History of New Mexico

I've compiled several summaries below about the history of New Mexico. At the bottom there are links which will lead you to more complete and detailed information on our history; I've included a part dedicated to Lincoln County as well, since it where we are located. We will add to this information as we have time; For now I wanted to share with everyone the amazing wealth of information and history I have found at this source: http://newmexicoalhn.net
Everything below I've somewhat temporarily borrowed from that site until I can compile our own composed information. Enjoy!

Brief History of New Mexico
By C. W. Barnum
Return to History Page

New Mexico History

By C. W. Barnum

Part I

Scientists say that our universe was created 12 billion years ago.  Our solar system has about 5 billion more years to live before our sun turns into a white dwarf star releasing a huge burst of energy that will vaporize all of our planets. This current history in a jiffy lasts only about 12,000 years.  It was then that the first Americans arrived in America via a land bridge of ice from Siberia to Alaska. That is one story but it may be just that, a story. 

It seems more likely that those ancient people arrived in fishing boats. A land bridge may not have existed at all, and if there were such an ice bridge what reason would those people have to trek across it under extremely hostile conditions. Visiting Alaska's glaciers today leaves a particularity strong impression that no one in their right mind would try to cross the glaciers without modern climbing gear and supplies. Even today, Eskimos rely on kayaks as much as they do on dog sleds to get around. Snow mobiles are much preferred over dog teams when crossing the snow and ice.

However they arrived, they were successful because of the abundant game animals on the new continent. The new people traveled in small family groups following the game herds all the way to the tip of South America. They flourished and occupied every niche in the Americas. About 5,000 years ago, the Indians changed their way of surviving through the introduction of agriculture, borrowing the maize plant from their relatives in Mexico. Raising maize and other foods, brought a change in their culture. They became more community based along tribal lines. This change also made possible the development of new skills, farming, weaving, pottery making, and medicine. 

Some tribes were less confined to the farming model than others. Several tribes arose: The Mogollon Culture, the Anasazi Culture, the Apache Nation, The Navaho, The Comanche, The Zuni, The Utes, and some generalized associations like the Plains Indians, and Pueblo Indians. Each group of these people were suited to their particular area: Some were better at building irrigation systems, some at building cities, and others at hunting. They had organized societies that functioned efficiently.

Then, the Spanish Explorers arrived. In 1539 Marcos de Niza arrived in the New Mexico ara which would become Arizona. The Spanish, searching for gold, actually entered the present state of New Mexico at Hawikuh near the Arizona state line. That took place in 1540, and the leader of that group of about 1,000 was Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. The Indians didn't particularly like Coronado or his men and several battle were fought over a period of time. Coronado wondered all the way to Kansas and after losing many men went back to Mexico. Some of his group stayed behind but were killed by the Indians.

In 1851 Fray Agustin Rodriquez with soldiers entered New Mexico from Mexico, and they too wondered around the plains, mountains and deserts. Fray Agustin Rodriquez returned to Mexico the same year. A few men he left behind to convert the Indians were soon dead. Other Spanish explorers gave exploring a try as well.

The first bona fide settlement of New Mexico by the Spanish came in 1598 when Juan de Onate of Zacatecas lead soldiers and their families eventually to San Gabriel where the first Spanish settlement was made. Onate also engaged in battle with the Indians. He was relieved of duty and replaced by Pedro de Peralta who had the title of Governor. More Spanish colonists arrived increasing their number in New Mexico. Their settlements grew as did the spread of their religion. 

By the mid-1600's a migration of warrior Apaches arrived in New Mexico form the east. These Apaches rode horses and were hardened from many battles with White invaders. The Apaches pushed out the Spanish settlers at will. 

In 1680 the Pueblo Indians tribes in the north, under several Tribal names, united and waged war against the Spanish. The Indians in a series of battles, (called massacres by the Spanish, proving that definitions depend on what side one is on) pushed all of the Spanish settlers and soldiers out of New Mexico. Two years of Indian rule resulted, but the alliance of different tribes, Apaches and Pueblos began to fight for control of the new nation. They self-destructed. By 1691 Captain Diego de Vargas Zapata Lujan Ponce de Leon y Contreras took his army into New Mexico and marched all the way to Santa Fe. He continued to apply the pressure until every last remnant of resistance was eliminated in 1696. 

