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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 arrival 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
Human occupation of New Mexico stretches back at least 11,000 years to the Clovis culture of hunter-gatherers. 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. The most important rivers are the Rio Grande, the Pecos, the Canadian, the San Juan, and the Gila.
PREHISTORIC NEW MEXICANS
|CULTURE OR GROUP||TIME||LOCATION FOUND||IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENT|
|Clovis||11,000 to 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 manos 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 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 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.
Francisco Vásquez 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  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 likely 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, 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. 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 1610 at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 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.
The current viewpoint by experts today is that the objective of Spanish rule of New Mexico (and all other northern lands) was the full 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." 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 Oñate 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. The Franciscans protested and 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.
The Spanish in New Mexico were never able to achieve dominance over the Indian peoples who lived among and surrounded them. The isolated colony of New Mexico was characterized by "elaborate webs of ethnic tension, friendship, conflict,and kinship" between Indian groups and Spanish colonists. Because of the weakness of New Mexico "rank-and-file settlers in outlying areas had to learn to coexist with Indian neighbors without being able to keep them subordinate." The first major challenge to Spanish rule would come from the Pueblo Indians; the second would be an ongoing struggle against the nomadic Indians, especially the Comanche.
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. The Spanish were driven from all but the southern portion of New Mexico, and established a temporary capital at El Paso while making preparations to reconquer the rest of the province.
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.
In July 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.
From the date of its founding the Pueblo Indians and the Spanish settlers in the colony of New Mexico were plagued by hostile relationships with nomadic and semi-nomadic Navajo, Apache, Ute, and Comanche Indians. Spanish slave raids were an important factor contributing to this hostility.
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. 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 pastoral culture based on sheep stolen from the Spanish. By the early 18th century the Navajo owned herds of sheep.
After the Pueblo revolt, the most serious threat to the colony of New Mexico came from the Comanche. Scholar 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, French, 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.
In 1706, the Comanche first came to the attention of the colonists of New Mexico and by 1719 they were raiding the colony as well as the other Indian tribes. The other tribes had primarily raided for plunder, but the Comanche introduced a new level of violence to the conflict. Other Indians were among their victims. The Comanche were pure nomads, well mounted by the 1730s. They were thus more elusive and mobile than the semi-nomadic Apache and Navajo, who were dependent upon agriculture or herding for part of their livelihoods. The Comanche both raided and traded with the New Mexicans. They were especially prominent at the annual Taos trade fair where they exchanged hides, meat and captives peacefully while at the same time raiding other Spanish and Pueblo settlements. By the 1770s, the Comanche threatened the survival of New Mexico, stripping the colony of horses, forcing the abandonment of many settlements, and killing, in 1778, 127 Spanish settlers and Pueblo Indians. Punitive expeditions by the Spanish and their Indian allies against the Comanche were usually ineffective, but in 1779 a Spanish and Pueblo Indian force of 560 men, led by Juan Bautista de Anza, surprised a Comanche village near Pueblo, Colorado and killed Cuerno Verde (Green Horn) the most prominent of the Comanche war leaders. The Comanche subsequently sued for peace with New Mexico, joined the New Mexicans in expedition against their common enemy, the Apache, and turned their attention to raiding Spanish settlements in Texas and northern Mexico. The New Mexicans on their part took care not to re-antagonize the Comanche and lavished gifts on them. The peace between New Mexico and the Comanche endured until the American conquest of the province in 1846.
Peace with the Comanche stimulated a growth in the population of New Mexico and the expansion of the New Mexican settlements eastward onto the Great Plains. The inhabitants of these new settlements were mostly genizaros, Indians and the descendants of Indians who had been ransomed from the Comanche. Navajo and Apache raids continued to impact the territory until the Navajo were defeated in 1864 by Kit Carson and the Apache leader Geronimo surrendered in 1886. The Utes had earlier allied themselves with the New Mexicans for mutual protection against the Comanche.
The Comanche empire collapsed after their villages were repeatedly decimated by epidemics of smallpox and cholera, especially in 1849; their population plunged from about 20,000 in the 18th century to 1,500 by 1875 when they surrendered to the U.S. Government. The Comanches no longer had the manpower to deal with the U.S. Army and the wave of white settlers which encroached on their region in the decades after the Mexican American War ended in 1848.
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.
