History of New Mexico

History of New Mexico

Evidence from archaeologists conveys the existence of natives back to approximately 9200 BC. However, the history of New Mexico was not officially recorded until the arriving of the Conquistadors, who encountered Native American Pueblos when they explored the area in the 16th century. Since that time, the area has been under the control of Spain, Mexico, and the United States.


Native American settlements

Human occupation of New Mexico stretches back at least 11,000 years to the Clovis culture of hunter-gatherers.[1] They left evidence of their campsites and stone tools. After the invention of agriculture, the land was inhabited by the Ancient Pueblo Peoples, who built houses out of stone or adobe bricks. They experienced a Golden Age around AD 1000, but climate change led to migration and cultural evolution. From those people arose the historic Pueblo peoples who lived primarily along the few major rivers of the region. The most important rivers are the Rio Grande, the Pecos, the Canadian, the San Juan, and the Gila.


Clovis 9200 BC Eastern Plains Hunted big game
Folsom 8200 BC American Southwest Hunted big game
Desert Culture I 6000 to 2000 BC American Southwest Hunted small game; gathered seeds. nuts, and berries
Desert Culture II 2000 to 500 BC American Southwest Developed early gardening skills, baskets, and milling stones
Mogollon 300 BC to AD 1150 West-central and southwestern New Mexico Farmed crops, made pottery, and lived in pit house villages
Anasazi: Basketmaker AD 1 to 500 Northwestern New Mexico Used the atlatl, gathered food, and made fine baskets
Modified Basketmaker AD 500 to 700 Northwestern New Mexico Lived in pit house villages, used the mano and metate, learned pottery-making, and used bows and arrows
Developmental Pueblo AD 700 to 1050 Northwestern New Mexico Built adobe houses, used cotton cloth and infant cradleboards
Great Pueblo AD 1050 to 1300 Northwestern New Mexico (Chaco Canyon, Aztec) Built mulitstories pueblos, practiced irrigation, and laid out road systems
Rio Grande Classic AD 1300 to 1600 West-central New Mexico, Rio Grande Valley, Pecos Abandoned northwestern New Mexico sites, migrated to new areas of settlement, and changed building and pottery style


The Pueblo people built a flourishing sedentary culture in the 13th century, constructing small towns in the valley of the Rio Grande and pueblos nearby.

The Spanish encountered Pueblo civilization and elements of the Athabaskans in the 16th century. Cabeza de Vaca in 1535, one of only four survivors of the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition of 1527, tells of hearing Indians talk about fabulous cities somewhere in New Mexico. Fray Marcos de Niza enthusiastically identified these as the fabulously rich Seven Cities of Cíbola, the mythical seven cities of gold. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led a massive expedition to find these cities in 1540–1542. Coronado camped near an excavated pueblo today preserved as Coronado National Memorial in 1541. The Spanish maltreatment of the Pueblo and Athabaskan people that started with their explorations of the upper Rio Grande valley led to hostility that impeded the Spanish conquest of New Mexico for centuries.

The three largest pueblos of New Mexico are Zuñi, Santo Domingo, and Laguna. There are three different languages spoken by the nineteen foxes.


The major Southern Athabaskan (also called Apachean) groups today are generally called Navajo and Apache, but they were not unified tribes in the modern sense. Early histories tended to call the different groups of Apaches and Navajos by various names that were not consistent from the 16th century to the 19th century. The one consistent name was the name the people called themselves which was Dine'. The Navajo and Apache made up the largest non-Pueblo Indian group in the Southwest. These two tribes led semi-nomadic lifestyles and spoke a similar language.

Some experts estimate that the semi-nomadic Apaches were in New Mexico in the 13th century. Spanish records indicated that they traded with the Pueblos and various bands or tribes participated in the Southwestern Revolt against the Spanish in the 1680s. By the early 18th century the Spanish had to build a series of over 25 forts to protect themselves and subjugated populations from traditional raiding parties of Athabaskans.

The Navajo, which is the largest tribe in the United States, live in present-day northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. The Mescalero Apache live east of the Rio Grande. The Jicarilla Apache live west of the Rio Grande. The Chiricahua Apache lived in southwestern New Mexico until the late 19th century.

Colonial period

Spanish exploration and colonization

Francisco Vázquez de Coronado assembled an enormous expedition at Compostela, Mexico in 1540–1542 to explore and find the mystical Seven Golden Cities of Cibola as described by Cabeza de Vaca who had just arrived from his eight-year ordeal traveling from Florida to Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca and three companions were the only survivors of the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition of June 17, 1527 to Florida, losing 80 horses and all the rest of the explorers. These four survivors had spent eight arduous years getting to Sinaloa, Mexico on the Pacific coast and had visited many Indian tribes. Coronado and his supporters sank a fortune in this ill-fated enterprise taking 1300 horses and mules for riding and packing and hundreds of head of sheep and cattle as a portable food supply. Coronado's men found several adobe pueblos (towns) in 1541 but found no rich cities of gold. Further widespread expeditions [1] found no fabulous cities anywhere in the Southwest or Great Plains. A dispirited and now poor Coronado and his men began their journey back to Mexico leaving New Mexico behind. Coronado, however, was highly unlikely to have been the source of the horses that Plains Indians later adopted as the cornerstone of their culture. Only two of Coronado's horses were mares, [2]

