About Santa Fe » General » History » Native American History in Santa Fe

The Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona are descendants of the first people to enter the Americas, perhaps 20,000 years ago. These earliest groups, called Paleo-Indians, encountered an environment very different from that of today. The climate was cooler and wetter with glaciers on top of the mountains A wide variety of exotic animals roamed the area, from mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and dire wolves. Paleo-Indian lives were centered on the hunting of large game, but there was still a need to collect plants and seeds, and the people moved their campsites often and over great distances.

As the climate of the Southwest gradually changed to become more like the high deserts we see today, the exotic animals hunted by the Paleo-Indians died off, and so did the Indians’ nomadic way of life.

By 8,000 to 9,000 years ago, the beginnings of a different kind of adaptation and culture called the Archaic emerged in the Southwest. As populations grew, smaller areas were left for hunting. Around the time of the birth of Christ, the first evidence of one of the greatest changes in living appears, agriculture, particularly the growing of corn. Early Puebloan life had begun to focus on agriculture although people still hunted and gathered wild foods and were still somewhat mobile in terms of moving the places where they lived. As farming created the need for less mobility small villages started to appear along the Santa Fe River.

During this period one of the great inventions in the history of the Southwest, pottery, first appeared. Classic period pottery is distinctive not only because of its use of reds and multiple colors, but also because of the invention of lead-based glaze paints on bowls and jars. Pottery jars and bowls were manufactured for cooking, storing, and serving food and water.

Spanish Settlements

Don Juan de Onate and his small band of explorers arrived at the Tewa pueblo of Ohke, 25 miles north of Santa Fe, on July 11, 1598.They renamed the pueblo San Juan de Los Caballeros, in honor of John the Baptist, and here established the first Spanish capital in New Mexico. In 1600 Onate, now Governor General of New Mexico, moves the capital a few miles away to San Gabriel. It was from here that Onate sent out numbers of small scouting parties. These scouting parties continually ventured further and further from their home base, until eventually, they established other colonies throughout what is now the western United States. The most significant and well known of the towns Onate and his followers founded was Santa Fe. Santa Fe (Holy Faith) was established by colonists which moved down from the town of San Gabriel in 1607 and 1608. Onate was removed as governor and sent to Mexico City to be tried for mistreatment of the Indians and abuse of power in 1608.

In 1610, the Viceroy of New Spain appointed conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta Governor and Capitan General of Nuevo Mexico, instructing him to found a new capital and the first villa real (royal city), at Santa Fe. 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.”

In order to understand the character of this region during the period of Spanish domination, it is necessary to understand the civil and religious policies of Spain with respect to its colonies, as well as the cultural heritage of the Spaniards themselves. In the sixteenth century, Spain had only recently driven out the Moors, and in many ways, Spanish culture was a blend of Moorish and European elements. This blend, reflected in part in the Spanish language, was imported to Spanish colonies. Thus, the term adobe is derived from an Arabic verb meaning “to conserve.” The traditional Southwestern “squash blossom” necklace is a copy of the pomegranate flower, which the Moors introduced to Spain, and which was frequently depicted on saddles. In parts of New Mexico, the doors of houses were painted blue, a traditional Arab way of warding off the “evil eye.”

In 1680, the Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spaniards and temporarily drove them from New Mexico. Don Antonio de Otermin attempted reconquest in the 1680s, but it was not until 1693 that Don Diego de Vargas peacefully retook Santa Fe. The Spanish system of government was established in New Mexico between 1693 and 1821. New Mexico became part of the Republic of Mexico in 1821 when Mexico seceded from Spain. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ceded New Mexico to the United States. It was to remain a US territory until 1912, when New Mexico became the 47th state of the United States of America.

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