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                                Spanish Settlers Story

~ Early Explorers of NM ~ The conquistadors of NM ~  Don Juan  Onate and the First Settlers ~

What they brought ~ The new settlement ~ Moorish-Spanish Irrigation in NM ~ Early NM Architecture ~

Women and the Home  ~ Pastoral Culture ~ The Culture of Northern NM ~ The Franciscan Missions ~

The Catholic Church of Northern NM ~ The Early Government in NM ~ Education ~ The Pueblo Revolt ~

Reconquest ~ Trading Fairs ~ Trade after 1821 ~ Pack Loading ~  El Camino Real de Tierra Andentro ~

Santa Fe Trail ~ Old Spanish Trail ~ Trappers Trail ~ Los Caminos Antiquos ~ Canyon Largo Road ~

Important Events ~ Settlement Patterns ~ Conclusion ~


                       Early Explorers of New Mexico


        After the conquest of Mexico, Spain was looking for more land to conquer.

The fabled “Seven Cities of Cibola” lured the Conquistadors toward the North, along      

the Rio Grande River.  The Spanish explorers that came into New Mexico were,

Cabeza de Vaca 1536; Francisco Vasquez de Coronado 1540; Francisco de lbarra

1583-1585; Francisco Sanchez Chamuscado 1590; Don Antonio Espejo 1582-1583;

Juan de Humana and Francisco Leiva Bonilla to the  Purgatore River; and Don Juan

Onate who searched in vain for treasure, went north into CO, east as far as KA

and as far west as Yuma AZ (1598-1601) .  Each of the Spanish explorers claimed

the New World for Spain.

Early Explorers of NM ~ Spanish Settlers Story   ~ 


                     The Conquistadors of New Mexico


          The Conquistadors were given the mandate: “Conquest and Pacification of New

Mexico”.  They came to look for gold and riches; to convert the Indians; as an outpost

to protect the northern border lands of New Mexico against the trespass of other

Europeans; and to provide a home base for further exploration and forays.

Conquistadores had “state of the art weapons”, Toledo swords, rifles, gun powder,

cannons, and the horse.  The horse and rider trained for battle, in full armor, was a

military war machine.  Only the soldiers at the persidio had firearms and ammunition.

 ~ The conquistadors of NM ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                   Don Juan Onate and the First Settlers


          The Spanish colonists that came to Northern NM from Mexico in 1598, were

brought here by Don Juan Onate.  He was a very wealthy man from Zacatecas MX,

who won a contract from the Spanish Government in 1595 to lead the Settlers into

New Mexico.  It took three years of preparation for the trip.  Don Juan Onate

personally financed the expedition.  He spent one million dollars (1598 money), the

most spent on exploration, until the space programs in the late 20th Century. He and

his fellow Conquistador companions (who sold their estates to make the trip) were

hopeful of landing a windfall, as Hernando Cortez did in Mexico, and the status of

Hildago (minor nobility)   The 83 wagon caravan stretched four miles long.  It included

800 people, 7,000 head of livestock, wheeled wagons and carts, metal tools, and

supplies to outfit a new community.  It took over six months to travel, on ancient

Indian foot paths.  This newly forged road was named the El Camino Real de

Tierra Adentro. 


          The Spanish that came to New Mexico were the first pioneers in the US.  The

distance from Spain to the port at Vera Cruz MX was 3000 nautical miles.  From the port

at Vera Cruz, they had to travel overland three months to reach Mexico City.  It took an

additional six more months (1,700 miles) to get to New Mexico.  In comparison, the

distance between England and the NE Coast of the US was 2000 nautical miles.  The

English Settlers could practically fall off the ships in port and swim to shore.

 ~  Don Juan  Onate and the First Settlers ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                            What they Brought 


          The Spanish  brought first domestic animals to New Mexico (and north America), 

Churro sheep, goats, hogs, cattle, chickens, mules, donkeys, and horses.  Oxen were

used to pull wagons and the plow.  The donkey and mule were the primary animals

used for the pack trains in Mexico and New Mexico.  Milk and milk products from dairy

cows and goats were a “first” in both Mexico and New Mexico.  


          Spain continued her equestrian culture here in New Mexico.  The horse was

the primary conveyance, indispensable for the military.  The first cowboys (“the

Vaquero”)  and the cowboy culture in the US originated with the Spanish Settlers in NM. 

The horse was the animal that had the most impact on the SW.  The Ute Indians were

the first Indians to get the horse (1598), and in only one generation the horse spread

from New Mexico to the Northwest Tribes.  The horse gave the Indians the advantage

in battle and ability to hunt the buffalo more efficiently and war against the Spanish.


          The Settlers brought cultivated foods such as wheat, barley, lettuce, cabbage,

carrots, cucumbers, garlic, lettuce, onions, peas, turnips, radishes, cucumbers, and

more.  They also brought Mediterranean fruit and nut trees, citrus, grape vines and

Mexican foods such as chili, tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, and spices from SE Asia. 

There were no additional animals or plants brought by subsequent Europeans.  The

original American heirloom fruit and garden seeds all come from New Mexico.


          Other “firsts” brought by the Spanish  were iron tools, the plow, sickle, and hoe,

and wheeled carts and wagons.

