Brief History of New Mexico
By C. W. Barnum
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New Mexico History
By C. W. Barnum

Part I

Scientists say that our universe was created 12 billion years ago.  Our solar system has about 5 billion more years to live before our sun turns into a white dwarf star releasing a huge burst of energy that will vaporize all of our planets. This current history in a jiffy lasts only about 12,000 years.  It was then that the first Americans arrived in America via a land bridge of ice from Siberia to Alaska. That is one story but it may be just that, a story. 

It seems more likely that those ancient people arrived in fishing boats. A land bridge may not have existed at all, and if there were such an ice bridge what reason would those people have to trek across it under extremely hostile conditions. Visiting Alaska's glaciers today leaves a particularity strong impression that no one in their right mind would try to cross the glaciers without modern climbing gear and supplies. Even today, Eskimos rely on kayaks as much as they do on dog sleds to get around. Snow mobiles are much preferred over dog teams when crossing the snow and ice.

However they arrived, they were successful because of the abundant game animals on the new continent. The new people traveled in small family groups following the game herds all the way to the tip of South America. They flourished and occupied every niche in the Americas. About 5,000 years ago, the Indians changed their way of surviving through the introduction of agriculture, borrowing the maize plant from their relatives in Mexico. Raising maize and other foods, brought a change in their culture. They became more community based along tribal lines. This change also made possible the development of new skills, farming, weaving, pottery making, and medicine. 

Some tribes were less confined to the farming model than others. Several tribes arose: The Mogollon Culture, the Anasazi Culture, the Apache Nation, The Navaho, The Comanche, The Zuni, The Utes, and some generalized associations like the Plains Indians, and Pueblo Indians. Each group of these people were suited to their particular area: Some were better at building irrigation systems, some at building cities, and others at hunting. They had organized societies that functioned efficiently.

Then, the Spanish Explorers arrived. In 1539 Marcos de Niza arrived in the New Mexico ara which would become Arizona. The Spanish, searching for gold, actually entered the present state of New Mexico at Hawikuh near the Arizona state line. That took place in 1540, and the leader of that group of about 1,000 was Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. The Indians didn't particularly like Coronado or his men and several battle were fought over a period of time. Coronado wondered all the way to Kansas and after losing many men went back to Mexico. Some of his group stayed behind but were killed by the Indians.

In 1851 Fray Agustin Rodriquez with soldiers entered New Mexico from Mexico, and they too wondered around the plains, mountains and deserts. Fray Agustin Rodriquez returned to Mexico the same year. A few men he left behind to convert the Indians were soon dead. Other Spanish explorers gave exploring a try as well.

The first bona fide settlement of New Mexico by the Spanish came in 1598 when Juan de Onate of Zacatecas lead soldiers and their families eventually to San Gabriel where the first Spanish settlement was made. Onate also engaged in battle with the Indians. He was relieved of duty and replaced by Pedro de Peralta who had the title of Governor. More Spanish colonists arrived increasing their number in New Mexico. Their settlements grew as did the spread of their religion. 

By the mid-1600's a migration of warrior Apaches arrived in New Mexico form the east. These Apaches rode horses and were hardened from many battles with White invaders. The Apaches pushed out the Spanish settlers at will. 

In 1680 the Pueblo Indians tribes in the north, under several Tribal names, united and waged war against the Spanish. The Indians in a series of battles, (called massacres by the Spanish, proving that definitions depend on what side one is on) pushed all of the Spanish settlers and soldiers out of New Mexico. Two years of Indian rule resulted, but the alliance of different tribes, Apaches and Pueblos began to fight for control of the new nation. They self-destructed. By 1691 Captain Diego de Vargas Zapata Lujan Ponce de Leon y Contreras took his army into New Mexico and marched all the way to Santa Fe. He continued to apply the pressure until every last remnant of resistance was eliminated in 1696. 

De Vargas was taking names, and doing some serious damage to the Indian tribes. A land grant system was established to give settlers ownership of the land. This encouraged new Spanish settlers to come to New Mexico. There was a catch. The land grant system extended to the Indians who occupied lands that the Whites from the east wanted to settle. The Spanish knew early on that a threat to them existed from the White Europeans who were growing in numbers.

Peace did not come with the Spanish re-establishing control over New Mexico. Indian tribes fought each other, and fought the Spanish. Many Indians were displaced. Many children were born of both Spanish and Indian blood. This created a new class of people called Genizaro--of mixed blood and mixed tribes, outcasts, orphans, child slaves, displaced outcasts and criminals. New Mexico was in turmoil, and then in 1821, Mexico declared independence from Spain.

