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Santa Fe


by William H. Wroth

When Hispanic colonists arrived in New Mexico in 1598 under the leadership of Juan de Oñate, they settled at Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan) Pueblo, which Oñate named San Juan de los Caballeros. After living at Ohkay Owingeh for a while, Oñate chose to make Yungé Owingeh, a Pueblo village just across the Rio Grande, the capital of the new Spanish colony, naming it San Gabriel de Yungé. Oñate’s main purpose in colonizing New Mexico was to discover rich gold and silver mines. When he discovered nothing of value and the harsh reality of life in New Mexico became apparent, he resigned under fire for his poor leadership and in 1607 returned to Mexico.

Pedro de Peralta was then appointed governor of New Mexico, and in 1610 he began the construction of a new capital at the present site of Santa Fe. Apparently few or no Pueblo Indians were living at the site which alleviated some of the problems faced by Oñate at San Juan and San Gabriel where he had engendered much friction with the Indians. In the Spanish Laws of the Indies the rules for founding a new town specifically stated that it should be accomplished “without damage to the Indians for occupying the area.” The Laws also stated that the new community should be “in an elevated and healthful location; with means of fortification; fertile soil with plenty of land for farming and pasturage; have fuel, timber and resources; fresh water, a native population.” All of these qualities were found at the site of the Villa de Santa Fe, located as it is in the foothills of the wooded Sierra Madre with a small river running through it and good land for farming.

In 1610 Peralta set about building a town in the Spanish fashion, with the plaza at its center. On the north side of the plaza he built the casa real (royal palace), the government building known today as the Palace of the Governors. Although this structure has gone through many changes, it is counted as the oldest continuously occupied public building in America. Apparently construction of the parish church began on or near the plaza as early as 1610, but when finished it was referred to by Fray Alonso de Benavides as a “poor hut” (jacal). By the late 1620s it had fallen down and was replaced by a more ample structure.

To the south across the Santa Fe River was the Barrio de Analco where the Mexican Indian servants of the Spaniards and other laborers lived. Analco means “other side of the river” in Nahuatl, and it was frequently the name given in colonial Mexico to Tlaxcalan and other Indian barrios which were established next to Spanish presidios and towns. Here by the 1620s a smaller chapel dedicated to San Miguel was built for the use of the Indians, the predecessor of the still-standing San Miguel church. During the period of rebuilding the parish church, 1628 – 1639, it served as the temporary parish for the Hispanic settlers.

Both San Miguel and the new parish church, first dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, were burned in the 1680 Pueblo Rebellion. After Governor Antonio de Otermín and the other Hispanic settlers retreated to El Paso in 1680, Santa Fe was occupied by Tano Indians from the Galisteo Basin and some Tewas from the Rio Grande Pueblos. In the space of twelve years the Indians transformed Santa Fe into a traditional defensive Indian pueblo of three- and four-story dwellings centered around two ceremonial plazas, in the process destroying many of the former homes of the settlers.

After twelve years of Indian possession of Santa Fe, in August 1692 Diego de Vargas with fewer than 50 soldiers arrived at Santa Fe and quickly convinced the Indians to submit again to Spanish rule. Vargas returned to El Paso in 1693 to assemble a party of 70 settlers and their families who returned, along with eighteen Franciscan friars and some Mexican Indians to re-colonize New Mexico. When they reached Santa Fe in December 1693, the Tanos were again in possession of the town and refused to submit. Vargas’s attempts to convince them to surrender were in vain. After camping outside the city for two weeks, he attacked Santa Fe with the aid of allies from Pecos Pueblo, and took possession, following a two-day battle. Some 400 Pueblo residents were taken prisoner and sentenced to ten years of servitude. Another 70 suspected leaders were summarily executed. After the successful Reconquest, which was completed among the eastern Pueblos in 1696, reconstruction of the Villa of Santa Fe proceeded slowly; makeshift arrangements were made for worship until in 1713 a new church was in construction and finally finished in 1717.

With the Pueblo Indians subdued, the population of Santa Fe began to grow in the eighteenth century. The capital was relatively safe from nomadic Indian attacks due to the presence of a small militia, and homes were soon spread out along the river, so that residents could be closer to their fields. In 1776 the urbane Father Francisco Atanasio Domínguez described this situation in decidedly negative terms: “This villa…lacks everything. Its appearance is mournful because not only are the houses of earth, but they are not adorned by any artifice of brush or construction….the Villa of Santa Fe (for the most part) consists of many small ranchos at various distances from one another, with no plan as to their location, for each owner built as he was able, wished to, or found convenient, now for the little farms they have there, now for the small herds of cattle which they keep in corrals of stakes….” Domínguez reported a mixed population of 1167 Hispanics and 164 Genízaros (detribalized Christianized Indians). The latter were now the residents of the Barrio de Analco, since few of the Mexican Indians had returned after the Reconquest.

