New Mexico Family History Research
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This entry was originally written by Karen Stein Daniel, CG and Margaret Windham for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
History of New Mexico
Among the western states, New Mexico is unique. Before the first presidio, or military post, was erected in Alta, California, New Mexico had celebrated its sesquicentennial; it would see its bicentennial even before Brigham Young would gaze upon the valley of the Great Salt Lake.
As early as 1540, Coronado traveled across New Mexico from Arizona, going as far north as Kansas. Four decades later, Rodriquez explored what is now New Mexico, with Espejo and Oñate expeditions following suit. In 1598, Oñate established the first Spanish settlement in the Rio Grande Valley. Santa Fe was established in the early seventeenth century, bringing the Spanish-speaking population to 2,400 by 1680. That same year Native Americans revolted, reclaiming their homeland, but by 1693 New Mexico had been reconquered and reoccupied.
Over a century passed before Mexico revolted against Spain in 1821, gaining its independence, with the area that is now New Mexico included in the newly independent country. In 1844 New Mexico land was divided into three districts: Central, Northern, and Southeastern. Six years later, in 1850, the Central District was divided into the counties of Santa Fe, Santa Ana, and San Miguel; the Northern District was divided into Rio Arriba and Taos counties; and the Southeastern District was divided into Valencia and Bernalillo.
United States expansionism had been one of the factors provoking the Mexican War in 1846, with General Kearny occupying Santa Fe. When the war ended in 1848, Mexico ceded the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty territories, including almost all of the southwestern lands, and New Mexico became a part of the United States. Two years later, in 1850, Congress created the Territory of New Mexico, setting up a territorial government within a year. The Gadsden Purchase in 1854 established the present southern border of New Mexico. In 1877 telegraph lines were erected from New Mexico to San Diego, providing the communication needed for more settlement.
The reason for New Mexico’s early settlement was simply that it was easily reached by anyone coming from the Spanish and Mexican strongholds via the Rio Grande. Important as a means of travel, the river was not only lifeblood for the weary traveler, but it also insured the growth of crops. Not only were the citizens of New Mexico forced to defend themselves against marauding natives as well as aggressive Texans who looked wistfully to the west for expansion, they had to endure their own indifferent public officials as well. From the founding of Santa Fe in 1610, the inhabitants of New Mexico waited 302 years for the benefits of statehood.
New Mexico entered the Union in 1912 as the population reached 300,000, with many of the people living on small land holdings. In recognition of the entry of the state into the modern technological world, the county of Los Alamos came into being in March 1949. It was there during World War II, with the development of the atom bomb, that the country prepared to bring the war to its eventual conclusion.
Today New Mexico is a mixture of cultures and political philosophies, a center for both nuclear, technological research, and new-age living set on a backdrop of Native American and Mexican cultures.