Lesson Plan

Glorieta and Raton Passes: Gateways to the Southwest

Wagon Train at Glorieta Pass

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 4 Standard 1C: The student understands the ideology of Manifest Destiny, the nation's expansion to the Northwest, and the Mexican-American War.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How did European Americans imagine and assert their claims to western land?


1. To determine and analyze the geographic and political forces that influenced control of New Mexico and the southwestern United States;
2. To examine the ways in which different groups asserted political and economic claims to the region;
3. To determine what role their own community played in westward expansion.


Time Period: 1820s to 1865
Topics: This lesson could be used in American history, social studies, and geography courses in units on westward expansion or the Civil War.


The snowcapped Sangre de Cristo Mountains form a formidable barrier between the eastern United States and what is now New Mexico, Arizona, and California. But Americans moving westward during the early 19th century could not be stopped. At Raton Pass, on the border between Colorado and New Mexico, they found one way through the mountains, but it was narrow and steep, suitable at first only for pack horses. The broader, easier crossing at Glorieta Pass, between the mountains and the red wall of Glorieta Mesa, was another.

These two passes played critical roles in the events that ensured that New Mexico and the Southwest would become, and continue to be, part of the United States. In the 1820s, the first of many traders crossed the mountains on the Santa Fe Trail, hoping to make a fortune selling manufactured goods in the small city of Santa Fe or further south in the city of Chihuahua. In 1846 soldiers followed in the tracks of the traders. Dressed in uniforms of the United States army, they came down through Raton and Glorieta passes to claim the territory of New Mexico for a rapidly expanding American nation. Almost 20 years later, other men tried to take over the Southwest. The country they fought for this time was the Confederate States of America. Their defeat at the small but decisive Battle of Glorieta Pass ensured that New Mexico, Arizona, and California would stay in the Union.

Lesson Hook/Preview

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.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.



Additional Resources

Glorieta Pass National Historic Site
Glorieta Pass National Historic Site is part of the National Park System. Visit the Pecos National Historical Park's website to learn more about the site.

Santa Fe National Historic Trail
The Santa Fe National Historic Trail's website includes an online Visitor Center that offers a history of the Trail, as well as maps, photos, and a good bibliography.

National Parks Conservation Association
NPCA, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to protecting the American park system. Consult their website for more information on the parks, such as Glorieta Pass, they are working hard to protect and conserve.

American Southwest--National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary
The American Southwest with its distinctive building traditions, its languages, religions, and foods, reflects the vitality of the Spanish, Mexican, Indian and Anglo cultures which formed its history and the Southwest we see today. This National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary highlights over 58 historic places, including Pecos National Historical Park, teaching us about the contributions of the various people who settled this distinctive area.

The U. S. Mexican War
This website is an online companion for a Public Broadcasting System documentary on the Mexican War. It contains conversations with and essays by leading Western historians with differing views on Manifest Destiny and other related issues.

Library of Congress
Search the digital collections web pages for primary resources on the history of the west.

National Park Service Civil War Website
Visit the official National Park Service Civil War website. Offering the current generation of Americans an opportunity to know, discuss, and commemorate this country's greatest national crisis, while at the same time exploring its enduring relevance in the present, the website includes a variety of helpful features and links such as the About the Civil War page that offers a timeline and stories from various perspectives. Also included are links to Civil War Parks, NPS education programs, and much more.

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Last updated: October 12, 2018