 ~ What they brought ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                               The New Settlement


          The traveling settlers finally stopped at San Juan Pueblo in 1598, at the

confluence of the Rio Grande River with the Chama River near where Espanola NM is

today.  The Colonists first stopped at a place they named San Juan Bautista, but after

only a month they moved across the river and resettled at San Gabriel (deserted

Yunque Pueblo).  Spanish, St. Augustine FL (1565 - NE Coast of FL) was the first

permanent European settlement in the US, followed by the second permanent

settlement, San Gabriel NM (1598, the first inland settlement in US).  The first state

capitol in New Mexico was San Gabriel, not Santa Fe.


          The colonists faced many hardships from the beginning. Even though the terrain

was similar to Southern Spain and North Africa (aridity, high mountains and deserts –

2150’ average elevation), they had moved to a high mountain plateau (6500’ average

elevation).  Here they found a cold dry climate, short growing seasons, harsh winters,

and thin rivers.  Many of the original colonists were from a wealthy class, who had

lived in Mexico with a lavish life style.  Things became so difficult, that many of the

original settlers left when Don Onate was away on his exploratory expeditions.  More

settlers did, however, come up from Mexico on subsequent caravans to replace the

absent settlers.

 ~ The new settlement ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                     Moorish-Spanish Irrigation in New Mexico


          One of the first projects Don Onate undertook was the construction of a canal,

the “San Gabriel Ditch” (now the Acequita de Chamita) which is the oldest working

non-Indian canal in the US today.  Before Don Onate came to New Mexico, maps of the

area were made by a series of Spanish Explorers, showing the terrain, rivers, streams,

forests and grazing land.  The location of each community was based on access to

water. and were planned accordingly.  The acequia (canal) culture in New Mexico was

patterned after the extensive irrigation system in Southern Spain, built by the Moors. 

The main ditch was called the acequia madre, which had lateral ditches leading off to

individual fields  (flood irrigation).  They built diversion dams, dams, head gates, locks,

etc.  People living along the acequias formed “irrigator groups” directed by a ditch

superintendent (mayordomo)  who was elected by the members.  Each spring

members were required to clean the ditch, make repairs, and confer on relevant

matters concerning water distribution and community affairs.  Working acequias are

found today along all the rivers and streams in New Mexico and Southern Colorado. 

The oldest Water Right in Colorado is the “San Luis Valley People’s Ditch”.

 ~ Moorish-Spanish Irrigation in NM  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                              Early New Mexico Architecture


          They adopted the thick walled  “abobe” architecture of the Moors and Arabs.

The Pueblo Indians also used abobe, but the construction techniques were different.

The Spanish began with foundations.  They used wooden forms to make adobe bricks

for the walls.  The Indians did not use foundations and formed their walls using hand

shaped abobe.  To the make roofs both groups placed horizontal vegas (tree trunks)

across the top of the walls, adding latillas (small branches laid over the vegas), covered

by a layer of earth 2 to 3  feet thick.  They had plenty of lumber but no mills.  The

Spanish also constructed corner fireplaces (fogones), outside ovens (hornos), and a

place to store food (dispensa).  When the Santa Fe Tail began (1821), the merchants

brought manufactured doors, windows, and metal roofing to New Mexico.  Soon the

pitched roof with gables became the new northern New Mexico Style.


          They established small communities with a fortress like style and a central

courtyard (plaza).  The settlers had to defend themselves because, the Tribal Indian

raids were unrelenting.  They had underground passages leading from one house to

another, and to a defense tower (torreon).  The earliest civilian towns settled next to

the missions.  Only three villas were settled at the time of the Pueblo Revolt (1680),

San Gabriel, Santa Fe and Taos Town.

 ~ Early NM Architecture ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                  Women and the Home


          Without the hard work of the women the settlement would not have succeeded.

Only married women accompanied the expeditions.  The women that came to New

Mexico were primarily Aztecs that accompanied the two official colonization expeditions

in 1598 and 1692.  Not only did they care for their families and home in such adverse

conditions, but tended to the sick, acted as midwifes, helped in the gardens and fields,

took care of animals, and defended their homes when need be.  They brought the Aztec

way of keeping a home, the discipline, values, coupled with Spanish customs.  These

traditions continue even today, as the women are renown for their hospitality and


  ~ Women and the Home  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~

          Their comfortable homes were built with a basic design and were furnished with

handcrafted items such as the furniture, rugs, blankets, tapestries, ornamental tin and

iron work, and home shrines.


          They made their own homespun wool, buckskin clothing and moccasins.  Many

went to the fairs in Chihuahua to buy Manila shawls, textiles and clothing.


          They planted, harvested and preserved food.  Adobe cellars were filled with

root vegetables and orchard  fruit for winter storage.  Some foods were dried for

preservation such as fruit, beans, chili and meat. The delicious Northern New Mexico

style food is unique to this region.  It’s origin is primarily from the Aztec and Mayan

recipes and foods of Mexico, plus all the foods the Spanish brought to Mexico.