Over 50 years after Coronado, Juan de Oñate came north from Mexico with 500 Spanish settlers and soldiers and 7,000 head of livestock and founded the first Spanish settlement in New Mexico on July 11, 1598.[3] The governor named the settlement San Juan de los Caballeros. This means "Saint John of the Knights". San Juan was in a small valley. Nearby the Chama River flows into the Rio Grande. Oñate pioneered the grandly named El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, "The Royal Road," a 700 mile (1,100 km) trail from the rest of New Spain to his remote colony. Oñate was made the first governor of the new province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico. The Native Americans at Acoma revolted against this Spanish encroachment but faced severe suppression. In battles with the Acomas, Oñate lost 11 soldiers and two servants, killed hundreds of Indians, and punished every man over 25 years of age by the amputation of their left foot. The Franciscans found the pueblo people increasingly unwilling to consent to baptism by newcomers who continued to demand food, clothing and labor. Acoma is also known as the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States. Oñate's capital of San Juan proved to be vulnerable to "Apache" (probably Navajo) attacks and a later governor, Pedro de Peralta, moved the capital and established the settlement of Santa Fe in 1609 at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.[4] Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States. Peralta built the Palace of the Governors in 1610. Although the colony failed to prosper, some missions survived. Spanish settlers arrived at the site of Albuquerque in the mid-17th century. Missionaries attempted to convert the natives to Christianity, but had little success.[2]

The objective of Spanish rule of New Mexico was exploitation of the native population and resources. "Governors were a greedy and rapacious lot whose single-minded interest was to wring as much personal wealth from the province as their terms allowed. They exploited Indian labor for transport, sold Indian slaves in New Spain, and sold Indian products...and other goods manufactured by Indian slave labor."[5] The exploitative nature of Spanish rule involved them in nearly continuous raids and reprisals with nomadic Indian tribes on the borders, especially the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche.

Franciscan missionaries came to New Mexico with Onate and a struggle ensued between secular and religious authorities. Both colonists and the Franciscans depended upon Indian labor, mostly Pueblos, and competed with each other to control an Indian population decreasing because of European diseases and exploitation. The struggle between the Franciscans and the civil government came to a head in the late 1650s. Governor Bernardo Lopez de Mendizabal and his subordinate Nicolas de Aguilar forbade the Franciscans to punish Indians or employ them without pay and granted the Pueblos permission to practice their traditional dances and religious ceremonies. Lopez and Aguilar were arrested, turned over to the Inquisition, and tried in Mexico City. Thereafter, the Franciscans reigned supreme in the province. Pueblo dissatisfaction with the rule of the clerics was the main cause of the Pueblo revolt.[6]

Pueblo Revolt

Many of the Pueblo people harbored a latent hostility toward the Spanish, primarily due to their denigration and prohibition of the traditional religion. The traditional economies of the pueblos were likewise disrupted, the people having been forced to labor on the encomiendas of the colonists. Some Pueblo people may have been forced to labor in the mines of Chihuahua. However, the Spanish had introduced new farming implements and provided some measure of security against Navajo and Apache raiding parties. As a result, they lived in relative peace with the Spanish since the founding of the Northern New Mexican colony in 1598.

In the 1670s, drought swept the region, which not only caused famine among the Pueblo, but also provoked increased attacks from neighboring nomadic tribes—attacks against which Spanish soldiers were unable to defend. At the same time, European-introduced diseases were ravaging the natives, greatly decreasing their numbers. Unsatisfied with the protective powers of the Spanish crown and the god of the Church it imposed, the people turned to their old gods. This provoked a wave of repression on the part of Franciscan missionaries.


Following his arrest on a charge of witchcraft and subsequent release, Popé (or Po-pay) planned and orchestrated the Pueblo Revolt. Popé moved to Taos after being freed from Spanish control and planned a Pueblo war against the Spaniards. Popé dispatched runners to all the Pueblos carrying knotted cords, the knots signifying the number of days remaining until the appointed day for them to rise against the Spaniards in unison.

The day for the attack had been fixed for the August 18, 1680 but the Spaniards learned of the revolt after capturing two Tesuque Pueblo youths entrusted with carrying the message to the pueblos. Popé then ordered the execution of the plot on the feast day of Saint Lawrence (San Lorenzo), August 13, before the uprising could be put down.

Knowing that the Spaniards had learned of their plans, the Pueblo Indians began their attack before August 11, 1680. One Spaniard was killed on August 9. The full fury of the revolt then began to be felt on August 10. The attack was commenced by the Taos, Picuris, and Tewa Indians in their respective pueblos. Eighteen Franciscan priests, three lay brothers, and three hundred and eighty Spaniards, counting men, women and children, were killed. Spanish settlers fled to Santa Fe, the only Spanish city, and Isleta Pueblo, one of the few pueblos that did not participate in the rebellion. Believing themselves the only survivors, the refugees at Isleta left for El Paso del Norte on September 15. Meanwhile Popé's insurgents besieged Santa Fe, surrounding the city and cutting off its water supply. New Mexico Governor Antonio de Otermín, barricaded in the Governor’s Palace, called for a general retreat, and on September 21 the Spanish settlers streamed out of the capital city headed for El Paso del Norte.[citation needed]

Popé's kingdom

The retreat of the Spaniards left New Mexico in the power of the Indians. Popé ordered the Indians, under penalty of death, to burn or destroy crosses and other religious imagery, as well as any other vestige of the Roman Catholic religion and Spanish culture, including Spanish livestock and fruit trees. Kivas (rooms for religious rituals) reopened and Popé ordered all Indians to bathe in soap made of yucca root. He also forbade the planting of wheat and barley. Popé went so far as to command those Indians who had been married according to the rites of the Catholic church to dismiss their wives and to take others after the old native tradition. Popé set himself up in the Governor’s Palace as ruler of the Pueblos and collected tribute from the each Pueblo until his death in approximately 1688.

Following their success, the different Pueblo tribes, separated by hundreds of miles and six different languages, quarreled as to who would occupy Santa Fe and rule over the country. These power struggles, combined with raids from nomadic tribes and a seven year drought, weakened the Pueblo resolve and set the stage for a Spanish reconquest.