The decade that led up to independence was a painful period in the history of Mexico. In 1810 catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo instigated a war for independence in central Mexico, a struggle that quickly took on the character of a class war. The following year, military captain Las Casas instigated a coup within the Imperial regime. Sympathizing with the poor underclass, Las Casas opened up a line of dialogue with the revolutionaries. This caused the Spanish elite to instigate its own counter coup and executed Las Casas. For years afterward the regime failed to regain coherency and the mandate to administrate. These ideological struggles affected peripheral New Mexico much less than they did the national center, but it resulted in a sense of alienation with central authority.
Furthermore, in 1818 a longstanding peace between the settled communities of New Mexico and the neighboring nomadic Indian tribes broke down. Just a month after swearing loyalty to the new Mexican government in 1821, governor Melgares led a raid into Navajo country. Isolated from other settled regions and surrounded on all sides by nomadic Indian tribes, New Mexicans tended to a communal sense of imperilment and the placement of security above all other concerns.
For these reasons it is highly surprising that the transition from Spanish to Mexican rule occurred as peacefully as it did. In New Mexico the event passed with few shows of enthusiasm or partisanship. Festivals were largely a lackluster affair and held only at the behest of the revolutionary government which expressed that they should be held, “in all the form and with the magnificence that the oaths of allegiance to the Kings have previously been read”. But there was no renewed civil war and the provisional government was given the grudging support of most of society.
Trade along the Santa Fe Trail was opened following Mexican independence. With this trade came a new influx of citizens from the United States. Prior to independence, the estranjeros (foreigners) were not allowed to participate in receiving land grants, but now, along with the open trade, a few would become participating owners of these merceds (grants).
In 1824 a new constitution was drafted, established Mexico as a federalist republic. A generally liberal minded atmosphere that had pervaded Mexico since independence led to generous grants of local autonomy and limited central power. New Mexico in particular was able to take advantage and to carve out significant privileges in this new system. Classified as a territory as opposed to a state, it had reduced representation in the national government but broad local autonomy. Because of the advanced age of New Mexican society and its relative sophistication, it was uniquely placed to take advantage of its position as a frontier but still effecting influence in the rest of the country.
One of the defining features of the Mexican period in the history of New Mexico was the attempt to instill a nationalist sentiment. This was a tremendous challenge considering the nature of identity in Mexico during the Spanish empire. Under the official dictates of the empire, subjects were classified in terms of ethnicity, class and position in society. Between these legal distinctions kept groups separate and movement between groups was regulated. Ethnic Europeans of course made up the upper crust of this system with Peninsulars, those born in Spain itself, comprising the true elite. At the bottom were the masses of Indians and Mestizos, who had few legal rights and protections against the abuse of their superiors.
In contrast the new ‘Mexican’ elite attempted to create a common identity between all classes and ethnicities. Embracing an incredibly wide range of peoples and cultures, from nomadic Indians to the high society of Mexico City, this was incredibly ambitious and met with mixed success. In New Mexico, there was already a highly structured and differentiated society at the time of independence, unique along the Mexican frontier. At the top were ethnic Europeans who then merged with a large community of Hispanics. The more Indian blood you possessed, the lower on the social scale you tended to reside until the bottom was made of settled Pueblo communities and the nomadic Indians who existed outside of the polity.
Nationalists attempted to establish equality, if only legally, between these disparate groups. The local autonomy New Mexicans had established inhibited these endeavors and throughout the Mexican period the elite continued to maintain their privileges. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of New Mexico were able to adapt their old identity as Spanish subjects to Mexican nationals. Instead of a purely modern liberal sense of identity, this adapted Spanish feudalism to a geographic area. The evidence of this success in nationalism can be seen in the Pueblo myth of Montezuma. This held that the original Aztec homeland lay in New Mexico, and the original king of the Aztecs was a Pueblo. This creates a symbolic, and completely artificial, connection between the Mexican center and an isolated frontier society.
The federalist and liberal atmosphere that had pervaded Mexican thought since independence fell apart in the mid-1830s. Across the political spectrum there was the perception that the previous system had failed and needed readjustment. This led to the dissolution of the 1824 constitution and the drafting of a new one based on centralist lines. As Mexico drifted farther and farther toward despotism, the national project began to fail and the nation fell into a crisis.
Along the frontier, formerly autonomous societies reacted aggressively to a newly assertive central government. The most independent province, Texas, declared its independence in 1835, triggering the sequence of events that led directly to Mexico’s collapse. In 1837 a revolt in New Mexico itself overthrew and executed the centrally appointed governor and demanded increased regional authority. This revolt was defeated within New Mexican society itself by Manuel Armijo. This was motivated not by nationalist sentiment but by the class antagonism within New Mexican society. When central rule was reestablished, it was done so on Armijo’s lines (he became governor) and he ruled the province with even greater autonomy than any other time during the Mexican period.
