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Taos - History


Taos History

The first permanent residents of the Taos area were descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans from the Four Corners area. The Taos Pueblo, a spectacular example of Native American architecture dating back to 1440, was a thriving community by the time conquistador Hernando de Alvarado came to the area in 1540. By 1598, Padre de Zamora had established the first mission, and in 1617 Fray Pedro de Miranda led the first flock of Spanish colonists to the area we now know as Taos, a Tewa phrase meaning 'place of the red willows'.

After 100 years of Spanish rule and shaky tolerance between the Native Americans and the Spanish colonists, the Pueblo peoples rebelled in the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680. All the Spaniards in the area were either killed or forced to flee, and many ended up in what is now El Paso, Texas. The next influx of Spanish settlers began in 1692, when Don Diego de Vargas arrived with orders to reconquer the Indians. After four years of violence, colonists came to live in areas around the pueblo and in Rancho de Taos and Taos Plaza.

French trappers came in 1739 to hunt in the rich beaver ponds of the surrounding area, and the second phase of Taos history began. The town soon became a trading center for mountain men and Indians in surrounding pueblos. Traders from as far away as Missouri and Mexico came with wagon trains full of goods to the famous Taos trade fairs. Kit Carson, the most prominent name in the westward expansion, first came to Taos in 1826 and continued to visit sporadically between his expeditions, before locating there permanently in 1843. In 1847, Hispanics and members of the Taos Pueblo fought against American rule, and Governor Charles Bent died in the massacre that followed.

The third phase of Taos' history began with the arrival of Anglo artists and writers at the turn of the century. In 1898, the painter Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips were on a sketching expedition, but a broken wagon wheel forced them to stay for an extended period in town. Blumenschein returned for many summers, and he and his family took up permanent residence in 1919. He was one of six artists to establish the Taos Society of Artists in 1915, and he is recognized as the founding father of Taos' artists' colony. Bert Harwood, Nicholai Fechin, Leon Gaspard and later DH Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams all contributed to Taos' reputation as a center for artists and writers.

These days, the thing to remember about Taos is that, although it can get thick with tourists, the crowds tend to stick to the plaza area. Remnants of hippie culture are evident, and the predominant feel is casual - you won't find minks and limos here. The Santa Fe scene has thankfully not yet found its way to Taos.



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