National Archives and Records Administration

American Originals Exhibit

Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)

Exploring the Southwest: Don Diego de Vargas

"We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents. . . . We tacitly abandon ourselves to the notion that our United States have been fashion'd from the British Islands only . . . which is a very great mistake."
Walt Whitman, "The Spanish Element in Our Nationality," 1883

Vast portions of what is presently the United States were once part of the Spanish Empire. Spaniards seeking to Christianize the "New World" and to explore its riches founded the colony of New Mexico in 1598, announcing their dominion over the land and the people of New Mexico.

The "New World" had in fact been populated for thousands of years by native inhabitants. Spaniards encountered communities of peoples who lived in multistoried apartment-like dwellings. The Spaniards called these native inhabitants and their dwellings "Pueblos," the Spanish word for towns. In 1680, after decades of religious persecution and exploitation by the Spanish, the Pueblos revolted and drove the Spaniards south to El Paso. In 1692 Don Diego de Vargas, exiled Spanish Governor of New Mexico, returned to Santa Fe, where he began his reconquest of New Mexico in the name of the Spanish crown.

The documents of the National Archives speak in the voices and languages of all of the peoples of America. Housed at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a body of federal records, known as an affiliated archives, that includes the land grant records made by the Spanish and Mexican governments. Among these land records are some of the oldest records of the National Archives, including the last will and testament of Don Diego de Vargas.

Last will and testament of Don Diego de Vargas, 1704, selected pages.

Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, photograph by Ansel Adams, 1941

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Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
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The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)
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Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)
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National Archives and Records Administration
Last updated: July 1, 1998