Santa fe trail
3. Historical Significance
3.1. Confederate Insurgency
Glorieta Pass is the site of a decisive Civil War battle. The Confederacy controlled Santa Fe and the Rio Grande Valley and were able to lay claim to the entire Southwest. The Union controlled the High Plains from their base at Fort Union in New Mexico Territory. Glorieta Pass was crucial to invasion from either direction in the same way that it was key to prehistoric trade routes and to the Santa Fe Trail (U.S. National Park Service, People of Pecos). Union forces prevailed at the climactic battle on 28 March, 1862, and then made steady progress toward expelling the Confederates from the Southwest up to the end of the war (Wikipedia, Battle of Glorieta Pass).
The Battle of Glorieta Pass is only the most recent in a series of political struggles for dominance in the Southwest and on the Great Plains that have taken place since the Spanish conquest.
For example, there was a succession of Spanish governors of Nuevo México who were killed while raiding for slaves among the Navajos, assassinated while suppressing rebellion, or executed during reprisals in the 1830s (Wikipedia, Albino Pérez).
3.2. Foreign Intervention
When the Civil War began in 1861, the American Revolution, which was concluded officially in 1783, was hardly within living memory, but the War of 1812--1815 certainly was. Both were seen in the United States as unwarranted European meddling in the hemisphere (Wikipedia, War of 1812). Among the many reasons attested to justify the Civil War is that the United States would be less susceptible to such meddling if the Union could be preserved. In school we study American success in the Spanish-American War of 1898, World War I and World War II and are accustomed to thinking of the nation as a superpower since the Cold War. It requires an effort to imagine the time when the United States was extremely fearful of foreign domination; nevertheless, on the eve of the Civil War this was not an unfounded concern. Coincidentally the Juárez administration suspended interest payments to European creditors in the summer of 1861, and the French invaded Mexico, eventually installing a Catholic puppet monarchy under Austrian Archduke Maximilian that lasted until 1867. The French withdrew their support in 1866 to repair relations with the United States, which had fought and won its war against the Confederacy. Then the Juárez government regained control and executed Maximilian. The Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo commemorates an 1862 battle during this extended conflict (Wikipedia, French intervention in Mexico).
3.3. Domestic Insurrection
The Boonslick area of Missouri where the U.S. end of the Santa Fe Trail originated was known as Little Dixie because it was settled by emigrants from the Upland South of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. It was a slave-holding region (Wikipedia, Boonslick). By contrast the Indian Lands of Kansas and Nebraska, opened to white settlement in 1854, came to be occupied by a mixture of pro-slavery insurgents and abolitionists, each side hoping to outnumber the other, control territorial politics, and determine whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free state or a slave state. Out-of-state financiers on both sides recruited private militias, sent them into Kansas, and supplied them for Holy War. For a time, Kansas was called "Bleeding Kansas" because of the death squads that operated there. John Brown and his sons and followers were an example. Terrorism, cruelty, and mayhem escalated, reaching even to the floor of the U.S. Senate. The territorial public, like the American public altogether, was so polarized by the dispute that neither side would honor the votes taken on whether to admit Kansas to the Union as either a free state or a slave state. In 1859, the jihadis moved on to what they hoped were greener pastures back east, but John Brown was captured at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia), by U.S. Marines and charged with murder, fomenting a slave revolt, and treason against the State of Virginia. He was tried in civilian court, convicted, and hanged (Wikipedia, John Brown). Ten insurgents were killed outright in the raid on Harpers Ferry. Seven were captured and hanged. Two marines were killed along with six civilians. The body count is thus 25. Nine other civilians were wounded. (Wikipedia, John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry). This and a change in territorial administration brought a brief respite of relative peace back in Kansas before the Civil War. In all about 56 people were killed there (Wikipedia, Bleeding Kansas).
3.4. Yankee Imperialism
The Republic of Texas rebelled against Mexico and achieved independence in 1836. In 1841, President Lamar ordered a combined military and trade expedition to Santa Fe. His Nationalist forces were captured by Governor Armijo of Nuevo México, and sent to Mexico City for incarceration. Texas author Larry McMurtry appropriated this historical context for his fictional novel Dead Man's Walk (1995), which is part of the Lonesome Dove cycle.
Until 1843, operatives for the Republic of Texas continued to harass trade along the Santa Fe Trail and aroused authorities in both Nuevo México and Missouri (Wikipedia, Santa Fe Trail). With the election of Polk in 1844, United States expansionist sentiment triumphed. Nationalists in Texas and abolitionists in the United States were overruled by annexationists, and Texas was admitted to the Union as a slave state at the end of 1845 (Wikipedia, Texas).
Expansionist fervor was not appeased, though, and the disputed borders between the new state of Texas and Mexico became the pretext for the Mexican-American War. An expeditionary force under Kearny was sent into Nuevo México, and he proclaimed the conquest in Las Vegas on 15 August, 1846. It was apparent that the United States was prepared to pay for the capitulation of Nuevo México or compel it by other means. The intrigue surrounding the bloodless capture of Santa Fe on 14 August, 1846, is, of course, not well documented, and accounts as to how it came to be are in doubt (Wikipedia, Manuel Armijo). One construction of events is that businesses in Santa Fe saw their bread buttered on the side of the United States due to the ongoing success of trade over the Santa Fe Trail. Another is that joining the United States seemed to promise political stability in an era of upheaval. This sadly turned out not to be the case. The newly appointed U.S. military governor of Nuevo México, Charles Bent, was assassinated at the beginning of the Taos Revolt in 1847 (Wikipedia, Charles Bent).
New Mexico, or Nuevo México in Spanish, is often incorrectly believed to have taken its name from the nation of Mexico. However, New Mexico was given its name in 1563 ... by Spanish explorers who believed the area contained wealthy Indian cultures similar to those of the Aztec Empire. Mexico, formerly a part of New Spain, adopted its name centuries later in 1821, after winning independence from Spanish rule (Wikipedia, New Mexico).
Nuevo México officially became United States territory in 1848 along with Alta California after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. For awhile after American forces occupied the Halls of Montezuma in Mexico City, it appeared there would be no treaty, and there were calls to annex all of Mexico, but that plan quickly fizzled, faded, and was forgotten once the treaty was signed. New Mexico Territory was organized as part of the Compromise of 1850.