.
It is believed Coronado's expedition were the first Europeans to
encounter the Acoma. (Estevan was a native Moroccan.) Alvarado
reported that first the Acoma refused entry even after persuasions but
after Alvarado showed threats of an attack the Acoma guards welcomed
the Spaniards peacefully noting that they and their horses were tired.
The encounter shows that the Acoma had clothing made of deerskin,
buffalohide, and woven cotton as well as turquoise jewelry, domestic
turkeys, bread, pine nuts, and maize. The village seemed to contain
about 200 men.
Acoma was next visited by the Spanish 40 years later in 1581 by Fray
Agustín Rodríguez and Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado with 12
soldiers, 3 other friars, and 13 others including Indian servants. The
Acoma at this time were reported to be somewhat defensive and fearful.
This response may have been due to the knowledge of the Spanish
enslavement of other Indians to work in silver mines in the area.
However, eventually the Rodríguez and Chamuscado party convinced them
to trade goods for food. The Spaniard reports say the pueblo had about
500 houses of either three or four stories high.
In 1582, Acoma was visited again by
Antonio de Espejo
Antonio de Espejo for three
months. The Acoma were reported to be wearing mantas. Espejo also
noted irrigation in Acomita, the farming village in the north valley
San Jose River which was two leagues from the mesa. He saw
evidence of intertribal trade with "mountain Querechos". Acoma oral
history does not confirm this trade but only tells of common
messengers to and from the mesa and Acomita, McCartys Village, and
Juan de Oñate
Juan de Oñate intended on colonizing
New Mexico starting from 1595.
(He formally held the area by April 1598.) The Acoma warrior Zutacapan
heard of this plan and warned the mesa and organized a defense.
However, a pueblo elder Chumpo dissuaded war partly to prevent deaths
and partly based on Zutancalpo's (Zutacapan's son) mentioning of the
widespread belief that the Spaniards were immortal. Thus, when Oñate
visited on October 27, 1598, Acoma met him peacefully with no
resistance to Oñate's demand of surrender and obedience reported.
Oñate demonstrated his military power by firing a gun salute.
Zutacapan offered to meet Oñate formally in the religious kiva, which
is traditionally used as the place to make sacred oaths and pledges.
However, Oñate was scared of death and in suspicious ignorance of
Acoma customs refused to enter via ladder from the roof into the dark
kiva chambers. Purguapo was another Acoma man out of four chosen for
Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá
Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá visited Acoma soon after Oñate's departure
by himself with a dog and a horse and asked for other supplies.
Villagrá refused to get off his horse and left to follow after
Oñate's party. However, Zutacapan convinced him to return to receive
supplies. In questioning by Zutacapan, Villagrá said that 103 armed
men were two day away from Acoma. Zutacapan then told Villagrá to
On December 1, 1598, Juan de Zaldívar, Oñate's nephew, reached Acoma
with 20–30 men and peacefully traded with them and had to wait some
days for their order of ground corn. On December 4, Zaldívar went
with 16 armored men to Acoma to find out about the corn. Zutacapan met
them and directed them to the homes with the corn. Zaldívar's people
then divided into groups to collect the corn. The traditional oral
Acoma narrative tells that a group attacked some Acoma women leading
Acoma warriors to retaliate. The Spanish documents do not report an
attack on the women and say that the division of the men was a
reaction to Zutacapan's plan to kill Zaldívar's party. The Acoma
killed 12 of the Spaniards including Zaldívar. Five men escaped
although one died from jumping over the citadel leaving four to escape
with the remaining camp.
