ORIGINS OF SANTA FE
Articles by Marc Simmons
Fe rates as one of the most historic cities in the entire United
States. It often is touted, and rightly so, as the oldest capital
in the nation. In spite of its large historical significance,
however, the beginnings of Santa Fe are poorly known. That is
because certain key documents relating to the founding have yet
to be discovered in the Spanish archives.
to a popular tale, long told, "some of Coronado's followers decided
to remain in New Mexico when his expedition left for home in 1542.
The band of intrepid Spaniards started a settlement that became
Santa Fe, and the tourist attraction known today as 'the oldest
house' represents the only structure dating from that era." All
of this we now know is pure poppycock, as there exists nothing
in the documentary record that even hints at such a story being
late January of 1610, Don Pedro de Peralta reached New Mexico's
first capital city, the Villa de San Gabriel, located on the west
bank of the Rio Grande, opposite San Juan Pueblo. Peralta had
been appointed by the viceroy to succeed Juan de Onate, New Mexico's
first governor and founder. He also carried instructions to move
the provincial capital to a better site.
idea had been raised earlier by Onate himself, in 1608. At that
date, he wrote to Mexico City indicating that he planned to relocate
his settlers in the valley of the Santa Fe River. Some of them
may have moved down there from San Gabriel as early as 1607. That
is suggested in Spanish documents recently acquired in England
by Dr. Tom Chavez and the Museum of New Mexico. The new site was
said to be more defensible and, more important, there were no
Pueblo Indians living in the vicinity. At the old capital, farmlands
were scarce because San Juan had first claim for its needs. Just
how many of Onate's people moved south prior to Peralta's arrival
is unclear. But the majority probably still were at San Gabriel
when the new governor decided to complete the transfer.
the formal and legal founding of Santa Fe was carried out under
the direction of Pedro de Peralta. He and his surveyor would have
marked off the Plaza and streets and designated the sites for
the main public buildings.
some point, Gov. Peralta must have held an official ceremony to
mark the founding. From that there should have come a plano de
poblacion showing municipal boundaries, and a charter that certified
as to the legality of the newly created municipality.
neither these nor any other documents directly bearing upon Santa
Fe's birth have come to light thus far. The original papers no
doubt were destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. However,
copies were sent in 1610 to the superior government probably were
filed in archives in Mexico City or Seville, Spain. Some lucky
scholar may one day find them.
Spanish law, the man founding a new community had the right to
name it. But when peralta came, he saw that the small pre-existing
settlement already was called Santa Fe, and so he left it at that.
It is a safe guess that New Mexico's capital was named for the
town of Santa Fe in southern Spain. That place had been started
by Ferdinand and Isabella as a walled military camp outside the
last Moorish stronghold of Granada. Its design was based on the
Roman grid plan and proved so successful that it became the model
for towns and cities built throughout the Spanish Empire.
of the alternate names for New Mexico during its first century
was New Granada. So naming its capital Santa Fe (Holy Faith) in
honor of the Spanish city located at Granada might have seemed
the colonial period, it was referred to in government records
simply as La Villa Real de la Santa Fe (meaning, the Royal City
of the Holy Faith). From that, local residents were familiarly
known as villeros-tht is, townies.
1610 as the date of Santa Fe's formal founding, the year 2010
will mark its cuartocentennial. Let us hope it's observed with
more restraint and perspective than we have seen during the state's
Marc Simmons's "Coronado Land: Daily Life in Colonial New Mexico"
(University of New Mexico Press). Amazon.com
Articles by Marc Simmons