 ~ Women and the Home  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                      Pastoral Culture


            From the start they were a pastoral culture. Sheep raising was the primary

source of income.  Because hard money was so difficult to obtain, sheep became the

unit of exchange (one or two pesos per animal).  The sheep by-products were meat,

wool, tallow, pelts, blankets, clothing and rugs.  New Mexicans drove large herds to

Chihuahua and Sonora Mexico.  In addition  half a million sheep were driven from New

Mexico to California every year on the Old Spanish Trail.  During the California Gold

Rush New Mexico sheep were driven to unlimited markets.  In 1854 the sheep industry

price collapse ended the first phase of New Mexico trade with California.

 ~ Pastoral Culture ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                     The Culture of Northern New Mexico


            The 16th and 17th Medieval Spanish Colonists brought their Medieval language,

religion, culture, music and the arts.  The culture was set by the earliest Spanish Settlers

in the 17th Century.  This included folk songs, waltzes, polkas, ballads, tales, poetry,

parables, folk plays, ritual dramas, Spanish stylized christenings, weddings, and local

fiestas.  The musical instruments in early New Mexico were the violin, guitar and the


  ~ The Culture of Northern NM ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~

            Spanish weaving tradition came to NM, using the four legged, four harness

loom.  Spanish, Mexican and Indian designs were incorporated into their New Mexico

style weaving.  They wove textiles in both cotton and wool.  They made rugs, carpets,

yardage for clothing, blankets, bedding, tapestry, and the striped Rio Grande blankets. 

They imported and used local dyes and pigments.  Later the woman began colcha

stitch embroidery using wool thread.


            The carpenters made furniture, chests, boxes, doors, short and tall standing

cabinets, built in cabinets, benches, chairs, tables, and beds.  The used locally available

wood, the pine and cottonwood. 


            The wood carvers embellished the furniture with relief carving.  They also

carved posts, beams corbels doors, gates, and window trims.

  ~ The Culture of Northern NM ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~

            Wood carvers also made religious items such as alter screens, and Franciscan

style santos (devotional images of saints), retablos, and bultos. The prototypes for this

religious art were brought up on the caravans.  It was to expensive to get religious icons

from Spain – so they fashioned their own out of pine and cottonwood.  Some were



            Blacksmiths made household items such as decorative art, hardware and tools.

Forges were built, and they used tongs, sledges, vises, files and punches.  There were

silversmiths, and filigree jewelers.  Tinsmiths did decorative art on mirrors and picture

frames, candle holders, crosses, and lamps.  Artists did oil painting for the home and

the church.

            Traveling performers (maromeros) came up the El Camino Real to entertain

the New Mexicans (19th Century).  There were plays, trapeze artists, actors, singers,

clowns, troubadours, folk plays and folk songs.  The maromeros accepted barter for



            About three times a year Peddlers traveled to the settlements with goods

from Spain, Mexico or items manufactured in the East.  The Varillero sold notions,

small household items, personal items, medicas, home remedies and religious icons

(on credit).   

 ~ The Culture of Northern NM ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                             The Franciscan Missions


          Franciscan Missionaries traveled with all the expeditions coming up from

Mexico, into New Mexico.  At each Pueblo was established a Franciscan Mission,

protected by the military.  The Franciscan missionaries forced the Pueblo Indians to

become Catholic.  The Priests denounced the religion of the Pueblos and destroyed

anything that was sacred to the Indians.  In order to practice their own religion the

Indians went underground.  All the early missions in New Mexico were built with the

labor of Indians   The Spanish demanded both labor and tribute from the Pueblo

Indians (encomienda).  New Mexico became a government subsidized Franciscan

Mission for Pueblo Indians, for over 200 years. The Priests were busy with the Indians,

and the settlers were largely on their own.  The responsibility of New Mexico religious

affairs was handled locally by the Priests, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of

Durango Mexico.  The educated padres and missionaries were of the higher social

cast in Spain. The Governor was in charge of the local secular affairs of the church.  

The number of early Franciscans Missions built were, 51 in New Mexico, 19 in Arizona,

23 in California and 44 in Texas. 

 ~ The Franciscan Missions ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                The Catholic Church of Northern New Mexico


          The Spanish Catholic Church in northern New Mexico became a blend of the

religious aspects of the cultures of Spain, the Moors, the Aztecs, and the Eight Northern

Pueblos of the Rio Grande.  Over the 250 years of isolation they formed their own

Catholic Community that is different from any other group in the Catholic World.  The

church had their world of saints and the Indians had their world of Indian deities. Even

today they continue to celebrate festivals and feast days together.  Thus connecting

them to the ancient people of the Pueblos, Spain and Mexico.  The settlers became

very religious as all people do in times of tribulation. They performed more religious

dramas, pastorelas and folk plays than their contemporaries in either California or Mexico.


          The Franciscan priests began leaving New Mexico in the 1790’s.  After 1821

when Mexico gained her independence from Spain, the Catholic Priests were expelled

from all over the Americas.  (In 1891 the Franciscan Priests returned to New Mexico)

Now there was a shortage of priests.  Here in New Mexico secular priests took their

place, and the secularization of the missions began.  Catholic Laymen kept the church

alive by organizing the “Hermanos Penitente Brotherhood” (Penitentes), which continued

to perform Christian services, spiritual rites and rituals.  The organization was politically

active.  They dealt with community affairs, legal issues, economic needs, water rights,

and charity.  The settlers had simple parish churches, some of which today, are

historical monuments.  Their architectural style was Spanish/Moorish/Pueblo of New Mexico.


