New Mexico

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
Save to active project

New Mexico

New Mexico, state in the SW United States. At its northwestern corner are the so-called Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet at right angles; New Mexico is also bordered by Oklahoma (NE), Texas (E, S), and Mexico (S).

Facts and Figures

Area, 121,666 sq mi (315,115 sq km). Pop. (2000) 1,819,046, a 20.1% increase since the 1990 census. Capital, Santa Fe. Largest city, Albuquerque. Statehood, Jan. 6, 1912 (47th state). Highest pt., Wheeler Peak, 13,161 ft (4,014 m); lowest pt., Red Bluff Reservoir, 2,817 ft (859 m). Nickname, Land of Enchantment. Motto,Crescit Eundo [It Grows as It Goes], State bird, chaparral ( "roadrunner" ). State flower, yucca. State tree, piñon. Abbr., N.Mex.; NM

Geography

New Mexico is roughly bisected by the Rio Grande and has an approximate mean altitude of 5,700 ft (1,737 m). The topography of the state is marked by broken mesas, wide deserts, heavily forested mountain wildernesses, and high, bare peaks. The mountain ranges, part of the Rocky Mts., rising to their greatest height (more than 13,000 ft/3,962 m) in the Sangre de Cristo Mts., are in broken groups, running north to south through central New Mexico and flanking the Rio Grande. In the southwest is the Gila Wilderness.

Broad, semiarid plains, particularly prominent in S New Mexico, are covered with cactus, yucca, creosote bush, sagebrush, and desert grasses. Water is rare in these regions, and the scanty rainfall is subject to rapid evaporation. The two notable rivers besides the Rio Grande—the Pecos and the San Juan—are used for some irrigation; the Carlsbad and Fort Sumner reclamation projects are on the Pecos, and the Tucumcari project is nearby. Other projects utilize the Colorado River basin; however, the Rio Grande, harnessed by the Elephant Butte Dam, remains the major irrigation source for the area of most extensive farming. The capital of New Mexico is Santa Fe, and the largest city is Albuquerque.

Economy

Because irrigation opportunities are few, most of the arable land is given over to grazing. There are many large ranches, with cattle and sheep on the open range year round. In the dry farming regions, the major crops are hay and sorghum grains. Onions, potatoes, and dairy products are also important. In addition, piñon nuts, pinto beans, and chilis are crops particularly characteristic of New Mexico. Pinewood is the chief commercial wood.

Much of the state's income is derived from its considerable mineral wealth. New Mexico is a leading producer of uranium ore, manganese ore, potash, salt, perlite, copper ore, natural gas, beryllium, and tin concentrates. Petroleum and coal are also found in smaller quantities. Silver and turquoise have been used in making jewelry since long before European exploration.

The federal government is the largest employer in the state, accounting for over one quarter of New Mexico's jobs. A large percentage of government jobs in the state are related to the military; there are several air force bases, along with national observatories and the Los Alamos and Sandia laboratories. Climate and increasing population have aided New Mexico's effort to attract new industries; manufacturing, centered especially around Albuquerque, includes food and mineral processing and the production of chemicals, electrical equipment, and ordnance. High-technology manufacturing is increasingly important, much of it in the defense industry.

Millions of acres of the wild and beautiful country of New Mexico are under federal control as national forests and monuments and help to make tourism a chief source of income. Best known of the state's attractions are the Carlsbad Caverns National Park and the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Thousands of tourists annually visit the White Sands, Bandelier, Capulin Volcano, El Morro, Fort Union, Gila Cliff Dwellings, and Salinas Pueblo Missions national monuments and Chaco Culture National Historical Park (see National Parks and Monuments, table). Several of New Mexico's surviving native pueblos are also much visited.

Government and Higher Education

New Mexico is governed under the constitution of 1912. The legislature has a senate of 42 members and a house of representatives with 70 members. The governor is elected for four years and may be reelected. The state elects two U.S. senators and three representatives and has five electoral votes. New Mexico has been generally Democratic in politics, although it joined the national trend toward conservatism in the 1980s. Gary Johnson, a Republican, was elected governor in 1994 and reelected in 1998, but a Democrat, Bill Richardson, won the governorship in 2002 and 2006. In 2010 Republican Susana Martinez was elected to the post; she is the first woman to serve in the office.

The most prominent educational institutions in the state are the Univ. of New Mexico, at Albuquerque; New Mexico State Univ., at Las Cruces; and St. John's College, at Santa Fe.

