New Mexico History

New Mexico History - The Story Of The State

History of New Mexico Highlights

New Mexico history is the story of how the state came to be what we know today. This is the story of all the notable events that transpired in the history of New Mexico.

New Mexico state history begins over 1000 years ago. At this time the area belongs to many different tribes of Native American Indians; the Apache, Comanche, Zuni, Ute, Navajo, Pueblo tribes and the Jacome & Jano tribes. The tribes have their own allegiances and battles are waged during the course of their cohabitation.

New Mexico history is not complete without realizing how influential and ancient our Indian tribes are. There are ancient pueblos and petroglyphs dating back thousands of years thanks to these ancient peoples. Their unique culture still permeates the state today, making it a wonderfully vibrant place to explore.

New Mexico History – The Conquistadors

Just over 600 years ago, the kingdom of Spain and Portugal are determined to expand their territories in order to increase their wealth. They want to conquer as much land as possible, taking the resources for themselves, because European countries at this time are fighting to become more powerful than the other.

Focusing on conquering lands with natural resources, precious minerals and spices means Spain has greater power and wealth. They are not interested in countries close to their own, but rather, distant, exotic countries. It is with this goal in mind that the Spanish Conquistadors set off across the seas to discover new, rich lands ready to be taken for the crown.

In the history of New Mexico, the Spaniards land in Mexico in 1540 while searching for Florida.
Yes, Europeans discover New Mexico accidentally!

The Spaniard's route to Florida is altered when storms and tides cause their ships to wreck on the coast of Mexico. The survivors, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his slave, Estevan, wander for eight years in Northern Mexico and some parts of Southern Texas.

While they don’t find Florida, they claim to find something even better; the Seven Cities of Cibolo (gold)!

Cabeza de Vaca

These two return to Spain and report their findings to the Spanish Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. Their stories about Mexico, its riches, and its people made them the premier explorers of Europe. Intrigued by the descriptions of the Seven Cities of Cibolo, a new crew is sent to investigate.

Marcos de Niza is commissioned to find the cities and overtake them. Estevan serves as their guide, but he dies during the quest, and the trip is considered unsuccessful.

Determined to find cities built of gold, Mendoza authorizes Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to conduct the next expedition. In 1540, Vasquez de Coronado arrives and begins exploring southern New Mexico and Arizona. Mistakenly, he believes a Zuni Indian settlement to be Cibolo and captures it, wiping out a large portion of Zunis in the process. They are no match for the superior armor and weaponry of the Spaniards.

Guess what?
After the conquest, Vasquez de Coronado is greatly disappointed when he found riches, no streets paved with gold, no houses adorned in jewels as Cabeza de Vaca had promised.

Over the next two years the Conquistadors continue to explore Cibolo (southern New Mexico) and were the first European explorers up the Rio Grande. They even discover the Grand Canyon! But still, no riches or gold. Ultimately, they return home to Spain without ever finding the Seven Cities of Gold.

New Mexico History- The Pueblo Revolt

After the death of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the expeditions to Mexico were almost forgotten. A century passed and Franciscan missionaries learned that the Indians residing in Mexico traded regularly with the people of the north. Several explorers then followed the expedition footsteps of Vasquez de Coronado.

One expedition is led by Fray Bernardo Beltran and Antonio de Espejo. He names the area la Nueva Mexico, which became the basis of the name New Mexico. (And now the history of New Mexico begins to really take shape.)

The name la Nueva Mexico entices other explorers. In 1595, Juan de Onate succeeds in overtaking Mexico. The colonization of Mexico then begins as Christianity spreads, along with the establishment of new trades and new colonies. The natives are upset and resentful of the colonization and after some years, decide to take action.

In 1680, Po’Pay and other Pueblo leaders lead the Pueblo Revolt against Spanish colonial rule. Po’Pay had suffered imprisonment and beatings from the Spanish because, as a Tewa spiritual leader, the Spanish consider him a witch. After 11 days Po’Pay and his followers eradicate Christianity and drive the Spanish out of New Mexico.

They are victorious! But, it would not last.

Po'Pay, Pueblo Revolt, Pope's Rebellion, new mexico state history
Po'Pay, Pueblo Revolt Leader

After the Pueblo Revolt, the Indians keep some aspects of colonized life, such as trade materials like iron tools, cattle and sheep, and fruit trees; all become a part of Pueblo life. This part of New Mexico history is evident even today in the textiles and jewelry that are produced by Native Americans in New Mexico.

Just a few short years later New Mexico is reclaimed by the Spanish and becomes a Spanish territory. The Spaniards continue to control Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, and California until 1846. In 1846 Mexico gains independence from Spain, and New Mexico becomes a Mexican province at that point.
We’re not done yet! There’s a lot more territory to cover in New Mexico state history.

New Mexico History & The Americans

Not long after Mexico is free of Spain’s rule, Americans from east of the Mississippi River discover Santa Fe and New Mexico. They are quite surprised to find that colonization has “civilized” the locals and they are keen to take the territory over from the Mexicans. They refer to the state as “The Siberia of the Mexican Republic.”

They want "Siberia".

50 years later at the end of the Mexican American War, Santa Fe is claimed by the United States. Two years after that Mexico signs the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and gives up their rights to California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

In 1912 New Mexico becomes the 47th state and is a unique and valuable resource to the nation.

The History Of New Mexico Continues Today
Many events transpired in the history of New Mexico. Though its past was not always peaceful, the state has survived and incorporated all the many aspects of its heritage into the place we know and love today.

You don’t even have to know New Mexico state history to feel it when you visit the pueblos, when you see the hundreds of years old churches, and when you witness traditions that have been handed down for generations.

Centuries may have passed between the big events in New Mexico history, but they will always be evident in the lives of its people.

Related Pages:
New Mexico Capital History
New Mexico State Flag
New Mexico State Bird