          In 1832 Padre Antonio Jose Martinez of Taos became authorized as the last of

the Franciscan authority of the Catholic Church in New Mexico under the jurisdiction

of the Bishop of Durango.  Some of his work included obtaining the first printing press

in Taos, printing a newspaper, textbooks, political and religious material, founding the

first co-educational school in NM, and establishing a seminary for Native Clergy.

 ~ The Catholic Church of Northern NM  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~

          In the 1850’s Father Jean Baptiste Lamy from France became the first bishop

of Santa Fe.  He brought a large number of Priests from France and other European

countries.  He came to New Mexico to discipline and reform the New Mexico Spanish

clergy. The cathedral he had built in Santa Fe was constructed after the manner of

French cathedrals and not the local architectural style.  He excommunicated some of

the Spanish clergymen, including the acting Padre Martinez (who continued to

administer to the people’s spiritual and temporal needs).  Archbishop Lamy also tried

to stop the Penitentes, and discredit the handmade religious folk art of the colonists.

The Penitentes were driven underground in the late 1800’s.


          As the settlers moved north, away from established missions, the Padre from

their respective home towns had to travel to their new location to provide Religious

Sacraments.  In 1856 Farther Montano was the first priest that came to Guadalupe,

Conejos County CO.  There were twenty-five missions from Saguache to Northern

New Mexico (1871-1920).  The Jesuits now managed Catholic affairs.

 ~ The Catholic Church of Northern NM  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                        The Early Government in New Mexico


            The Government in New Mexico was “Spanish” from the beginning.  Unlike         

the loose English groups that settled on the East Coast, New Mexico had an intact

civil and military organization.  Chihuahua Mexico was the Commandancy capitol of

the Internal Provinces.


            All the New Mexico Governors (military men) were appointed by the King of

Spain.  They came from either Spain or Mexico (not the locals).  Their tenure was

three (+) years.  The Governor had the authority over both the civil and military. 


            As the Military Commandant, the Governor (Capitan General) defended the

settlers and called up troops;  was chief justice and the principal civil and criminal

magistrate; he approved and established all new settlements.  “The Laws of the Indies”

(given by the Spanish Crown) dictated the pattern of development.  The settlement

sites were small scattered communities, only able to support a limited population.


            The direct line of authority in New Mexico, started with the Teniente Alcalde,

(Alcalde: civil official, with executive, legislative and judicial powers) Alcalde Mayor,

Governor of NM, Audiencia of Guadalajara to the King of Spain, and the King of Spain.


            The local authority was the Secretary of Government and town council (Cabildo), 

lieutenant governor and Governor.  Rural subdivisions, included the mayordomo

of the locally controlled acequias, and Alcaldes Mayores.

  ~ The Early Government in NM  ~Spanish Settlers Story  ~            

          They were under Military rule.  Every aspect of their lives was regulated.  No

one (including Indians) could leave the Providence without the Governors permission,

and Travel Permits were required.  If an individual left his official residence without

proper license, all property and titles were forfeited.  The Spanish class system deemed

the Spanish born in Spain at the top, the Indians at the bottom, with various groupings

in between.  In reality the pure bloods were the 4 Corners Indians, and not the


            The settlers defended their lands without pay and didn’t have to pay taxes. 

The Spanish Government did however have monopolies on tobacco, (New Mexicans

grew their own, native tobacco. punche and mata), gunpowder, (citizens used bows

and arrows and lances, only the military had firearms),  playing cards, and stamped

paper with the royal coat of arms, for legal transactions.  Mail was carried on the El

Camino Real annual caravan.  Chimayo had a tax revolt in 1837 when Mexico imposed

taxes on the New Mexicans.


            So much time and money was spent on defense against the Indians that the

development of the Province (commerce, agriculture, stock raising) was curtailed

throughout the entire Spanish Reign (1598-1521).

 ~ The Early Government in NM  ~Spanish Settlers Story  ~




            There were no schools in the earliest years.  There were occasional itinerant

teachers, and many of the larger ranchos had regular teachers.  In 1832 Padre Antonio

Jose Martinez founded the first co-educational school in Taos.  Later both Catholic and

Protestant church schools were established.  When the Santa Fe Trail began the wealthy

settlers sent their children on caravans to schools in the East. The Sisters of Loretto

opened Guadalupe Academy in Conejos County CO in 1877.  In 1909 El Rito College was

established in northern New Mexico. 

 ~  Education ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                The Pueblo Revolt


          The Spanish were surrounded by American Indians, which in the beginning were

friendly, generous and helpful.  But after many Spanish cruelties the Pueblo and Tribal

Indians fought back.  The continuing conflict lasted 288 years until the US subdued

them (Indians) in 1886.


          In 1680 the Pueblos planned and carried out the first successful revolt in the

US.  Three other revolts in 1645, 1650 and 1696 were quelled by the Spanish.  Just

prior to the Revolt, Pueblo Runners took the plan to each Pueblo using a code in knots

“khipu”.  They attack the Spanish at all of the Pueblos on the same day.  The Spanish

were taken completely by surprise.  Many Spanish were killed, but the largest number

barricaded themselves at Santa Fe.  The Pueblos could have killed all the Spanish, but

they finally let about 2000 Spanish survivors flee down the El Camino Real to Mexico.  