De Vargas was taking names, and doing some serious damage to the Indian tribes. A land grant system was established to give settlers ownership of the land. This encouraged new Spanish settlers to come to New Mexico. There was a catch. The land grant system extended to the Indians who occupied lands that the Whites from the east wanted to settle. The Spanish knew early on that a threat to them existed from the White Europeans who were growing in numbers.

Peace did not come with the Spanish re-establishing control over New Mexico. Indian tribes fought each other, and fought the Spanish. Many Indians were displaced. Many children were born of both Spanish and Indian blood. This created a new class of people called Genizaro--of mixed blood and mixed tribes, outcasts, orphans, child slaves, displaced outcasts and criminals. New Mexico was in turmoil, and then in 1821, Mexico declared independence from Spain.

Part II

Since Mexico became an independent nation, New Mexico became part of Mexico. Independence may have come at the wrong time for Mexico. Without the presence of Spain, the territories held by Mexico north of the river were insecure. It was one thing to declare war on Mexico, but quite another to declared war on Mexico and Spain. The protection provided by Spain was gone.

Mexico was anything but stable following independence. The army was not particularly loyal to the elected Presidents of Mexico. Presidents were overthrown, authority was weak, not even being able to enforce various decrees sent by messengers to the territory of New Mexico. In fact, the governors of New Mexico operated in a more secure political environment than they did in Mexico. Mexico had no spare time or resources to devote to New Mexico when they were fighting for political survival day-to-day in the south. 

In New Mexico a new class of rulers arose: They were Native born New Mexicans who formed bonds with family power and alliance to each other and to New Mexico in general rather than to Mexico. They began to experiment with elections, but the real power lay within the powerful families. They also welcomed commerce from the "outsiders" mainly with the Europeans from the eastern parts of America. This meant increased numbers of the outsiders entered New Mexico Territory, some to trade, some traveling through to California, some to stay and marry and raise families. This would have never been allowed under Spanish rule. Outsiders didn't live very long under the Spanish. 

The Anglo flood began. Once started, nothing could stop it. It was a good thing for every one as merchant became wealthy trading good between Mexico, California and Missouri markets. Santa Fe became the capital of trade in the territories and a became a melting pot of French, Anglo, Canadian, Mexican, Spanish and Indian people. The influence Mexico had over New Mexico was weakened, because most citizens were loyal to New Mexico, not to Mexico.

The army in New Mexico were all volunteers and unpaid. In 1846 President James Polk declared that war existed between Mexico and the United States. A general named Stephen Kearny marched into Santa Fe with his army and simply proclaimed it to be United States property. There was no army to stop him from complete control. Kearny appointed a Governor, the Secretary of Territory, a Marshall, A Treasurer, and other Territorial Officials. That was that.

Kearny set up a code of law for the territory based on a mix of Spanish and American codes. He set up forts for defending the new possession of New Mexico. In 1847, even though little resistance to his authority existed, a group of Taos Indians and Mexicans launched a small war. The revolt was quickly put down and many of those involved were executed. 

In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially made the new territory a part of the United States. The population could chose which citizenship they cared to maintain, either as a citizen of Mexico or a citizen of the United States. This arrangement appears strange to some, but the heavy influence of Mexico in New Mexico made this action seem reasonable. In 1853 the United States made the Gadsden Purchase. New Mexico also gave up claim to the territory of Arizona. The boundaries of New Mexico have not changed since.

Part III

Perhaps the final "old-west" history of new Mexico took place between 1853 and 1912. This was a period of the taming of New Mexico. There were an occasional flare-up between its people but it was generally a time of consolidation and growth. Stage coach lines were established from El Paso north to Raton. An east-west line began near Zuni New Mexico to Santa Fe, meeting up with the north-south stage coach line. Major stage stops were in the villages of Zuni, Gallup, Fort Wingate, San Mateo, Cabezon, Isidro, Pena Blanca, Santa Fe, San Jose, San Miguel, Tecolate, Las Vegas, Fort Union, Rayado, Clifton House and Raton in the north. These were the stage stops in the south. Alamo, El Paso, Mescilla, Las Cruces, Dona Ana, Aleman, Fray Cristobal, Lemitar, Socorro, Tome, Albuquerque, and Bernalillo. There were many other stops, including most of the Forts and way stations. They included the villages of Carrizozo, White Oaks, Lincoln, Ancho, Nogal and Roswell.