On December 20, 1598, Oñate learned of Zaldívar's death and after
encouraging advice from the friars planned an attack in revenge as
well to teach a lesson to other pueblos. Acomas requested help from
other tribes to defend against the Spanish. Among the leaders were
Gicombo, Popempol, Chumpo, Calpo, Buzcoico, Ezmicaio, and Bempol (a
Apache war leader). On January 21, 1599, Vicente de
Zaldívar (Juan de Zaldívar's brother) reached Acoma with 70
Acoma Massacre started the next day and lasted for three
days. On January 23, men were able to climb the southern mesa
unnoticed by Acoma guards and breach the pueblo. The Spanish dragged a
cannon through the streets toppling adobe walls and burned most of the
village killing 800 people (decimated 13% of the 6,000 population) and
imprisoning approximately 500 others. The pueblo surrendered at noon
on January 24. Zaldívar lost only one of his men. The Spanish
amputated the right feet of men over 25 years old and forced them into
slavery for 20 years. They also took males aged 12–25 and females
over 12 away from their parents putting most of them in slavery for 20
years. The enslaved Acoma were given to government officials and
various missions. Two other Indian men visiting Acoma at the time had
their right hands cut off and were sent back to their respective
Pueblos as a warning of the consequences for resisting the
Spanish. On the north side of the mesa, a row of houses
still retain marks from the fire started by a cannon during this Acoma
War. (Oñate was later exiled from
New Mexico for mismanagement,
false reporting, and cruelty by Philip III of Spain.)
Mission San Esteban Rey was built c.1641, photograph by Ansel Adams,
A view from 2009 of the same building, where architectural
modifications are apparent
Survivors of the
Acoma Massacre rebuilt their community 1599–1620.
Oñate forced the Acoma and other local Indians to pay taxes in crops,
cotton, and labor. Spanish rule also brought
into the area. The Spanish renamed the pueblos with the names of
saints and started to construct churches at them. They introduced new
crops to the Acoma, including peaches, peppers, and wheat. A 1620
royal decree created Spanish civil offices in each pueblo, including
Acoma, with an appointed governor to take command. In 1680 the Pueblo
Revolt took place, with Acoma participating. The revolt brought
refugees from other pueblos. Those who eventually left Acoma moved
elsewhere to form Laguna Pueblo.
The Acoma suffered high mortality from smallpox epidemics, as they had
no immunity to such Eurasian infectious diseases. They also suffered
raiding from the Apache, Comanche, and Ute. On occasion, the Acoma
would side with the Spanish to fight against these nomadic tribes.
Forced to formally adopt Catholicism, the Acoma proceeded to practice
their traditional religion in secrecy, and combined elements of both
in a syncretic blend. Intermarriage and interaction became common
among the Acoma, other pueblos, and
Hispanic villages. These
communities would intermingle in a kind of creolization to form the
culture of New Mexico.
San Esteban Del Rey Mission
Main article: San Estevan Del Rey Mission Church
Between 1629 and 1641 Father Juan Ramirez oversaw construction of the
San Estevan Del Rey Mission Church. The Acoma were ordered to build
the church, moving 20,000 short tons (18,000 t) of adobe, straw,
sandstone, and mud to the mesa for the church walls. Ponderosa pine
was brought in by community members from Mount Taylor, over 40 miles
(64 km) away. The 6,000 square feet (560 m2) church has an
altar flanked by 60 feet (18 m)-high wood pillars. These are hand
carved in red and white designs representing Christian and Indigenous
beliefs. The Acoma know their ancestors' hands built this structure,
and they consider it a cultural treasure.
In 1970 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2007 the mission church was designated as a National Trust Historic
Site, the only Native American site in that ranking as identified by
the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a non-profit
19th and 20th century
The pueblo 1933–1942 (Ansel Adams)
During the nineteenth century, the Acoma people, while trying to
uphold traditional life, also adopted aspects of the once-rejected
Spanish culture and religion. By the 1880s, railroads brought
increased numbers of settlers and ended the pueblos' isolation.
In the 1920s, the All Indian
Pueblo Council gathered for the first
time in more than 300 years. Responding to congressional interest in
Pueblo lands, the
U.S. Congress passed the
Act in 1924. Despite successes in retaining their land, the Acoma had
difficulty during the 20th century trying to preserve their cultural
Protestant missionaries established schools in the area,
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Bureau of Indian Affairs forced Acoma children into boarding
schools. By 1922, most children from the community were in boarding
schools, where they were forced to use English and to practice
Christianity. Several generations became cut off from their own
culture and language, with harsh effects on their families and
A street in the pueblo, 2012
Today, about 300 two- and three-story adobe buildings stand on the
mesa, with exterior ladders used to access the upper levels where
residents live. Access to the mesa is by a road blasted into the rock
face during the 1950s. Approximately 30 or so people live
permanently on the mesa, with the population increasing on the
weekends as family members come to visit and tourists, some 55,000
annually, visit for the day.
