Home > New Mexico > States
New Mexico State Flag

State of New Mexico


New Mexico State Map Icon
New Mexico State collage of images.
General New Mexico State History

In this land where water is sacred, history laps against our dry shores like ripples in a mighty river. Pre-historic and historic events--wandering tribes invading from the north, Spanish and Mexicans from the south, other Europeans from the east--are islands in that stream, dividing it into rivulets that reunite farther along.

First came the Folsom Paleo-Indians, who left behind bison bones and fluted projectile points undiscovered until the early 1900's, 9,000 to 10,000 years later. The river valleys west of their hunting grounds later flooded with refugees from the declining Four Corners Anasazi cultures. Sometime between A.D. 1130 and 1180, the Anasazi drifted from their high-walled towns to evolve into today's Pueblo Indians, so named by early Spanish explorers because they lived in land-based communities much like the villages, or pueblos, of home. Culturally similar American Indians, the Mogollon, lived in today's Gila National Forest.

On this relatively placid scene from the north burst the Southwest's latest-arriving Indians, the Athapascans, dividing into two related groups: Apache and Navajo. As the tribes sorted out territorial differences through trading and raiding, a new element entered the cultural mix on a previously unknown animal, the horse. The Spanish had arrived--with soldiers and settlers accompanied by priests, the well-known Spanish combination of cross and sword. Although there were several previous attempts at exploring Mexico del Norte's wilderness, the most successful one was engineered by Don Juan de Onate, who lost a considerable fortune outfitting his entrada.

In 1598, his soldiers, oxcarts and livestock arrived at Caypa, one of two Pueblo villages at the confluence of the Rio Chama and the Rio Grande, north of present-day Espanola. He soon moved across the river to Yungueingge (Tewa for mockingbird place), a now-ruined pueblo he renamed San Gabriel del Yunque, the first Spanish capital of New Mexico. New Mexico's third governor, Don Pedro de Peralta, founded a new capital, Santa Fe, in 1610. The fortified villa real (royal village) occupied the site of an early Tanoan Indian Pueblo and a more recent Spanish settlement. Things hummed along, with Spanish priests converting Indians, and settlers pouring into the remote colony. But some of the priests became overzealous, and the economic tribute system enslaved the Indians. In 1680, led by Taos Pueblo, they revolted, killing many of the 3,500 settlers strung out from Santa Cruz de la Canada (near Espanola) to Socorro and driving the rest south to El Paso del Norte (El Paso). New settlers led by Don Diego de Vargas entered New Mexico in 1692, promising the Indians better times. While the Spanish were gone, Utes, Navajos and Apaches harassed the Pueblos, some of whom now allied themselves with the Spanish. Meanwhile, the once-fierce Apaches, who had learned corn planting and homebuilding from the Pueblos, were driven south by invading Comanches, who terrorized the region until the Treaty of 1786.

Both Spanish settlers and Pueblos survived generations of nomadic Indian raids through alliances that included intermarriage--which lends New Mexico its unique mestizaje culture--and through trade fairs, common by the 1790s from Taos to El Paso. One of the fairs' major functions was to ransom Spanish settlers abducted in Indian raids or to buy servants, usually Indians captured by other Indians. These freed Indians, known as genizaros, were Christianized and could, within three generations totally shed the stigma of slavery. They soon became so numerous that the Spanish built them villages at Abiquiu, Santa Fe's Analco neighborhood, San Miguel del Vado, Ojo Caliente and elsewhere. As the buffer between Spanish and Pueblo settlements and the raiding nomads, genizaros and their descendants, mostly stockmen and farmers, led the last great Hispano territorial expansions. They founded such towns as Las Vegas and Anton Chico, spreading as far north as present-day Antonito and Trinidad, Colo., into the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and west into east-central Arizona.

In 1824, New Mexico briefly became a Mexican territory, but in 1846 U.S. Gen. William Kearny's troops followed Anglo merchants down the Santa Fe Trail to occupy New Mexico, which became an American territory.

An 1847 revolt by Mexican loyalists precipitated battles at Santa Cruz and massacres at Mora and Taos, but eventually armed resistance ceased.

During the U.S. Civil War, New Mexico Volunteers were among the troops proving their Union loyalties by helping cut the supply lines of invading Confederates at Apache Pass, near today's Glorieta.

Two decades later the railroads steamed in, forever changing New Mexico. Commerce improved, but under the imported U.S. legal system, dishonest Anglo lawyers defrauded many natives of land they had held for centuries.

Meanwhile, cattle barons such as John Chisum started rounding up longhorns along the southeastern plains, often battling native landholders. Chisum also was involved in the bloody Lincoln County Wars, a conflict between two mercantile houses that involved such notables as Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, and Gov. Lew Wallace, who wrote the novel Ben Hur.

Despite injustices, New Mexicans remained patriotically American. In 1898, Teddy Roosevelt recruited his "Rough Riders" from New Mexico, many from Las Vegas. In 1912 New Mexico became the 47th state. The Great Depression almost eliminated the isolated villages--heart of the Hispano homeland. But New Deal programs helped villagers survive.

During World War II, two New Mexico regiments endured the Bataan Death March in the Philippines. Navajo and other Indian "code talkers" used their native languages to help confuse the Japanese. Things heated up again in the politically tumultuous 1960s, when activists led by Reies Lopez Tijerina attempted to reclaim Spanish land grants. After several confrontations, including an armed raid on the Tierra Amarilla courthouse, the movement quieted.

Today, thanks to New Deal dams, dairies thrive where Comanches once raided along the lower Pecos River. The lush Mesilla Valley produces alfalfa hay, pecans, onions and New Mexico's staple, the chile. But with agriculture and a growing population demanding more, water is an increasingly scarce resource in New Mexico. New Mexicans, while welcoming planned growth, realize we must take care that the waves of history don't dry up on our desert shores.

[Return to top]