This period saw the building of railroads. It was also a time of the Civil War, and The Lincoln County War. The "war" in Lincoln County hardly amounted to a war in the normal use of the term, but  newspapers and writers enjoyed building it up into a "war". This era saw dam construction, cattle ranching expand, small farms sold to larger farmers, mines attracting venture capital, and a general expansion of the economy. The population increased and times were mostly good. 

There were constant court battles over land ownership. Some of that exists even today. Under Spanish rules land was given to people as land grants. In many cases it was impossible to determine where these lands actually were located since they depended on landmarks like the "big oak tree" and "the flat rock" by the stream to define land boundaries. 

Some villages today have not been surveyed accurately. Old fenced lines still serve as property boundaries, being re-build over the years and handed down from generation to generation. Nogal, New Mexico is one such village where a few years ago a parcel of land was surveyed, and the results proved the fences in question were entirely in the wrong place. The involved land owners said, "Okay, no problem," and left the old fences in place where they had existed for years. 


Brief County Histories Of New Mexico
By C. W. Barnum
Return to History Page

Bernalillo County
Bernalillo County was established 8 January 1852. It was one of the seven Partidos, established during Mexican rule. It may have been named for the Gonzales-Bernal family that lived in the area before 1692. The county seat is Albuquerque. Bernalillo County has a high volume of commerce, farming, business, and real estate sales. Albuquerque has been thriving since 1706 and is the center of activity for fairs and conventions. Source.

Catron County
Catron County was created 25 February 1921. It was named for New Mexico's first United States Senator, and famous Santa Fe attorney Thomas B. Catron. It is the largest county in New Mexico, but is sparsely populated. It has great hunting areas for sportsmen and tourism is an important commercial activity. It has productive ranch land and borders several national forests.  The county seat is Reserve.

Chaves County was created 25 February 1889. It was named for Colonel Jose Francisco Chaves, a military leader in New Mexico during the Civil War and later in Navajo campaigns. The county seat is Roswell, home of NM Military Institute.  Chaves County is rich in fresh water, oil, farming, commerce, clean air, and tourism. After growing up in this area, it is easy to image flying saucers after seeing hundreds of shooting stars in the clear night sky.

Cibola County
Cibola County is our neighbor to the north. It was created 19 June 1981. It is the last county to form in New Mexico. It was named after the Seven Cities of Cibola. Grants is the county seat. Cibola County is rich in mining , including uranium. Tourism, milling, camping and outdoor sports are major assets. Beautiful Wide-open spaces are abundant in Cibola County. Please send us any cemetery or genealogical data regarding either county. 

Colfax County
Colfax County was created 25 January 1869. The county seat is Raton. Colfax was the name of Vice-president of the USA, Schuyler Colfax, in 1869. Ranching, farming, mining, and tourism are the mainstay of Colfax County.

Curry County
Curry County was created 25 February 1909. It was formerly part of Roosevelt and Quay Counties. It is a smaller county and prospered  due to early railroad building. Farming , ranching, and military bases have given it a healthy economy over the years.

De Baca
De Baca County was created 28 February 1917. The County seat is Fort Sumner. De Baca County was named for Ezequiel C. de Baca, New Mexico's second Governor under statehood. The dedication of the present day courthouse was on 24 November 1930. De Baca County is heavily engaged in sheep and cattle ranching. Farming is also abundant due to the valuable waters coming from the Pecos River. The outlaw named William Bonney, alias Billy the Kid, was shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett 14 July 1881.

Dona Ana County
Doña Ana County was created 9 January 1852. It was named for a lady named, Doña Ana Robledo who in the 17th century gave money to many charities. Las Cruces is the county seat and it is the home of NMSU. This area is laced with history from the Mesilla area obtained from the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, to Hatch--chili capital of the world, Sunland Park, the White Sands National Monument, Space-shuttle, spy planes, and NASA. It is also rich in agriculture and boasts international commerce.

Eddy County
Eddy County was created 25 February 1889. Charles W. Eddy was a rancher and promoted southeastern New Mexico. Eddy County has large deposits of raw materials like potash, and it is a producer of oil and oil products. The area is excellent for farming with plenty of irrigation water and abundant sunshine. Carlsbad is the county seat. Carlsbad Caverns is a major attraction.