"Bloodless" reconquest

In July of 1692, Diego de Vargas returned to Santa Fe. De Vargas surrounded the city before dawn and called on the Indians to surrender, promising clemency if they would swear allegiance to the King of Spain and return to the Christian faith. The Indian leaders gathered in Santa Fe, met with De Vargas, and agreed to peace. On September 14, 1692, de Vargas proclaimed a formal act of repossession.

While developing Santa Fe as a trade center, the returning settlers founded the old town of Albuquerque in 1706, naming for the viceroy of New Spain, the Duke of Albuquerque. Prior to its founding, Albuquerque consisted of several haciendas and communities along the lower Rio Grande. They constructed the Iglesia de San Felipe Neri (1706). The thorough development of ranching and some farming in the 18th century laid the foundations for the state's still-flourishing Hispanic culture.

De Vargas’s repossession of New Mexico is often called a "bloodless reconquest." However, De Vargas mounted several military campaigns against the Pueblo peoples in the years that followed in an attempt to maintain control. For instance, a Second Pueblo Revolt was attempted in 1696, resulting in the death of five missionaries and twenty-one Spaniards, but was effectively thwarted. By the end of the century, the Spanish reconquest was essentially complete.

While their independence from the Spaniards was short-lived, the Pueblo Revolt granted the Pueblo Indians a measure of freedom from future Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion following the reconquest. Moreover, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each Pueblo and appointed a public defender to protect the rights of the Indians and argue their legal cases in the Spanish courts.

The southwestern Indians gradually became mounted on Spanish horses by raiding Spanish ranches and stealing horses from Spanish missions in New Mexico. By trade and raid the Indian horse culture quickly spread throughout western America. Navajo and Apache raids for horses on Spanish and Pueblo settlements began in the 1650s or earlier.[7] The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 saw another large number of horses falling into Indian hands. By the 1750s the Plains Indians horse culture was well established from Texas to Alberta Canada. The Navajo, in addition to being among the first mounted Indians in the U.S., were unique in developing a herding culture based on sheep captured from the Spanish. Early in the 18th century the Navajo were reported to own herds of sheep.[8]

U.S. exploration

Following Lewis and Clark many men started exploring and trapping in the western parts of the United States. Sent out in 1806, Lt. Zebulon Pike's orders were to find the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red rivers. He was to explore the southwestern part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1807, when Pike and his men crossed into the San Luis Valley of northern New Mexico they were arrested and taken to Santa Fe, and then sent south to Chihuahua where they appeared before the Commandant General Salcedo. After four months of diplomatic negotiations, Pike and his men were returned to the United States, under protest, across the Red River at Natchitoches.[9]

Mexican territory

New Mexico Population Estimates, 1600-1850[10]
Date Spanish Pueblo
1600 700 80,000
1609 60 ?
1620 800 17,000
1638 800 40,000
1680 1,470 17,000
1749 4,353 10,658
1800 19,276 9,732
1820 28,436 9,923
1842 46,988 16,510

Napoleon Bonaparte of France sold the vast unsettled and undeveloped Louisiana Purchase, which extended into the northeastern corner of New Mexico, to the United States in 1803.[11] In 1819 the Adams-Onís Treaty set the border between the United States and the Spanish North American territories leaving present-day New Mexico on the Spanish side. As a part of New Spain, the claims for the province of New Mexico passed to independent Mexico following the 1810-1821 Mexican War of Independence. During the 26 year period of nominal Mexican control, Mexican authority and investment in New Mexico were weak as their often conflicted government had little time or interest in a New Mexico that had been poor since the Spanish settlements started. Some Mexican officials, saying they were wary of encroachments by the growing United States, and wanting to reward themselves and their friends began issuing enormous land grants (usually free) to groups of Mexican families as an incentive to populate the province.

Small trapping parties from the United States had previously reached and stayed in Santa Fe, but the Spanish authorities officially forbade them to trade.[citation needed] Trader William Becknell returned to the United States in November 1821 with news that independent Mexico now welcomed trade through Santa Fe.[citation needed]

Captain William Becknell of Franklin, Missouri, arrived in Santa Fe in 1821. William Becknell left Independence, Missouri, for Santa Fe early in 1822 with the first party of traders. The Santa Fe Trail trading company headed by the brothers Charles Bent and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, was one of the most successful in the West. They had their first trading post in the area in 1826 and by 1833 they had built their adobe fort and trading post called Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River. This fort and trading post, located about 200 miles east of Taos, New Mexico, was the only place settled by Whites along the Santa Fe trail before it hit Taos. Ceran St. Vrain ran branches of their business in Taos and Santa Fe. Wagon caravans of up to 400+ wagons, grouped for protection, thereafter made the 40 to 60-day annual trek along the 780 mile (1,260 km) Santa Fe Trail, usually leaving in early spring and returning after a 4 to 5 week stay in New Mexico. The trail divided into Mountain and Cimarron Divisions southwest of Dodge City, Kansas. The rugged Mountain Division passed over Raton Pass and rejoined the more direct Cimarron Division near Fort Union, New Mexico. The dry southern Cimarron route offered poor short grass and little wildlife. The Santa Fe National Historic Trail follows the route of the old trail, with many sites marked or restored.

The Spanish Trail from Los Angeles, California to Santa Fe, New Mexico was primarily used by Hispanos, white traders and ex-trappers living part of the year in or near Santa Fe. Started in about 1829, the trail was an arduous 2400 mile round trip pack train sojourn that extended into Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California and back, allowing only one hard round trip per year. The trade consisted primarily of blankets and some trade goods from Santa Fe being traded for horses in California. Since the horses grew nearly wild in California and had almost no market there, they were cheaply traded. The trail had many parts where water could not be obtained for several days and was littered in many sections with the bones of animals that had died along the way. Mountain men like Peg Leg Smith drove thousands of Spanish horses and mules (often rustled) over the Spanish Trail to Santa Fe, Taos and Bent's Fort.

