In The Beginning

Archaeologists say that humans first migrated to the Southwest, moving southward from the Bering Land Bridge, around 12,000 B.C. Sites such as Sandia Cave and Folsom -- where weapon points were discovered that, for the first time, clearly established that our prehistoric ancestors hunted now-extinct mammals such as woolly mammoths -- are internationally known. When these large animals died off during the late Ice Age (about 8000 B.C.), people turned to hunting smaller game and gathering wild food.

Stable farming settlements, as evidenced by the remains of domestically grown maize, date from around 3000 B.C. As the nomadic peoples became more sedentary, they built permanent residences and pit houses and made pottery. Cultural differences began to emerge in their choice of architecture and decoration: The Mogollon people, in the southwestern part of modern New Mexico, created brown and red pottery and built large community lodges; the ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi, in the north, made gray pottery and smaller lodges for extended families.

The Mogollon, whose pottery dates from around 100 B.C., were the first of the sophisticated village cultures. They lived primarily in modern-day Catron and Grant counties. The most important Mogollon ruins are in the Gila River Valley, including Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, north of Silver City.

By about A.D. 700, and perhaps a couple centuries earlier, the ancestral Puebloans of the northwest had absorbed village life and expanded through what is now known as the Four Corners region (where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado come together). Around A.D. 1000, their culture eclipsed that of the Mogollon. Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, and Salmon Ruins all exhibit architectural excellence and skill, as well as a scientific sensitivity to nature, that mark this as one of America's classic pre-Columbian civilizations.

Condominium-style communities of stone and mud adobe bricks, three and four stories high, were focused around central plazas. The villages incorporated circular spiritual chambers called kivas. The ancestral Puebloans also developed means to irrigate their fields of corn, beans, and squash by controlling the flow of water from the San Juan River and its tributaries. From Chaco Canyon, they built a complex system of well-engineered roads leading in four directions to other towns or ceremonial centers. Artifacts found during excavation, such as seashells and macaw feathers, indicate that they had a far-reaching trade network. The incorporation of solar alignments into some of their architecture has caused some to speculate on the importance of the equinoxes to their religion.

The diminishing of the Anasazi culture, and the emergence of the Pueblo culture in its place, is something of a mystery today. Historians disagree as to why the Anasazi left their villages around the 13th century. Some suggest drought or soil exhaustion; others posit invasion, epidemic, or social unrest. But by the time the first Spanish arrived in the 1500s, the ancestral Puebloans were long gone and the Pueblo culture was well established throughout northern and western New Mexico, from Taos to Zuni, near Gallup. Most of the people lived on the east side of the Continental Divide, in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Pueblos absorbed certain elements of the ancestral Puebloan civilization, including the apartmentlike adobe architecture, the creation of rather elaborate pottery, and the use of irrigation or flood farming in their fields. Agriculture, especially corn, was the economic mainstay.

Each pueblo, as the scattered villages and surrounding farmlands were known, fiercely guarded its independence. When the Spanish arrived, no alliances existed between pueblos. No more than a few hundred people lived in any one pueblo, an indication that the natives had learned to keep their population (which totaled 40,000-50,000) down in order to preserve their soil and other natural resources. But not all was peaceful: They alternately fought and traded with each other, as well as with nomadic Apaches. Even before the Spanish arrived, a pattern had been established.

The Arrival of The Spanish

The Spanish controlled New Mexico for 300 years, from the mid-16th to the mid-19th century -- twice as long as the United States has. The Hispanic legacy in language and culture is stronger today in New Mexico than anywhere else in the Southwest, no doubt a result of the prominence of the Rio Grande Valley as the oldest and most populous fringe province of the viceroyalty of New Spain.

The spark that sent the first European explorers into what is now New Mexico was a fabulous medieval myth that seven Spanish bishops had fled the Moorish invasion of the 8th century, sailed westward to the legendary isle of Antilia, and built themselves seven cities of gold. Hernán Cortés's 1519 discovery and conquest of the Aztecs' treasure-laden capital of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City, fueled belief in the myth. When a Franciscan friar 20 years later claimed to have sighted, from a distance, "a very beautiful city" in a region known as Cíbola while on a reconnaissance mission for the viceroyalty, the gates were opened.

