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Setting the Stage

The Spanish were the first to settle northern New Mexico. They came to this beautiful but desolate area at the end of the 16th century seeking riches. Finding none, they stayed to convert the Indians to Catholicism and to establish settlements that would protect central Mexico against encroachment by other nations. The men and women who settled this northern province were separated from the rest of Mexico by a thousand miles of difficult and dangerous trail.

In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase introduced a new neighbor on the eastern border of Spain's northern provinces, but Spanish policies of prohibiting foreign trade within its colonies kept contact between the new United States of America and Santa Fe to a minimum. In 1821, a revolution established the independence of Mexico.

In the same year, the opening of the Santa Fe Trail began to draw the settlers on Mexico's northern boundary into the orbit of their rapidly growing eastern neighbor. At about the same time, the United States began to see itself as the power established by Providence to extend its influence from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Mexico's northern provinces were a major obstacle in that march to the sea.

In 1846, the United States annexed New Mexico by military conquest. In the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War and the Gadsden Purchase of 1857, Mexico lost all of its northern provinces and the continental United States assumed its present boundaries. In 1862, federal armies successfully defended the newly acquired southwestern territory against an attempt by the Confederate army to seize it.

 

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