A BRIEF HISTORY OF SANTA FE: IT HAS BEEN HERE FOR HOW LONG?
Pre-conquest and Spanish Founding, circa 1050-1607
The Santa Fe’s area was originally occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages with founding dates from between 1050 to 1150. Most archaeologists agree that these sites were abandoned 200 years before the Spanish arrived. There is little evidence of their remains in Santa Fe today.
The “Kingdom of New Mexico” was first claimed for the Spanish Crown by the conquistador Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado in 1540, 67 years before the founding of Santa Fe. Coronado and his men also discovered the Grand Canyon and the Great Plains on their New Mexico expedition.
Don Juan de Oñate became the first Governor-General of New Mexico and established his capital in 1598 at San Juan Pueblo, 25 miles north of Santa Fe near present day Española. When Oñate retired, Don Pedro de Peralta was appointed Governor-General in 1609. One year later, he had moved the capital to present day Santa Fe.
Settlement Revolt and Re-conquest, 1607-1692
For a period of 70 years beginning in the early 17th century, Spanish soldiers and officials, as well as Franciscan missionaries, sought to subjugate and convert the Pueblo Indians of the region. The indigenous population at the time was close to 100,000 people, who spoke nine basic languages and lived in an estimated 70 multi-storied adobe towns (pueblos), many of which exist today. In 1680, Pueblo Indians revolted against the estimated 2,500 Spanish colonists in New Mexico, killing 400 of them and driving the rest back into Mexico. The conquering Pueblos sacked Santa Fe and burned most of the buildings, except the Palace of the Governors. Pueblo Indians occupied Santa Fe until 1692, when Don Diego de Vargas re-conquered the region and entered what remained of the old Santa Fe capital after a bloodless siege.
Established Spanish Empire, 1692-1821
Santa Fe grew and prospered as a city. Spanish authorities and missionaries – under pressure from constant raids by nomadic Indians and often bloody wars with the Comanche, Apache, and Navajo tribes formed an alliance with Pueblo Indians and maintained a successful religious and civil policy of peaceful coexistence.
The Mexican Period, 1821-1846
When Mexico gained its independence from Spain, Santa Fe became the capital of the province of New Mexico. The Spanish policy of closed empire ended, and American trappers and traders moved into the region. William Becknell opened the l,000-mile-long Santa Fe Trail, leaving from Franklin, Missouri, with 21 men and a pack train of goods. In those days, aggressive Yankee traders used Santa Fe’s Plaza as a stock corral. Americans found Santa Fe and New Mexico not as exotic as they’d thought. One traveler called the region the “Siberia of the Mexican Republic”.
For a brief period in 1837, northern New Mexico farmers rebelled against Mexican rule, killed the provincial governor in what has been called the Chimayó Rebellion (named after a village north of Santa Fe near Española) and occupied the capital. The insurrectionists were soon defeated, however, and three years later, Santa Fe was peaceful enough to see the first planting of cottonwood trees around the Plaza.
Territorial Period, 1846-1912
On August 18, 1846, in the early period of the Mexican American War, an American army general, Stephen Watts Kearny, took Santa Fe and raised the American flag over the Plaza. Two years later, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceding New Mexico, and California to the United States.
In 1851, Jean B. Lamy arrived in Santa Fe. Eighteen years later, he began construction of the Saint Francis Cathedral. Archbishop Lamy is the model for the leading character in Willa Cather’s book, “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”
For a few days in March 1863, the Confederate flag of General Henry Sibley flew over Santa Fe, until he was defeated by Union troops. With the arrival of the telegraph in 1868 and the coming of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880, Santa Fe and New Mexico underwent an economic revolution. Corruption in government, however, accompanied the growth, and President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Lew Wallace as a territorial governor to “clean up New Mexico.” Wallace did such a good job that Billy the Kid threatened to come up to Santa Fe and kill him. Thankfully, Billy failed and Wallace went on to finish his novel, “Ben Hur,” while territorial Governor.
When New Mexico gained statehood in 1912, many people were drawn to Santa Fe’s dry climate as a cure for tuberculosis. The Museum of New Mexico had opened in 1909, and by 1917, its Museum of Fine Arts, today called the New Mexico Museum of Art, was built. The state museum’s emphasis on local history and native culture did much to reinforce Santa Fe’s image as an “exotic” city.
Throughout Santa Fe’s long and varied history of conquest and frontier violence, the town has also been the region’s seat of culture and civilization. Inhabitants have left a legacy of architecture and city planning that today makes Santa Fe the most significant historic city in the American West.
In 1926, the Old Santa Fe Association was established to preserve the city’s character. The bylaws , “to preserve and maintain the ancient landmarks, historical structures and traditions of Old Santa Fe, to guide its growth and development in such a way as to sacrifice as little as possible of that unique charm born of age, tradition and environment, which are the priceless assets and heritage of Old Santa Fe.”
Today, Santa Fe is recognized as one of the most intriguing urban environments in the nation, due largely to the city’s preservation of historic buildings and modern building and zoning codes, passed in 1958, that mandate the city’s distinctive Spanish-Pueblo style of architecture, based on the adobe (mud and straw) and wood construction of the past. Also preserved are the traditions of the city’s rich cultural heritage, which helps make Santa Fe one of the country’s most diverse and fascinating places to live or visit.