Grant County
Grant County was created 30 January 1868. It was named for General Ulysses S. Grant who became president. Silver City is the county seat. This county is rich with copper, gold and other metals. It contains part of the Gila National Forest. Farming and ranching are major businesses.   

Guadalupe County
Guadalupe County  was created 26 February 1891. It was named for the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico. Its county seat is Santa Rosa, which is on the Pecos River and known as the City of Natural lakes with many spring fed lakes. In 1540, Coronado searched for the Seven Cities of Cibola. He camped near Puerto de Luna, which is six miles south of Santa Rosa. He built the first bridge in New Mexico. It went over the Pecos River.

Harding County
Harding County was created 4 March 1921. Mosquero is the county seat. The county got its name from President Warren G. Harding. The county is famous for its large ranches and the rugged Canadian River Canyon. Increasingly of importance is chemical production for the oil industry.

Hidalgo County
Hidalgo County was created 25 February 1919. Lordsburg is the county seat. Hidalgo was named for Guadalupe Hidalgo of Mexico. Hidalgo is an open landscape with breath-taking beauty. The railroad once provided income but now farming and ranching are the main businesses. 

Lincoln County
Lincoln County was created 16 January 1869. It was named after Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln County is varied in forests, plains, streams and state parks. It once covered one fourth of New Mexico and was the largest county in the United States of America.  It is the home of the Lincoln County Wars of the 1870's. Carrizozo is the county seat.  Smokey the Bear was a native born Lincoln County icon. This county is multi-cultural and has a friendly easy going citizenry.

Lea County
Lea County was created  7 March 1917. It was created from Chaves and Eddy Counties and named for Captain Joseph Calloway Lea. Lovington is the county seat and the center of a valuable oil industry which has provided many jobs since 1921. Ranching, agriculture, and dairy production are major enterprises which are thriving. The area supports two colleges to serve its ever friendly and diverse citizens.

Los Alamos County
Los Alamos County was created 16 March 1949. The county seat is Los Alamos.  This is the smallest county in New Mexico. Small packages pack a big punch! The famous Manhattan Project was completed here. This county remains important in the nuclear and scientific area. Friendly people, clear skies and fresh air make this a popular county.

Luna County
Luna County was named after Soloman Luna, who was a politician and cattle rancher. It was created in 1901 from Grant and Dona Ana County. The county seat is Deming which was founded in 1881 and officially incorporated in 1902. It was named after Mary Anne Deming, the wife of  Charles Crocker, a railroad businessman.

McKinley County
McKinley County was created 23 February 1899. It was named for William McKinley who was the 25th president of the United States. The county seat is Gallup. Gallup is the center of American Indian Inter-tribal Ceremonial. McKinley boasts a lumber industry, oil refinery, coal mining, and uranium production. It has within its boundaries the Navajo reservation and other Indian lands and ancient attractions.

Mora County
Mora County was created  1 February 1860. Mora is the county seat. Mora refers to several Spanish names in the area. It is prime sportsman's territory offering clean air and clear skies with beautiful views.

Otero County
Otero County was created 30 January 1899. It was named for Miguel A. Otero who was the Territorial Representative to Congress 1856 to 1861. Alamogordo is the county seat. Alamo' is the center of missile testing , spy planes development, White Sands National Monument, and tourism. The Mescalero Apache Reservation is nearby. Otero County offers residents clear skies, clean air, varied surroundings from low plains to peaceful mountains.

Quay County
Quay County was created 28 January 1903. Tucumcari is the county seat. Quay was named for Matthew S. Quay, United States Senator to Pennsylvania. Senator Quay was a leader is bringing statehood to New Mexico Territory. Fishing is the main sports activity in the county. Tourism plays an important role.

Rio Arriba County
Rio Arriba County was created 9 January 1852. It was named for the Spanish name for "upper river" of the Rio Grande River. This is area is part of the partidos of early Spanish rule. The county seat is Tierra Amarilla, and it's the center of outdoor recreation and tourism. The county contains the Jicarilla Apache and the Rio Arriba reservations and the San Juan and Santa Clara Pueblos. Three fresh rivers provide abundant water for agriculture and ranching. 