Route of the Old Spanish Trail

In the Revolt of 1837 the citizens of Chimayo rebelled against the government after they had concluded that their complaints about unfair taxation had been ignored. They occupied Santa Fe and executed the governor, Albino Pérez. Manuel Armijo fielded a force of about 1,000 soldiers from Chihuahua and from the former Santa Fe detachment who marched north and restored the government.[12]


The Republic of Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836 and claimed but never controlled territory as far south and west as the Rio Grande. While most of the northwestern territory was then the Comancheria, it would have included Santa Fe and divided New Mexico. The only attempt to realize the claim was Texian President Mirabeau Lamar's Santa Fe Expedition, which failed spectacularly. The wagon train, supplied for a journey of about half the actual distance between Austin and Santa Fe, followed the wrong river, back-tracked, and arrived in New Mexico to find the Mexican governor restored and hostile. Surrendering peaceably upon a pledge to be allowed to return the way they came, the Texians found themselves bound at gunpoint and their execution put to a vote of the garrison. By one vote, they were spared and marched south to Chihuahua and then Mexico City.


Hämäläinen (2008) argues that from the 1750s to the 1850s, the Comanches were the dominant group in the Southwest, and the domain they ruled was known as Comancheria. Hämäläinen calls it an empire. Confronted with Spanish, Mexican, and American outposts on their periphery in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico, they worked to increase their own safety, prosperity and power. The Comanches used their military power to obtain supplies and labor from the Americans, Mexicans, and Indians through thievery, tribute, and kidnappings. Although powered by violence, the Comanche empire was primarily an economic construction, rooted in an extensive commercial network that facilitated long-distance trade. Dealing with subordinate Indians, the Comanche spread their language and culture across the region. In terms of governance, the Comanches created a decentralized political system, based on a raiding, hunting and pastoral economy and a hierarchical social organization in which young men could advance through success in war. Their empire collapsed when their villages were repeatedly decimated by epidemics of smallpox and cholera, especially in 1849; their population plunged from 20,000 in the 18th century to just 1,500 by 1875. The Comanches were no longer able to deal with the U.S. Army and the wave of white settlers which encroached on their region after the Mexican American War ended in 1848.[13]

United States control

Tierra O Muerte – Land or Death. Some New Mexicans express dissatisfaction over land grant issues which date back to the Mexican War.

Mexican-American War

American General Stephen W. Kearny and his army of 300 cavalry men of the First Dragoons, about 1600 Missouri volunteers in the First and Second Regiments of Fort Leavenworth, Missouri Mounted Cavalry and the 500 man Mormon Battalion marched down the Santa Fe Trail and entered Santa Fe without opposition in 1846 during the Mexican-American War. Kearny established a joint civil and military government, appointing Charles Bent, a Santa Fe trail trader living in Taos, as acting civil governor. He divided his forces into four commands: one, under Colonel Sterling Price, appointed military governor, was to occupy and maintain order in New Mexico with his approximately 800 men; a second group under Colonel Alexander William Doniphan, with a little over 800 men was ordered to capture El Paso, in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico and then join up with General Wool Kansas University; the third, of about 300 dragoons mounted on mules, he led under his command to California. The Mormon Battalion, mostly marching on foot under Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, was directed to follow Kearny with wagons to establish a new southern route to California.

When Kearny encountered Kit Carson, traveling East and bearing messages that California had already been subdued, he sent nearly 200 of his dragoons back to New Mexico. In California about 400 men of the California Battalion under John C. Fremont and another 400 men under Commodore Robert Stockton of the U.S. Navy and Marines had taken control of the approximately 7,000 Californios from San Diego to Sacramento. New Mexico territory, which then included present-day Arizona, was under undisputed United States control, but the exact boundary with Texas was uncertain. Texas initially claimed all land North of the Rio Grande; but later agreed to the present boundaries. Kearny protected citizens in the new US territories under a form of martial law called the Kearny Code; it was essentially Kearny and the U.S. Army's promise that the US would respect existing religious and legal claims, and maintain law and order. The Kearny Code became one of the bases of New Mexico's legal code during its territorial period, which was one of the longest in United States history.[citation needed]

Kearny's arrival in New Mexico had been essentially without conflict; the governor surrendered without battle, and the Mexican authorities took the money they could find and retreated into southern Mexico. After Kearny's departure, a rebellion of New Mexicans and several Native American tribes arose in the pueblo of Taos. The Taos rebels, nearly all Pueblo Indians, attacked and killed acting Governor Charles Bent and about ten other American officials on January 19, 1847. Reacting quickly, a U.S. detachment under Colonel Sterling Price marched on Taos and attacked the rebels, who retreated to a thick-walled adobe church. US forces breached a wall and directed concentrated cannon fire into the church, where they killed about 150 rebels. Close fighting followed and they captured about 400 men. Six rebel leaders were arraigned, and tried. Five were convicted of murder and one of treason; all were hanged in April 1847. Additional executions followed.

Price fought three more engagements with the rebels, which included many Pueblo Indians, who wanted to push the Americans from the territory. By mid-February he had the revolt well under control. President Polk promoted Price to a brevet rank of Brigadier General for his service. Total fatalities amounted to more than 300 New Mexican native rebels and about 30 Anglos, as they called American troops and settlers.

