Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Santa Fe's 400th May Be Closer Than City Thinks

SANTA FE The Ancient and Royal City of Santa Fe soon will be celebrating its 400th anniversary. But when?
Santa Fe’s 350th anniversary was celebrated in 1960, with much hoopla attracting national and international attention. I was a college student at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque at the time, with my attention devoted to many pursuits other than historical celebrations. But I remember the media coverage.
Since then, it has been discovered that Santa Fe is at least three years older, and may have been founded as early as 1605. But local leaders in the City Different seem quite indifferent to the whole idea of moving their 400th birthday celebration to an earlier date.
Even before the 1960 celebration, there were indications that Santa Fe was established a few years prior to 1610. In 1944, UNM history professor Frank Scholes mentioned a 1607 founding date in a footnote, citing material owned by a London documents broker. But no one followed up on it for the 1960 celebration.
It wasn’t until 1994, when someone noticed that footnote in a publication that Museum of New Mexico officials contacted the London firm and learned that 50 years later, the documents still had not been purchased. Museum officials then made an undisclosed offer and the papers now belong to the state of New Mexico.
The 50 pages of material include notarized papers with official seals, some signed by New Mexico’s first governor Juan de Onate. One of the bigger surprises in the documents is the revelation that our state briefly had a second governor, who never was recognized by history books.
When the Spanish viceroy of Mexico City ordered Onate to resign his command because of allegations of cruelty, Juan Martinez de Montoya was named his successor as governor. But Martinez was dismissed when it became evident he was more interested in developing the settlement of Santa Fe and improving relations with the natives than in searching for gold.
These newly-discovered documents were assembled by Martinez’s descendents to win recognition of his service in the settlement of New Mexico. The Martinez family initiated a legal proceeding to petition the crown to grant its ancestor the noble rank of hidalgo.
The discovery of these documents was quite a find because most of New Mexico’s first 82 years of history disappeared during the Pueblo revolt of 1680.
Six years ago, when New Mexico celebrated the 400th anniversary of its founding in 1598, near San Juan Pueblo, north of Espanola, festivities were marred by protests about Onate’s cruelty to the natives.
If Martinez turns out to be Santa Fe’s founder, we could have a politically correct good time, celebrating him as the symbol of the struggle for “perfect friendship among united cultures,” as our state flag pledge proclaims.
Museum staff went to work studying those documents as soon as they were obtained 10 years ago. While speaking at a function at Rancho de Las Golondrinas just south of Santa Fe, sometime after the document study began, Museum of New Mexico Director Tom Chavez told Santa Fe Mayor Debbie Jaramillo, who was in the audience, that further evidence may reveal that Santa Fe was founded as early as 1605.
A few years one way or the other may not be of great importance. But it does put our founding at least as early as Jamestown, Va. It also puts more distance between us and Plymouth, Mass., founded in 1620. It doesn’t get us much closer to St. Augustine, Fla., which received much publicity during Hurricane Frances, as being founded in 1565.
But Santa Fe still has some of its original buildings, which the others can’t claim and it always has been a capital city, which gives us some bragging rights.
A group of community leaders is reportedly beginning efforts to approach the city council with a proposal to move the celebration to at least 2007 and to begin planning efforts immediately.


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