The war with Mexico ended when the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848. Two years later, on September 9, 1850, the
United States Congress passed an Organic Act which created the Territory of New
Mexico and authorized the establishment of a new civil government. When James S.
Calhoun arrived in New Mexico to serve as the first civil governor of this new territory,
it marked the beginning of a decade of extraordinary change for this newly acquired
As established by Congress, New Mexico consisted of present-day New
Mexico, Arizona, parts of southern Colorado, southern Utah, and even a portion of
southeast Nevada. New Mexico retained these boundaries until 1861, when the northeastern
portion of the territory was attached to Colorado. The most dramatic change to New
Mexico's boundaries came in 1863, when the territory was divided nearly in half
and the western portion made a separate Arizona Territory.
During the 1850s, a series of military posts, extending from Fort Union
north of Las Vegas to Fort Fillmore near Mesilla in southern New Mexico, were established
to control the Indian tribes which continued to raid throughout the territory. Various
peace treaties were made during this decade which began the process of placing New
Mexico's nomadic tribes onto reservations. The presence of the American army encouraged
expansion of settlements along the frontier, and areas along the upper Chama Valley,
southern Colorado's San Luis Valley, as well as other regions in central and southern
New Mexico were permanently settled. Many soldiers, merchants, farmers, and other
emigrants traveling to the gold fields of California and Colorado also decided to
make this new territory their home.
New Mexico played a small but significant role in the Civil War. Early
in the war, the Confederacy set its sights on the gold fields of California and
Colorado as well as the important commercial route of the Santa Fe Trail. In July,
1861, Confederate forces from Texas captured the southern New Mexico settlement
of Mesilla, and in early February, 1862, launched an attack on Fort Craig, south
of Socorro. Their plan was to capture critical supplies at the fort, then move north
to take Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and most importantly, the military supply depot at
On February 12,1862, Union troops, reinforced by several battalions
of New Mexico militia, engaged the Texans at Valverde, north of Fort Craig. When
the smoke cleared from the battlefield, the Union forces had withdrawn behind the
protective walls of the fort, leaving the Confederates the apparent victors. But
the southern troops were unable to mount a siege of the fort, and instead, continued
their march north, short of supplies, and with a strong Union force threatening
As the Confederate forces approached Santa Fe in early March, New Mexico
Governor Henry Connelly and the Union troops at Fort Marcy evacuated the capital
and relocated the executive offices to Las Vegas. They also moved the military supplies
and equipment from Fort Marcy to safety at Fort Union. On March 10, a scouting party
of southern troops entered the evacuated capital, and for more than two weeks, the
Confederate flag flew over the ancient Palace of the Governors.
The pivotal battle of the Civil War in New Mexico began on March 26,
1862, when Union troops from Fort Union, volunteers from Colorado, and New Mexico
militia, confronted the Confederate army at Apache Canyon east of Santa Fe. For
three days, they vied for control of this strategic pass, until a Union raiding
party penetrated to the rear of the Confederate positions and destroyed their supply
train. Desperately short of supplies, the Texans were forced to retreat, ending
the southern threat to New Mexico.
Soon thereafter, the federal government turned its attention to rounding
up and forcing New Mexico's Indian tribes onto reservations. The most notable of
these actions was the forced relocation of the Navajo to Bosque Redondo in 1863,
where they remained until 1868. By 1880, most of New Mexico's Indian tribes had
been relegated to reservations.
After the Civil I War, New Mexico underwent a period of unprecedented
growth. A significant part of this growth began with the arrival of the Atchison,
Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad at Raton Pass in December, 1878. In 1880, the railroad
reached New Mexico's major cities, and within a few years, the AT&SF, the Denver
and Rio Grande, and numerous other railway companies had built lines to every corner
of the territory to serve the agricultural, livestock, mining, and timber industries
which sprang up throughout the territory.
During this period, New Mexico experienced many problems associated
with this growth and economic development. As New Mexico grew, much of the vast
territory remained at the periphery of effective law enforcement. During this "wild
west" period of our history, several areas of the territory experienced a rampant
lawlessness and regional conflicts which were often complicated by political and
commercial rivalries. This period was exemplified by the Lincoln County War, which
witnessed the rise to infamy of outlaws such as William "Billy the Kid"
Bonney. Other famous names we associate with this turbulent period of our history
include Pat Garrett, Elfego Baca, Geronimo and many others.