Provisional government

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, Mexico ceded much of its mostly unsettled northern holdings, today known as the American Southwest and California to the United States of America in exchange for an end to hostilities, the evacuation of Mexico City and many other areas under American control. Texas was also recognized as a part of the United States under this treaty. Mexico also received $15 million cash, plus the assumption of slightly more than $3 million in outstanding Mexican debts. New Mexico, the new name for the region between Texas and California, became a territory. The Senate also struck out Article X of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which said that vast land grants in New Mexico (nearly always gifts by the local authorities to their friends) would all be recognized. The treaty promised to protect the ownership rights of the heirs of the land grants. The decision to strike down Article X remains an unpopular one, especially in some of the region's Hispanic communities, as it eventually led to millions of acres of land, timber, and water being removed from Mexican-issued land grants and placed back in the public domain. All residents could leave for Mexico, or remain and be full U.S. citizens. Apart from Mexican government officials, the great majority remained.[14]

American Territory

Proposals for Texas northwestern boundary
New Mexico proposed boundary before Compromise of 1850

The Congressional Compromise of 1850 halted a bid for statehood under a proposed antislavery constitution. Texas transferred eastern New Mexico to the federal government, settling a lengthy boundary dispute. Under the compromise, the American government established the New Mexico Territory on September 9, 1850. The territory, which included all of Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Colorado, officially established its capital at Santa Fe in 1851. The U.S. territorial New Mexico census of 1850 found 61,547 people living in all the territory of New Mexico. The people of New Mexico would determine whether to permit slavery under a proposed constitution at statehood, but the status of slavery during the territorial period provoked considerable debate. The granting of statehood was up to a Congress sharply divided on the slavery issue. Some (including Stephen A. Douglas) maintained that the territory could not restrict slavery, as under the earlier Missouri Compromise, while others (including Abraham Lincoln) insisted that older Mexican legal traditions, which forbade slavery, took precedence. Regardless of its official status, slavery was rarely seen in New Mexico. Statehood was finally granted to New Mexico on January 6, 1912.

Navajo and Apache raids and plundering led Kit Carson to abandon his intent to retire to a sheep ranch near Taos after the Mexican American War. Carson accepted an 1853 appointment as U.S. Indian agent with a headquarters at Taos, and fought the Indians with notable success.

The United States acquired the southwestern boot heel of the state and southern Arizona below the Gila river in the mostly desert Gadsden Purchase of 1853. This purchase was desired when it was found that a much easier route for a proposed transcontinental railroad was located slightly south of the Gila river. This territory had not been explored or mapped when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was negotiated in 1848. The ever present Santa Anna was in power again in 1853 and needed the money from the Gadsden Purchase to fill his coffers and to pay the Mexican Army for that year. The Southern Pacific built the second transcontinental railroad though this purchased land in 1881.

In the United States House of Representatives the Committee of Thirty-Three on January 14, 1861 reported that it had reached majority agreement on a constitutional amendment to protect slavery where it existed and the immediate admission of New Mexico Territory as a slave state. This latter proposal would result in a de facto extension of the Missouri Compromise line for all existing territories below the line.[15] After the Peace Conference of 1861, a bill for New Mexico statehood was tabled by a vote of 115 to 71 with opposition coming from both Southerners and Republicans.


The first newspaper in New Mexico was El Crepusculo de la Libertad ("The Dawn of Liberty"), a Spanish-language paper founded in 1834 at Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Republican, founded in 1847, was the first English-language newspaper. By 2000 the state had 18 daily newspapers, 13 Sunday newspapers, and 25 weekly newspapers. The most influential paper, by far, in state history has been the Albuquerque Journal.. The most important radio station since its founding in 1922 has been KKOB (AM) in Albuquerque. With 50,000 watts of transmitter power on a clear channel it reaches audiences in most of New Mexico and parts of neighboring states.[16] Locally important daily papers include the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Las Cruces Sun-News, and the Farmington Daily Times and Deming Headlight.

Civil War

During the American Civil War, Confederate troops from Texas commanded by Gen. Henry Sibley briefly occupied southern New Mexico in July 1861, pushing up the Rio Grande valley as far as Santa Fe by February 1862. Defeated in the Battle of Glorieta Pass, they were forced to withdraw south. Union troops from California under Gen. James Carleton re-captured the territory in August 1862. As Union troops were withdrawn to fight elsewhere, Kit Carson helped to organize and command the 1st New Mexican Volunteers to engage in campaigns against the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche in New Mexico and Texas as well as participating in the Battle of Valverde against the Confederates. Confederate troops withdrew after the Battle of Glorieta Pass where Union regulars, Colorado Volunteers (The Pikes Peakers), and New Mexican Volunteers defeated them. The Arizona Territory was split off as a separate territory in 1863.

1867 map


Centuries of continued conflict with the Apache and the Navajo plagued the territory. The U.S. Army trapped and captured the main Navajo forces, removing them to a reservation via the Long Walk of the Navajo, also called the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo in 1860-61. This put an end to their raiding and attacks on peaceful Indians. The Navajo returned to most of their lands in 1868. Sporadic Apache small-scale raiding continued until Apache chief Geronimo finally was captured and imprisoned in 1886.[17]

After the Civil War, the Army set up a chain of forts to protect the people and the caravans of commerce. Most tribes were relocated on reservations near the forts, where they were given food and supplies by the federal government.

Gilded Age

Bronze statue of Archbishop Lamy in front of St. Francis Cathedral

In 1851 the Vatican appointed Jean-Baptiste Lamy (1814–1888), a French cleric, as bishop of the diocese of Sante Fe. There were only nine priests at first; Lamy brought in many more. In 1875 it was upgraded to the status of archdiocese, with supervision over Catholic affairs in New Mexico and Arizona.He build St. Francis Cathedral along French lines, between 1869 and 1886.[18]

To provide the forts and reservations with food, the federal government contracted for thousands of head of cattle, and Texas cattlemen began entering New Mexico with their herds. Rancher Charles Goodnight blazed the first cattle trail through New Mexico in 1866, extending from the Pecos River northward into Colorado and Wyoming. Over it more than 250,000 head of cattle trailed to market. John Chisum also brought his herds up the Pecos and, as employer of the desperado Billy the Kid, figured prominently in the Lincoln County War of 1878-1880. This was only one of the many struggles between cattle herders and territorial officials, among rival cattle barons, and between sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers during this period. The longest of the cattle trails, the Butterfield Trail, had its first important stop in New Mexico at Fort Fillmore. It began operations in 1858 and gave way to the railroad in 1881.