 Roosevelt County
Roosevelt County was created 28 February 1903. It was named for Theodore Roosevelt who was our 26th President. Roosevelt was part of the New Mexico Rough Riders when he attacked San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. Portales is the county seat. This county has major dairy operations, agriculture, and ranching. It has an ancient history with findings of evidence of civilizations 15,000 years old. 

San Juan
San Juan County was created 24 January 1887. It was named for the San Juan River which begins in the San Juan Mountains. This is the ancient home of the Anasazi. Aztec is the county seat. This county is awash with ancient history, from Aztec Ruins National Monument to Chaco Canyon National Historical Park and the Navajo Nation. This area is rich in agriculture, clean air, open skies, and natural resources.

Sandoval County
Sandoval County was established 10 March 1903. The county seat is Bernalillo. The county was named for the Sandoval family who were early settlers. This county has many attractions like the Bandelier National Monument, Coronado State Monument, many ancient Indian ruins, and excellent hunting and fishing. Tourism is a major source of commerce. 

San Miguel
San Miguel County was established 9 January 1852. The county seat is Las Vegas. The county got its name from the town of San Miguel de Bado which was a crossing at the Pecos River on the Old Spanish Trail. San Miguel is one of the most beautiful counties in New Mexico ranging from mountains to meadows. It has two colleges. Tourism and retirement are of major economic value. 

Sierra County
Sierra County was formed in 3 April 1884 out of portions of Socorro, Grant and Dona Ana Counties. Due to the location and population, Hillsboro became the first county seat. The Hillsboro Post Office was the hub for mail transportation to the surrounding offices in the southern part of the county. This county has many hills and mountains, especially attractive is the Sierra de los Caballos range. Hot Springs, an attractive designation, was the original county seat. It was changed in name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 after the famous TV show. It is commonly known today as T or C. Elephant Butte Lake draws fishermen and tourists from many areas.  

Socorro County
Socorro County was established 1 July 1850. The county seat is Socorro. It was named by Don Juan de Onate. The name means "helpful". This county is prime ranching territory. It also has some of the biggest buck deer in New Mexico. It was also the county in which the first atomic bomb was exploded. 

Taos County
Taos County was created 9 January 1852. Taos is the county seat of Taos County. Taos is an ancient Indian Village built several hundred years ago. This beautiful county is the center for artists and professional people. Tourism is a major commercial activity. Kit Carson loved the area. He lived there several years. 

Torrance County
Torrance County was created 16 March 1903. It is near the heart of New Mexico. It was named for Francis J. Torrance who was an early builder of commerce in New Mexico. Estancia is the county seat.  It is rich in farming, ranching, and orchards. Two railroads cross its lands. Torrance County's Manzano area, saw the first apple orchard planted in the southwest.

Union County
Union County was created 13 February 1893. The county seat is Clayton. Union County was formed from parts of Colfax, Mora, and San Miguel Counties. Researchers might check these related counties for resources. Union was named for the "union" of the counties mentioned. The old Santa Fe Trail traverses Union County. The famous Goodnight-Loving Cattle Drive Trail also crosses Union County. The area is as beautiful as the other Northeast New Mexico Counties.  

Valencia County
Valencia County was created 9 January 1852. The county seat is Los Lunas. It was named for an early town built by Francisco de Valencia. Valencia County is a booming area of New Mexico. Its central location to the major populated counties has resulted in migration to its attractive living areas. Real estate sales are a major part of the economy. The county has a rich mix of professional people, artists, writers, and friendly citizens.

New Mexico Ghost Towns
Click Title to view complete list of New Mexico's ghost towns and some of their histories!

History Index

Return to Main Page
See individual Counties for more history
State History:
-A Cuarto Centennial History of New Mexico
-NM Books before 1910, A Resource
-Brief History of New Mexico
-Brief County Histories
-Struggles Through Time
-Early Spanish Records and Ethnic Identity
-First Statehood Governor of New Mexico
-Glorieta Pass ~ Civil War Battle
-Native American Trails
-Rastros Hispanos
-The First Americans of New Mexico
-Time Line of New Mexico History
-Santa Fe RR Sidings and Places
-Southern Pacific RR Sidings and Places
-Place Names in New Mexico
-Local Family Histories
-Post Office Historical Listing
-New Mexico Zip Codes

Detailed County P.O. History:
Dona Ana
Los Alamos
San Miguel
Santa Fe