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Santa Fe History

Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest capital city in North America and also the oldest European city west of the Mississippi.

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 remember the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico in the summer of 1692.

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.

1050 to 1607 Santa Fe’ was originally occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages – mostly the Tewa people.

The “Kingdom of New Mexico” was first claimed for Spain by the conquistador Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado in 1540, 67 years before the founding of Santa Fe.

Don Juan de Onate became the first Governor-General of New Mexico and established the capital in 1598 at San Juan Pueblo, 25 miles north of Santa Fe. After 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.

1607 to 1692 Spanish soldiers and officials, as well as Franciscan missionaries, tried to conquer and convert the Pueblo Indians of the region.

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 attacked 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.

1692 to 1821 Santa Fe grew and prospered as a city. Although Spanish authorities and missionaries were under pressure from constant raids by nomadic Indians and often bloody wars with the Comanche. Apaches and Navajos (who had formed an alliance with Pueblo Indians) had maintained a successful religious and civil policy of peaceful coexistence.

1821 to 1846 Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and Santa Fe became the capital of the province of New Mexico. American trappers and traders moved into the region. William Becknell opened the 1,000-mile-long Santa Fe Trail, from Arrow Rock, Missouri, with 21 men and a pack train of goods. Americans found Santa Fe and New Mexico not as uncivilized 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 and occupied the capital. The revelers were soon defeated, however, and three years later, Santa Fe was peaceful again.

1846 to 1912 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, giving New Mexico (including what we now call Arizona) and California to the United States

In 1851, Jean B. Lamy, arrived in Santa Fe when he began construction of the Saint Francis Cathedral. 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 coming of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad and the invention of the telegraph 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.

1912 to present The Museum of New Mexico had opened in 1909, and by 1917, its Museum of Fine Arts 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.

Although Santa Fe has had 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..

Today, Santa Fe is recognized as one of the most intriguing cities 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 This architecture is 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 interesting places to visit.