The Santa Fe Railroad reached New Mexico in 1878, with the first locomotive crossing Raton Pass that December. It reached Lamy, New Mexico, 16 miles (26 km) from Santa Fe in 1879 and Santa Fe itself in 1880, and Deming in 1881, thereby replacing the storied Santa Fe Trail as a way to ship cattle to market. The new town of Albuquerque, platted in 1880 as the Santa Fe Railroad extended westward, quickly enveloped the old town. The rival Southern Pacific was completed between the Rio Grande valley and the Arizona border in 1881.

From 1880 to 1910 the territory grew rapidly. With the coming of the railroad, many homesteaders moved to New Mexico. In 1886 the New Mexico Education Association of school teachers was organized; in 1889 small state colleges were established at Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Socorro; and in 1891 the first effective public school law was passed. An irrigation project in the Pecos River valley in 1889 marked the first of many such projects to irrigate farms in the dry state. Discovery of artesian waters at Roswell in 1890 gave both farming and mining a boost. The power of the cattle barons faded as much land was fenced in at the expense of the open range. The cattle ranchers and sheep ranchers also learned to tolerate one other, and both the cattle and sheep industries expanded. Mining became even more important, especially gold and silver. Coal mining developed during the 1890s, primarily to supply the railroads, and oil was discovered in Eddy County in 1909. The population of New Mexico reached 195,000 in 1910.

Conflicting land claims led to bitter quarrels among the original Spanish inhabitants, cattle ranchers, and newer homesteaders. Despite destructive overgrazing, ranching survived as a mainstay of the New Mexican economy.


On January 6, 1912, after years of debate on whether the population of New Mexico was fully assimilated into American culture, the United States Congress admitted New Mexico as the 47th state of the Union. The admission of the neighboring State of Arizona on February 14, 1912 completed the contiguous 48 states. Thousands of Mexicans fled north during the civil war that broke out in Mexico in 1911. In 1916 Mexican military leader Pancho Villa led an invasion across the border into Columbus, New Mexico, where they burned some homes and killed several Americans. New Mexico contributed some 17,000 men to the armed services during World War I.

Artists and writers

The mainline of the railroad bypassed Santa Fe, and it lost population. However artists and writers and retirees were attracted to cultural richness of the area, the beauty of the landscapes and its dry climate. Local leaders took the opportunity to promote the city's heritage making it a tourist attraction. The city sponsored bold architectural restoration projects and erected new buildings according to traditional techniques and styles, thus creating the "Santa Fe style." Edgar L. Hewett, founder and first director of the School of American Research and the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, was a leading promoter. He began the Santa Fe Fiesta in 1919 and the Southwest Indian Fair in 1922 (now known as the Indian Market). When he tried to attract a summer program for Texas women, many artists rebelled saying the city should not promote artificial tourism at the expense of its artistic culture. The writers and artists formed the Old Santa Fe Association and defeated the plan. The old "mud city" - which short-sighted modernizers laughed at for its adobe houses - was transformed into a city proud of its peculiarities and its blend of tradition and modernity.[19]


Hispanics living in New Mexico were relegated to second-class social status by the socio economically dominant non hispanic population. Some of these "Anglos" deprecated Hispanic/Mexican culture. and questioned the native populations fitness for democracy. Some claim, in response, they constructed a "Spanish American" identity in an early instance of cultural citizenship (expressing Americanism through ethnic identity) but this is strongly disputed by Richard Nostrand.[20] World War I gave the Hispanics the opportunity to prove their full American citizenship. Like the "new immigrants" in eastern cities who also constructed dual identities, members of the Nuevomexicano middle class exuberantly participated in the war effort. They melded images of their heritage with patriotic symbols of America, especially in the Spanish-language press. Nuevomexicano politicians and community leaders recruited the rural masses into the war cause overseas and on the home front, including the struggle for woman suffrage. Support from New Mexico's Anglo establishment aided their efforts. Their wartime contributions improved the conditions of minority citizenship for Nuevomexicanos but did not entirely eliminate social inequality. For example, no Hispanics—not even the son of a regent—was allowed in a fraternity at the state university.[21][22]

The Anglos and Hispanics cooperated because both prosperous and poor Hispanics could vote and they outnumbered the Anglos. Around 1920, the term "Spanish-American" replaced "Mexican" in polite society and in political debate. The new term served both the interests of both groups. For Spanish speakers, it evoked Spain, Not Mexico, recalling images of a romantic colonial past and suggesting a future of equality in Anglo-dominated America. For Anglos, on the other hand, it was a useful term that upgraded the state's image, for the old image as a "Mexican" land suggested violence and disorder, and had discouraged capital investment and set back the statehood campaign. The new term gave the impression that "Spanish Americans" belonged to a true American political culture, making the established order appear all the more democratic.[23]

New people arrive

In the 20th century immigrants brought new skills, outlooks and values and modernized the highly traditionalistic culture of the state. They include Midwestern farmers who tried to bring humid-area crops to the desert climate, Texas oilmen, tuberculosis patients who sought healing in the dry air, artists who made Taos a national cultural center, New Dealers who sought to modernize the state as fast as possible programs, soldiers and airmen from all over who came for training at the many military bases, famous scientists who came to Los Alamos to build a super weapon, and stayed on, retirees from colder climes. They brought money and new ideas, with the eventual loss of a quaint uniqueness and the submergence into a standard national culture.[24]


The suffrage movement worked hard to get women the vote but were stymied by the conservatism of the politicians and the Catholic church. New Mexico's legislature was one of the last to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Soon there there was a dramatic increase in political participation by both Anglo and Hispanic women as well as strong mobilization efforts by the major parties to gain the support of the female voters.[25]

For the first 25 years of statehood, the state Supreme Court operated in cramped quarters in the Capitol building. Not until 1937 as a result of a Public Works Administration (PWA) New Deal project, did the Supreme Court get its own building. That year, there was a diphtheria epidemic in Santa Fe resulting in 20 deaths before serum was flown in to end it.

