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NM Centennial

An Atlas of Historic New Mexico Maps, 15501941

Unit Five: Becoming American


Analyze historic maps in order to identify important people, places, and events in New Mexico during the period from the Mexican-American War to the Indian Wars, including the Civil War and local conflicts.

Collaborate to identify key points and present them verbally.

Identify and reproduce border changes during this period.

Research a key historical figure during this period, write about that figure and their relationship with the other groups in New Mexico.

Interview other students and be interviewed in the persona of this character.

Identify and describe major events from this period, compare an event as described by eyewitnesses or in oral histories to standard accounts of that event.

Reflect on the regional impact of events in New Mexico.
















Activity I: Becoming American

Before 1846, being New Mexican meant that you were a Spanish-speaking Catholic, loyal to your country. Perhaps that country was once Spain, and then was Mexico, but either way, customs and language were familiar. Suddenly, your country is invaded, your laws are rewritten in the foreign language of your new government, and a military occupation--which will last fifty years--begins.

Before the lesson: get a large laminated map of North America, including Mexico.

Looking at the maps

Students should each select one map to examine and complete a map analysis worksheet (see link below). Then all the students who have chosen a given map should collate their findings in a small group and present it to the class.

On a laminated map of North America, have students use dry erase markers of different colors to draw the borders of New Mexico. One student from each map group should be designated to do the drawing. As a challenge, have them additionally draw the map of New Mexico's borders in 1818. Ask students: When was New Mexico the biggest during this period? When was it the smallest?

John Disturnell: Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Méjico: 1846

AB Gray: The vicinity of the Rio Grande and Southern Boundary of New Mexico as referred to by US Surveyor: 1851

William H. Emory: Map of The United States and Their Territories Between The Mississippi & the Pacific Ocean And Part Of Mexico: 1857

Map Analysis Worksheet (PDF)

Activity II: Complex Relationships

New Mexicans had complex relationships with the Americans, with the Mexican government, and with each other. For example, the Navajo were pleased that the Americans had come to defeat their age-old enemy, the Mexicans, and were surprised that the Americans turned down their offer to join forces against the New Mexicans. The purpose of this exercise is to examine how these relationships resulted in both a bloodless occupation of New Mexico and the resulting Taos Rebellion.

Students should pick a figure & analyze their role in these relationships. Possible choices include:

Dona Tules (Gertrudis Barcelas)

Susan Magoffin & family

James Bartlett

William H. Emory

General Kearney

Father Antonio José Martinez

William Watts Hart Davis

Governor Manuel Armijo

Charles Bent

Lucien Maxwell

Colonel Doniphan

Chavez family

Plains individual

Pueblo individual

Navajo individual

Apache individual

Each student should begin by picking a historical figure or persona, and using library or internet resources to research that figure. Using the search function at the Atlas is a good place to start. If the student has chosen a Native point of view, then it is helpful to read through the "Other Voices" tabs/sections, which contain oral histories collected from tribal elders. Students can access articles or books from the period from the bibliography, and also critically reference illustrations or period photographs (under the media tab). Each student should write one page on that person's involvement in current events, cultural background, and preferred expressive form. Students should consider the person's standard of living; economic motivations; religious faith; level of literacy; community/ civic values; nationality; relationship with the U.S. government; relationship with the Mexican government of New Mexico; relationship with tribal groups; relationships with individuals of whatever nation.

In the persona of the character he or she has chosen, each student should create a "response" so the other students can "interview" him or her.

Research a historical figure

Take notes from resource books.

As a class, formulate and record the interview questions

Develop responses to the interview

In character (and in costume, if the students want), allow each student to be interviewed by the rest of the class. Possible questions include:

What is your country? Are you loyal to your country?

Are you in favor of the American occupation?

When you look to the future, what do you hope? What do you fear?

What do you think about Americans?

How do you think Americans see you?

How do you think New Mexicans see you?

Office of the State Historian: Father Antonio José Martinez

Activity III: War and Rumors of War

Upon New Mexico's admission in the Union, the U.S. set to work securing routes for travel and commerce. The Army constructed forts at first along the Santa Fe Trail and the Chihuahua Trail (the old Camino Real), then deep within the traditional territory of Apaches and Navajos in New Mexico.

For a number of years, the Army pursued a dogged, but mostly fruitless fight against the natives, who were more familiar with the land and easily evaded pursuit and capture. As suspicion deepened between the Americans and the tribes, violence escalated. The effort to control the Apache and Navajo was temporarily interrupted by the Civil War. Texas and Arizona had joined the Confederacy, and Colonel Henry Sibley thought he could take New Mexico, then push through (perhaps on the Old Spanish Trail) west to California, establishing a supply link from the Pacific ports to the embattled, and blockaded, Confederacy. Sibley failed to manage his own supply line, and had to return to Texas or face starvation.

