Early History

Pueblo Indians outside their New Mexico home
Pueblo Indians outside their New Mexico home
Several Native American tribes occupied the area that is now New Mexico. Among these were the Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache peoples, who had settled the region by the time of European contact and settlement. The Pueblo Indians had developed a particularly advanced society, centered on trade and agriculture. The Pueblos established permanent settlements and complex irrigation systems, among other achievements.

The Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado was the first European the lead an expedition into the area, which was formally brought into the Spanish Empire as the Province of New Mexico in 1598. The city of Santa Fe was established in around 1608 and became a major trade center. Following the Mexican Revolution, the Province became part of Independent Mexico.

New Mexican Society

The Spanish, and later the Mexicans, naturally ended up interacting with the native peoples living in the New Mexico region. The Pueblos, having developed a culture that was in many ways similar to European society, soon developed a sort of alliance with the Spanish settlers against the other tribes in the region. The result was the development of a complex "caste system" that defined the social patterns of the region. The Spanish or Mexicans occupied the upper tier of society, followed by the Pueblos. The lowermost position in society was occupied by members of other tribes - genizaros - who had either been captured and enslaved or had deserted their people.

The center of New Mexican society before the arrival of Anglo-Americans was the city of Santa Fe, which had become a major trading center. Around the city were scattered the large estates of the Mexican aristocracy, who owned large quantities of land and often participated in cattle or sheep ranching. Also living in the area were a class of Hispanic peasants, Indian laborers, and some American traders.


The Arrival of Americans

Santa Fe, 1896. By this time, New Mexico's capital city was being transformed by the newly-arrived Anglo-Americans.
Santa Fe, 1896. By this time, New Mexico's capital city was being transformed by the newly-arrived Anglo-Americans.
Many railroads, such as the Santa Fe, expanded into the region.
Many railroads, such as the Santa Fe, expanded into the region.
New Mexico was acquired by the Americans as part of the Mexican Cession following the Mexican-American war. Under the Compromise of 1850, the region was divided into two sections: the New Mexico Territory in the south, and the Utah Territory to the north. In attempts to establish a territorial government in New Mexico, the Americans actively tried to exclude the thousands of Hispanics living in the region. The result was that the territory was controlled almost exclusively by the Anglo-American minority.

The arrival of Americans meant an end to the traditional Hispanic society of New Mexico. The territorial government succeeded in buying up most of the land that had previously been part of the estates of the large landowners, and the traditional aristocratic elite began to lose most of its authority. However, Hispanic society did continue elsewhere for a time. The U.S. Army was able to push out the Apache and Navajo tribes that had been in conflict with the Spanish and Mexican settlers for so many years. This allowed many Hispanics to expand into other areas of the Southwest and establish new societies. However, the Hispanics living in New Mexico would never regain the power they had enjoyed before the American acquisition. They had to adjust to a society in which they were fast becoming subordinate to Anglo-Americans.

More and More Americans began to pour into the territoriy, particularly as railroads began to expand into the region during the 1880's and '90's. This also meant considerable economic expansion in the region, as the ranching, farming, and mining industries all grew substantially. This caused a continued influx of American settlers, as well as thousands of immigrants from Mexico. Despite this rapid growth, New Mexico was not admitted as a state until 1912.


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