Pueblo has no electricity, running water, or sewage
disposal. A reservation surrounds the mesa, totaling 600 square
miles (1,600 km2). Tribal members live both on the reservation
and outside it. Contemporary Acoma culture remains relatively
closed, however. According to the 2000 United States census, 4,989
people identify themselves as Acoma.
Governance and reservation
Acoma government was maintained by two individuals: a cacique, or head
of the Pueblo, and a war captain, who would serve until their deaths.
Both individuals maintained strong religious connections to their
work, representing the theocracy of Acoma governance. The Spanish
eventually imposed a group to oversee the Pueblo, but, their power was
not taken seriously by the Acoma. The Spanish group would work with
external situations and comprised a governor, two lieutenant
governors, and a council. The Acoma also participated in the All
Pueblo Council, which started in 1598 and arose again in the
Today, the Acoma controls approximately 500,000 acres
(200,000 ha) of their traditional land. Mesas, valleys, hills,
and arroyos dot the landscape that averages about 7,000 feet
(2,100 m) in altitude with about 10 inches (250 mm) of rain
each year. Since 1977, the Acoma have increased their domain through
several land purchases. On the reservation, only tribal members may
own land and almost all enrolled members live on the property. The
cacique is still active in the community, and is from the Antelope
clan. The cacique appoints tribal council members, staff, and the
In 2011 Acoma
Pueblo and the
Pueblo of Santa Clara were victims of
New Mexico supplied more than $1 million to fund
emergency preparedness and damage repair for victims and governor
Susana Martinez requested additional funding from the Federal
Emergency Management Agency.
A buttressed three-story building
A house with a decorated doorway
A traditional wooden ladder leads to the second story entrance of a
kiva, a religious contemplation chamber
A traditional horno, a mud adobe oven
Warfare and weaponry
Historically, engagements in warfare were common for Acoma, like other
Pueblos. Weapons used included clubs, stones, spears, and darts. The
Acoma later would serve as auxiliaries for forces under Spain and
Mexico, fighting against raids and protecting merchants on the Santa
Fe Trail. After the nineteenth-century, raiding tribes were less of a
threat and Acoma military culture began to decline. The war captain
position eventually would change to a civil and religious function.
Pueblo has three rows of three-story, apartment-style buildings
which face south on top of the mesa. The buildings are constructed
from adobe brick with beams across the roof that were covered with
poles, brush, and then plaster. The roof for one level would serve as
the floor for another. Each level is connected to others by ladders,
serving as a unique defensive aid; the ladders are the only way to
enter the buildings, as the traditional design has no windows or
doors. The lower levels of the buildings were used for storage. Baking
ovens are outside the buildings, with water being collected from two
natural cisterns. Acoma also has seven rectangular kivas and a village
plaza which serves as the spiritual center for the village.
About 20 matrilineal clans were recognized by the Acoma. Traditional
child rearing involved very little discipline. Couples were generally
monogamous and divorce was rare. Funerary rites involved ceremony and
quick burial after death, followed by four days and nights of vigil.
Women would wear cotton dresses and sandals or high moccasin boots.
Traditional clothing for men involved cotton kilts and leather
sandals. Rabbit and deer skin was used for clothing and robes, as
well. In the seventeenth century horses were introduced to the
Pueblo by the Spanish. Education was overseen by kiva headmen who
taught about human behavior, spirit and body, astrology, ethics, child
psychology, oratory, history, dance, and music.
Since the 1970s, Acoma
Pueblo has retained control over education
services, which have been keys in maintaining traditional and
contemporary lifestyles. They share a high school with Laguna Pueblo.