With the establishment of the Mexican Republic in 1821, trade restrictions with the United States were relaxed. The Santa Fe Trail, a historic trade route from Missouri through Kansas to New Mexico, was opened to traders and trappers from the eastern United States. Goods brought to New Mexico, available from no other source, were sold in Santa Fe and elsewhere at huge profits, and many Anglo-American merchants established themselves in Santa Fe.

By 1837 nearly 200 American merchants and traders were living in Santa Fe, and they played an important role in the resolution of the Rebellion of that year. Governor Albino Pérez was murdered by the rebels who took control of the government in Santa Fe, appointing José Gonzalez of Taos as governor. Among other actions the rebels confiscated the goods of some of the merchants, thus incurring their anger and losing any chance of their support. When in September 1837 Gonzalez went to Taos to meet with other rebel leaders, nearly 1000 troops were mustered to oppose the rebel forces and were placed under the leadership of Manuel Armijo, former governor and wealthy Rio Abajo sheep rancher. The American merchants in Santa Fe provided Armijo with considerable financial and material support, as did wealthy Hispanic families. With the help of over 150 dragoons from Veracruz, Armijo finally defeated the rebels in January 1838, executed Gonzalez and became the new governor of New Mexico.

Armijo was re-appointed governor in 1844, but his reign was brought to an abrupt end by the American occupation in 1846. With the advice of some American merchants Armijo chose not to defend Santa Fe, and in August 1846 General Stephen Kearny and his troops took possession of the city without a battle; Armijo retreated to El Paso. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 the war with Mexico ended and the United States took formal possession of the territory of New Mexico. In 1850 the administration of the Catholic Church in New Mexico was transferred from the authority of the Mexican Church hierarchy to the American Church, and New Mexico’s first bishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy, came to Santa Fe where he served as bishop and archbishop until shortly before his death in 1888.

Soon after arriving in Santa Fe, Lamy became involved in a long series of confrontations with the local clergy. His chief aim was to wrest power from the native-born priests who were highly respected by the populace and to transform Catholicism in New Mexico from Hispanic practices to the northern European model of his native France. One of his few achievements in this direction was the transformation of the Santa Fe cathedral from a traditional adobe structure to a French-inspired stone neo-Romanesque edifice, which was not completed until 1895, seven years after his death. Among his opponents was the popular Taos priest Father Antonio José Martínez, who became the spokesman for the many complaints registered by the other clergy. In 1856 Lamy suspended Martínez from his priestly functions and later excommunicated him. However, Martínez, in defiance of Lamy, continued until the end of his life to celebrate mass in private chapels in Taos and to officiate at baptisms, marriages, and funerals for his family members and large circle of followers. Although Lamy was respected, he never succeeded in significantly changing Catholic practice and values in New Mexico, even in the more urbane capital, Santa Fe.

Travel on the Santa Fe Trail reached its peak in 1866 when 5000 loads of goods and supplies were carried by wagon from Missouri to New Mexico. After that year the railroads began to spread across Kansas, quickly ending the importance of the Trail. In February 1880 the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad reached Santa Fe, signaling the end of the Santa Fe Trail as a freighting route to the Southwest. The railroad also introduced a new era of Anglo-American settlement and tourism to Santa Fe and with it came a new appreciation of the Indian and Hispanic cultures of New Mexico. These cultures were romanticized by local promoters in order to attract tourists, but the beneficial aspect of this romanticism was a true appreciation of the values and achievements of the indigenous cultures. The remarkable traditional architecture found in Santa Fe and other communities caught the attention ofoutsiders, newly arrived by railroad.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Santa Fe became a mecca for Americans disenchanted with the industrialized east. Many writers, artists, and patrons of the arts flocked to Santa Fe, making it the cultural center of New Mexico. Statehood was finally granted to New Mexico in 1912 and the appointed territorial governor and other office holders were replaced by elected officials. An early preservation movement in Santa Fe headed by architect John Gaw Meem and others in the 1920s led to strict zoning laws intended to protect the traditional architecture of Santa Fe and prevent it from being transformed into an “ordinary American city.” For better and for worse, Santa Fe has become in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries a major tourist destination; real estate values have increased dramatically, gradually forcing local people out of their homes in old neighborhoods and creating an inflated economy buoyed not only by tourism but by the many part-time residents who maintain expensive homes there.

Sources Used:

Adams, Eleanor B. and Fray Angelico Chavez, eds. The Missions of New Mexico, 1776. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1956.

Chavez, Fray Angélico. Santa Fe Church and Convent Sites in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. In: New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 24, no. 2 (1949).

Kessell, John L. The Missions of New Mexico since 1776. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1980.

Kubler, George. The Religious Architecture of New Mexico. Colorado Springs: The Taylor Museum, 1940.

Sze, Corinne P. and Beverley Spears. Santa Fe Historic Neighborhood Study. Santa Fe: City of Santa Fe, 1988.

Treib, Marc. Sanctuaries of Spanish New Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Twitchell, Ralph E. Old Santa Fe. Santa Fe: New Mexican, 1925.

Wilson, Chris. The Myth of Santa Fe. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Latitude: 3541
Longitude: 10556