January 6th, 2014 is the 102nd anniversary of New Mexican Statehood, which makes this a good time to take a look at the exciting and unique history of our town dating back much further than our statehood. The story of Santa Fe is a multicultural tapestry that dates to the 16th century and defines it as one of the most unique, amazing capital cities in the entire United States.
Eighty years after Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs and established New Spain, the Conquistador Don Juan de Onate headed north to colonize the northern regions above the Rio Grande river. In 1598 he established Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico as a province of New Spain. The original capitol of the province was located to the north of modern day Santa Fe near the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Within a decade Governor Don Pedra de Peralta moved the capitol to its present day location and founded La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi… a little too long to use for an address, so the colloquial name soon became Santa Fe signifying the Holy Faith of the early church fathers. The oldest building in Santa Fe, the San Miguel Mission, reflects this Holy Faith and elements of the structure date back to Peralta and 1610.
Santa Fe’s early period was dominated solely by Spanish culture and colonialism. The economic conditions of colonialism often involved a degree of exploitation, the pressures of which resulted in the Pueblo Revolt of the late 17th century. In 1680, the Spanish fled Santa Fe until the period of the “reconquest” in 1692. The ‘peaceful reconquest’ of the Spanish is still celebrated as the basis of the town’s annual “Fiesta.”
From the 1700s until the Mexican War of Independence, Santa Fe remained oriented strongly to Spanish culture and the culture of New Spain. Trade was not allowed with Britain, the Americans, or the French. Isolated from these outside influences, Santa Fe remained linked to an economy of resource extraction and exploitation from European sources. It was the Mexican War of Independence in 1810 that signaled a new and exciting chapter in our city’s history.
In 1824, Santa Fe became the official capital of Mexico’s northern province. This was an important time of expansion for our city. It was a period of growth and of orienting towards the greater North American continent. Santa Fe opened up as a more cosmopolitan town as trade with American trappers and travelers over the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri brought plenty of new goods and exposure to non-Spanish traditions. The Republic of Texas claimed most of New Mexico in 1836, but an armed expedition sent out from Austin was quickly captured before its arrival to Santa Fe by the Mexican Army. Many elements of modern Santa Fe were built during this period, including artistic gems like St. Francis’ Cathedral and the Loretto Chapel, as well as the expansion and formalization of the space we know as the Plaza.
In 1846, at the beginning of the Mexican American War, the US flag flew for the first time over the Plaza. In 1848, when the war ended, Santa Fe became the capital of the newly formed New Mexico Territory. During the Civil War New Mexico became a battleground state with the Confederate Flag briefly flying over the Plaza. The Confederate occupation ended following the Battle of Glorietta Pass and the reclamation of New Mexico for the Union.
In 1912, the Territory was admitted to the United States as the 47th State of the Union and as you would expect, Santa Fe was its capitol. The early period of statehood and of New Mexico in the 20th century is itself a fascinating period, and one I hope to cover further on in my blog. It’s my hope that I’ve demonstrated to some degree the lengthy and fascinating multicultural (Pueblo to Spanish to Mexican to New Mexican to American) history of the city, and its role as one of the most unique and historically significant cities in the United States.
- Joe Schepps, owner of Inn on the Alameda in Santa Fe, NM