The Capital of New Mexico
Founded in the early 1600s, Santa Fe is among the oldest cities in America. It is a city famed for its great art and music scenes, rich history, and diverse culture. Despite being only the fourth largest city in New Mexico, Santa Fe is is also the capital. Why is Santa Fe the capital of New Mexico?
As with many capitals, we have to look back at the city’s history. When exploring Santa Fe’s deep roots in the region, it becomes more clear why this city was selected as capital of New Mexico.
History of Santa Fe
The area around what is today New Mexico had long been occupied by indigenous Tanoan peoples, who built Pueblo villages along the Rio Grande and other rivers in the region. These rivers provided water and transportation in this dry steppe climate.
Spanish settlement of New Mexico began in 1598, when Juan de Oñate led a group of colonizers into the territory. Following orders from King Philip II of Spain, Oñate was tasked with searching for cities of gold, and spreading Catholicism. He founded Santa Fe de Nuevo México as a province of New Spain, and set up the settlement of San Gabriel in the northern part of the territory as provincial capital. Oñate served as the province’s first colonial governor.
In 1608, Oñate’s failure to find any riches, and reports of his mistreatment of the Native population, almost led Spain to abandon their Nuevo México settlements. But when a friar named Lázaro Jiménez brought news that 7,000 Indians had been converted and baptized, interest the territory was renewed.
In 1609, Oñate was replaced as governor by Don Pedro de Peralta. By that time, it had become clear that Nuevo México’s capital of San Gabriel was too vulnerable to Native American attacks. Governor Pedro de Peralta would establish the settlement of La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís, or Santa Fe, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 1610.
Pedro de Peralta designated Santa Fe as the new capital of the province, which it has almost constantly remained, making it the oldest state capital in the United States.
Why is Santa Fe the Capital of New Mexico?
Santa Fe was chosen as the site of the new capital because Pedro de Peralta wanted a location that was more secure and easily defensible. Plus the town had a good water supply and ample land for development.
Santa Fe would remain Nuevo México’s provincial capital until the outbreak of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. However, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, Santa Fe would hold its position as capital of Nuevo México (now a territory within the newly independent Mexico).
In 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico, thus beginning the Mexican-American War. Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearny led the main body of his Army of the West (some 1,700 soldiers) into Santa Fe to claim it and the whole Nuevo México territory for the United States. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war, and gave the U.S. control of some formerly Mexican lands, including Nuevo México, or New Mexico.
In 1851, Santa Fe became the official capital of the U.S. territory of New Mexico. The implementation of a railroad in 1880 connected Santa Fe to other cities and regions throughout the U.S., helping spur its development. Intermittent mining booms in the surrounding mountains aided Santa Fe’s economic growth. At its heart, however, Santa Fe remained a trading center for farmers and Native Americans.
In 1912, New Mexico was admitted as the United States of America’s 47th state, with Santa Fe as its capital. Today, Santa Fe continues to be a thriving city, and residents have a great deal of respect for the city’s culture, architecture, and historic roots.