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Along the Camino Real: Pre-history to 1820

Early Inhabitants

The first people in the Mesilla Valley arrived ten thousand years ago, setting up temporary camps along the Rio Grande. They hunted buffalo, antelope, and deer along the marshes bordering the river and the surrounding grasslands. When the river marshes dried up and the game disappeared, they settled as farmers. They built pit-house villages and ditches to carry water to their fields. Still, it was a harsh existence, and a thousand years ago, these early inhabitants disappeared.
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Manso Indians

The first Spanish colonists passed near Paso del Norte, present day Juárez. Indians greeted them with the cry manxos y amigos, declaring themselves a "gentle and friendly" people. The Manso, as the Spaniards called them, shared food and supplies with the succession of passing explorers, priests, and colonists. The Manso ranged from Paso del Norte to Hatch. By the late 1700s, intermarriage with other tribes living near the Guadalupe Mission in Juárez had cost the Manso their tribal identity. The merged tribes became known as the Pueblo Indians of Guadalupe Mission.

Camino Real

In 1598, Spanish Conquistador Juan de Oñate and his followers founded the first European settlements along the upper Rio Grande. The new road from Mexico City to Santa Fe became the Camino Real. This Royal Road covered 1,500 miles and linked the New Mexico provinces to the religion, language, and architecture of the colonial capital. North of Las Cruces, the marshy riverbanks became impassable for caravans on the Camino Real. Travelers chose the Jornada del Muerto, or Journey of the Dead Man. This part of the trail veered away from the river valley in a ninety mile, waterless stretch.

Pueblo Revolt

One hundred years of colonial rule left the Pueblo people near starvation and banned from practicing their religion. Popé, a San Juan Pueblo religious leader, unified the Pueblos against the Spanish. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 left one-third of New Mexico's Spanish population dead. The rest fled to the El Paso del Norte Missions. Spain reclaimed New Mexico in 1692, but the Pueblo Revolt delayed European settlement in the region for more than a century.


Guadalupe Indians

The Guadalupe Mission Indians' descendants helped settle the Mesilla Valley in the mid-1800s. By the turn of the century, tribal government had moved from Paso del Norte to Las Cruces. It became associated with Saint Genevieve's Catholic Church. In 1910, the annual Guadalupe Day Fiesta moved to the nearby village of Tortugas and the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Today, the Piro-Manso-Tiwa still celebrate their heritage with feast days and an annual pilgrimage to nearby Tortugas Mountain.

Mescalero Apaches

The Apache migrated here in the early 1500s. They claimed southern New Mexico as their winter hunting grounds. They raided Spanish caravans and stole horses, which kept the Spanish from settling the Mesilla Valley until the 1830s. Eventually, the U.S. Army starved the Mescalero into submission. On May 27, 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant established the Mescalero Reservation in the White and Sacramento Mountains. The reservation is home to more than 3,000 Apaches, comprised of Mescalero, Chiricahua, and Lipan Apache tribes.