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Santa Fe: History

Native American and Spanish Influences

During prehistoric times a village built by the Tano tribe stood on the site now occupied by Santa Fe. Evidence from the Tano culture, uncovered in the few ruins left by Spanish settlers, indicates that civilization existed on the site as far back as 1050 to 1150 A.D. The settlement was abandoned around 200 years before the arrival of the Spanish. The spot was called Kuapoga—"place of the shell beads near the water"—by the Pueblos. Santa Fe was founded in either 1607 or 1609 (there is some confusion about the year) by Don Pedre de Peralta, the third governor of the Province of New Mexico, who built the Palace of Governors and the Plaza and planned a walled city. The palace was occupied by a succession of sixty Spanish governors for more than 200 years, and Santa Fe has been a seat of government since its founding.

Throughout Spanish rule of the territory Santa Fe was a center for exploration and mission work. Franciscan friars built eleven churches and by 1617 had converted more than 14,000 Native Americans to their form of Christianity. Conflict arose, however, when the Native Americans continued to practice their own religion. In 1680 a number of the Spanish settlers were killed in a conflict with natives; the survivors fled to El Paso del Norte, abandoning the town. The Native Americans established their own community in Santa Fe; occupying the palace and appointing a governor, they held the town for twelve years until the arrival of De Vargas, Spanish governor of the province. He made peace and returned the following year with a statue of the Christian New Testament's Virgin Mary. Making his entry on the site of present day Rosario Chapel, he vowed to pay yearly homage to "Our Lady of Victory." Since that time, in fulfillment of this vow the De Vargas Procession has been held in Santa Fe.

Mexico and United States Claim Santa Fe

When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, Santa Fe came under the control of Mexico. Trade was then opened between Santa Fe and the United States over a route that came to be known as the Santa Fe Trail. In 1846 the United States claimed Santa Fe; the city has been under U.S. jurisdiction ever since, except for two weeks during the Civil War when the Confederates seized control after the battle of Valverde. The Santa Fe Trail eventually fell into disuse when rail travel advanced to the region. Santa Fe flourished, however, benefiting from the new trade connections that were made possible by the railroad.

City Becomes Art Colony, Capital of State

Around the turn of the century, artists, attracted by the climate and the beauty of the area, moved to Santa Fe, and the city soon became popular as an art colony. When New Mexico attained statehood in 1912, Santa Fe, as the capital, entered a period of prosperity; government workers arrived to live in the city and federal and state buildings were constructed around the Plaza. By 1920 the population had grown from 5,000 to more than 7,000 people, and by the 1940s it was over 20,000 people.

In 1957 the city established zoning codes designed to maintain a uniform architectural style. Two types of architecture are permitted: Pueblo, characterized by rounded parapets and rough-hewn woodwork, and Territorial, featuring brick coping and milled, often decorative woodworking.

Santa Fe's populace reflects the city's Native American, Spanish, and Anglo heritage, and the cultural traditions of these groups have been retained. However, after an influx of new residents in the 1980s, the 1990 census reported that for the first time since the city's founding, Hispanic residents were a minority. During the 1990s the city experienced some tensions between locals—many of them poor—and newcomers, who are driving up the cost of housing and otherwise altering the landscape. Economic frustrations continue into the early 2000s, as wages linger at almost 20 percent below the national average, while the cost of living has remained well above the national average. The city has taken steps to remedy the issue; a "living wage" city ordinance was passed in 2003 to raise minimum wages.

Historical Information: Fra Angelico Chavez Memorial History Library and Photographic Archive, 110 Washington Ave., Santa Fe, NM 87504; telephone (508)476-5090. Special Collections, Santa Fe Community College Library, telephone (505)428-1352