New Mexico received its name long before the present-day nation of Mexico won independence from Spain and adopted that name in 1821. The name "Mexico" derives from Nahuatl and originally referred to the heartland of the Mexica (Aztec) Empire in the Valley of Mexico, far from the area of New Mexico.
Following their conquest of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, the Spanish began exploring what is now the western United States, using "Mexico" in 1563 to name the region of New Mexico (Spanish: Nuevo México). In 1581, the Chamuscado and Rodríguez Expedition named the region north of the Rio Grande San Felipe del Nuevo México. The Spaniards had hoped to find wealthy indigenous cultures similar to those of the Mexica's in central Mexico. The indigenous cultures of New Mexico, however, proved to be unrelated to the Mexicas and lacking in riches, but the name persisted.
As a part of New Spain, the claims for the province of New Mexico passed to independent Mexico in 1821 following the Mexican War of Independence.:109 The Republic of Texas claimed the portion east of the Rio Grande when it seceded from Mexico in 1836 when it incorrectly assumed the older Hispanic settlements of the upper Rio Grande were the same as the newly established Mexican settlements of Texas. Texas's only attempt to establish a presence or control in the claimed territory was the failed Texan Santa Fe Expedition. Their entire army was captured and jailed by the Hispanic New Mexico militia.
At the turn of the 19th century, the extreme northeastern part of New Mexico, north of the Canadian River and east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was still claimed by France, which sold it in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. When the Louisiana Territory was admitted as a state in 1812, the U.S. reclassified it as part of the Missouri Territory. The region (along with territory that makes up present-day southeastern Colorado, the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, and southwestern Kansas) was ceded to Spain under the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819.
By 1800, the population of New Mexico had reached 25,000.
Following the victory of the United States in the Mexican–American War (1846–48), the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in Mexico ceding its northern holdings to the U.S., including the territories of California, Texas, and New Mexico.:132 The American government vowed to accept the residents' claims to their lands and to accept them as full citizens with rights of suffrage.
After Texas was admitted as a state in 1845, it continued to claim a northeastern portion of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande. Under the Compromise of 1850, it was forced by the U.S. government to drop these claims in exchange for $10million in federal funds.:135 Pursuant to the compromise, Congress established the separate New Mexico Territory in September. of that year; it included most of present-day Arizona and New Mexico, along with the Las VegasValley and what would later become Clark County in Nevada.
In 1853, the U.S. acquired the mostly desert southwestern bootheel of the state, along with Arizona land south of the Gila River, in the Gadsden Purchase, which was needed for the right-of-way to encourage construction of a transcontinental railroad.:136
Civil war effects in New Mexico
When the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, both Confederate and Union governments claimed ownership and territorial rights over New Mexico Territory. The Confederacy claimed the southern tract as its own Arizona Territory, and as part of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the war, waged the ambitious New Mexico Campaign to control the American Southwest and open up access to Union California. Confederate power in the New Mexico Territory was effectively broken after the Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862. However, the Confederate territorial government continued to operate out of Texas, and Confederate troops marched under the Arizona flag until the end of the war. More than 8,000 men from New Mexico Territory served in the Union Army.
In the late 19th century, the majority of officially European-descended residents in New Mexico were ethnic mestizos of Native Mexican and Native American (Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, Genízaro, and Comanche) ancestry, many of whom had deep roots in the area from early Spanish colonial times, this distinctly New Mexican ethnic group became referred to as the Hispanos of New Mexico. Politically, they still controlled most of the town and county offices through area elections, and wealthy sheepherder families commanded considerable influence, preferring business, legislative, and judicial relations with fellow indigenous New Mexican groups. The Anglo Americans (which included recent African American arrivals) tended to have more ties to the territorial governor and judges, who were appointed by officials outside of the region. The Anglo minority was "outnumbered, but well-organized and growing". These newly arrived settlers often tried to maintain New Mexico as a territory, since the governor was being assigned by the President of the United States, and they were worried about Native and Hispano communities being in positions of power. This mob mentality would sometimes culminate in the lynching of the Native, Hispanic, and Mexican peoples, as was attempted at the Frisco shootout. Prominent people attempted to fight this prejudice, including Vigil, Garrett, Otero, Curry, Larrazolo, Baca, Hagerman, and major constituents from both major political parties, the Democratic Party of New Mexico and the Republican Party of New Mexico.
The United States Congress admitted New Mexico as the 47th state on January 6, 1912.:166 It had been eligible for statehood 60 years earlier but was delayed due to its majority of the population being "alien" (i.e. Mexican-American).
European-American settlers in the state had an uneasy relationship with the large Native American tribes, most of whose members lived on reservations at the beginning of the 20th century. Although Congress passed a law in 1924 that granted all Native Americans U.S. citizenship, as well as the right to vote in federal and state elections, New Mexico was among several states with Jim Crow laws, e.g. those who do not pay taxes cannot vote.
A major oil discovery in 1928 brought wealth to the state, especially Lea County and the town of Hobbs. The town was named after James Hobbs, a homesteader there in 1907. The Midwest State No.1 well, begun in late 1927 with a standard cable-tool drilling rig, revealed the first signs of oil from the Hobbs field on June 13, 1928. Drilled to 4,330 feet and completed a few months later, the well-produced 700 barrels of oil per day on state land. The Midwest Refining Company's Hobbs well-produced oil until 2002. The New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources called it "the most important single discovery of oil in New Mexico's history".
Any other citizen, regardless of race, in the State of New Mexico who has not paid one cent of tax of any kind or character, if he possesses the other qualifications, may vote. An Indian, and only an Indian, in order to meet the qualifications to vote, must have paid a tax. How you can escape the conclusion that makes a requirement with respect to an Indian as a qualification to exercise the elective franchise and does not make that requirement with respect to the member of any race is beyond me.Native Americans from New Mexico fought for the United States in both the First and Second World Wars. Veterans were disappointed to return and find their civil rights limited by state discrimination. In Arizona and New Mexico, veterans challenged state laws or practices prohibiting them from voting. In 1948, after veteran Miguel Trujillo, Sr. of Isleta Pueblo was told by the county registrar that he could not register to vote, he filed suit against the county in federal district court. A three-judge panel overturned as unconstitutional New Mexico's provisions that Indians who did not pay taxes (and could not document if they had paid taxes) could not vote. Judge Phillips wrote:
New Mexico has received large amounts of federal government spending on major military and research institutions in the state. It is home to three Air Force bases, the White Sands Missile Range, and the federal research laboratories Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. The state's population grew rapidly after World War II, nearly doubling between 1940 and 1960; by 2000, residents numbered over 1.8 million from roughly 532,000 in 1940. While the high military presence brought considerable investment, it has also been the center of controversy; on May 22, 1957, a B-36 accidentally dropped a nuclear bomb 4.5 miles from the control tower while landing at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque; only its conventional "trigger" detonated.
In addition to federal personnel and agencies, many residents and businesses moved to state, particularly from the northeast, often drawn by its warm climate and low taxes. The pattern continues into the 21st century, with New Mexico adding over 400,000 residents between 2000 and 2020.
In the late 20th century, Native Americans were authorized by federal law to establish gaming casinos on their reservations under certain conditions, in states which had authorized such gaming. Such facilities have helped tribes close to population centers generate revenues for reinvestment in the economic development and welfare of their peoples.