New Mexico's True History

Few places on earth offer the rich history and blend of cultures you’ll find in New Mexico. We are the home to dozens of Native American pueblos, tribes and nations. There is also over 500 years of Hispanic culture to discover; as well as the great history of the True West, and Billy the Kid. All of these influences can be found and experienced in the modern New Mexico of today.

Native American Culture in New Mexico

“...Explore the rich history of New Mexico's Native American culture by visiting these monuments.”

There is evidence that Native Americans have inhabited New Mexico for over 2,500 years. Early ancestral Indians lived for centuries as hunter-gatherers throughout the Southwest. About 1,500 years ago some of these groups, commonly referred to today as the Anasazi, began practicing agriculture and established permanent settlements, which are now known as pueblos.

Other groups, like the ancestors of the Navajo and Apache, continued their nomadic lifestyles. For some New Mexican tribes, this way of life continued until well into the 19th century. But that’s not the whole story. Explore the rich history of New Mexico's Native American culture by visiting these monuments, parks and sites.

Aztec Ruins National Monument
Aztec, NM
The Aztec Ruins National Monument in northwest New Mexico preserves structures and artifacts of Ancestral Pueblo people from the 1100s through 1200s.

Bandelier National Monument
Los Alamos, NM
Head into the extensive back country in north-central New Mexico to hike, camp, and explore at leisure the lands and dwellings once occupied by the ancestors of present-day Pueblo Indians.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Nageezi, NM
A major center of Ancestral Puebloan culture, Chaco Canyon was a hub of ceremony, trade and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area.

El Morro National Monument
Ramah, NM
A reliable waterhole hidden at its base made El Morro (or Inscription Rock) a popular campsite in western New Mexico. Beginning in the late 1500s, Spanish, and later, Americans passed by El Morro.

Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument
Silver City, NM
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in southwestern New Mexico offers a glimpse of the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollón culture who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the 1280s through the early 1300s.

Petroglyph National Monument
Albuquerque, NM
The Petroglyph National Monument west of Albuquerque in central New Mexico protects a variety of cultural and natural resources including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites and an estimated 25,000 images carved by Native Americans and early Spanish settlers.

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site
Alamogordo, NM
Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is one of the few locations in the Southwest set aside solely because of its rock art. It is has over 20,000 petroglyphs, dating from 900 AD to 1400 AD, making it one of the largest and most interesting petroglyph sites in the Desert Southwest.

Village of the Great Kivas
Zuni Pueblo, NM
Village of the Great Kivas is one of the main archeological sites illustrating the development of Zuni culture, along with Yellow House, Kechipbowa and Hawihuh.
Village of the Great Kivas is prized for its impressive array of petroglyphs and pictographs.

Experience New Mexico's Vibrant Native American Culture

The rich and vibrant Native American history is celebrated today in museums, ceremonial dances, arts and crafts, language, villages and the lifestyle of New Mexico’s tribes. New Mexico tribes have witnessed and experienced many changes in their long histories, but the development of modern casinos, resorts, hotels and golf courses for their visitors have greatly improved their economic status.

The tribes welcome visitors to experience their living culture: Come visit the nations that walk in two worlds. Remember that each tribe is a sovereign nation and must be  treated with respect and honor.

Visit the Native American section on this website

More Native American Information:

Experience the history firsthand in New Mexico.

500 Years of Hispanic Culture

“...Today, visitors can feel the vibrant Hispanic traditions across the state.”

The Spanish first came to New Mexico in 1541. In 1598, the first Spanish colonial settlement, San Juan de los Caballeros, was founded in what is now northern New Mexico. The Spanish also established missions, some with beautiful churches and artwork, throughout the area. In 1706, settlers founded Albuquerque, named for the Spanish Duke de Alburquerque. For over 500 years, Hispanic culture has influenced how New Mexicans work, play and live.

Today, visitors can feel the vibrant Hispanic traditions across the state. From the food to the language and from the festivals to the arts and crafts, Hispanic culture is here for everyone to savor.

Historic Sites

El Rancho de las Golondrinas (The Ranch of the Swallows) is a living history museum located on 200 acres in a rural farming valley just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The museum, dedicated to the heritage and culture of Spanish Colonial New Mexico, opened in 1972. Original colonial buildings on the site date from the early 18th century. In addition, historic buildings from other parts of northern New Mexico have been reconstructed at Las Golondrinas. Special festivals and theme weekends offer visitors an in-depth look into the celebrations, music, dance and many other aspects of life in the period when this part of the United States was ruled by Spain and Mexico.

El Camino Real is the oldest, and longest continuously used "highway," in the country, bringing European colonists to "New Spain" (New Mexico) beginning 22 years before the Mayflower landed. It is a designated National Historic Trail.

Technically any road under the direct jurisdiction of the Spanish crown and its viceroys was a "camino real." Examples of such roads ran between principal settlements throughout Spain and its colonies, including New Spain. After Mexico won its independence from Spain, roads in Mexico gave up the camino real distinction. The name was rarely used after that and was only revived in the American period in connection with the Mission Revival movement of the early 20th century.

