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History >> US Geography >> US State History

New Mexico

State History

The region of New Mexico has been inhabited by people for thousands of years. Ancient cultures such as the Mogollon people and the Anasazi were the ancestors of Native American tribes such as the Pueblo.

Native Americans

When the Europeans arrived in the 1500s, the majority of the tribes living in the area were Pueblo peoples including such tribes as the Acoma, Laguna, San Juan, Santa Ana, and the Zuni. The Pueblo lived in multistory buildings made from adobe clay. They sometimes built their towns into the sides of cliffs for protection. Other Native Americans that lived in New Mexico at the time included the Apache, Navajo, and the Ute.


Antelope in New Mexico
Antelope from the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Europeans Arrive

The first Europeans to arrive in New Mexico were the Spanish. In 1540, Spanish conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coronado arrived with a large group of soldiers. He was searching for the fabled seven cities of gold. He never found the gold, but he did claim the land for Spain.

Colonization

In 1598, New Mexico became an official colony of Spain. The first capital was San Juan de los Caballeros. The Spanish built Catholic missions throughout the region where priests taught the Native Americans about their religion. They tried to force the natives to become Christians. In 1680, a Pueblo leader named Popé led the Pueblo in a revolt against the Spanish. They managed to push the Spanish out of New Mexico for a short while. However, the Spanish soon returned.

Part of Mexico

Throughout the 1700s the Spanish and the Native American tribes quarreled as more Spanish settlers moved in and took over the land. In 1821, Mexico became independent of Spain. New Mexico was a province of Mexico. Because it was close to the United States, New Mexico established trade along the Santa Fe Trail with the state of Missouri. The Santa Fe Trail became one of the major routes for people traveling west from the United States.


Map of the Santa Fe Trail
Map of the Santa Fe Trail
from the US National Park Service

Territory of the United States

In 1846, the Mexican-American War began over a border dispute between Texas and Mexico. After the United States won the war in 1848, they gained control of New Mexico through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. New Mexico became a U.S. territory in 1850.

During the Civil War, the territory was claimed by both sides. Kit Carson was the leader of the Union troops in New Mexico. Several battles were fought in New Mexico including the Battle of Valverde. Carson also led the Union troops against the local tribes and in 1863 forced the Navajo to surrender. Over the course of the next few years thousands of Navajo were forced to march from Arizona to reservations in New Mexico. These marches are called the Long Walk of the Navajo.

Wild West

The late 1800s in New Mexico are sometimes called the "Wild West". During this time there were few lawmen in the territory and some towns became known as places where outlaws, gamblers, and horse thieves lived. One of the most famous outlaws in New Mexico at the time was Billy the Kid.

Becoming a State

New Mexico was admitted to the U.S. as the 47th state on January 6, 1912. Because it was so remote and sparsely populated, it became the center for the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. The first atomic bomb was developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory and was detonated at Trinity Site, New Mexico.


White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument from the US National Park Service

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Works Cited

History >> US Geography >> US State History





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