Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, capital of New Mexico founded about 1609 by governor Pedro de Peralta (ca. 1584–1666). The villa stood close to the banks of the upper Rio Grande at the southernmost tip of the Sangre de Cristo mountains; to the east were the plains; to the west, the pueblos. To the southwest were the river communities and the Camino Real (Royal Road) that tied New Mexico to the rest of New Spain and the world beyond.

Santa Fe played a crucial role in the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680. In August the pueblos, briefly united in their hatred of the injustices of the colonial system, laid siege to the capital and forced the Spaniards to flee, first to Isleta, some 70 miles to the south, and then to El Paso. Thirteen years later, Diego de Vargas (d. 1704) led a recolonizing force into New Mexico. In the Battle of Santa Fe (29 December 1693), he retook the capital with the help of Pecos Pueblo auxiliaries who had grown disillusioned with pueblo rule. This was the last major battle in Santa Fe history, and by 1697 Vargas had subdued the last of the rebellious pueblos and completed the reconquest of New Mexico.

Santa Fe developed into a unique Hispanic frontier community in the eighteenth century. Although a presidio town that lived under the constant threat of attack from Navajo and Ute Indians, Santa Fe was not walled and its settlement pattern was notably decentralized. It hardly resembled other fortified presidios nor did it have the strict gridlike pattern of most other Hispanic cities. Santa Fe was an agricultural community of 2,542 people in 1790. Other than the occasional trade caravan that came up the Royal Road from Chihuahua with luxury items, New Mexico and its capital lived in isolation and became nearly self-sufficient.

New Mexico's role in the fight for independence from Spain was small; of more importance to the isolated community was the end of the Spaniards' monopoly on trade. In 1821 William Becknell brought a small trade caravan from Missouri to Santa Fe and found a ready market for his goods. The opening of the Santa Fe Trail that tied New Mexico to the United States affected the frontier community immediately. Calicos and gingham fabrics were found in most houses; American styles and furniture became commonplace on the streets and in homes. The duties collected from the traders supplemented the town's meager income.

In the New Mexico Revolution of 1837, the rebels from the northern communities held Santa Fe for a short time until the capital was retaken by former and future governor Manuel Armijo. And in 1846 General Stephen W. Kearny marched into the town without bloodshed and established U.S. rule. Santa Fe remained the capital when New Mexico became a U.S. Territory in 1850 and when statehood was achieved in 1912.

Today Santa Fe draws large numbers of tourists for its climate, culture, and history. In 2005 the estimated population was 70,631, making Santa Fe the third-largest city in New Mexico.

See alsoNew Mexico; Pueblo Rebellion.


Dary, David. The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore. New York: Knopf, 2000.

Gregg, Josiah. Commerce of the Prairies, edited by Max L. Moorehead (1954).

Hazen-Hammond, Susan. A Short History of Santa Fe (1988).

Horgan, Paul. The Centuries of Santa Fe (1976).

Noble, David Grant, ed. Santa Fe: History of an Ancient City (1989).

Pérez de Villagrá, Gaspar. A History of New Mexico. Chicago: Rio Grande Press, 1962.

Simmons, Marc. Yesterday in Santa Fe: Episodes in a Turbulent History (1969).

Tobias, Henry Jack, and Charles E. Woodhouse. Santa Fe: A Modern History, 1880–1990. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.

                                     Aaron Paine Mahr

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Santa Fe, New Mexico

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