The American Southwest


The American Southwest is rich in Native American and Spanish History.

Southwest Region of the United States

Southwest Region of the United States

Christopher Columbus‘ voyages to the “New World” were just the beginning of the intermingling of peoples and cultures that formed our nation; this rich and varied history is reflected in the prehistoric and historic sites, buildings, structures, objects and districts found throughout the land. The information here provided opportunities to explore our country’s past through visiting places that reflect major aspects of American History, such as exploration and settlement and cultural diversity.

Taos Pueblo and river, New Mexico

Taos Pueblo and river, New Mexico

The first explorers and settlers of the Southwest were American Indians; they gave the vast area much of its distinctive culture and learned how to live in its climate and geography. Some of the earliest and most expansive attempts at colonizing were made by the Spanish. Acoma, Santa Fe, Kit Carson House, El Santuario de Chimayo and Taos, in New Mexico; Hovenweep and Mesa Verde in Colorado; and San Xavier del Bac, Fort Apache, Hubbell Trading Post, Barrio Libre, Fort Bowie, Tuzigoot, in Arizona; the names of the American Southwest evoke a starkly beautiful land of deserts, mountains and fertile valleys which is both very old and very new. Arizona and New Mexico, admitted to the Union in 1912, are two of the youngest states in the nation; yet Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado contain venerable adobe communities and ancient, long-abandoned prehistoric ruins collectively representing thousands of years of human habitation.

Coronado's Expedition by Frederic Remington

Coronado’s Expedition by Frederic Remington

The earliest documented occupation of the American Southwest dates to before 9,000 B.C. While hunting and gathering activities predominated in the Great Basin and California, and bison hunting dominated the Great Plains, the peoples of the American Southwest established early agricultural communities and grew maize, beans, and squash. They constantly experimented with a variety of irrigation techniques to overcome the hot dry climate. Changes in rainfall patterns led to their constructing complex communities which would eventually be abandoned when rainfall could not support the population. Spanish explorers of the American Southwest, beginning with Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s 1540-42 expedition, encountered both settled communities and deserted ruins.

Santa Fe Palace of Governors

Santa Fe Palace of Governors

The Spanish, in making the American Southwest an outpost of their far-flung empire, brought change as religious orders, soldiers and colonists built missions, presidios (forts) and towns with distinctive central plazas and churches; Santa Fe was founded in about 1610, Albuquerque in 1706, Las Trampas in 1751, and Taos between 1780 and 1800. After the Southwest was brought into the orbit of the expansionist American nation, the Anglo influence was imprinted on the land in forts, trading posts, mining centers of silver, gold, and copper, cattle ranches, railroads, and dams.

The American Southwest with its distinctive building traditions, languages, religions, and foods, reflects the vitality of the Spanish, Mexican, Indian and Anglo cultures which formed its history and the Southwest we see today. Here, you will be introduced to prehistoric and historic sites, buildings, structures, and districts associated with the long and colorful history of the American Southwest. Many of the sites in the American Southwest contain irreplaceable prehistoric and historic artifacts that are protected by Federal and state

laws. In keeping with our responsibility to preserve these sites for future generations, visitors should be extremely careful not to disturb or remove any artifact found at these sites.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated May 2020.


Also See:

Ancient Puebloans of the Southwest

Colorado Historic Sites

Forts & Presidios Across America

New Mexico Historic Sites

Santa Fe Trail – Highway to the Southwest

Source: National Park Service

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