New wealth came from the discovery of oil in the 1920s.

World War II

New Mexico proportionately suffered the loss of more servicemen than any other state in the nation. The state led in the national war bond drive and had fifty federal installations, including glider and bombardier training schools. The state rapidly modernized during the war, as 65,000 young men (and 700 young women) joined the services, where they received a wide range of technical training and saw the outside world, many for the first time. Federal spending brought wartime prosperity, along with high wages, jobs for everyone, rationing and shortages, and remained a major factor in the state's economy in the postwar years.[26]

The top secret remote Los Alamos Research Center opened in 1943 and the scientists and engineers invented the world's first atomic bomb. The first test at Trinity site in the desert on the White Sands Proving Grounds near Alamogordo on July 16, 1945 ushered in the atomic age, and moved New Mexico to the forefront of world-class science.

Albuquerque expanded rapidly after the war. High-altitude experiments near Roswell in 1947 reputedly led to persistent (unproven) claims by a few that the government captured and concealed extraterrestrial corpses and equipment. The state quickly emerged as a leader in nuclear, solar, and geothermal energy research and development. The Sandia National Laboratories, founded in 1949, carried out nuclear research and special weapons development at Kirtland Air Force Base south of Albuquerque and at Livermore, California.


Since the late 19th century, New Mexico and other arid Western states have sought to assert sovereign control over water allocation policies within their boundaries. In the 1990s the legislature debated H.R. 128, the proposed State Water Sovereignty Protection Act. Since the passage of the Newlands Act in 1902, Western states have benefited from federal water projects. In spite of these projects, water allocation remained a politically charged issue throughout the 20th century. Most states have sought to limit federal control over water distribution, preferring instead to allocate water under the discredited doctrine of prior appropriation.[27]

As a state dependent on both smokestack industry and scenic tourism, New Mexico was at the center of the debates over clean air legislation, particularly the Clean Air Act of 1967 and its amendments in 1970 and 1977. The Kennecott Copper Corporation, operated a large the smelter at Hurley, New Mexico, which was responsible for thick clouds air pollution, led the opposition to the environmentalists, represented by the New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water. Eventually the company was forced to comply with fairly strict standards, but they often managed to delay the compliance process for years by threatening economic repercussions such as plant closings and unemployment.[28]

Further reading


  • Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Vol. XVII. (History of Arizona and New Mexico 1530–1888) (1889); reprint 1962. online edition
  • Beck, Warren. Historical Atlas of New Mexico 1969.
  • Beck, Warren. New Mexico: A History of Four Centuries (1962), standard survey
  • Bullis, Don, New Mexico: A Biographical Dictionary, 1540–1980, 2 vol, (Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande, 2008) 393 pp. isbn 978-1-890689-17-9
  • Chavez, Thomas E. An Illustrated History of New Mexico, 267 pages, University of New Mexico Press 2002, ISBN 0-8263-3051-7
  • DeMark, Judy, ed. Essays in 20th Century New Mexico History (1994)
  • Etulain, Richard W., ed. New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Stories (2002
  • Simmons, Marc. New Mexico: An Interpretive History, 221 pages, University of New Mexico Press 1988, ISBN 0-8263-1110-5, good introduction
  • Szasz, Ferenc M. Larger Than Life: New Mexico in the Twentieth (2nd ed. 2006).
  • Weigle, Marta, ed. Telling New Mexico: A New History (2009) 483 ISBN 978-0-89013-556-3. wide range of readings online review

Special studies

  • Carnett, Daniel R. Contending for the Faith: Southern Baptists in New Mexico. (2002) 230pp. ISBN 0-8263-2837-7
  • Getz; Lynne Marie Schools of Their Own: The Education of Hispanos in New Mexico, 1850–1940 (1997) online edition
  • Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, David R. Maciel, editors, The Contested Homeland: A Chicano History of New Mexico, 314 pages – University of New Mexico Press 2000, ISBN 0-8263-2199-2
  • Forrest, Suzanne. The Preservation of the Village: New Mexico's Hispanics and the New Deal (1998) online edition
  • González; Nancie L. The Spanish-Americans of New Mexico: A Heritage of Pride (1969) online edition
  • González, Deena J. Refusing the Favor: The Spanish-Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1820-1880 (1999) online edition
  • Gutiérrez; Ramón A. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500–1846 (1991) online edition
  • Hain; F. Paul L. Chris Garcia, Gilbert K. St. Clair; New Mexico Government 3rd ed. (1994) online edition
  • Tony Hillerman, The Great Taos Bank Robbery and other Indian Country Affairs, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1973, trade paperback, 147 pages, (ISBN 0-8263-0530-X), stories
  • Holmes, Jack E. Politics in New Mexico (1967),
  • Paul Horgan, Great River, The Rio Grande in North American History, 1038 pages, Wesleyan University Press 1991, 4th Reprint, ISBN 0585380147, Pulitzer Prize 1955
  • Kern, Robert W. Labor in New Mexico: Strikes, Unions, and Social History, 1881–1981, University of New Mexico Press 1983, ISBN 0-8263-0675-6
  • Lamar; Howard R. The Far Southwest, 1846–1912: A Territorial History (1966, repr 2000)
  • Larson, Robert W. New Mexico's Quest for Statehood, 1846–1912 (1968)
  • Nieto-Phillips, John M. The Language of Blood: The Making of Spanish-American Identity in New Mexico, 1880s–1930s, University of New Mexico Press 2004, ISBN 08236324231
  • Resendez, Andres. Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850 (2005) 309pp ISBN 0-521-54319-3
  • Sánchez; George I. Forgotten People: A Study of New Mexicans (1940; reprint 1996)
  • Szasz, Ferenc M.; and Richard W. Etulain; Religion in Modern New Mexico (1997) online edition
  • Trujillo, Michael L. Land of Disenchantment: Latina/o Identities and Transformations in Northern New Mexico (2010) 265 pages; An experimental ethnography that contrasts life in the Espanola Valley with the state's commercial image as the "land of enchantment."
  • Weber, David J. The Mexican Frontier, 1821–1846: The American Southwest under Mexico (1982) online edition