Hispanic Arts

Spanish Market, held annually in late July on the Santa Fe Plaza, showcases traditional Hispanic art forms and artists.

The traditional artforms featured each year at Spanish Market include the following:
Santos - depictions of religious figures in the forms of bultos (carvings in the round).
Retablos (paintings on wooden panels) and gesso and wood relief-carved panels.
Hide paintings - religious images painted on deer or elk hide
Straw appliqué - crosses, chests and boxes decorated with applied straw
Textiles - handwoven on looms using handspun yarns
Furniture - usually made from pine using mortise and tenon joints
Colcha - unique regional embroideries employing the colcha stitch
Tinwork - decorative and utilitarian objects of cut and punched tin
Ironwork - tools, fastenings, and household objects forged from iron
Precious metals - silver or gold jewelry, utilitarian and devotional objects
Pottery - hand sculpted bowls, pots, and other wares made from micaceous clay
Bonework - decorative items, anillos (rings) and tool handles carved from bones
Ramilletes - decorative paper garlands
Basketry - baskets handwoven from red and brown river willow

Spanish Market is organized and produced by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, which supports Hispanic artists through educational programs, grants, and the production of Spanish Market in July and Winter Spanish Market in December. These two major exhibitions give visitors a rare opportunity to meet some of the best Hispanic artists working in the region today.The Society's collection of more than 3,500 art objects is housed at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art at 750 Camino Lejo (Museum Hill) in Santa Fe. The collections include Spanish colonial artforms covering four centuries and four continents.


National Hispanic Cultural Center

The National Hispanic Cultural Center presents and preserves Hispanic culture at the local, state, national and international levels. Its 16-acre campus is home to an art museum, performing arts complex, education center, history and literary arts building and several outdoor patios and plazuelas. Throughout the year visitors can enjoy a diverse mix of traditional and contemporary art, music, dance, theatre, book signings, lectures and family programming. The Center also offers a restaurant and gift shop.

Billy The Kid The most notorious name in New Mexico.

“...the Kid’s cheerful disposition only disguised a quick temper that sometimes drove him to commit audacious acts of crime”

Henry McCarty, a rather ordinary name for a young man who left an extraordinary mark on the Old West. His nickname still rings through the mesas, valleys and high plains of these United States. Out of all of the Old West's outlaws, his moniker rises above everyone else. In correspondence, he used his familiar, formal alias of William H. Bonney. And for the last eight months of his precarious life to the present day, he has been notoriously known as Billy the Kid.

Little is known about Henry’s early life. Henry McCarty may have been born in New York City, perhaps near the present-day Brooklyn Bridge on the lower East Side of Manhattan, sometime in 1859. He and his older brother Joe moved with their mother Catherine to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1865. There she apparently met a younger man who eventually became the boys' stepfather. The four moved to Wichita, Kansas in 1870; then possibly to Denver, Colorado; and then to Santa Fe, New Mexico where the couple was married in 1873. Soon after, the William H. Antrim family moved to Silver City and lived in a modest cabin on Main Street.

Henry was a bright and literate boy. He loved books and music. After his mother died of tuberculosis in September 1874, the family fell apart. Separated from his brother and placed in foster homes, Henry worked in a butch¬er shop and in a hotel where he washed dishes and waited on tables. Eventually, he ran afoul of the law and was arrested for a second petty theft in September 1875. While in jail, Henry shimmied up the chimney and escaped to southeast Arizona. Two years later, after killing a blacksmith, he fled back to New Mexico as a horse thief drawn to rifles and pistols. From then on, Henry carried the alias "Kid.”

Lean and muscular, at around 5-foot-8 in height and roughly 140 pounds, the Kid kept somewhat of a healthy regimen. Rarely, if ever, did he drink liquor or smoke, and he loved to sing and dance. He also enjoyed gambling and became proficient at cards, using his slight of hand while dealing Monte. The Kid was a charmer; he spoke fluent Spanish and easily befriended Hispanics, especially the señoritas. But the Kid’s cheerful disposition only disguised a quick temper that sometimes drove him to commit audacious acts of crime.

Contrary to popular folklore of the Old West, Billy the Kid never killed 21 men. He was solely responsible for the deaths of just four men, two of them his jailhouse guards, and helped dispatch five others. At Old Fort Sumner on July 14, 1881 the young fugitive ran out of luck — tracked down and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett. It was only a year before, in December of 1880, when Henry was dubbed as “Billy, the Kid” by the Las Vegas Gazette and had received a high degree of recognition in tabloids from near and far. 

Although Henry McCarty roamed the New Mexico Territory for only the last nine years of his short, tumultuous life, he called it home. Today, more than a century after his death, points of interest throughout New Mexico echo the stories of Billy the Kid. Retrace the hoof prints. See the wagon wheel impressions. Visit the ghost towns. Walk where they walked. And travel through the annals of time along the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway. Whether you're looking to follow the history of Billy the Kid, the Lincoln County War, Sheriff Pat Garrett, or any other legend of the Old West across our once lawless landscape, you can find it all here in New Mexico.