As the situation within central Mexico fell further and further into confusion, New Mexico began to draw closer economically to the United States. This was epitomized in the growth and prominence of the Santa Fe Trail. In the mid-1830s New Mexico began to function as a trading hub between the United States, central Mexico and Mexican California. Merchants making their way over the Great Plains would stop in Santa Fe, where they would meet with their counterparts from Los Angeles and Mexico City. The result was that as central Mexico fell into turmoil, New Mexico grew economically and shifted into the orbit of the United States.
In 1845 the governorship of Armijo was interrupted when the regime of Santa Anna replaced him as governor with political outsider Mariano Martinez. In the growing threat of war with the United States, the national center sought to bring the frontier under tight control as it is there that any war would be fought. Most New Mexicans distrusted the central government by now but that soon turned to fury when, one year into his reign, Martinez sparked a needless war with a neighboring Indian tribe out of incompetence and naïveté. To prevent revolution, Martinez was swiftly removed and Armijo reinstated, but any confidence the central government still enjoyed was completely destroyed.
The following year rumors arrived in New Mexico that the Mexican government was planning on selling the territory to the United States. There was so little trust in the central government by this point that instead of investigating these rumors (which were completely false) leading members of New Mexican society drafted a threat of secession to the government. This stated that if any such actions were taken then New Mexico would declare independence as El Republica Mexicana del Norte. It was not until invading American troops reached New Mexico in August 1846 that they learned of war with the United States.
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.
In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, American General Stephen W. Kearny marched down the Santa Fe Trail and entered Santa Fe without opposition to establish a joint civil and military government. Kearny's invasion force consisted of 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. Kearny appointed Charles Bent, a Santa Fe trail trader living in Taos, as acting civil governor. He then 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; the third, of about 300 dragoons mounted on mules, Kearny 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. Many of the provisions remain substantially unchanged today.
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 south into Mexico. However, the U.S. occupation was resented by the New Mexicans. Provisional governor Charles Bent, a longtime resident of New Mexico, implored U.S. army officers to "respect the rights of the inhabitants" and predicted "serious consequences" if measures were not taken to prevent abuses. His warning was prophetic, as New Mexican and Pueblo Indian rebels were soon to begin the Taos Revolt.
On January 19, 1847 rebels attacked and killed acting Governor Bent and about ten other American officials. The wives of Bent and Kit Carson, however, managed to escape. Reacting quickly, a U.S. detachment under Colonel Sterling Price marched on Taos and attacked. The rebels retreated to a thick-walled adobe church. U.S. forces breached a wall and directed concentrated cannon fire into the church. About 150 of the rebels were killed, and 400 captured, following close fighting. During one trial, six rebels were arraigned and tried, of whom five were convicted of murder and one of treason. All six were hanged in April, 1847. A young traveler and later author, Lewis Hector Garrard, wrote the only eye witness account of this trial and hanging. He criticized, "It certainly did appear to be a great assumption on the part of the Americans to conquer a country, and then arraign the revolting inhabitants for treason... Treason, indeed! What did the poor devil know about his new allegiance? But so it was; and, as the jail was overstocked with others awaiting trial, it was deemed expedient to hasten the execution... I left the room, sick at heart. Justice! out upon the word, when its distorted meaning is the warrant for murdering those who defend to the last their country and their homes." Additional executions followed to total at least 28.
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 James K. 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.
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. The residents could choose whether they remain and receive American citizenship or leave for Mexico and get the Mexican one. All but the 1000 or so —which were mostly Mexican government officials— chose American citizenship, which included full voting rights.
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, black slavery was rarely seen in New Mexico although Indian slavery was common. 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. 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 Taos. 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. Today's daily papers include the Albuquerque Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican (founded in 1849), the Las Cruces Sun-News, the Roswell Record, the Farmington Daily Times, and the Deming Headlight. The most widely broadcast 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. There are at least five television stations, based in Albuquerque, representing ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and Fox.
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.
Centuries of continued conflict with the Apache and the Navajo continue to plague New Mexico. In 1864, the U.S. Army trapped and captured the main Navajo forces, forcing them onto a small reservation in eastern New Mexico in what is called the Long Walk of the Navajo, also called the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo. This put an end to their livestock raids on New Mexican farms, ranches, and Indian pueblos. After several years of severe hardships that saw many Navajos die, they were allowed to return to most of their lands in 1868. Sporadic Apache small-scale raiding continued until Apache chief Geronimo finally was captured and imprisoned in 1886.
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.
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 built St. Francis Cathedral along French lines, between 1869 and 1886.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.