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, the ambitious young governor of New Spain's western province of Nueva Galicia, was commissioned to lead an expedition to the "seven cities." Several hundred soldiers, accompanied by servants and missionaries, marched overland to Cíbola with him in 1540, along with a support fleet of three ships in the Gulf of California. What they discovered, after 6 hard months on the trail, was a bitter disappointment: Instead of a city of gold, they found a rock-and-mud pueblo at Hawikuh, the westernmost of the Zuni towns. The expedition wintered at Tiguex, on the Rio Grande near modern Santa Fe, before proceeding to the Great Plains, seeking more treasure at Quivira, in what is now Kansas. The grass houses of the Wichita Indians were all they found.

Coronado returned to New Spain in 1542, admitting failure. Historically, though, his expedition was a great success, contributing the first widespread knowledge of the Southwest and Great Plains, and encountering the Grand Canyon en route.

By the 1580s, after important silver discoveries in the mountains of Mexico, the Spanish began to wonder if the wealth of the Pueblo country might lie in its land rather than its cities. They were convinced that they had been divinely appointed to convert the natives of the New World to Christianity. And so a northward migration began, orchestrated and directed by the royal government. It was a mere trickle in the late 16th century. Juan de Oñate established a capital in 1598 at San Gabriel, near San Juan Pueblo, but a variety of factors led to its failure. In 1610, under Don Pedro de Peralta, the migration began in earnest.

It was not dissimilar to America's schoolbook stereotype. Bands of armored conquistadors did troop through the desert with humble robed friars striding by their sides. But most of the pioneers came up the Rio Grande Valley, with oxcarts and mule trains rather than armor, intent on transplanting their Hispanic traditions of government, religion, and material culture to this new world.

Peralta built his new capital at Santa Fe and named it La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis, the Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi. His capitol building, the Palace of the Governors, has been continuously occupied as a public building ever since by Spanish, Mexicans, Americans, and, for 12 years (1680-92), the Pueblo Indians. Today, it's a museum.

Religion & Revolt

The 17th century in New Mexico was essentially a missionary era, as Franciscan priests attempted to turn the Indians into model Hispanic peasants. Their churches became the focal point of every pueblo, with Catholic schools a mandatory adjunct. By 1625, the Rio Grande Valley was home to an estimated 50 churches.

But the Native Americans weren't enthused about doing "God's work" -- building new adobe missions, tilling fields for the Spanish, and weaving garments for export to Mexico -- so soldiers backed the padres in extracting labor, a system known as repartimiento. Simultaneously, the encomienda system provided that a yearly tribute in corn and blankets be levied upon each Indian. The Pueblos were amenable to taking part in Catholic religious ceremonies and proclaiming themselves converts. To them, spiritual forces were actively involved in the material world. If establishing harmony with the cosmos meant absorbing Jesus Christ and various saints into their hierarchy of katsinas and other spiritual beings, so much the better. But the Spanish friars demanded that they do away with their traditional singing, masked dancing, and other "pagan practices." When the Pueblo religion was violently crushed and driven literally underground, resentment toward the Spanish grew and festered. Rebellions at Taos and Jemez in the 1630s left village priests dead, but the Pueblos were savagely repressed.

A power struggle between church and state in Nuevo Mexico weakened the hand of the Spanish colonists, and a long drought in the 1660s and 1670s gave the Apaches reason to scourge the Spanish and Pueblo settlements for food. The Pueblos blamed the friars, and their ban on traditional rain dances, for the drought. The hanging of four medicine men as "sorcerers" and the imprisonment of 43 others was the last straw for the Rio Grande natives. In 1680, the Pueblo Revolt erupted.

Popé, a San Juan shaman, catalyzed the revolt. Assisted by other Pueblo leaders, he unified the far-flung Native Americans, who had never before confederated. They pillaged and burned the province's outlying settlements, and then turned their attention on Santa Fe, besieging the citizens who had fled to the Palace of the Governors. After 9 days, having reconquered Spain's northernmost American province, they let the refugees retreat south to Mexico.

Popé ordered that the Pueblos should return to the lifestyle they had before the arrival of the Spanish. All Hispanic items, from tools to fruit trees, were to be destroyed, and the blemish of baptism was to be washed away in the river. But the shaman misjudged the influence of the Spanish on the Pueblo people. They were not the people they had been a century earlier, and they liked much of the material culture they had absorbed from the Europeans. What's more, they had no intention of remaining confederated; their independent streaks were too strong.