Primary sources

  • Andrews, Martha Shipman and and Richard A. Melzer, eds. The Whole Damned World: New Mexico Aggies at War, 1941-1945; World War II Correspondence of Dean Daniel B. Jett (2008)
  • Ellis, Richard, ed. New Mexico Past and Present: A Historical Reader. 1971. primary sources
  • Sante Fe Trail: 72 References Kansas Historical Society [3]
  • Weber, David J. Foreigners in Their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexican Americans (1973), primary sources to 1912

See also


  1. ^ Fagan, Brian M. (1987) "The Clovis People and Their Forebearers" The Great Journey: The People of Ancient America Thames and Hudson, New York, p. 177 ff., ISBN 0-500-05045-7
  2. ^ Haines, Francis. “The Northward Spread of Horses among the Plains Indians. American Anthropologist, Vol 40, No. 3 (1988), 429
  3. ^ Simmons, Marc, The Last Conquistador Norman: U of OK Press, 1992, pp.96, 111
  4. ^ McNitt, Frank. Navajo Wars: Military Campaigns, Slave Raids, and Reprisals. Albuquerque: U of NM Press, 1972, pp. 10-11
  5. ^ McNitt, Frank. Navajo Wars: Military Campaigns, Slave Raids, and Reprisals. Albuquerque:U of NM Press, 1972, p. 13
  6. ^ Sanchez, Joseph P. “Nicolas de Aguilar and the Jurisdiction of Salinas in the Province of New Mexico, 1659-1662” Revista Complutense de Historia de America Vol. 22, Servicio de Publicaciones, UCM, Madrid, 1996
  7. ^ McNitt, 11
  8. ^ McNitt, 23
  9. ^ For Zebulon Pike's route, see Gerlach, Arch C. (ed.) (1970) The National Atlas of the United States of America United States Geological Survey, Washington, D.C., p. 136, OCLC 127112
  10. ^ Fowler, Don D. (2000). A Laboratory for Anthropology. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0826320368. 
  11. ^ "Boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase as Recognized Today". Louisiana: European Explorations and the Louisiana Purchase. Library of Congress. December 2001. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/maps/lapurchase/essay1e_lg.html. Retrieved 6 December 2008. 
  12. ^ Lecompte, Janet (1985) Rebellion in Río Arriba, 1837 University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, ISBN 0-8263-0800-7
  13. ^ Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire (2008) p. 2
  14. ^ Richard Griswold del Castillo, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Legacy of Conflict (1992)
  15. ^ Klein, Maury. Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War. (1997) ISBN 0-679-44747-4. pg.405-410
  16. ^ Paul L. Hain et al, New Mexico Government (1994) p. 257
  17. ^ Thompson, Gerald Thompson, The Army and the Navajo: The Bosque Redondo Reservation Experiment 1863-1868 (1976)
  18. ^ Paul Horgan, Lamy of Santa Fe (2003)
  19. ^ Carter Jones Meyer, "The Battle between 'Art' and 'Progress': Edgar L. Hewett and the Politics of Region in the Early-Twentieth-Century Southwest," Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Sept 2006, Vol. 56 Issue 3, pp 47-61
  20. ^ Richard L. Nostrand, "The Hispano Homeland," University of Oklahoma Press, Sep 1996
  21. ^ Phillip Gonzales and Ann Massmann, "Loyalty Questioned: Nuevomexicanos in the Great War." Pacific Historical Review, Nov 2006, Vol. 75 Issue 4, pp 629-666
  22. ^ Phillip B. Gonzales, "Spanish Heritage and Ethnic Protest in New Mexico: The Anti-Fraternity Bill of 1933," New Mexico Historical Review, Fall 1986, Vol. 61 Issue 4, pp 281-299
  23. ^ Charles Montgomery, "Becoming 'Spanish-American': Race and Rhetoric in New Mexico Politics, 1880-1928," Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer 2001, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p59-84
  24. ^ Michael Welsh, "New Mexico at Seventy Five: A Historical Commentary," New Mexico Historical Review, Fall 1987, Vol. 62 Issue 4, pp 387-396
  25. ^ Joan Jensen, "Disfranchisement is a Disgrace": Women and Politics in New Mexico, 1900-1940," New Mexico Historical Review, Winter 1981, Vol. 56 Issue 1, pp 5-35
  26. ^ Ferenc M. Szasz and George E. Webb, "The New Mexican Response to the End of the Second World War," New Mexico Historical Review, Winter 2008, Vol. 83 Issue 1, pp 1-37
  27. ^ Hana Samek Norton, "'Fantastical Assumptions': A Centennial Overview of Water Use in New Mexico," New Mexico Historical Review, Fall 1998, Vol. 73 Issue 4, pp 371-387
  28. ^ Christopher J. Huggard, "Mining and the Environment: The Clean Air Issue in New Mexico, 1960-1980," New Mexico Historical Review, Fall 1994, Vol. 69 Issue 4, pp 369-388

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