The land and minerals of New Mexico have been used since the prehistoric time of the early cultures in the Southwest that long preceded the flourishing sedentary civilization of the Pueblos, which the Spanish found along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Many of the Native American Pueblos exist today much as they were in the 13th century. The word of the pueblos reached the Spanish through Cabeza de Vaca, who may have wandered across Southern New Mexico between 1528 and 1536. They were identified by Fray Marcos de Niza, as the fabulously rich Seven Cities of Cibola.
A full-scale expedition, dating from 1540 to 1542 to find the cities, under the leadership of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, was dispatched from New Spain. The first regular colony at San Juan is believed to have been founded by Juan de Oñate in 1598.
In 1609, Pedro de Peralta was appointed Governor of the “Kingdom and Provinces of New Mexico,” and a year later he founded his capital at Santa Fe. The little colony did not prosper too much, although some of the missions flourished and haciendas were founded. The subjection of Native Americans to forced labor and attempts by missionaries to convert them resulted in violent revolts by the Apache in 1676 and the Pueblo in 1680. These rebellions drove the Spanish entirely out of New Mexico.
The Spanish did not return until the campaign of Diego de Vargas Zapata, re-established their control in 1692. In the 18th century, the development of ranching and some farming and mining became more abundant, laying the foundations for the Spanish culture in New Mexico that still exists.
When Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, New Mexico became a province of Mexico, and trade was opened up with the United States. In 1841, a group of Texans embarked on an expedition to assert Texan claims to parts of New Mexico and were eventually captured. The Mexican War marked the arrival of the Anglo-American culture to New Mexico. Stephen Kearny entered Santa Fe in 1846 without opposition, and two years later, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded New Mexico to the United States. The territory, which included Arizona and other territories, was enlarged by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.
A bid for statehood and an antislavery constitution was halted by the Compromise of 1850, which settled the Texas boundary question in New Mexico’s favor and organized New Mexico as a territory without restriction on slavery. In the Civil War, New Mexico was at first occupied by Confederate troops from Texas, but was eventually taken over by Union forces early in 1862. After the war and the withdrawal of the troops, the territory was plagued by conflict with the Apache and the Navajo Native American tribes. The surrender of Apache chief Geronimo in 1886 ended the conflict in New Mexico and Arizona, which had been made a separate territory in 1863. However, there were local troubles prevalent even after that time.
Already the ranchers had taken over a large portion of the grasslands. The coming of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1879 encouraged the great cattle boom of the 1880s. New Mexico finally gained statehood in 1912.