Alcoholism, drug use, and other health issues are prominent on the
Indian Health Service
Indian Health Service hospitals and native healers
cooperate to battle health problems. Alcohol is banned on the
Pueblo. The community is served by the Acoma-Canoncito-Laguna
(ACL) Hospital run by the Indian Health Services and located in Acoma.
Today, 19 clans still remain active.
Traditional Acoma religion stresses harmony between life and nature.
The sun is a representative of the Creator deity. Mountains
surrounding the community, the sun above, and the earth below help to
balance and define the Acoma world. Traditional religious ceremonies
may revolve around the weather, including seeking to ensure healthy
rainfall. The Acoma also use kachinas in rituals. The Pueblos also had
one or more kivas, which served as religious chambers. The leader of
Pueblo would serve as the community religious leader, or cacique.
The cacique would observe the sun and use it as a guide for scheduling
ceremonies, some which were kept secret.
Many Acoma are Catholic, but blend aspects of Catholicism and their
traditional religion. Many old rituals are still performed. In
September, the Acoma honor their patron saint, Saint Stephen. For
feast day, the mesa is opened to the public for the celebration. More
than 2,000 pilgrims attend the San Esteban Festival. The celebration
begins at San Esteban Del Rey Mission and a carved pine effigy of
Saint Stephen is removed from the altar and carried into the main
plaza with people chanting, shooting rifles, and ringing steeple
bells. The procession then proceeds past the cemetery, down narrow
streets, and to the plaza. Upon arriving at the plaza, the effigy is
placed in a shrine lined with woven blankets and guarded by two Acoma
men. A celebration follows with dancing and feasting. During the
festival, vendors sell goods such as traditional pottery and
Before contact with the Spanish, Acoma people primarily ate corn,
beans, and squash. Mut-tze-nee was a popular thin corn bread. They
also raised turkeys, tobacco, and sunflowers. The Acoma hunted
antelope, deer, and rabbits. Wild seeds, berries, nuts, and other
foods were gathered. After 1700, new foods were noted in the
Blue corn drink, pudding, corn mush, corn balls,
wheat cake, peach-bark drink, paper bread, flour bread, wild berries,
and prickly pear fruit all became staples. After contact with the
Spanish, goats, horses, sheep and donkeys were raised.
In contemporary Acoma, other foods are also popular such as apple
pastries, corn tamales, green-chili stew with lamb, fresh corn, and
wheat pudding with brown sugar.
Irrigation techniques such as dams and terraces were used for
agricultural purposes. Farming tools were made of wood and stone.
Harvested corn would be ground with hands and mortar.
Historical Acoma economic practices are described as socialistic or
communal. Labor was shared and produce was distributed equally.
Trading networks were extensive, spreading thousands of miles
throughout the region. During fixed times in the summer and fall,
trading fairs were held. The largest fair was held in Taos by the
Comanche. Nomadic traders would exchange slaves, buckskins, buffalo
hide, jerky, and horses.
Pueblo people would trade for copper and
shell ornaments, macaw feathers, and turquoise. The Acoma would trade
Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail starting in 1821, and with the arrival of
railroads in the 1880s, the Acoma became dependent on American-made
goods. This dependency would cause traditional arts such as weaving
and pottery making to decline.
Today, the Acoma produce a variety of goods for economic benefit.
Agriculturally they grow alfalfa, oats, wheat, chilies, corn, melon,
squash, vegetables, and fruit. They raise cattle and have natural
reserves of gas, geothermal, and coal resources. Uranium mines in the
area provided work for the Acoma until their closings in the 1980s.
After that, the tribe provided most employment opportunities. However,
high unemployment rates trouble the Pueblo. The legacy of the uranium
mines has left radiation pollution, causing the tribal fishing lake to
be drained and some health problems within the community.