History

Native Americans and the Spanish

Use of the land and minerals of New Mexico goes back to the prehistoric time of the early cultures in the Southwest that long preceded the flourishing sedentary civilization of the Pueblos that 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 cent. Word of the pueblos reached the Spanish through Cabeza de Vaca, who may have wandered across S New Mexico between 1528 and 1536; they were enthusiastically identified by Fray Marcos de Niza as the fabulously rich Seven Cities of Cibola.

A full-scale expedition (1540–42) to find the cities was dispatched from New Spain, under the leadership of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. The treatment of the Pueblo people by Coronado and his men led to the long-standing hostility between the Native Americans and the Spanish and slowed Spanish conquest. The first regular colony at San Juan was founded by Juan de Oñate in 1598. The Native Americans of Acoma revolted against the Spanish encroachment and were severely suppressed.

In 1609 Pedro de Peralta was made 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 greatly, 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 revolt by the Apache in 1676 and the Pueblo in 1680. These uprisings drove the Spanish entirely out of New Mexico.

The Spanish did not return until the campaign of Diego de Vargas Zapata reestablished their control in 1692. In the 18th cent. the development of ranching and of some farming and mining was more thorough, laying the foundations for the Spanish culture in New Mexico that still persists. Over one third of the population today is of Hispanic origin (and few are recent immigrants from Mexico) and roughly the same percentage speak Spanish fluently.

When Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, New Mexico became a province of Mexico, and trade was opened with the United States. By the following year the Santa Fe Trail was being traveled by the wagon trains of American traders. In 1841 a group of Texans embarked on an expedition to assert Texan claims to part of New Mexico and were captured.

The Anglo Influence

The Mexican War marked the coming of the Anglo-American culture to New Mexico. Stephen W. Kearny entered (1846) Santa Fe 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 (1853).

A bid for statehood with 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 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 Navajo. The surrender of Apache chief Geronimo in 1886 ended conflict in New Mexico and Arizona (which had been made a separate territory in 1863). However, there were local troubles even after that time.

Already the ranchers had taken over much of the grasslands. The coming of the Santa Fe RR in 1879 encouraged the great cattle boom of the 80s. There were typical cow towns, feuds among cattlemen as well as between cattlemen and the authorities (notably the Lincoln County War), and the activities of such outlaws as Billy the Kid. The cattlemen were unable to keep out the sheepherders and were overwhelmed by the homesteaders and squatters, who fenced in and plowed under the "sea of grass." Land claims gave rise to bitter quarrels among the homesteaders, the ranchers, and the old Spanish families, who made claims under the original grants. Despite overgrazing and reduction of lands, ranching survived and continues to be important together with the limited but scientifically controlled irrigated and dry farming. Statehood was granted in 1912.

Modern New Mexico

In 1943 the U.S. government built Los Alamos as a center for atomic research. The first atom bomb was exploded at the White Sands Proving Grounds in July, 1945. The growth and use of military and nuclear facilities continued after World War II. High-altitude experiments were apparently responsible for a 1947 incident near Roswell that led to persistent claims that the government was concealing captured extraterrestrial corpses and equipment. In the 1990s the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, deep in salt formations near Carlsbad, was readied for storage of nuclear wastes, amid controversy.

New Mexico's climate, tranquillity, and startling panoramas have made the state a place of winter or year-round residence for those seeking health or a place of retirement. Many writers and artists have made their homes in communities such as Taos and Santa Fe, including D. H. Lawrence and Georgia O'Keeffe. The Apache, Navajo, and Pueblo, and some Ute, live on federal reservations within the state—the Navajo Nation, with over 16 million acres (6.5 million hectares), is the largest in the country—and the Pueblo, a settled agricultural people, live in pueblos scattered throughout the state. At the beginning of the 1990s the Native American population of New Mexico was more than 134,000.

Bibliography

See W. A. Beck, New Mexico: A History of Four Centuries (1962, repr. 1982); A. K. Gregg, New Mexico in the Nineteenth Century (1968); R. W. Larson, New Mexico's Quest for Statehood (1968); W. W. Davis, El Gringo: New Mexico and Her People (1982); R. V. Jackson, New Mexico Historical and Biographical Index (1984); J. L. Williams, ed., New Mexico in Maps (2d ed. 1986); N. H. Warren, Villages of Hispanic New Mexico (1987).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

New Mexico
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?