Taos history started with the Native American Pueblo that has endured through time to the current day. Steeped in about 1,000 years of tradition, the story of Taos has been traced back by archaeologists to before the time of Columbus’ discovery of America and hundreds of years before Europe rose from the Dark Ages. According to legend, an eagle led the Tewa people to the Taos Valley.
In 1540, the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Alvarado arrived. The story has it that when he witnessed the sun shining on the straw of the pueblo adobes, he thought he found the famed Cities of Gold.
In 1615, the area was established as Fernandez de Taos upon the impending Spanish conquest of the village. Originally, the Spanish and Native American settlers coexisted peacefully during the early 17th century, but as the Spanish population grew and interracial marriages occurred in great numbers; the Indian population concerns grew. The Spanish conquerors’ continual demands for tribute and cultural changes crying for assimilation spurred racial tensions to an all-time high.
Fr. Pedro de Miranda built the Mission de San Geronimo for the pueblo in 1617. The rising conflict due to increasing pressure to cease the traditional rites peaked with the death of Miranda and two soldiers in 1640. Many of the people of the pueblo left the area to not return until 1661.
The famed Pueblo Revolt of 1680 witnessed the combined Pueblo forces driving out the Spanish until 1692. Pueblo forces continued armed resistance until the completion of the Spanish Re-Conquista of 1696 when Governor Diego de Vargas defeated the Indians at Taos Canyon.
Throughout the 1770s, Taos was victim to many Comanche skirmishes. The invaders came frequently from eastern Colorado and pressed downward in the drive for more land and resources. Juan Bautista de Anza—the Governor of the Province of New Mexico at the time—led a successful battle expeditionary force 1779 to finally crush the long-time threat.
By 1795, Spanish settlers that had lived in the Pueblo for protection from raids moved to the location of present-day Taos. In the following year, Governor Fernando Chacon approves to place the Fernando de Taos grant in the hands of 63 families. The land overlaps land granted to the Pueblo as well as most of the present day area.
After the United States conquest of New Mexico of 1846, Spanish and Pueblo settlers’ descendants staged the famed rebellion called the Taos Revolt—killing newly-appointed U.S. Governor, Charles Bent in 1847. Much strife ended when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848, ending the Mexican-American war and ceding Taos and the Southwest to the U.S.
The Taos story entwined with its well-known artistic roots in 1898 when Ernest Blumenschein, the first American artist, and friend Bert Phillips arrived in Taos due to a broken wagon-wheel. They stayed.
In 1899, other artists came and started to settle in the art colony Blumenschein and Phillips started. Mabel Luhan Dodge and her international art influence drew the influx. She often invited artists, writers and other creative people to her famous salon. The Taos Society of Artists was founded in 1915 with Oscar Berninghaus, Josepf Sharp, E. Irving Couse and Herbert Dunton. The early stylings of the European-trained artists were revolutionary–reflecting local nature scenes and everyday activities of the Pueblo people. Many artists took their inspiration from the traditional native art present in the area as well as the environment.
By applying academic methods to newer, native themes, the founding six artists of the Society sparked a new school of American painting.
The salon continued to draw luminaries of the time through the years such as Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz and author D.H. Lawrence.
Some of the artists’ studios have been preserved for viewing and are main attractions and points of interests for visitors who come to see Taos. Other influential Taos artists include Nikolai Fechin, R.C. Gorman, Agnes Martin and Bill Rane. The impact made by Dodge’s salon still affects the art trade presently.
Today, Taos is a major hub for tourism in the Southwest. With everything under the sun to keep one busy from skiing and hiking to shopping and art gallery-hopping, many travelers seek the solace of a New Mexico sunset without the hustle and bustle of the larger cities. Being dubbed as a “mini-Santa Fe”, Taos’s Old World charm meets Modern Day convenience by being centrally located to some of the best New Mexico has to offer in recreation, restaurants and amenities.
Taos Trivia and Lore:
The Francisco de Asis church in Ranchos de Taos is featured in four Georgia O’Keefe works and was described by her as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.”
Lore has it that the Taos Hum is an ongoing low frequency noise, audible only to some, is thought to originate somewhere near the town. Those who have heard the Hum usually hear it west of Taos near Tres Orejas.