Do You Know the Way to Santa Fe?

For several thousand years, before the Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s, the northwestern corner of New Mexico was occupied by the Tewa people, who called it “White Shell Water Place.” The Navajo called it Yooto (I haven’t found a translation for that.)

The Spanish, in 1610, officially created the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico with the settlement of Santa Fe as its capital. As the settlements became formalized into cities or towns, the second provincial governor, Don Pedro de Peralta, re-named the city at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis,” which in English becomes, “The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi.” This is still the full legal name of the city of Santa Fe.

Santa Fe almost disappeared as a Spanish city in 1682 when the area’s native Pueblo peoples joined together to drive the Spanish out, an event known as the Pueblo Revolt. The Pueblo peoples enjoyed a decade of independence before the area was re-conquered by Don Diego de Vargas in 1692.

The Santa Fe Trail became an important trading route during the next century. Fur traders, an economically important group for St. Louis, Missouri, used the Santa Fe Trail, but their access was threatened by the Mexican War of Independence in 1810.

Mexico won their independence. Mexico’s 1824 Constitution made Santa Fe’s status as the capital of the now-Mexican Territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico official. The fur traders of St. Louis felt this development hampered their access to the Santa Fe Trail.

In 1836, the Republic of Texas organized and seceded from Mexico. The St. Louis fur traders sent a mission to join with Texans to claim the Santa Fe Trail and wrest it from Mexican control. The poorly prepared group was known as the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, and their attempt failed.

The United States declared war on Mexico in 1846. Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearney led his Army of the West into Santa Fe in 1847, and claimed the entire Nuevo Mexico Territory for the U.S. The Mexican-American War concluded in 1848, and the United States gained the New Mexico Territory in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Santa Fe itself, however, fell on hard times in the late 1800s, as there was no economic base other than trading, which the war had disrupted, and the area suffered a sharp economic decline. As railroad transportation grew, Santa Fe was envisioned to be a major stop on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, but as the project progressed, the railroad project was revised, and the line by-passed Santa Fe and used Lamy, New Mexico, as the station instead.

A group of activists came to the rescue. Edgar Lee Hewitt, a noted archaeologist, was instrumental in creating the School of American Research in 1907, and helped others create resources for art and archaeology from literally nothing. During the early 20th century, Santa Fe became a base for artists, who in turn attracted writers, and the artistic community became established, helped by the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside.

The beauty of the area and the cultural richness also attracted retirees. The city joined the “city beautiful” movement then gaining popularity in the United States, and engaged city planners. A plan was completed that took into account the beauty, and the scarcity of water, and suggested pathways to development in different areas. Tourism was one of the paths, which fit with the arts community and the city’s history, and Santa Fe has embraced this path.

The artistic community got an additional boost from two women, Rose Dugan and Vera Von Blumenthal. These two women helped create the Pueblo Indian Pottery, an organization devoted to helping native women market their pottery. The still-extant Annual Santa Fe Indian Market was established by Hewett, Dugan, Blumenthal, and the Pueblo Indian Pottery group.

Finally, New Mexico became a state in 1912, with Santa Fe as its capital city. The population of Santa Fe then was about 5,000 people. The city plan embraced tourism, which continues as an important economic support. The estimated 2019 population of the city proper is 83,000 in the 52 square mile city limits, and 146,000 people in the metropolitan area.

The Palace of the Governors, which sits on the north side of the Plaza, was built in the early 1600s, and has served Spanish soldiers, Pueblo peoples, governors from Mexico, U.S. soldiers, and governors dating from when New Mexico was a United States Territory. In 1909, the Palace began its life as New Mexico’s first museum.

Artisans display their work every day beneath the Palace Portal. They are members of the Native American Artisans Program, an internationally recognized program designed to maintain standards of tradition, artistry, and authenticity to the variety of crafts available, from baskets to jewelry to sand paintings and pottery.

Tanya Nelson, a Navajo jeweler:

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