The San Felipe Pueblo is located at the foot of Santa Ana Mesa on the west bank of the Rio Grande, six miles north of its junction with the Jemez River (twenty-five miles north of Albuquerque). One or more other San Felipe pueblos may have existed in the area prior to the sixteenth century.
Keresans have been traced to an area around Chaco Canyon north to Mesa Verde. In the 1200s, the Keresans abandoned their traditional canyon homelands in response to climatic and social upheavals. A century or two of migrations ensued, followed in general by the slow reemergence of their culture in the historic pueblos. For a time the San Felipe people lived with the Cochitis at several locations, but the pueblos divided before the Spanish arrived.
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado may have visited the San Felipe Pueblo. In 1598, Juan de Oñate arrived in the area with settlers, founding the colony of New Mexico. Oñate carried on the process, already underway in nearby areas, of subjugating the local Indians, forcing them to pay taxes in crops, cotton, and work and opening the door for Catholic missionaries to attack their religion. The Spanish renamed the pueblos with saints' names and began a program of church construction. Oñate found two pueblos at San Felipe, on either side of the river. A church was built at the eastern village around 1600. At the same time, the Spanish introduced new crops such as peaches, wheat, and peppers into the region. In 1620, a royal decree created civil offices at each pueblo; silver-headed canes, many of which remain in use today, symbolized the governor's authority.
The San Felipes took an active part in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish. For years, the Spaniards had routinely tortured Indians for practicing traditional religion. They also forced the Indians to labor for them, sold them into slavery, and let Spaniard-owned cattle overgraze Indian land, a situation that eventually led to drought, erosion, and famine. Popé of San Juan Pueblo and other Pueblo religious leaders planned the revolt, sending runners carrying cords of maguey fibers to mark the day of rebellion. On August 10, 1680, a virtually united stand on the part of the Pueblos drove the Spanish from the region. The Indians killed many Spaniards but refrained from mass slaughter, allowing them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso.
The San Felipe people abandoned their pueblo in 1681, when the Spanish attempted a reconquest. They fled to the top of Horn Mesa southwest of Cochiti, and the Spanish sacked San Felipe. The people agreed to return and accept baptism in 1692. At that time they lived on top of Santa Ana Mesa. Their friendship with the Spanish alienated them from other pueblos. After 1696, they descended from the mesa top to the site of the present pueblo.