In 1692, led by newly appointed Gov. Don Diego de Vargas, the Spanish recaptured Santa Fe without bloodshed. Popé had died, and without a leader to reunify them, the Pueblos were no match for the Spanish. Vargas pledged not to punish them but to pardon and convert. Still, when he returned the following year with 70 families to recolonize the city, he did use force. And for the next several years, bloody battles persisted throughout the Pueblo country.

By the turn of the 18th century, Nuevo Mexico was firmly in Spanish hands. This time, however, the colonists seemed to have learned from some of their past errors. They were more tolerant in their religion and less ruthless in their demands and punishments.

The Arrival of The Anglos

By the 1700s, there were signals that new interlopers were about to arrive in New Mexico. The French had laid plans to begin colonizing the Mississippi River, and hostile Native American tribes were on the warpath. The Spanish viceroyalty fortified its position in Santa Fe as a defensive bastion and established a new villa at Albuquerque in 1706.

In 1739, the first French trade mission entered Santa Fe and was welcomed by the citizenry but not by the government. For 24 years, until 1763, a black-market trade thrived between Louisiana and New Mexico. It ended only when France lost its toehold on its North American claims during the French and Indian War.

The Native Americans were more fearsome foes. Apaches, Comanches, Utes, and Navajos launched raids against each other and the Rio Grande settlements for most of the 18th century, which led the Spanish and Pueblos to pull closer together for mutual protection. Pueblo and Hispanic militias fought side by side in campaigns against the invaders. But by the 1770s, the attacks had become so savage and destructive that the viceroy in Mexico City created a military jurisdiction in the province, and Gov. Juan Bautista de Anza led a force north to Colorado to defeat the most feared of the Comanche chiefs, Cuerno Verde ("Green Horn"), in 1779. Seven years later, the Comanches and Utes signed a lasting treaty with the Spanish and thereafter helped keep the Apaches in check.

France sold the Louisiana Territory to the young United States in 1803, and the Spanish suddenly had a new intruder to fear. The Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803 went unchallenged, much as the Spanish would have liked to challenge it; but in 1807, when Lt. Zebulon Pike built a stockade on a Rio Grande tributary in Colorado, he and his troops were taken prisoner by troops from Santa Fe. Pike was taken to the New Mexican capital, where he was interrogated extensively, and then to Chihuahua, Mexico. The report he wrote upon his return was the United States' first inside look at Spain's frontier province.

At first, pioneering American merchants -- excited by Pike's observations of New Mexico's economy -- were summarily expelled from Santa Fe or jailed, and their goods were confiscated. But after Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, traders were welcomed. The wagon ruts of the Santa Fe Trail soon extended from Missouri to New Mexico, and from there to Chihuahua. (Later, it became the primary southern highway to California.)

As the merchants hastened to Santa Fe, Anglo-American and French-Canadian fur trappers headed into the wilderness. Their commercial hub became Taos, a tiny village near a large pueblo a few days' ride north of Santa Fe. Many married into native or Hispanic families. Perhaps the best known was Kit Carson, a sometime federal agent, sometime scout, whose legend is inextricably interwoven with that of early Taos. He spent 40 years in Taos, until his death in 1868.

In 1846, the U.S.-Mexican War broke out, and New Mexico became a territory of the United States. There were several causes of the war, including the U.S. annexation of Texas in 1845, disagreement over the international boundary, and unpaid claims owed to American citizens by the Mexican government. But foremost was the prevailing U.S. sentiment of "manifest destiny," the belief that the Union should extend "from sea to shining sea." Gen. Stephen Kearny marched south from Colorado; on the Las Vegas plaza, he announced that he had come to take possession of New Mexico for the United States. His arrival in Santa Fe on August 18, 1846, went unopposed.

An 1847 revolt in Taos resulted in the slaying of the new governor of New Mexico, Charles Bent, but U.S. troops defeated the rebels and executed their leaders. That was the last threat to American sovereignty in the territory. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially transferred the title of New Mexico, along with Texas, Arizona, and California, to the United States.