City Cultural Center, which includes the Haak'u Museum
Tourism is a major source of income for the tribe. In 2008 Pueblo
Acoma opened the Sky
City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum at the
base of the mesa, replacing the original, which was destroyed by fire
in 2000. The center and museum seek to sustain and preserve Acoma
culture. Films about Acoma history are shown and a café serves
traditional foods. The architecture was inspired by pueblo design and
indigenous architectural traditions with wide doorways in the middle,
which in traditional homes make the bringing of supplies easier,
Flecks of mica are in the windowpanes, a mineral which is used to
create mesa windows. The complex is also fire resistant, unlike
traditional pueblos, and is painted in light pinks and purples to
match the landscape surrounding it. Traditional Acoma artwork is
exhibited and demonstrated at the Center, including ceramic chimneys
crafted on the rooftop. Arts and crafts also bring income into the
Pueblo is open to the public by guided tour from March thru
October, though June and July have periods of closure for cultural
activities. It is advisable for visitors to call ahead to confirm
whether they are open or not. Photography of the
surrounding land is restricted. Tours and camera permits are purchased
at the Sky
City Cultural Center. While photography may be produced
with permit, video recordings, drawings, and sketching are
Pueblo also has a casino and hotel - the Sky
Hotel. The casino and hotel are alcohol-free and are maintained by the
Acoma Business Enterprise which oversees most Acoma businesses.
Acoma seed pot by B. Aragon - traditionally, seeds were stored inside
this type of pottery and the pots broken as needed
At Acoma, pottery remains one of the most notable artforms. Men
created weavings and silver jewelry, as well.
Pottery inside a house, c. 1900
Acoma pottery dates back to more than 1,000 years ago. Dense local
clay, dug up at a nearby site, is essential to Acoma pottery. The clay
is dried and strengthened by the addition of pulverized pottery
shards. The pieces then are shaped, painted, and fired. Geometric
patterns, thunderbirds, and rainbows are traditional designs, which
are applied with the spike of a yucca. Upon completion, a potter would
lightly strike the side of the pot, and hold it to their ear. If the
pot does not ring, then the pot will crack during firing. If this was
found, the piece would be destroyed and ground into shards for future
Old Sky Line
Marie Chino, traditional pottery artist
Vera Chino, traditional pottery artist
Lucy Lewis, traditional pottery artist
Susan Sarracino, traditional pottery artist
Simon J. Ortiz, poet, author, and educator
Anton Docher, "The Padre of Isleta", French priest in Acoma during his
long period in Isleta.
Acoma runners, circa 1909
Photograph of Enchanted
Mesa taken from Acoma in 1899
Illustration of the Acoma mesa from 1846
Pueblo and its reflection in a pool of water
Acoma water girls by Edward S. Curtis
Fiesta de San Esteban, Acoma Pueblo, ca. 1900
City Cultural Center
Fineline black-on-white olla by Lucy M. Lewis, ca. 1960–1970s,
collection of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
Acoma dress made by men, ca. 1898
Mesa Encantada, 1898
Acoma woman, 1926
Old trail (entrance) to Acoma Pueblo, 1904
view of Acoma from the south, 1904
corral between the rock walls near the Acoma Pueblo, 1886
an Acoma building
view of Acoma mesa, 1899
Indigenous Peoples of North America portal
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Acoma Indian Reservation
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List of National Historic Landmarks in New Mexico
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National Park Service
National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information
System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park
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funding for flood victims". KOB. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
^ a b Neala Schwartzberg (2006). "Acoma Pueblo, Sky
Center and Haak'u Museum". Offbeat Travel. Archived from the original
on 12 November 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
^ "Acoma and Laguna Pueblos: Planning a Trip", Frommers Guide
^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009,
chap.4- p. 30.36.
Minge, Ward Alan and Simon Ortiz. Acoma:
Pueblo in the Sky.
Albuquerque: University of
New Mexico Press (1991).
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Acoma Pueblo.
City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum website
Casino and Hotel website
AcomaZuni.com: Acoma "Sky City"
Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. NM-6, "
Acoma, Casa Blanca vicinity, Acoma Pueblo, Cibola County, NM",
87 photos, 86 measured drawings, 10 data pages,
1 photo caption page
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County seat: Grants
North Acomita Village
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Zuni Indian Reservation‡
‡This populated place also has portions in an adjacent county