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Inquiry Question

Historical Context


Reading 2
Reading 3



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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Hispanos and Anglos

Following the signing of a peace treaty with the Comanches in 1786, Spanish settlers began to look beyond the valley of the Rio Grande for new areas to farm and graze their livestock. Compared to the crowded, drier, narrow valleys of the western slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the valleys on the east must have seemed green and inviting. Crossing the mountains was no easy task, however. Soaring to elevations of more than 13,000 feet, the mountain wall extends more than 80 miles north to south with few breaks. One break occurs at the southern end of the range at Glorieta Pass. A steeper, more difficult pass lies near the headwaters of the eastward-flowing Mora River.

Settlement began to expand into the fertile valleys east of the mountains in the early 19th century. After Mexico won its independence in 1821, several large Hispano ranchos were established near Glorieta Pass in the green and fertile valley of the Pecos River. By the 1830s, the valley was occupied by ranchos with tilled fields lining the river bottom. Settlement in the rich, irrigable valley of the Mora River began about the same time. Here, too, the Mexican government made large land grants to settlers, as it sought to establish a buffer zone between itself and the rapidly expanding United States to the east.

Things soon began to change for the men and women moving into these valleys. French fur trappers moving south into the mountains and traders moving west along the Santa Fe Trail brought new ideas and customs with them. Many of these Anglos stayed in the area and married into Hispano families.

In 1846, the Army of the West, commanded by Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, conquered New Mexico without firing a shot and declared its annexation to the United States. Although Kearny's army encountered no resistance, the annexation was not bloodless. On Jan. 19, 1847, a group of Hispanos and Indians in Taos murdered the newly-appointed American governor and several other officials, and sacked the homes of Anglo citizens. Hispanos in the Mora Valley killed six American merchants and trappers. The American army brought an end to the revolt in February. After fierce fighting in the streets of the village of Mora, a cavalry unit leveled the town.

In 1851, New Mexico was organized as a U.S. territory and the Hispanos became U.S. citizens. Some prospered as they sold their grain to the newly established Army posts or trailed their huge herds of sheep to the gold camps of California and Colorado. Some lost their land to Anglo newcomers; both Spanish and Mexican land grants were often simply ignored. Later in the century, other Anglos disrupted traditional Hispano agricultural practices by buying and fencing much of the land on the sloping sides of the valleys. These lands had been held in common and used by all the settlers in the valleys for grazing their herds of cattle and sheep.

With increases in traffic over the Santa Fe Trail, the needs of the huge Army supply post at Fort Union for agricultural supplies, and the coming of the railroad in 1879, life in the valleys began to turn eastward, away from the original Spanish settlements along the Rio Grande. No longer isolated and self sufficient, the larger farms became part of a bartering and, ultimately, cash economy that linked them to army logistics in the West, the overland wagon trade, and finally, the railroad towns of the High Plains.

Most of the Hispanos in the valleys continued to own and work small farms. They maintained flocks of sheep to meet household needs for food and clothing and to barter, herding them by day and corralling them by night. They raised a few hogs, goats, and dairy cows and either oxen, mules, or horses for farm work. They grew hay, wheat, oats, potatoes, barley, peas, and green plums, all requiring irrigation. As Anglos moved to the valleys, the local Hispano culture was able to absorb a variety of outside practices while largely retaining its cultural characteristics. The newcomers brought with them trading goods, opened many of the first village stores, and introduced new building practices and materials. In time, however, these newcomers and their descendants would speak Spanish, build their homes using traditional building materials and traditional house plans, and farm using irrigation methods that had been used for hundreds of years.

Questions for Reading 1

1. Why did Spanish settlers start looking for new areas to move into after 1786?

2. Why did the Mexican government issue large land grants in the valleys east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains?

3. Why do you think the Hispanos in Taos and Mora opposed U.S. annexation of New Mexico?

4. How did life in the valleys change after New Mexico became a U. S. territory?

5. Why do you think traditional Hispano society was able to absorb so many changes without losing its character?

Reading 1 was compiled from David J. Kammer, "The Historic and Architectural Resources of the Upland Valleys of Western Mora County" (New Mexico), National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1990; and Betsy Swanson, "Valencia Ranch Historic/Archeological District" (San Miguel County, New Mexico), National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1983.


Comments or Questions

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