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HistoryThirteen years before Plymouth Colony was settled by the Mayflower Pilgrims, Santa Fe, New Mexico, was established with a small cluster of European type dwellings. It would soon become the seat of power for the Spanish Empire north of the Rio Grande. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in North America and the oldest European community west of the Mississippi.
While Santa Fe was inhabited on a very small scale in 1607, it was truly settled by the conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta in 1609-1610. Santa Fe is the site of both the oldest public building in America, the Palace of the Governors and the nation's oldest community celebration, the Santa Fe Fiesta, established in 1712 to commemorate the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico in the summer of 1692. Peralta and his men laid out the plan for Santa Fe at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the site of the ancient Pueblo Indian ruin of Kaupoge, or "place of shell beads near the water."
The city has been the capital for the Spanish "Kingdom of New Mexico," the Mexican province of Nuevo Mejico, the American territory of New Mexico (which contained what is today Arizona and New Mexico) and since 1912 the state of New Mexico. Santa Fe, in fact, was the first foreign capital over taken by the United States, when in 1846 General Stephen Watts Kearny captured it during the Mexican-American War.
Santa Fe's history may be divided into six periods:
Preconquest and Founding, circa 1050 - 1607
Santa Fe's site was originally occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages with founding dates from between 1050 to 1150. Most archaeologists agree that these sites were abandoned 200 years before the Spanish arrived. There is little evidence of their remains in Santa Fe today.
The "Kingdom of New Mexico" was first claimed for the Spanish Crown by the conquistador Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado in 1540, 67 years before the founding of Santa Fe. Coronado and his men also discovered the Grand Canyon and the Great Plains on their New Mexico expedition.
Don Juan de Onate became the first Governor-General of New Mexico and established his capital in 1598 at San Juan Pueblo, 25 miles north of Santa Fe. When Onate retired, Don Pedro de Peralta was appointed Governor-General in 1609. One year later, he had moved the capital to present day Santa Fe.
Settlement Revolt and Reconquest, 1607-1692
For a period of 70 years beginning in the early 17th century, Spanish soldiers and officials, as well as Franciscan missionaries, sought to subjugate and convert the Pueblo Indians of the region. The indigenous population at the time was close to 100,000 people, who spoke nine basic languages and lived in an estimated 70 multi-storied adobe towns (pueblos), many of which exist today. In 1680, Pueblo Indians revolted against the estimated 2,500 Spanish colonists in New Mexico, killing 400 of them and driving the rest back into Mexico. The conquering Pueblos sacked Santa Fe and burned most of the buildings, except the Palace of the Governors. Pueblo Indians occupied Santa Fe until 1692, when Don Diego de Vargas reconquered the region and entered the capital city after a bloodless siege.
Established Spanish Empire, 1692-1821
Santa Fe grew and prospered as a city. Spanish authorities and missionaries - under pressure from constant raids by nomadic Indians and often bloody wars with the Comanches, Apaches and Navajos-formed an alliance with Pueblo Indians and maintained a successful religious and civil policy of peaceful coexistence. The Spanish policy of closed empire also heavily influenced the lives of most Santa Feans during these years as trade was restricted to Americans, British and French.
The Mexican Period, 1821-1846
When Mexico gained its independence from Spain, Santa Fe became the capital of the province of New Mexico. The Spanish policy of closed empire ended, and American trappers and traders moved into the region. William Becknell opened the l,000-mile-long Santa Fe Trail, leaving from Franklin, Missouri, with 21 men and a pack train of goods. In those days, aggressive Yankee traders used Santa Fe's Plaza as a stock corral. Americans found Santa Fe and New Mexico not as exotic as they'd thought. One traveler called the region the "Siberia of the Mexican Republic."
For a brief period in 1837, northern New Mexico farmers rebelled against Mexican rule, killed the provincial governor in what has been called the Chimayó Rebellion (named after a village north of Santa Fe) and occupied the capital. The insurrectionists were soon defeated, however, and three years later, Santa Fe was peaceful enough to see the first planting of cottonwood trees around the Plaza.
Territorial Period, 1846-1912
On August 18, 1846, in the early period of the Mexican American War, an American army general, Stephen Watts Kearny, took Santa Fe and raised the American flag over the Plaza. Two years later, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceding New Mexico and California to the United States.
In 1851, Jean B. Lamy arrived in Santa Fe. Eighteen years later, he began construction of the Saint Francis Cathedral. Archbishop Lamy is the model for the leading character in Willa Cather's book, "Death Comes for the Archbishop."
For a few days in March 1863, the Confederate flag of General Henry Sibley flew over Santa Fe, until he was defeated by Union troops. With the arrival of the telegraph in 1868 and the coming of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880, Santa Fe and New Mexico underwent an economic revolution. Corruption in government, however, accompanied the growth, and President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Lew Wallace as a territorial governor to "clean up New Mexico." Wallace did such a good job that Billy the Kid threatened to come up to Santa Fe and kill him. Thankfully, Billy failed and Wallace went on to finish his novel, "Ben Hur," while territorial Governor.
When New Mexico gained statehood in 1912, many people were drawn to Santa Fe's dry climate as a cure for tuberculosis. The Museum of New Mexico had opened in 1909, and by 1917, its Museum of Fine Arts, today called the New Mexico Museum of Art, was built. The state museum's emphasis on local history and native culture did much to reinforce Santa Fe's image as an "exotic" city.
Throughout Santa Fe's long and varied history of conquest and frontier violence, the town has also been the region's seat of culture and civilization. Inhabitants have left a legacy of architecture and city planning that today makes Santa Fe the most significant historic city in the American West.
In 1926, the Old Santa Fe Association was established, in the words of its bylaws, "to preserve and maintain the ancient landmarks, historical structures and traditions of Old Santa Fe, to guide its growth and development in such a way as to sacrifice as little as possible of that unique charm born of age, tradition and environment, which are the priceless assets and heritage of Old Santa Fe."
Today, Santa Fe is recognized as one of the most intriguing urban environments in the nation, due largely to the city's preservation of historic buildings and a modern zoning code, passed in 1958, that mandates the city's distinctive Spanish-Pueblo style of architecture, based on the adobe (mud and straw) and wood construction of the past. Also preserved are the traditions of the city's rich cultural heritage which helps make Santa Fe one of the country's most diverse and fascinating places to visit.