All told, we came to Santa Fe to see one thing – the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. My determination was mostly driven by the fact that I had visited Santa Fe twice many years ago – and both times, the museum was closed for some reason or another, blocking me from entering a museum dedicated to one of my favorite artists. Unfortunately before we arrived and in the time of Covid, the museum required advanced reservations which I failed to acquire. Once again, O’Keeffe’s inspiring canyon art eluded me. But I was fine with that and found peace from two things; first our visit to Santa Fe and its surrounding areas proved to be more interesting than one artist’s work, and second, the ghost of O’Keeffe would come back to us on our trip through New Mexico in a more awesome way.
But for now, forget modern day Santa Fe and all its art galleries and its Pueblo-inspired adobe architecture; instead, enjoy a casual version from a casual tourist’s blog of New Mexico’s interesting history that came to light during our 3-day stay near the state’s capital. This is when we discovered the ‘Land of Enchantment’ has a rich past, more colorful than its exquisite landscape. During our stay, we had time to hike the Galisteo Preserve near town and to visit Pecos National Historical Park. And it is here where we go back in time, way back in time. (Enjoy the slideshow of some images from our hike in the beautiful Galisteo Preserve).
Once upon a time thousands of years before AD 1100, Ancestral Pueblo people hunted and gathered in the Upper Pecos Valley that is between the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the Glorieta Mesa, east of Santa Fe. Over time, people gravitated to locations with water sources and began farming and building above ground villages or pueblos. Eventually, the many pueblos that dotted the landscape consolidated into one larger settlement known as Pecos Pueblo. Containing five-story complexes, the sophisticated pueblo with its innovative architecture had grown to over 2000 people by 1400.
By the time the Spaniards arrived in the mid-1500s, Pecos Pueblo was the largest and most powerful Pueblo in the area. Known as the Cicuye or the ‘village of 500 warriors”, the Pecos Pueblo became a successful trade center that connected the people to the Plains cultures such as the Comanche and to the Spanish explorers.
From its first contact with the Pueblos, Spain began to colonize and aggressively establish Franciscan missions within the largest pueblo communities. This was Spain’s attempt to control every aspect of the Pueblo world, from economics to belief systems.
In 1680, an inevitable turn of events occurred – the Pecos Pueblo revolted. Rumblings of a revolt had been going on for a while. Five years prior, several Pueblo holy men were publicly flogged (or executed) for sorcery. One of the flogged men was Po’Pay, a religious leader of the OhKay Owingeh or San Juan Pueblo. Not to be messed with, Po’Pay organized and led the revolt which caused the Spanish to turn tail and run back to Mexico. Po’Pay called upon his people to eradicate Spanish language, customs, and beliefs. Today, a statue of Po’Pay stands in the capital of New Mexico.
But, like a bad penny, the Spanish came back 12 years later, led by Don Diego de Vargas and proceeded to forcibly take over New Mexico and re-establish its missions at many of the pueblos, including Pecos Pueblo. The new group of colonists and a few displaced settlers risked their lives to make new homes and reclaim what they lost. This time however, they came back as a ‘kinder and gentler’ lot by removing forced labor and providing the Pueblos justification for remaining on friendly terms with them.
Nothing is perfect and it would be nice if we could all get along, right? Through the 1700s, the Pecos People slowly dwindled in number, largely from diseases introduced by the Comanche who came raiding on their horses from the plains and brought with them the European-introduced diseases. The site was abandoned in 1838 and the survivors moved to Jemez Pueblo.
Meanwhile, Mexico was leading a 10-yr violent revolt against Spain and in 1821, became independent. The revolutionary government made three promises to its people – independence from Spain, Catholicism would be Mexico’s only religion, and equality for all Mexicans. Territory of New Mexico was now part of Mexico.
Meanwhile, the Santa Fe trail that connected Missouri to New Mexico was pioneered around the time of Mexico’s declared independence and until 1880 (pre-railroad), served as a significant commercial highway. Santa Fe was at the center of it all, as a part of a trade route from Mexico City as well as the United States to the east. Lots of interesting things happened along that trail, not the least of which was because it crossed through Comanche territory.
Along comes 1846 at which time the American army was using the Santa Fe trail to invade New Mexico during the Mexican-American war, as well as killing off the bison to remove power from the Comanche and other Plains Indians. The war that began in 1846 and ended in 1848 did not have bipartisan support in the U.S. government. Democrats, most especially the southern types, were riled up by President Polk’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ and wanted to add slave-owning territory to the south to avoid being outnumbered by the faster growing North. Others, especially Republicans were not keen on the war. Yet it happened and ended with a treaty that gave U.S. control over Texas, established the US-Mexican border along the Rio Grande, and ceded several states including New Mexico. In return, Mexico received $15 million less than half the amount offered to Mexico before the war began.
And let’s be clear on the Manifest Destiny because this was at the heart of the Mexican-American war, the westward expansion of the United States, and the American Civil War – “the idea that the people of US would inevitably settle the continent from Atlantic to Pacific ocean. The concept centered around the belief that Anglo-Saxons were a special race and rightfully the superiors of other peoples. Their expansion would also spread the blessings of Protestant faiths and democracy. Fulfilling the destiny was important and could be accomplished by force if needed.”
And speaking of accomplishing by force, New Mexico played a significant role during the civil war. If you do visit Pecos Historical National Park, you can learn about an important battle on the Glorieta Pass where the Union forces ended the Confederate’s drive to cut off the West from the Union in 1862. The Union won that battle by the way.
We never realized before that our travels through the American southwest would be, among others a continuation of our Civil War lessons. But one thing is certain – before 1848 and to its present day, New Mexico has it going on and our immersion had only just begun.