Most of the settlers stopped in the pre-El Paso TX area, and began new settlements. 


          After the Spanish were driven out of New Mexico, the Pueblo Indians flattened

the missions and settlements, and destroyed everything Spanish, just as Cortez had

done to the Aztecs.  In the early 1600’s there were 100 Pueblos and 50,000 Pueblo

Indians – by 1680 only 22  pueblos and 14,000 Indians remained.  The holocaust of

their civilization was destruction by disease, the encomienda,  starvation, and religious

suppression.  The Spanish upset the balance of the Pueblo culture. 

 ~ The Pueblo Revolt ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~




          In 1692 after 12 years of waiting in Texas and Mexico, Don Diego De Vargas

assembled a new colony (800 people – 40 of the original settlers) and returned to NM. 

They retook Santa Fe, and came to stay.  Their caravans carried new supplies, seeds

and fruit trees, and herds of domestic animals.  A new northern villa was established at

Santa Cruz La Canada in 1695 (a few miles south of the former San Gabriel).  It was a

Crown Colony and the northern seat of the NM government.   Santa Fe was the

southern seat of NM government.  The settlers tried to reinstate the encomienda

system but the Catholic Church and Spanish Government forbade it.   Now the settlers

had to do all their own work. The first thing they did was dig the acequias and build a

church.  They re-planted fruit trees, cleared, tilled and planted fields, and began to farm.

They built homes, fences, corrals, sheds and adobe cellars.  The new group of Settlers

now made alliances with the Pueblos, so together they could defend their communities

against the Tribal Indians who had the horse.  These tribal Indians were their old foes

the Apache, Navajo and Ute Indians, but now included the Comaches and other Western

Plains Indians.

  ~ Reconquest  ~Spanish Settlers Story  ~

          The early colonists that came to New Mexico were carefully selected to

accompany the caravans.  Over the next three years, 3,000 people came up, on

three official expeditions to resettle New Mexico.  The last large influx of official

colonization was 1695.  Other settlers continued to follow, but as individuals and in

small groups until the early 1800’s.  This settlement pattern was unlike the US East

Coast where people came to America without the strict controls that the Spanish

imposed on colonizing New Mexico. 

          Many of the United States pilgrims and pioneers had a hard time, but not

for the length of time that the Spanish endured. The Spanish colonists had little

access to goods, and they continually fought the Indians. Before the US-Mexican War

(1846) the westward movement of homesteaders was delayed because the land west

of the Mississippi was Mexican Territory.  When in 1846 the Mormons settled Salt Lake

City and gold was discovered near Denver CO the only non-Indian communities west of

the Mississippi were Spanish.  Other than the New Mexico communities, the Spanish had

established towns in California at Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Monterey.

 ~ Reconquest  ~Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                      Trading Fairs


          The trading fairs became the primary source of income for many New Mexicans, 

and a chance for them to get “hard money”.  Before 1818 some even attended the

trade fair in Acapulco MX when the Manila Galleons brought goods from SE Asia. 

This fair was attended by the Pirates from all over the world. 


          Local trade fairs were held at Pecos, Abiquiu, and the most famous, at Taos

In the early fall at the “Taos Trade Fair”, for everyone’s safety, a truce was agreed

upon between the Indians, the Spanish, trappers and mountain men, as they traded

for goods.  There was always horse-racing, gambling, and imbibing the famous

Taos Lightening.

  ~ Trading Fairs ~Spanish Settlers Story  ~

          The next big event was the annual fair in November at Ciudad Chihuahua

Mexico.  The fair was the “highlight of the year” reuniting family and friends.  Hundreds

of New Mexicans traveled by caravan with a military escort. They were required to have

both travel and trading permits.  From the beginning, New Mexico traded internationally.


          New Mexico traded practical and useful items.  Goods taken from New Mexico

were buckskin, pelts, wool, tallow, homespun wool, woven cloth, New Mexican blankets,

dried fruit, loaves of bread, pinon nuts, corn, beans, garbanzos, horses, livestock, pack

animals and slaves.  The Indians had traded slaves for centuries.  The Spanish in the

Americas had a slave based economy like the early United States.  Slave trading

continued in the Southwest until the middle part of the 19th Century.


        Indian goods were highly sought after, buffalo robes, velvet-like tanned deer 
skins, elk hides, antelope skins, jerky, pickled buffalo tongues, tallow, leather moccasins, 
tegas (hard soled moccasin) and Indian slaves.


            They traded for dyes, drugs, paper, chocolate, sugar, rice, mirrors, silverware,

Chinese porcelain, majolica dishes, textiles, silk, linen, ironwork, knives, and hardware.

 ~ Trading Fairs ~Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                   Trade after 1821


          After Mexico gained her independence in 1821, Spanish restrictions over trade

were lifted. Now the merchant colonists began trading not only along the El Camino

Real, but also along the newly active Santa Fe Trail and the Old Spanish Trail.  These

trails coming together at Taos-Santa Fe (trading hubs and supply stations) provided

the first transcendental route across the US.  The Taos-Santa Fe crossroads became

the most important trading enterprise in the Western Hemisphere, trading in local,

national and international markets  Goods were transported in three directions, into

Mexico City, 1700 miles; to St Louis at the Mississippi River about 1,000 miles; and to

Los Angeles CA a crooked 2700 miles long.  Since the 1600’s these merchant colonists

traded over longer routes and in greater numbers than traders on the East Coast.