After the end of the war, the government renewed efforts to eradicate the tribes they viewed as impeding Manifest Destiny. The Navajo and Mescalero were ruthlessly rounded up and removed, in a forced march that killed many, to the Bosque Redondo reservation on the Pecos. The Bosque Redondo, like the equally unsuccessful San Carlos reservation for the western Apaches in Arizona, was woefully underfunded by the government, and the natives interned there ended up leaving. The Mescalero escaped and ended up negotiating a reservation in their homeland of the Sacramento Mountains. The Navajo mostly stayed until they could negotiate a treaty to return to their homeland in what had by that time become the four corners area.

The Gila and Chiricahua Apache who escaped from the reservation were not so lucky. They were hunted and harassed until the remaining members of several bands, led by legendary warrior Geronimo, finally surrendered in 1886. The entire tribe was removed first to Florida, then Alabama, and finally to Oklahoma, where they were put on the Fort Sill Military Reservation. The Disturnell map, although it was published the year the wars began, shows New Mexico before the onset of these conflicts, and the U.S. Topo Bureau Map captures a time when these conflicts were in full swing (links below).

Students should complete a map analysis worksheet for the Topo Bureau map. Ask them to make a list of all the features on this map that were not on the Disturnell map. Include on that list features that are more accurately represented. Examples of features include forts, roads, routes, reservations, border placement, size of New Mexico, placename spelling.

Ask students to consider the quotation on the Age of Technology section page (click link for Age of Technology at the top of the page).

Discuss as a class: How did the military contribute to the improvement of geographical knowledge? What was the purpose of this?

Assess what students know by asking them to compare the following conflicts:

Mexican-American War/ Kearny's invasion of New Mexico

Taos Rebellion

Navajo, Apache, Kiowa, Comanche raids on New Mexicans for slaves or hostages

New Mexicans raiding surrounding tribes for impressed labor

Civil War/ Sibley's invasion of New Mexico

Ameicans attacking Mescalero and Navajos in their homelands

Americans try to subdue Chiricahua Apache

Draw a chart on the blackboard in order to track students' reponses. Columns should name each conflict in the list above, and rows include the following categories:

Combatants (who was on each side, who had what allies)

What formal governments?

Why? (stated cause of the conflict)

Resolution (general terms of the treaty)

Was the conflict limited to New Mexico? (yes/no)

There are several pertinent narratives in the Atlas:

(1846) Magoffin: Mexican War & Taos Rebellion

Native Histories (in other voices tabs): Apache and Navajo raiding.

(1867) Bennett: Early skirmishes against Apache, Navajo, and Ute, fort building

(1867) Sibley: Invasion of NM

(1867) Carleton and Carson: Indian Wars

Students should choose a conflict and read through the narratives for that person. They should read a textbook or other academic account (e.g. refer to Twitchell or Bolton in the bibliography) and compare the two versions. Ask the students to write at least one page answering the following questions:

What was the eyewitness perception of current events?

To what extent, and in what ways was he or she correct?

If it is the case (like with Magoffin, Sibley, Bennett, Carson) that they were in the midst of the conflict, why might their version of events differ? Possible explanations might include cultural bias, lack of communication, or language differences among the parties involved.

If the account the student is comparing is from an oral history, what might account for differences between that account and the "official" version?


As a class, students should discuss the difference between the impact of these war on the individuals they researched and the impact of war on the region. Ask them if the costs to the individuals were justified by the long results. For example, students may identify a regional impact as the government being able to settle New Mexico, and stimulate the national economy by building transcontinental railroads through the southwest and homesteading areas formerly inhabited by native people. Is that long-term impact worth the short term cost? Ask the students if they would feel differently if it were their family involved in these events.

John Disturnell: Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Méjico: 1846

1867: U.S. Topo Bureau: Old Territory and Military Department of New Mexico


Roberts and Roberts A History of New Mexico, second revised edition

Unit Four, Chapter 10

New Mexico Comes Under United States Rule

pp 203-234 (end of the section)

Lavash, Journey Through New Mexico History, Revised Edition

Chapter VIII Rule by Mexico: Conditions Leading to War

pp120-163 (end of discussion about Bosque Redondo)


Could the student accurately identify key places, events and people of this period? Can the student place the chronology and identify cause and effect?

Did the student demonstrate cogent analysis of the maps?

Did the student participate in group work and contribute positively to the final product of the group?

Did the student complete the research? Was it thorough? Documented?

Was the student able to deliver an interview as this figure?

Did the student ask questions of other students?

Did the student support arguments with facts or evidence?

Did the student accurately compare and contrast the two accounts of a historical conflict?

Did the student reflect, self-monitor, and self-correct?


Key Ideas and Details:


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

Craft and Structure:


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.


Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).


Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.


Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.


Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

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