History

Taos county has a diverse and multi-cultural history which dates to at least 8,000 years with evidence of prehistoric settlement sites, as well as rich details of the Spanish conquest. Taos county has a unique and distinct place in the history of New Mexico and the beginning of  the colonies of the United States.  It is one of the longest continuously  inhabited regions in the country. Taos is an ancient vibrant established culture. Rock Art dating from the Archaic Period (5500 BC - 100 AD) to historic times is found along the Rio Grande in Taos county.  Around 1050 AD pueblos began to build in the Taos area. The Pueblo at Pot Creek, built in the 1200's, was abandoned by 1350. Taos Pueblo was built from 1300 - 1450, and is vital today. Pit Houses and Pueblos in Talpa date from 1100 - 1300, and Picuris Pueblo has existed from prehistoric times. Ancestors of the Apaches, Navajos, and Muoche Utes of the San Luis Valley began traveling through the area in the 1500s, hunting, gathering, trading, and were known to raid the pueblo peoples. 

When Captain Alvarado of the Coronado expedition passed through in the 1540's, Taos Indians lived the land for 1500 years and 3,000 people made Picuris Pueblo their home. Conquistador Don Juan de Onate sent a priest to serve Taos and Picuris in 1598, beginning  the uneasy coexistence between the Spanish and Natives preceding the Revolt  of 1680. Comanche raids forced Taos Pueblo Indians and Spanish Settlers to communicate. In 1617 a Spanish Settlement and Mission was built near the pueblo for protection against the Plains Comanche intervention and Fr. Miranda built a mission at Taos Pueblo.  Co-existance was brought to a tragic end when Taos Indians killed Fr. Miranda and two guards fourteen years later. This event may have been the deciding factor for the migration to the Plains in the years 1640 to 1660, and the inspiration for the death of the priest at Picuris Pueblo in 1632.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which drove all Spaniards from New Mexico, was orchestrated from Taos Pueblo by a San Juan native with runners carrying knotted yucca ropes to mark the days to the date when all the pueblos simultaneously would turn on the spanish settlements. Don Fernando of Taos, for whom the town is named, escaped during the revolt, his family was slain. Don Diego de Vargas reconquered the province in 1692. He traveled up from the El Paso along the Rio Grande, meeting the Indians in battle pueblo by pueblo.  He did not hesitate to raid Taos Pueblo two years later when the Indians refused a tribute of corn to Santa Fe. In 1696 the Indians attempted another revolt. Five Franciscans and 21 Spaniards were killed in Picuris. De Vargas later captured 84 Picuris and gave them away as slaves. The Picuris abandoned thier home to live with the Apaches; returning ten years later. They did fight alongside the spanish in conflicts with invading Plains' tribes.

Permanent Spanish settlements became a part of the mountain community in the 1700's, first in Ranchos de Taos in 1725 on the Cristobal de la Serna Land Grant- into Fernando de Taos. The fiercest attacks by 3,000 Comanches in 1760 forced many ranchos to be abandoned. In 1765 Ranchos de Taos was repopulated, although the attacks continued. Eventually the Spanish settlers took refuge in the pueblo, and in 1770 moved there. The Spanish worked with The Taos Pueblo Indians to fortify the town with two towers for the Pueblo's defense. The comanches and Utes were successful once again near the Posege Pueblo in Ojo Caliente at the Spanish Fortress built there in 1766. The Taos Trade Fair is held here, a place where Spanish, Pueblo Indians, Comanches, Utes, and Apaches gathered to peacefully exchange goods.

Gradually, however, more and more land was given by the Crown to Spanish settlers. The same authorities who insisted the Indians always be accorded land. A 1680 law made Indians "vassals of the Crown", and as such, settlers were not to take any of their lands, and land was to be given to the Indians as they deemed. The 1796 Don Fernando de Taos Grant formally gave land property to 63 Spanish families and Governor Chacon gave land in Pilar, a traditional Apache farming community, to 20 Spanish families.  This eventuated in the founding with 77 persons of three communities- LLano, LLano Largo and Santa Barbara- which combined to become Penasco. Families also settled in Talpa. This trend continued into the 1800's with crops being planted in Arroyo Seco by Cristobal and Jose Martinez and over 40 Spanish people asking for plots of land in San Cristobal. Picuris Pueblo lost land to the Spanish then as well as losing population due to European diseases.

French, American, and Canadian trappers began operating in Taos county in the early 1800's.  A brisk fur trade began, bringing yet another element, the mountain men, to the Taos trade fair. In 1846 1.7 million dollars in beaver and other furs was traded through Taos. The valley, now well populated with sheep, as well as citizens, also supplied Mexico with inexpensive goods. In 1840, 20,000 Rio Grande wool blankets headed south. Goods also came into Taos, such as the first printing press in 1834, to print books for the co-educational school- founded by one of the most influential citizens of Taos- Padre Antonio Jose Martinez. In 1835 he began printing the first newspaper, El Crepusculo. This was also the same time that Kit Carson and Josefa Jaramillo made Taos their home. Kit Carson, famed enemy of the Indians, had been one of the early trappers before he became a guide for U>S> Government explorer Fremont and his troops in 1842.

Gold and rumors of gold, silver, and copper echoed though the county in the latter part of the 1800's.While Anglo ranchers and lumbermen settled and worked in Tres Piedras, another sort of mountain men, those panning for gold or hooking Chicago investors, searched the Rio Hondo from 1880- 1895. The gold ran out in 1895 in what is now Taos ski valley. In the 1870's miners from Elizabethtown began searching for gold in Red River, and the Mallett brothers laid out the town in 1894. In 1881 the railroad came close to Taos, with the Chile Line from Alamosa passing through Tres Piedras and Taos Junction. Just  south of Pilar a bridge was built across the Rio Grande in 1902 and a mining town was then built on the west side of the river. A water powered turbine was built to run the equiptment, but the mine failed and the town fell to ruins. The only real money from mining for Taos County residents began in 1923 with the opening of the molebdenum mine in Questa which employed over 1,000 people by 1981.

 At the turn of the century, artists, anxious to record the vanishing wild west, such as Henry Sharp, Philips and Blumenschein, discovered Taos and its unique scenery and landscapes.  The Taos Society of Artists with Mabel Dodge Lujan, Georgia O'Keefe, and Lady Brett was formed the same year New Mexico became a state in 1912.  These artists unwittingly helped to found one of Taos' leading sources of revenue in the 20th century, the tourist trade.  In 1957 Ernie Blake added significantly to this by establishing a stream of winter visitors to the newly formed Taos Ski Valley.  Other ski resorts also sprang up - Red River, Sipapu, and Angel Fire.

In the 1960's another group of new comers came to Taos county; some stayed and were absorbed into the local population and some, like the Apaches and Utes of the previous century, moved on. The hippie's of the late 1960's tried communal living here forming the New Buffalo and Morningstar communes, and north of Questa the communes of Lila and Lorien. Meanwhile as the Anglos moved into tipi's on the mesas, the Taos Pueblo Indians won a long and arduous legal battle. Washington D.C. style. Blue Lake and 50,000 acres of National Forest, taken from them in 1906, was returned to Taos Pueblo control in 1971.