 ~ Trade after 1821 ~Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                         Pack Loading


          Pack loading is a highly developed craft, and no people were more familiar with

the art of packing than the muleteers and herders of New Mexico and Mexico.  They

had knowledge of navigation, they were far more familiar with the country, and how to

travel over the plains and mountains.  The New Mexicans knew all the Indian Tribes

whose territory they crossed.  The early caravans were only pack mules, but soon

freighting began with prairie schooners pulled by mule or ox teams accompanied by the

Mexican Army.  This freighting enterprise was big business in the southwest and

middlewest until the railroads were built in the late 1800’s. The 19th Century US Army

was trained by these specialists.

 ~ Pack Loading ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~ 


                        El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro


          The “Granddaddy of Roads” in the US was the El Camino Real de Tierra 

Adentro.  It was the first highway in the United States, and the last one to be

abandoned  when the railroad was built in the 1880’s.  This highway especially the

northern part of the El Camino Real, called the “Chihuahua Trail” was the life line,

and  “information super highway” for the New Mexicans for over 275 years. The

Mexico/New Mexico connection, kept family ties and a cultural exchange intact. 

Trading on the El Camino Real started as a mission supply route for the Franciscan

Missionaries and later became commercial.  A caravan was expensive to outfit and

provision.  It took a year and a half to make the round trip from Mexico City into

New Mexico, 1,700 miles.  They were accompanied by military escort.  Caravans

along this important artery, became the most significant commercial venture in  the

Greater Southwest.

 ~ El Camino Real de Tierra Andentro  ~Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                     Santa Fe Trail


          The  Santa Fe Trail began in 1821 (900 miles long, and 1 ½ months travel

time).  The trail started in western Missouri, through Oklahoma, and into New Mexico. 

There were two trails that came into NM.  The mountain branch was from pre-La Junta

CO into Trinidad CO, over the pass on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, into Taos.  The

Cimarron Cutoff was from pre-La Junta CO to Raton NM, over the Raton Pass, then

the Glorita Pass into Santa Fe.  It was active for 60 years affecting international,

national and local commerce.  Millions of dollars of goods were carried over the Santa

Fe Trail, and also military freight, stage coach lines, and emigrants.  5,000 wagons a

year traveled on the Trail until the late 1880’s when the railroad reached Santa Fe. 

Traders from St Louis brought manufactured goods and merchandise such as sugar,

coffee, calico, groceries, and leather goods from New York, Philadelphia and ports of

the East Coast US.  The caravans from Missouri came west to New Mexico linked up

with the El Camino Real and traveled south to Chihuahua MX.  The Mexican merchants

traded their gold, silver, coins, huge quantities of wool, furs, pelts, mules, and goat and

sheep skins.  Dario Gallegos was the first to form a caravan (1857) to St. Louis to buy

goods for his store in San Luis CO, the oldest continuously operated store in CO. 

 ~ Santa Fe Trail  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                     Old Spanish Trail


           The Old Spanish Trail to California was very active for about 20 years.  New

Mexico Merchants left the upper Rio Grande Valley in the fall.  Sheep were scarce in

California, so they took sheep, raw wool, woven textiles and slaves.  They traded for

horses and mules to be resold in Chihuahua and Missouri.  The pack trail had two routes

out of New Mexico, one from Santa Fe to Abiquiu, north through Chama Valley NM, up

to pre-Durango CO, west to pre-Dolores CO and northwest to Moab UT then on to

California.  Another route went north from Taos to the Great Sand Dunes, crossed the

northern San Luis Valley west to pre-Saguache, over Cochetopa Pass into the Gunnison

Valley, continuing northwest to the Green River in Utah leading to California.  They had

to cross several deserts and rivers.  Wagon routes opened later.  Abiquiu NM was a

supply station, military post, home base for exploratory forays.

  ~ Old Spanish Trail  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                                Trappers Trail                          


          The Trappers Tail went from Taos NM to Arroyo Hondo NM, to Costilla NM to

the confluence of the Rio Grande River and the Culebra River in CO, over the pass on

the Sangre de Cristo mountains, then north to the Arkansas River at Pueblo CO, and

into  Ft. Laramie WY.   In 1859, local New Mexico merchants formed wagon trains to

take supplies north, to the mines near Denver CO.

  ~ Trappers Trail ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                        Los Caminos Antiguos


          Los Caminos Antiguos (The Ancient Roads) This road in the upper Rio Grande in

the San Luis Valley CO was first used by the early Settlers.  Starting at Conejos the road

(CO142) goes east over the Rio Grande River to San Luis Town, then north (CO 159)

to Ft. Garland, traveling to just south of the Great Sand Dunes, then west to pre-Mosca

town, and south (CO 17) to pre-Alamosa Town. 

 ~ Los Caminos Antiquos  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                Canyon Largo Road


          The Canyon Largo Road was between Abiquiu and Largo New Mexico.

