Science and Religion in New Mexico Part 5 – Mexican and Territorial New Mexico

Science and Religion in New Mexico Part 5 – Mexican and Territorial New Mexico

Stephen FribergReligion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone![


1024px-Flag_of_New_MexicoJune 21, 2015

New Mexico is the name given to the American southwest by the Spanish adventurer Francisco de Ibarra in 1563. It derives from the Mexica people who dominated the Aztec empire. De Ibarra hoped that the land would be as productive of wealth as was the area around the city of Mexico.

In 1821, the vice-royalty of New Spain collapsed and the Mexican Federation (and briefly, the Mexican Empire) replaced it. New Mexico was a distant province and mainly ignored. However, trade to the the United States was opened up and the Santa Fe Trail, connecting to the 1,600 mile El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro to Mexico City, was established. French-Canadian and American trappers and mountain men, including the famous Kit Carson, settled in Taos and used it as a base for operations. New Mexico shifted its orientation towards the United States.

Kearny rides through Las Vegas

In 1846, a 1,700 man United States army under the command of Stephen W. Kearny marched from Kansas to Santa Fe and occupied New Mexico in the name of the United States, establishing the New Mexico Territory. This was a result of American war fever that started the Mexican-American war, Following the successful persecution of the war, the new American troops established forts along the Santa Fe and El Camino trials to try to protect against Ute, Navajo, and Apache raiding.

During the civil war, Texan armies traveled north from El Paso in 1862 along the Camino Real, fighting at Valverde, just south of my hometown of Socorro, and then east of Santa Fe at Glorieta Pass. Their defeat at Glorieta Pass ended westward Confederate expansionism.

The D&RGW in Espanola

The railroads came to New Mexico starting in 1878, transforming the territory. The state historian describes what happened:

During the next few years, industry expanded at an almost incomprehensible pace, especially when compared to the slow, lilting growth patterns of prior years. Hundreds of carloads of coal were shipped each week from New Mexico mines. The number of cattle in the territory increased from 347,000 in 1880 to 1,630,000 by 1890. The number of banks grew from only two before the railroad to over fifty after the railroad, signalling the end of the mercantile capitalism of Santa Fe Trail days.

Billy the Kid

The boom times were turbulent and far from peaceful. Ranchers fought ranchers, Anglos fought Hispanics, the army fought the native Americans, the Apache and Navajo raided mining towns, forts, ranches and wagon trains, cowboys shot each other in the streets, vigilante justice replace law and order, and vast fortunes were won and lost. This was when the Lincoln County War was fought and Billy the Kid was murdered. This was when Geronimo and Victorio were captured or killed and the “west was finally won.”

In 1912, territorial status ended and New Mexico became a state.

A Social and Economic Development Perspective on New Mexico History: The Territorial Period


In my four blogs on New Mexico, I reviewed New Mexico history in light of Baha’i social and economic development principles. The four blogs are here, here, here, and here. Social and economic development, according to Baha’i perspectives, requires unity, science and religion working together, capacity building, and learning in action. It is not something “that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.”

New Mexico, starting with the change of government in Mexico in 1921, had moments of unity but long periods of disunity as well.

If we define unity as people working together, then unity emerged with a policy of cooperation with Anglo-Americans and French-Canadian trappers and traders that began in 1821 with the ending of Spanish rule. New Mexicans also struck treaty deals with the Comanches, escaping the punishing raids that afflicted Texas, Mexico, and other places. The Santa Fe Trail opened from Kansas to Santa Fe, energizing trade. When the Americans invaded in 1846, there was very little violence.

New Mexico did become a Civil War battleground, but the confederates were defeating quickly and decisively. Where there was violence – and there was quite a bit of it – was in the long drawn-out and frequently unnecessary wars with the Apaches and Navajo’s. Here the Anglo-Americans carried out policies that several times took on forms similar to genocide. The most notorious of these wars were the wars against the Navajo resulting in the “Long Walk” and the confinement of the Navajo people in the Bosque Redondo reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico:

Kelly Mine

The battles between the American troops and the Navajo natives and factors such as disease and famine reduced the Navajo population of approximately 25,000 to somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 Navajo of reproductive age, creating a genetic bottleneck.

Similar conflict characterized the Apache Wars and the Ute Wars.  Often, these wars were a result of broken promises by the United States government. A tribe would be promised land – a reservation – but if the land happened to have valuable minerals, the promise would be broken. Or there would be harsh and unfair dealings. On the other hand, raiding was a normal facet of life for some nomadic native Americans and conflict with the settlers pouring into the New Mexico territory seems inevitable. The last of the great “Indian” wars ended with the surrender of Geronimo in 1886. A few skirmishes here and there continued until the 1920s.

Atchison,_Topeka_and_Santa_Fe_Railway_HeraldMining was the first modern industry to develop – with several significant mining developments in different parts of the state. In the 1860s and 1870s, this resulted in boom towns, augmenting the business created by forts established by the US Army to fight with native Americans. In 1878, railroads entered New Mexico – the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe (AT&SF) in the northeast and the Southern Pacific in the southwest. By 1882, the AT&SF traveled down along the Rio Grande river and the Camino Real to connect with the Southern Pacific and then later through Navajo country to Arizona.

With the railroads came access to markets across the United States, transportation for hauling ores to smelters, and increased local demand for foodstuffs. This, in turn, created a demand for cattle and created a large ranching industry throughout the state. Rapid growth characteristic of the many states in the western United States as the result, and it both laid the foundation for the next 150 years of growth and created tremendous inequalities due to the unequal distribution of the wealth created. Yes, it was a form of capacity building, but much of it was fueled by greed.

By the 1890s, much of the boom atmosphere of the 1880s had played out and floods and low ore prices had devastated towns like Socorro. The boom was over and although New Mexico became a state in 1912, the economy was no longer vibrant.

My Baha’i Social and Economic Development Analysis

What is my social and economic development analysis?

My rough analysis inspired by a Baha’i social and economic development framework again shows intermediate marks. Unity was not completely lacking – New Mexico became a state with three distinct cultures – Anglo-America, Hispanic, and Native American – but conflict and the sidelining of the both the Native American and Hispanic cultures was a constant factor.

Science – except for mining and geological science – was non-existent. Education remained poor. Governance was by appointment from Washington – New Mexico was a territory, not a state – or by US military rule, or later by corrupt land interests.  But the wealth from the boom period of the 1880s seeded an educational system and the beginning of what would become an growing economy in the next century.

It seems that New Mexico experienced much of the 19th century boom atmosphere – and conflict with indigenous peoples – that occurred throughout the whole world as a result of the explosion of growth and technology and the emigration of people from Europe everywhere. Downgraded, but not missing, was the spiritual element.

Next Blog

In the next blog, we apply the Baha’i principles of science and religion and Baha’i experience in social and economic development to an evaluation of New Mexico in the 20th century.


The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked in Japan for 10 years before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.

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