The Galisteo Basin has been continuously occupied by a diverse collection of peoples and cultures since pre-historic times. The earliest known humans to inhabit the Galisteo Basin were Paleo Indians who arrived in the Basin as early as 7500 to 6000 B.C. By 3000 B.C., the Galisteo Basin was inhabited by small groups of Paleo Indians whose diet consisted of wild plants and occasionally mule deer and antelope.
Around 1500 B.C., people began to supplement their gathered foods with farming practices. It is believed that the early inhabitants of the Galisteo Basin moved seasonally, growing crops in the spring and summer at clearly established camps while sustaining their diet with game and wild plants.
The Galisteo Basin remained sparsely populated until about the 12th century. Up to that time, the Basin was a trade route for turquoise, malachite, and lead—materials mined in the Cerrillos Hills. Between 1100 and 1300 A.D., New Mexico and the entire southwestern U.S. experienced a prolonged, severe drought. As the great pueblos at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde lost population, it is believed that some of the Anasazi people migrated to northern New Mexico—ultimately establishing a number of present-day Pueblo cultures. Other Anasazi people are presumed to have migrated to the Galisteo Basin, eventually sharing bloodlines with the Tanoan-speaking people already in residence.
The newcomers planted crops and built pit houses and small pueblo-like villages. Gradually these pueblos grew and coalesced into larger villages. Several large pueblos were sustained in the Galisteo Basin from the late 1200s until 1500-1600 A.D. The San Cristobal Ranch, located 12 miles south of the Galisteo Basin Preserve, was the setting for many of these pueblos.
The best known of the Basin's pueblo ruins is San Cristobal Pueblo. The San Cristobal Pueblo contained eight- to nine-room "blocks," several stories in height, organized around five ceremonial plazas. Like all other pueblos, San Cristobal had a ceremonial kiva—a large round (partly underground) structure—in its largest plaza. Two kivas north of Galisteo Creek may have been used by winter and summer groups. It is estimated that by 1400 A.D. the San Cristobal Pueblo was home to 500-1,000 people.
Pueblo Largo, Pueblo Colorado, Pueblo Shè, and Colina Verde have also been located on the San Cristobal Ranch. These pueblos ranged in size from several-room blocks to structures with over 1,500 ground-floor rooms, kivas, shrines and/or watchtowers.
Separate from the San Cristobal Ranch villages were pueblos in Galisteo, San Lazaro, and San Marcos, as well as one un-named pueblo about three miles south of San Cristobal Pueblo. Archeologists believe that the total population of these pueblos at their height was between 10,000-15,000 people. The Southern Tewas, the primary inhabitants of the Basin after 1300 A.D, built these pueblos. Their relatives, the Northern Tewa, inhabited other pueblos around Santa Fe, including Nambé, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Tesuque, and others. By the beginning of the Spanish Era in the 17th Century, except for San Cristobal, the Galisteo Basin pueblos were mostly extinct or abandoned.
For approximately 100 years, beginning around 1400, the Southern Tewa were challenged by Diné-speaking peoples—warriors from Apache and Navajo tribes that raided and deeply stressed the Tewas' resources and sense of security. In the mid to late 1500s, Spanish explorers (or conquistadors) from Mexico journeyed north to New Mexico in search of gold and other treasure. In their wake, the Spanish brought deadly disease and new hardship on the struggling southern Tewa peoples. By 1600, the Spanish were in the Galisteo Basin to stay—introducing longhorn cattle and unknown crops like watermelon, wheat, chiles, and melons to the region. The Spanish also began mining silver in the Cerrillos Hills around 1581.
The Southern Tewa persevered in the Galisteo Basin until the 17th Century. In 1680, the tension between the pueblos and the Spanish reached a climax, and a revolt temporarily drove the Spanish from Santa Fe. With the return of the Spanish in 1692, the Southern Tewa were forced to abandon the Galisteo Basin and migrate to other pueblos, including the Hano and Santo Domingo pueblos.
With the pueblos abandoned and destroyed, Spanish troops moved into the Basin in 1790 to serve as a buffer between roving Comanche and Santa Fe residents. Juan Aragon was awarded the first official grazing permit for the Galisteo Basin in 1799. In 1816 the village of Galisteo was founded and 19 families settled there.
In the 1820s, a growing supply of goods and materials flowed into New Mexico after trade restrictions were lifted, and the Santa Fe Trail was formally established. By 1821, 45,000 people lived in New Mexico. Around this time, gold was discovered in the Ortiz Mountains. During the 10-year period of the "Ortiz Gold Rush," more than 10 percent of New Mexico's winter population lived in the Ortiz Mountains prospecting for gold.
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo memorialized the end of the war between the United States and Mexico, and New Mexico became a U.S. territory. People of northern European descent (i.e., "Anglos") migrated to the region in increasing numbers. Many of the newcomers acquired Mexican land grants (through techniques and strategies that remain the subject of bitter legal challenge), converting the land from a communal resource to one that primarily served the political and economic ambitions of individuals and private companies.
In February 1880, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was developed. The Village of Lamy—one of scores of "railroad towns"—was established in the eastern Galisteo Basin. As a passenger terminal for Santa Fe and the surrounding area, the Lamy Junction became an important stop—replete with locomotive storage and railroad employee housing.
Lamy was a thriving railroad town until the 1930s, when the railroad converted from coal to diesel fuel and there was no longer need for a round house or for extra pusher locomotives. Lamy hit its peak population in 1930 with approximately 300 residents. After the 1930s Lamy's population dwindled, but the town has maintained its ties to the railroad. Lamy is the destination for the Santa Fe Southern Railway, a tourist excursion train that runs twice a day from the Santa Fe Railyard, and it is still a stop on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (Amtrak) line from Chicago to Los Angeles.
By the 1880s the mining towns of Cerrillos and Madrid were also booming. Grazing sheep and cattle were beginning to have significant effects on the native grasslands in the Basin. Major problems from erosion were beginning to be seen because of over grazing and because the railroad cut the flood plain in half in Lamy, causing accelerated run-off and down cutting. By 1899, there were one million sheep in the state of New Mexico. By 1900, the "free-range era" was over in the Galisteo Basin, and ranch control developed into a pattern of fenced properties that characterize much of the Basin's landscape today.
Lamy: a History, Michael Wallis, Esperanza Publications, Santa Fe, NM, 1972.
San Cristobal: Voices and Visions of the Galisteo Basin, Christina Singleton Mednick, Office of Archeological Studies, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, NM, 1996.