  ~ Canyon Largo Road  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                 Important Events


1804-1806…The Spanish Military searched in vain for the Lewis and Clark Expedition

                 (which crossed Spanish Territory). They wanted to capture Lewis & Clark.

1807………….Lt Zebulon Pike was taken prisoner by the Spanish near Sanford CO where

                 he built a stockade.  He was arrested by the Spanish Military and marched

                 to Mexico, where he was  imprisoned.  After several months he was

                 finally released to US officials.

1846…………Col Stephen Kearny and 2,000 troops and took possession of Santa Fe for

                the US Government on August 18th.  No shots were fired. New Mexico

                becomes a US territory.

1847………..Taos revolt against the US occupation of NM – US defeats rebels at Santa

                Cruz and Embudo then marched to Taos – final battle at Taos Pueblo

                Church where insurgents were fortified – 150 Spanish were killed, the

                church was destroyed and treason trials were held – (kangaroo court)

1851………..San Luis CO established – First Town in Colorado -

1858………..Ft. Garland built in pre-Costilla Co CO – replaced Ft. Massachusetts (1852)

1858………. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church - First Church in Colorado - Conejos County -

1861…………Confederates invade New Mexico traveling up the El Camino Real, the

                Rebels wanted to capture the gold producing areas of CO to finance the

                Confederacy and access to the commerce of the Santa Fe Trail – Taos

                flies the Union Flag, Confederate flag flown over Santa Fe for over 6 weeks

1862…………Battles of Velarde and Glorieta Pass fought, confederate occupation of

                NM ends.  Union forces confronted the Confederates at Glorieta.  The CO

                militia joined the Union forces and destroyed the confederate supply train.

1863………..New Mexico divided by half, to form the AZ Territory

1880’s……..Construction Boom - Railroads, Mining, Logging -

1880-1883..Chili Line D&RG Railroad from Antonito CO to Santa Fe NM

1900........ S.P.M.D.T.U. - La Sociedad Proteccion Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos

                formed in Antonito CO by Celedonio Mondragon – Lodge in Ignacio 1902,

                Durango and New Mexico in 1914

 ~ Important Events  ~ Spanish Settlers Story  ~


                                   Settlement Patterns


          Travel was difficult.  It took three days to travel 20 miles round trip. The Spanish

at Santa Cruz were, in effect, isolated even from the settlers in Santa Fe. 


          At the time of the Pueblo Revolt the first settlers lived only in San Gabriel, Taos

And Santa Fe.  When they returned after the re-conquest (1692) they resettled

Santa Fe, and Santa Cruz.  Albuquerque wasn’t settled until 1706, El Paso 1682 and

Chihuahua in 1709.

 ~ Settlement Patterns ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~

          After the Reconquest Spain awarded the first Land Grants to families and

groups of families (Community Grants).  The land was divided according to

accessibility to water, arable land, and the terrain.  Geographical points were

used instead of a grid system to determine boundaries.  The land allotments were

given to each family or family groups for subsistence farming.  The land parcels

differed in shape (i.e. long lots) to accommodate the full use potential, whether in

the mountain communities, along the rivers or flatlands.  Common lands were

shared by all, the use of the meadows (grazing) and forests (timber, firewood,

fishing and hunting).

 ~ Settlement Patterns ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~

          The first Land Grants given by the Spanish (1706-1795) were distributed,

and in the mid 1700’s people began to settle in hamlets along the rivers and creeks,

such as Chimayo, Ojo Caliente, Truchas, and Los Trampas.  More colonists settled

Cuba near the Rio Puerco River (San Joaquin del Nacimiento Grant), and in the Chama

Valley Abiquiu, Los Ojos, and Los Brazos.  In the 1770’s settlers moved to Cordova,

El Rito, Embudo, Penasco, and Taos Town was resettled.  Towns south of Santa Fe

along the Rio Grande were also established.


          Spain gave New Mexico fewer land grants than other states.  Here in New

Mexico there was less arable land, which was limited to grasslands and alluvial soil. 

By comparison, in California extensive tracts were given for unlimited herds.  The

land was more productive, and the climate more favorable.

          The Republic of Mexico gave the next series of Land Grants (1821-1846)

which  included land along the rivers and streams in much of New Mexico, the largest

part of the San Luis Valley (Conejos, Sangre de Cristo, Guadalupe, Luis Baca, Land

Grants), and Tierra Amarilla Grant in pre-Archuleta County.

 ~ Settlement Patterns ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~

          The settlers began to move into Southern Colorado and northwest New

Mexico.However in 1845 when they tried to settle along the Conejos River in the San

Luis Valley, they were chased back to New Mexico by the Ute Indians.  It wasn’t until

the early 1850’s that they were finally able to establish villages in pre-Costilla and pre-

Conejos Counties.


