New Mexico’s diverse history, reflected in ancient Native American kivas, Spanish Colonial churches and 19th-century military forts, is preserved and protected through the New Mexico Historic Site system.
The seven sites within the system are situated on land owned and controlled by the state of New Mexico and open to the public. Each site tells a unique story integral to the understanding of New Mexico’s fascinating, centuries’ long history.
Located north of Albuquerque in Bernalillo, Coronado Historic Site marks the northernmost of the 12 villages where Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his troops made contact with the Native peoples of the area. The village of Kuaua, which means evergreen in Tiwa, was first settled in A.D. 1325 and occupied by 1,200 people when Coronado arrived in 1540. Conflict with Coronado and later Spanish explorers led to the abandonment of this site within a century of initial contact.
When archaeologists from the Museum of New Mexico excavated the ruins of Kuaua Pueblo during the 1930s, they discovered a square kiva with many layers of mural paintings. Fourteen examples of the original art are on display in the visitor’s center.
The stone ruins of a 500-year-old Indian village highlight a visit to the Jemez Historic Site. Giusewa, whose name refers to the hot springs in the area, is the village that was built by the ancestors of the present-day people of Jemez Pueblo. It was occupied into the 17th century, which was the time when the Spanish established a Catholic mission and built the village’s San José de los Jemez church.
An interpretative trail winds through the ruins. The visitor’s center contains exhibits that tell the story of the site through the words of the Jemez people.
The most visited historic site in New Mexico is the Lincoln Historic Site. It includes 17 adobe and stone structures and outbuildings built in the Territorial style of architecture that show what life was like in Lincoln County in the 1870s and 1880s. On the grounds are the Old Lincoln County Courthouse, the Tunstall store with original 19th-century merchandise in the original shelving and cases, the defensive tower of the village, the San Juan Mission Church and the Montaño Store.
The Anderson-Freeman Museum features historical exhibits starting with Native Indian prehistory and ending with the Lincoln County War of 1878-1881. A 12-minute video about the war and the community is shown throughout the day.
Two New Mexico forts are part of the New Mexico Historic Site system. Fort Selden is an adobe fort built on the banks of the Rio Grande that was established in 1865 in an effort to bring peace to the south central region of New Mexico. The fort housed units of the U.S. infantry and cavalry whose job was to protect settlers and travelers in the Mesilla Valley from desperados and Apache Indians. The fort was decommissioned and abandoned in 1891.
A visitor center offers exhibits on frontier and military life. Living history demonstrations are occasionally offered on weekends from 1 to 4 p.m during the summer.
Eighty-eight buildings used by military personnel in the mid-1800s constitute Fort Stanton, which was established in 1855 as a post to control the Mescalero Apache Indians. In 1861 during the early stages of the Civil War, the fort was abandoned to Confederate forces. The retreating forces tried to burn the fort, but a rainstorm extinguished the fire. The Confederates completed the destruction when they left after only a month’s occupation. The fort became part of the Union in 1862 under the command of Kit Carson.
Among the buildings on the fort are officers’ quarters and barracks, a hospital, morgue, nurses’ quarters, guardhouse, dining hall, chapel, power plant and fire station. During the 20th century, Fort Stanton was used as a tuberculosis hospital, a World War II internee camp, a training school for the mentally disabled and a low-security women’s prison.
The Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner was the center of a million-acre reservation known as the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation. The memorial recalls how the U.S. Army forcibly moved the Navajo and Mescalero Apache peoples from their traditional homelands to the reservation. According to the website bosqueredondomemorial.com, the Mescalero Apache were rounded up from their homes in the Sacramento Mountains and brought to Bosque Redondo in early 1863. The Navajo were starved into submission and forced to march hundreds of miles to the reservation.
Once there the Army tried to mold the Apache and Navajo peoples into farmers by putting them to work planting cottonwood trees, digging ditches and building a diversion dam, according to the website. The Apache escaped in the middle of the night in February 1865. Three years later the Navajo worked out a treaty with the government to allow them to return to their homelands.
A museum designed by Navajo architect David Sloan and an interpretive trail provide information about the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation’s history.
The more than three-century long history of El Camino Real, the 1,500-mile trade route that extends from Mexico City to San Juan Pueblo/Ohkay Owingeh, is documented at the El Camino Real Historic Trail Site south of Socorro. Featuring a museum shop, conference room, outdoor amphitheater, picnic areas, several gardens and nature trails, this site contains a variety of exhibits and artifacts that explore the many ways – by foot, oxen, mule and railroad – that people traveled this famous route and the people who were encountered along the way. Remnants of the early journeys include hand-hewn carts, tools, leather water jugs, and religious altars and objects.