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Historic Santa Fe – A Southwest US Travel Treasure

compliments of Inn at Pueblo Bonito- Santa Fe, NM

View of Santa Fe from Fort Marcy Hill. Santa Fe, NM 1900-1905?
View of Santa Fe from Fort Marcy Hill. Santa Fe, NM 1900-1905?

Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico and is the fourth-largest city in the state. Santa Fe is not only the oldest capital city in New Mexico, but also in all of the United States. It is also revered for its preservation of history and culture, making it one of the top ranked vacation destinations in the world.

“Santa Fe” means “holy faith” in Spanish. In 2014, the population was 68,298. The city was originally occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages with founding dates between 1050 to 1150. One of the earliest known settlements in what today is downtown Santa Fe came sometime after 900. A Native American group built a cluster of homes that centered around the site of today’s Plaza and spread for half a mile to the south and west; the village was called Ogapoge. The Santa Fe River provided water to people and is a seasonal waterway which was a year round stream until the 1700s. In 2007, the river was recognized as the most endangered river in the United States, according to the conservation group American Rivers.  Today, a short walk from Inn at Pueblo Bonito brings visitors to the Santa Fe River to view hand carved life sized Santos made by local artisans.

Don Juan de Onate (photo courtesy:
Don Juan de Onate (photo courtesy:

Don Juan de Oñate led the first effort to colonize the region in 1598, establishing Santa Fe de Nuevo México as a province of New Spain. Under Juan de Oñate and his son, the capital of the province was the settlement of San Juan de los Caballeros, which lay north of Santa Fe near modern Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo (aka San Juan Pueblo). New Mexico’s second Spanish governor, Don Pedro de Peralta, however, founded a new city at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 1607. He called it La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís (the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi). In 1610, he made it the capital of the province, which it has almost constantly remained, making it the oldest state capital in the United States.

Cross of Martyrs Santa Fe. Memorial of lives lost in 1680 Pueblo Revolt
Cross of Martyrs 1920. Memorial of lives lost in 1680 Pueblo Revolt

Except for the years 1680–1692, when, as a result of the Pueblo Revolt, the native Pueblo people drove the Spaniards out of the area known as New Mexico, later to be reconquered by Don Diego de Vargas, Santa Fe remained Spain’s provincial seat until the outbreak of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. In 1824 the city’s status as the capital of the Mexican territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México was formalized in the 1824 Constitution.  The Cross of Maryters, a memorial cross commemorating loss of life in 1680 Pueblo Revolt, is a favorite historic landmark for Santa Fe visitors to see and view a glorious Santa Fe sunset (15 minute walk from Inn at Pueblo Bonito- Santa Fe).

The Santa Fe Trail Opened 1821
The Santa Fe Trail
Opened 1821

The Republic of Texas claimed Santa Fe as part of the western portion of Texas along the Rio Grande when it seceded from Mexico in 1836. In 1841, a small military and trading expedition set out from Austin, Texas, with the aim of gaining control over the Santa Fe Trail. Known as the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, the force was poorly prepared and was easily captured by the Mexican army. In 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico, and Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearny led the main body of his Army of the West of some 1,700 soldiers into the city to claim it for the United States, along with the whole territory of New Mexico. By 1848, the U.S. officially gained New Mexico through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Colonel Alexander William Doniphan, under the command of Kearny, recovered ammunition from Santa Fe labeled “Spain 1776”, showing both the quality of communication and military support New Mexico received under Mexican rule. American visitors saw little promise in the remote town. One traveler in 1849 wrote:

“I can hardly imagine how Santa Fe is supported. The country around it is barren. At the North stands a snow-capped mountain while the valley in which the town is situated is drab and sandy. The streets are narrow… A Mexican will walk about town all day to sell a bundle of grass worth about a dime. They are the poorest looking people I ever saw. They subsist principally on mutton, onions and red pepper.” —letter from an American traveler, 1849Mora Merchants & Apache Guards- NMStateARchives


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