In nearly every part of Piste the impressive ruins of many large buildings erected by the ancient Maya are found in all directions but chiefly in the southeast towards Chichen Itza. These structures are so numerous between the two towns (fig. 3) that probably in ancient times the large city of Chichen Itza included the present site of Piste. Since Piste is only 2.5 km. From Chichen Itza and has the excellent natural water supply of three cenotes (water holes), as well as good soil for the production of maize, it is likely that people lived on the present Piste site when Chichen Itza was in its aboriginal glory. The fact that Piste is not mentioned by any of the encommenderos (Spaniards in whose charge certain Indians were placed and who had the right to collect specific tribute from the latter) in their descriptions of Yucatan towns in 1579-81, whereas Chichen is noted, leads one further to suppose that Piste and Chichen Itza were then one community under the name of Chichen.
The pre-Columbian history of Chichen Itza, its rise and fall, are not the concern of this chapter. 6 Historians relate, however, that at the time of the Spanish conquest there was still a town at Chichen Itza but do not tell exactly where the people resided. 7 In 1552, an order by the oidor (representative of the king sent to listen to the complaints of the Indians), compelled the Indians to move from scattered farms and hamlets to larger towns, which in this region were Ebtun, Kaua, and Cuncunul, where they could be kept in closer touch with the Franciscan missionaries. 8 Thus, if Indians were living at Chichen Itza at that time, they may well have been affected by this rule. However, it is known that the place was not entirely deserted, for the account of Father Alonso Ponce’s visit to Yucatan in 1588 mentions a cattle hacienda at Chichen Itza. 9 One hundred years later it was recorded that the town of Chichen Itza had 152 tribute payers (husbands, wives, unmarried adults, and widowed persons). 10 On this basis, it is estimated that the total population was about 400. (See p. 216.)
In 1734 a Catholic church was built in Piste, the date clearly inscribed on a lintel over a door of what was the sacristy of the original church (p1. 4b). The next date found concerning Piste, 1755, was carved on a stone built into a curbing surrounding the mouth of the cenote. 11
The first documentary reference to Piste is dated 1788. 12 It concerns a report of the Royal Treasury authorities mentioning tribute money paid by the town. Piste is shown on the map of Tomas Lopez published in 1801. 13 In 1811 a general census of Piste gives a total population of 1433 of which 1100 were Indians and 333 were non-Indians. 14 Then follow references to Piste in the Titles of Ebtun, which bear a stamp for the years 1814-15. The municipal authorities of Ebtun petition presumably the subdelegate at Valladolid concerning the destruction of forest without the payment of rent: “Furthermore, we state that in consideration of your determination, you commission, …. The Spanish Judge of the town of Piste [to ascertain] in our presence and that of the said Alcocer that the aforesaid forests are being cut.” 15
Reference to this official in Piste is again made in a document of March 14, 1817, thus indicating that the town was of considerable size and importance in the early 19th century to have supported such a dignitary.
Piste is mentioned also in the papers Titulos de Propiedad de la Hacienda Chichen. According to these papers, the owner of the Chichen Hacienda from 1841 to 1845 was Juan Sosa Arce. He was awarded as heir to an estate, “…a house consisting of one room…in the town of Piste…” 16
John L. Stephens, who passed through the town on his way from Peto to Chichen Itza on March 13, 1842, refers to Piste merely as a village, where he remained only four hours. He speaks, however, of a large party of mestizo boys from the village of Piste who came to bathe in the Xtoloc cenote. 17
Some Chichen Itza documents of 1844 and 1845 show that Piste in that period had both first and second alcaldes (minor justices). It is quite likely that these judges were either Spaniards or mestizos with Spanish names, for the documents tell that the cacique (West Indian word meaning native chief or ruler; in Maya called batab) of Piste was also present. These facts indicate a considerable non-Indian population at Piste during that period. 18
Also, the presence in the village today of 85 wells, most likely dug by Spanish-speaking people but none dug since 1900, would further substantiate this view.