Kearney promised New Mexicans that the United States would respect their religion and property rights and would safeguard their homes and possessions from hostile Indians. His troops behaved with a rigid decorum. The United States upheld Spanish policy toward the Pueblos, assuring the survival of their ancestral lands, their traditional culture, and their old religion -- which even 3 centuries of Hispanic Catholicism could not do away with.

The Civil War

As conflict between the North and South flared east of the Mississippi, New Mexico found itself caught in the debate over slavery. Southerners wanted to expand slavery to the Western territories, but abolitionists bitterly opposed them. New Mexicans themselves voted against slavery twice, while their delegate to Congress engineered the adoption of a slavery code. In 1861, the Confederacy laid plans to make New Mexico theirs as a first step toward capturing the West.

In fact, southern New Mexicans, including those in Tucson (Arizona was then a part of the New Mexico Territory), were disenchanted with the attention paid them by Santa Fe and were already threatening to form their own state. So when Confederate Lt. Col. John Baylor captured Fort Fillmore, near Mesilla, and on August 1, 1861, proclaimed all of New Mexico south of the 34th parallel to be the new territory of Arizona, few complained.

The following year, Confederate Gen. Henry Sibley assembled three regiments of 2,600 Texans and moved up the Rio Grande. They defeated Union loyalists in a bloody battle at Valverde, near Socorro; easily took Albuquerque and Santa Fe; and proceeded toward the federal arsenal at Fort Union, 90 miles east of Santa Fe. Sibley planned to replenish his supplies there before continuing north to Colorado, and then west to California.

On March 27 and 28, 1862, the Confederates were met head-on in Glorieta Pass, about 16 miles outside Santa Fe, by regular troops from Fort Union, supported by a regiment of Colorado volunteers. By the second day, the rebels were in control, until a detachment of Coloradans circled behind the Confederate troops and destroyed their poorly defended supply train. Sibley was forced into a retreat down the Rio Grande. A few months later, Mesilla was reclaimed for the Union, ending the Confederate presence in New Mexico.

The Land Wars

The various tribes had not missed the fact that whites were fighting among themselves, and they took advantage of this weakness to step up their raids on border settlements. In 1864, the Navajos, in what is known in tribal history as the Long Walk, were relocated to the new Bosque Redondo Reservation on the Pecos River at Fort Sumner, in east-central New Mexico. Militia Col. Kit Carson led New Mexico troops in this venture, a position to which he acceded as a moderating influence between the Navajos and those who called for their unconditional surrender or extermination.

Moving the Navajos was an ill-advised decision: The land could not support 9,000 people, the government failed to supply adequate provisions, and the Navajos were unable to live peacefully with the Mescaleros. By late 1868, the tribes retraced their routes to their homelands, where the Navajos gave up their warlike past. The Mescaleros' raids were squashed in the 1870s, and they were confined to a reservation southern New Mexico.

Corralling the rogue Apaches of southwestern New Mexico presented the territory with its biggest challenge. Led by chiefs Victorio, Nana, and Geronimo, these bands wreaked havoc on the mining region around Silver City. Eventually, however, they succumbed, and the capture of Geronimo in 1886 was the final chapter in New Mexico's long history of Indian wars.

As the Native American threat decreased, more and more livestock and sheep ranchers established themselves on the vast plains east of the Rio Grande, in the San Juan basin of the northwest, and in other equally inviting parts of the territory. Cattle drives up the Pecos Valley, on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, are the stuff of legend; so, too, was Roswell cattle baron John Chisum, whose 80,000 head of beef probably represented the largest herd in America in the late 1870s.

Mining grew as well. Albuquerque blossomed in the wake of a series of major gold strikes in the Madrid Valley, close to ancient turquoise mines; other gold and silver discoveries through the 1870s gave birth to boomtowns -- now mostly ghost towns -- such as Hillsboro, Mogollon, Pinos Altos, and White Oaks. The copper mines of Santa Rita del Cobre, near Silver City, are still thriving.

In 1879, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway sent its main line through Las Vegas, Albuquerque, El Paso, and Deming, where it joined with the Southern Pacific line coming from California. (The Santa Fe station was, and is, at Lamy, 17 miles southeast of the capital.) Now linked by railroad to the great markets of America, New Mexico's economic boom period was assured.