Part II

Since Mexico became an independent nation, New Mexico became part of Mexico. Independence may have come at the wrong time for Mexico. Without the presence of Spain, the territories held by Mexico north of the river were insecure. It was one thing to declare war on Mexico, but quite another to declared war on Mexico and Spain. The protection provided by Spain was gone.

Mexico was anything but stable following independence. The army was not particularly loyal to the elected Presidents of Mexico. Presidents were overthrown, authority was weak, not even being able to enforce various decrees sent by messengers to the territory of New Mexico. In fact, the governors of New Mexico operated in a more secure political environment than they did in Mexico. Mexico had no spare time or resources to devote to New Mexico when they were fighting for political survival day-to-day in the south. 

In New Mexico a new class of rulers arose: They were Native born New Mexicans who formed bonds with family power and alliance to each other and to New Mexico in general rather than to Mexico. They began to experiment with elections, but the real power lay within the powerful families. They also welcomed commerce from the "outsiders" mainly with the Europeans from the eastern parts of America. This meant increased numbers of the outsiders entered New Mexico Territory, some to trade, some traveling through to California, some to stay and marry and raise families. This would have never been allowed under Spanish rule. Outsiders didn't live very long under the Spanish. 

The Anglo flood began. Once started, nothing could stop it. It was a good thing for every one as merchant became wealthy trading good between Mexico, California and Missouri markets. Santa Fe became the capital of trade in the territories and a became a melting pot of French, Anglo, Canadian, Mexican, Spanish and Indian people. The influence Mexico had over New Mexico was weakened, because most citizens were loyal to New Mexico, not to Mexico.

The army in New Mexico were all volunteers and unpaid. In 1846 President James Polk declared that war existed between Mexico and the United States. A general named Stephen Kearny marched into Santa Fe with his army and simply proclaimed it to be United States property. There was no army to stop him from complete control. Kearny appointed a Governor, the Secretary of Territory, a Marshall, A Treasurer, and other Territorial Officials. That was that.

Kearny set up a code of law for the territory based on a mix of Spanish and American codes. He set up forts for defending the new possession of New Mexico. In 1847, even though little resistance to his authority existed, a group of Taos Indians and Mexicans launched a small war. The revolt was quickly put down and many of those involved were executed. 

In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially made the new territory a part of the United States. The population could chose which citizenship they cared to maintain, either as a citizen of Mexico or a citizen of the United States. This arrangement appears strange to some, but the heavy influence of Mexico in New Mexico made this action seem reasonable. In 1853 the United States made the Gadsden Purchase. New Mexico also gave up claim to the territory of Arizona. The boundaries of New Mexico have not changed since.

Part III

Perhaps the final "old-west" history of new Mexico took place between 1853 and 1912. This was a period of the taming of New Mexico. There were an occasional flare-up between its people but it was generally a time of consolidation and growth. Stage coach lines were established from El Paso north to Raton. An east-west line began near Zuni New Mexico to Santa Fe, meeting up with the north-south stage coach line. Major stage stops were in the villages of Zuni, Gallup, Fort Wingate, San Mateo, Cabezon, Isidro, Pena Blanca, Santa Fe, San Jose, San Miguel, Tecolate, Las Vegas, Fort Union, Rayado, Clifton House and Raton in the north. These were the stage stops in the south. Alamo, El Paso, Mescilla, Las Cruces, Dona Ana, Aleman, Fray Cristobal, Lemitar, Socorro, Tome, Albuquerque, and Bernalillo. There were many other stops, including most of the Forts and way stations. They included the villages of Carrizozo, White Oaks, Lincoln, Ancho, Nogal and Roswell.

This period saw the building of railroads. It was also a time of the Civil War, and The Lincoln County War. The "war" in Lincoln County hardly amounted to a war in the normal use of the term, but  newspapers and writers enjoyed building it up into a "war". This era saw dam construction, cattle ranching expand, small farms sold to larger farmers, mines attracting venture capital, and a general expansion of the economy. The population increased and times were mostly good. 

There were constant court battles over land ownership. Some of that exists even today. Under Spanish rules land was given to people as land grants. In many cases it was impossible to determine where these lands actually were located since they depended on landmarks like the "big oak tree" and "the flat rock" by the stream to define land boundaries. 

Some villages today have not been surveyed accurately. Old fenced lines still serve as property boundaries, being re-build over the years and handed down from generation to generation. Nogal, New Mexico is one such village where a few years ago a parcel of land was surveyed, and the results proved the fences in question were entirely in the wrong place. The involved land owners said, "Okay, no problem," and left the old fences in place where they had existed for years.