Cowboys, cattle barons, snake oil salesmen and pioneers - Santa Fe drew them like a magnet and they left the indelible mark of the Wild West on this stately town.
New Mexico was a great mystery to Americans until 1821. For more than two centuries, Spanish soldiers closely guarded their profitable province and kept their neighbors to the west from trespassing.
But when Mexico won its independence from Spain, the doors opened and a flood of adventurers, traders and explorers couldn't wait to get in.
The first to arrive was William Becknell, a trader from Missouri. He turned a staggering profit on goods the region was hungry for and quickly returned to brag of his success. Others, of course, beat a path in his footsteps and the famous Santa Fe Trail was born.
With the Trail established, Americans came to settle. They were a colorful mix of farmers, fur trappers and lumbermen who saw the possibility of wealth in the region's untouched resources. By this time, Americans were inflamed with the concept of “manifest destiny," the idea that the country should stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In 1846 the United States was at war with Mexico, and General Stephen Kearney rode into Santa Fe with his army to declare New Mexico an American possession. New Mexico became an U.S. territory in 1850 and a state in 1912.
With American status came the military presence. A series of forts sprang up in northern New Mexico. Feeding the army was a major enterprise. Vast ranches grew out of the wilderness and soon huge cattle drives were a common sight. Increased safety brought a new wave of arrivals, many of them European immigrants.
In 1853 Jean Baptiste Lamy, a native of France, became Santa Fe's first archbishop. Lamy was controversial because he defrocked a number of native priests and brought the church under more central control. But he also founded the first schools and hospitals in Santa Fe and built the Romanesque Saint Francis Cathedral and Loretto Chapel.
A number of young German Jewish men, driven from their homeland by poor economic conditions and the threat of military conscription, also found their way down the Santa Fe Trail. They forged important economic links to the Indian reservations, the East Coast and Europe. Eventually they brought their families to Santa Fe, opened mercantile businesses and became the first bankers.
The coming of the railroad in 1879 brought dramatic changes. Manufactured goods and the first tourists came to Santa Fe and things like Indian art were shipped to the East. Santa Fe had an exotic appeal, one that railroad marketers avidly promoted. The area became famous for open, untamed spaces and personal freedom. Artists, eccentrics and bohemians of all sorts came in droves. Many artists, who would later gain international reputations, clustered on Canyon Road, then a rural area with some of the cheapest housing in town.
The 1930s and 40s brought a different type of cowboy - from Hollywood. A number of popular westerns were filmed in the area and celebrities like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Greer Garson were frequent visitors. With two movie ranches, a wealth of natural beauty and a state of the art soundstage at the College of Santa Fe, the city still draws the movie and television industries.
The heritage of the Old West is very much alive in Santa Fe from the charming rail yard district around Guadalupe Street to the cowboy boots many locals wear. It is also a matter of attitude - a spirit of independence, a forthright way of speaking and a love for the offbeat. To Indian and Hispanic culture in Santa Fe, Americans who followed the call to the West with adventure in their hearts added their own distinctive flair.