But ranching invites cattle rustling and range wars, mining beckons feuds and land fraud, and the construction of railroads often brings political corruption and swindles. New Mexico had all of them, especially during the latter part of the 19th century. Best known of a great many conflicts was the Lincoln County War (1878-81), which began as a feud between rival factions of ranchers and merchants. It led to such utter lawlessness that President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered a federal investigation of the territorial government and the installation of Gen. Lew Wallace as governor (whose novel Ben-Hur was published in 1880).

One of the central figures of the Lincoln County War was William "Billy the Kid" Bonney (1858-81), a headstrong youth who became probably the best-known outlaw of the American West. He blazed a trail of bloodshed from Silver City to Mesilla, Santa Fe to Lincoln, and Artesia to Fort Sumner, where he was finally killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in July 1881.

To a Las Vegas, New Mexico reporter, after his capture at Stinking Springs

By the turn of the 20th century, most of the violence had been checked. The mineral lodes were drying up, and ranching was taking on increased importance. Economic and social stability were coming to New Mexico.

Statehood, Art & Atoms

Early in the 20th century, its Hispanic citizens having proved their loyalty to the U.S. by serving gallantly with Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, New Mexico's long-awaited dream of becoming an integral part of the Union was finally recognized. On January 6, 1912, President William Howard Taft signed a bill making New Mexico the 47th state.

Within a few years, Taos began gaining fame as an artists' community. Two painters from the East Coast, Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips, settled in Taos in 1898, lured others to join them, and in 1914 formed the Taos Society of Artists, one of the most influential schools of art in America. Writers and other intellectuals soon followed, including Mabel Dodge Luhan, novelists D. H. Lawrence and Willa Cather, and poet-activist John Collier. Other artists settled in Santa Fe and elsewhere in New Mexico; the best known was Georgia O'Keeffe, who lived miles from anywhere in tiny Abiquiu. Today, Santa Fe and Taos are world renowned for their contributions to art and culture.

The construction in 1916 of the Elephant Butte Dam near Hot Springs (now Truth or Consequences) brought irrigated farming back to a drought-ravaged southern New Mexico. Potash mining boomed in the southeast in the 1930s. Native Americans gained full citizenship in 1924, 2 years after the All Pueblo Council was formed to fight passage in Congress of a bill that would have given white squatters rights to Indian lands. And in 1934, tribes were accorded partial self-government. Hispanics, meanwhile, became the most powerful force in state politics and remain so today.

The most dramatic development in 20th-century New Mexico was induced by World War II. In 1943, the U.S. government sealed off a tract of land on the Pajarito Plateau, west of Santa Fe, that previously had been an exclusive boys' school. On this site, it built the Los Alamos National Laboratory, otherwise known as Project Y of the Manhattan Engineer District -- the "Manhattan Project." Its goal: to split the atom and develop the first nuclear weapons.

Under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer, later succeeded by Norris E. Bradbury, a team of 30 to 100 scientists and hundreds of support staff lived and worked in almost complete seclusion for 2 years. Their work resulted in the atomic bomb, tested for the first time at the Trinity Site, north of White Sands, on July 16, 1945. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 3 weeks later, signaled to the world that the nuclear age had arrived.

Even before that time, New Mexico was gaining stature in America's scientific community. Robert H. Goddard, considered the founder of modern rocketry, conducted many of his experiments near Roswell in the 1930s, during which time he became the first person to shoot a liquid-fuel rocket faster than the speed of sound. Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930, helped establish the department of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. And former Sen. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt, an exogeologist and the first civilian to walk on the moon in 1972, is a native of the Silver City area.

Today, the White Sands Missile Range is one of America's most important astrophysics sites, and the International Space Hall of Fame in nearby Alamogordo honors men and women from around the world who have devoted their lives to space exploration. Aerospace research and defense contracts are economic mainstays in Albuquerque, and Kirtland Air Force Base is the home of the Air Force Special Weapons Center. Los Alamos, of course, continues to be a national leader in nuclear technology. Now in its embryonic stages, the Southwest Regional Spaceport near Las Cruces may launch privately funded space flights as early as 2010.

Despite the arrival of the 21st century in many parts of the state, other areas are still struggling to be a part of the 20th. Many Native Americans, be they Pueblo, Navajo, or Apache, and Hispanic farmers, who till small plots in isolated rural regions, hearken to a time when life was slower paced.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.