Northern New Mexico's Community Network

A Brief History of Taos

There is evidence that man has lived in the Taos area as far back as 3,000 B.C. Prehistoric ruins dating from 900 A.D. can be seen throughout the Taos Valley.(see Taos Historical Sites) . The Pueblo of Taos remains the link from these early inhabitants of the valley to the still-living native culture.

The first Europeans to appear in Taos valley were led by Captain Alvarado, who was exploring the area for the Coronado expedition of 1540. Don Juan de Onate, official colonizer of the province of Nuevo Mexico, came to Taos in July 1598. In September of that year he assigned Fray Francisco de Zamora to serve the Taos and Picuris Pueblos.

Long established trading networks at Taos Pueblo, plus its mission and the abundant water and timber of the valley, attracted early Spanish settlers. Life was not easy for the newcomers, and there were several conflicts with Taos Pueblo before the Pueblo revolt of 1680 in which all Spaniards and their priests were either killed or driven from the province. In 1692 Don Diego de Vargas made a successful military reconquest of New Mexico and in 1693 he returned to recolonize the province. In 1694 he raided Taos Pueblo when it refused to provide corn for his starving settlers in Santa Fe.

Taos Pueblo revolted again in 1696, and De Vargas came for the third time to put down the rebellion. Thereafter, Taos and most of the other Rio Grande Pueblos remained allies of Spain and later of Mexico when it won its independence in 1821. During this long period the famous Taos Trade Fairs grew in importance so that even the annual caravan to Chihuahua delayed its departure until after the Taos Fair, which was held in July or August. The first French traders, led by the Mallette brothers, attended the Taos Fair in 1739.

By 1760, the population of Taos valley had decreased because of the fierce attacks by Plains Indians. Many times the Spanish settlers had to move into houses at Taos Pueblo for protection from these raiders. In 1779, Colonel de Anza returned through Taos from Colorado, where he had decisively defeated the Comanches led by Cuerno Verde. De Anza named the Sangre de Cristo Pass, northeast of present Fort Garland, and also named the road south from Taos to Santa Fe through Miranda Canyon as part of "El Camino Real". In 1796 - 97, the Don Fernando de Taos grant was given to 63 Spanish families.

By the early 1800's, Taos had become the headquarters for many of the famous mountain men who trapped beaver in the neighboring mountains. Among them was Kit Carson, who made his home in Taos from 1826 to 1868. In July 1826 Padre Antonio Jose Martinez began serving the Taos parish. He opened his school in Taos in 1833 and published textbooks for it in 1834. He printed "El Crepusculo", a weekly newspaper in 1835, and was prominent in territorial matters during the Mexican and early United States periods in New Mexico.

After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the Santa Fe Trail became the important route for trade between the United States and Mexico. A branch of the trail came to Taos to supply its trading needs.From 1821 to 1846, the Mexican government made numerous land grants to help settle new sections of New Mexico. During the war with Mexico in 1846, General Stephen Kearney and his U.S. troops occupied the province of New Mexico. Taos rebelled against the new wave of invaders and in 1847 killed the newly appointed Governor Charles Bent, in his Taos home. In 1850 the province, which then included Arizona, officially became the territory of New Mexico of the United States.

During the civil war, the confederate army flew its flag for six weeks over Santa Fe. It was just prior to this time that Kit Carson, Smith Simpson, Ceran St. Vrain and others put up the American flag over Taos Plaza and guarded it. Since then, Taos has had the honor of flying the flag day and night.The discovery of gold in the Moreno valley in 1866 and later in the mountains near Taos brought many new people to the area. Twining and Red River, once mining towns, are now prominent ski resorts.The Carson National Forest contains forested lands in the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountain Ranges. It was created from the Pecos River Forest Reserve of 1892, the Taos Forest Reserve of 1906, and part of the Jemez National Forest of 1905.

A narrow gauge railroad, the Denver and Rio Grande Western, was built from Alamosa, Colorado, to within 25 miles southwest of Taos in 1880. In later years it was nicknamed the Chili Line. It eventually connected with Santa Fe. A surrey and four horses joggled passengers from the station to Taos. During World War II, the train was discontinued; Embudo Station on the Rio Grande is all that is left of it today.

The next invasion began in 1898, when two eastern artists came to Taos and depicted on canvas the dramatic mountains and unique peoples. By 1912, the Taos Society of Artists was formed by these and other artists who had been attracted to the area. New Mexico became a state in 1912 as well. World Wars I and II came and went, and members of the three cultures of Taos -- Indian, Spanish and Anglo -- fought and died together for their country.

In 1965, a steel arch bridge was built west of Taos spanning the gorge 650 feel above the Rio Grande, thus opening the northwestern part of New Mexico to easy access from Taos.

A History of Taos
   by F.R. Bob Romero and Neil Poese

Through the centuries Taos has been home to Indians, Conquistadors, Mountain Men and Artists - a rich mix of characters and cultures that have left their imprint on American history. A Brief History of Taos brings this colorful past to life in words and pictures.

Taos Pueblo
Spanish Colonial Taos & The Hispanic Heritage
19th Century Taos & The Mexican Period
U.S. Sovereignty in Taos
Suggested Readings
About the Authors

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