Some of the first Spanish Settlements are listed below: 



          Pre-Rio Arriba Co NM – Chama Valley: Los Ojos, Los Brazos, La Puente, -

                   Chamita, Cordova, Embudo, El Rito, Las Trampas, Ojo Calente, 

                   Penasco, Ranchos de Taos, Abiquiu (re-established)

          Pre-Taos Co NM – Arroyo Hondo, Arroyo Seco, Costilla, El Prado, Llano,

                   Pilar, Questa, Ranchos de Taos -

~ Settlement Patterns ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~


          Settlements along the San Juan River, Pre-Archuleta County CO & Pre-Rio

          Arriba County NM:

                   Arboles, Allison, Bondad, Gato, Ignacio, Juanito, La Boca, La Posta,

                   Pagosa Junction, Rosa, Tiffany

          Pre-Conejos Co:  Capulin, Conejos, Espanosa, Guadalupe, La Sauces,

                   Los Cerritos, Los Pinos, Magote

          Pre-Costilla Co:  Along the Trinchera, Chama, Jarosa, Mesita, San Acacio,

                   San Francisco, San Luis, San Pablo

          Pre-Rio Grande Co: Del Norte, La Loma, San Jose

          Pre Saguache Co:  Canero, La Garita

          Pre-San Juan Co CO:  Along the Animas River & the Silverton Area

 ~ Settlement Patterns ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~

          In the beginning the settlers were close net, but when the migration started,

Communities became scattered.  Now tht the independent settlers were “on their own”

They could not be controlled by either the Spanish or Mexican Governments.  Some

left their property because they could not defend it against the Indian Raids.


                    After New Mexico and Colorado became territories, the Land Grants were

called into question.  The “Land Grabbers” began to find unscrupulous ways to wrestle

the land from Spanish Land Holders.  A major problem was the language (Spanish v/s

English).  This led to confusion on the part of the Spanish. The US demanded legal proof

of ownership.  Boundary lines were vague.  Some were never issued proper documents, 

disputes were common and law suits began.  During this time many lost their land. 

The Tierra Amarilla Courthouse Raid in the 1967 was a dispute over land grants. An

ongoing land grant court battle wages now in the San Luis Valley with the Taylor Ranch.

 ~ Settlement Patterns ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~




          The people who lived south of Santa Cruz (Santa Fe and south), and east of the

Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado, Pre-Las Animas, Huerfano and Pueblo Counties

(Vigil & St Vrain Grant, Maxwell Grant & Nolan Grant) had non-Spanish Europeans added

to their population as more and more people came west on the Santa Fe Trail.

Consequently their language and culture gradually began to change.  In addition changes

were made in the management of the Catholic Church in Santa Fe when Father Jean

Baptiste Lamy from France became the Bishop at Santa Fe.


          It was different for the people of the “Northern Seat of New Mexico” (Santa

Cruz and surrounding areas).  Padre Antonio Jose Martinez continued to serve the people

of the Catholic Church in their time honored traditions.  They kept their language and

culture intact over the 250 years of isolation (1898-1864).  Even today they speak

Medieval Spanish and maintain their traditions of the 16th and 17th centuries.  There

customs, dances and ceremonies are a blend of Moorish, Spanish, Mexican and Pueblo

Indian cultures, the old and new worlds.  Thus, making them one of the most unique

cultures in the world. 


          The settlers that moved onto the land grants in the 4 Corners in the 1850’s were

the descendents of the people from the Northern Seat of New Mexico.


          Confirmation of this interdependence between the Pueblos and Spanish is

indicated by The New Mexico DNA project and the 2000 Census of the 8 Northern


 ~ Conclusion  ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~

          The New Mexico DNA project use classic genetic markers estimating that

Hispanics from the San Luis Valley CO show an admixture of 67% European and 33%

Native American.  The mitochondrial DNA shows 85% Native American and European

origin 15%.


          The chart below show the admixture of Spanish v/s the 8 Northern Pueblos in

the 2000 US Census.  In addition a chart showing population counts in the 2000 US

Census for the Tribes of the 4 Corners is also shown as a comparison.


                                  8 NORTHERN PUEBLOS

                Pueblos along the Rio Grande River NM, listed from north to south

                              Total           American Indians                    Spanish


Taos                       4,484         2,606      (58.1 %)             1,878     (41.9 %)

Picuris                    1,801           260       (14.4 %)             1,541     (85.6 %)

San Juan                6,748         1,605       (23.8 %)            5,143      (76.2 %)

Santa Clara           10,658          2,827      (26.5 %)            7,831      (73.5 %)                

San Ildefonso         1,521             837      (54.9 %)               687      (45.1 %)

Nambe                  1,764             719      (40.8 %)            1,045      (59.2 %)

Pojoaque               2,712             928      (34.2 %)            1,784      (65.8 %)

Tesuque                   806            514      (63.89 %)              292      (36.2 %)

 ~ Conclusion  ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~


                   See comparisons of non-Indians  v/s Tribal Indians


                                      Total         American Indians               Spanish


Hopi Tribe AZ                 6,946           6,573    (94.6 %)            133   (  1.9 %)

Jicarilla Apache NM          2,710           2,425    (86.7%)             330    (12.0 % )    

Southern Ute  CO         11,159            9,427    (84.5%)          1,732    (15.5%)      

Ute Mountain Ute CO      1,687

San Juan So Piaute AZ       209

Navajo AZ/UT/NM       180,462        173,987   (96.41%)   Non Indian  5,273  (2.89 %)

   (The total Population of the Navajo Nation is 298,215 which includes those living

     outside the Reservation)

 ~ Conclusion  ~ Spanish Settlers Story ~


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Copyright © 2003 Four Corners SW US
Last modified: 10/13/14