1600-1680: Families who arrived at the present San Juan de los Caballeros pueblo with Don Juan de Onate in 1598 moved to the present Santa Cruz area by 1600. Farms were established on fertile soils along the Rio de Santa Cruz and a small chapel was constructed near the Sombrillo area. Families resided in the Santa Cruz area until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when all Spanish settlers were exiled from New Mexico by the Pueblo Indians.
1692-1695: Governor Diego DeVargas re-established the Spanish settlement of New Mexico by establishing the first Villa of New Mexico in Santa Fe in 1692. The second villa of New Mexico was established at Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz de la Canada de los mexicanos Espanoles del Rey Nuestro Senor Carlos Segundo) in 1695 by Governor Diego DeVargas. The settlers worshiped at the pre-Pueblo Revolt chapel located at Sombrillo near the river.
Founding families: Angel, Aragon, Cordova, Esquibel, Flores, Hernandez, Mascarenas, Martinez, Medina, Mirabal, Miranda, Montes, Moya, Quintana, Sanchez, Sandoval, Snatistevan, Sena, Silva, Tafoya, and Ulibarri. 2nd Group: Armijo, Atencio, Crespin, Lovato, MartinezMuniz, Olivas, Ortiz, Pena, Ramirez, Tenorio, Valenzuela, Vigil, Archibeque, and Gurule.
1732-1733: The small chapel near Sombrillo was damaged beyond repair by the flooding river. In 1732 the Governor petitioned the Viceroy for permission to construct this Church. Permission was granted in June, 1733. Construction on the main body of this adobe Church started the same year and lasted until 1748. The North Chapel was constructed beore the 1800’s and was dedicated to San Francisco de Assisi, patron Saint of the Archdiocese. This Chapel was also know as the Penitente Chapel. It was here that the Penitentes worshiped before building their own Morada.
Until the Archdiocese was established in 1850, it was the custom the Bishop of Durango, Mexico sent priests north to visit and inspect the churches/mission under his jurisdiction. These inspections and inventories have provided a unique record of the contents and the developing architecture of this Church. Resident pastors also left very complete records.
The town of Santa Cruz de la Cañada is located approximately 25 miles northwest of Santa Fe in the Santa Cruz River valley and a few miles east of Española. In prehistoric times the Pueblo Indians built numerous settlements along the river and its tributaries; at least 33 prehistoric sites have been documented. In 1598 the Oñate expedition, leaving from the Pueblo of San Juan, first came to the “Cañada de los Teguas.” This may have been the Santa Cruz valley, at that time still populated by Tewa-speaking Pueblo Indians. In the seventeenth-century Hispano settlers established a few farms and haciendas in the area, which was called simply La Cañada, meaning a small river or creek valley. In August 1680 the life of these settlers was disrupted by the Pueblo Revolt, and they abandoned their farms and assembled at the home of the alcalde mayor, Luis de Quintana. They then retreated en mass to Santa Fe, after which the Tewas from nearby Pueblos destroyed their houses and chapels. After the Spanish retreat to El Paso, Tano Indians from the Pueblos of San Cristóbal and San Lázaro in the Galisteo basin moved north to the Santa Cruz River valley to join their linguistic kin, the Tewas, and to re-establish themselves in a more fertile and safer area.
During the Reconquest of 1692-1694 under Diego de Vargas, the Tanos in the Santa Cruz valley were first grouped into two pueblos bearing the same names as they had in Galisteo: San Lázaro and San Cristóbal. Then, to accommodate incoming settlers from Mexico, Vargas began to evict the Tanos and tried to resettle some of them near Chimayó, but many of them withdrew into the mountains to the east. In 1696 as part of the second Pueblo Revolt, these Indians attacked San Cristóbal and killed the resident Franciscan friar, Fray José Arbizu and a visiting Franciscan Fray Antonio Carbonel. Vargas was able to crush the rebellion, thus effectively ending the presence of Pueblo Indians in the Santa Cruz valley. Many of the displaced Tanos fled to the west and by 1701 had established themselves among the Hopis at First Mesa where they still live and are known today as the Hopi-Tewas.
In order to resettle the fertile Santa Cruz valley with Hispanos, in April 1695 Vargas founded a new town officially named La Villa Nueva de Santa Cruz de Españoles Mexicanos del Rey Nuestro Señor Don Carlos Segundo (The New Villa of Santa Cruz of Mexican Spaniards under the King Our Lord Carlos II). It was established on the south side of the river, at the site of the Pueblo of San Lázaro. The new community quickly became identified in the records (to distinguish it from Santa Cruz de Galisteo) as Santa Cruz de la Cañada. After Santa Fe it was the first villa to be founded in New Mexico and one of only three in the colonial period, the third being Albuquerque founded in 1706. The residents of the new villa were returning original settlers of the valley augmented by a group of families brought north from Mexico by the returning Franciscan Fray Francisco Farfán and later in 1696 by some twenty new families from Zacatecas.
During the 1696 uprising Vargas used the new villa of Santa Cruz as his base of operations in pursuing the rebellious Tanos, and most of the Hispanic settlers moved away because of the unsettled conditions. After the defeat of the Indians, they returned and moved the site of Santa Cruz to its present location on the north side of the river. However, by 1712 the community had not grown appreciably. A document from that period states that the success of the community had been overstated in earlier reports. Even though government buildings (casas reales) and a church were promised to be built, no one could even find the foundations for these structures, and the new site on the north side of the river had only three or four residences and a church. At San Lázaro there had been a small chapel, and the new one at the present site of Santa Cruz was built by 1706. It was administered as a visita by the resident friar at San Juan Pueblo, an indication of the small size and relative unimportance of the “villa” of Santa Cruz at this time. The earliest extant baptismal record at Santa Cruz is from September 1710 for a child “de nación Apache” and is signed by the resident friar at San Juan, Fray José Antonio de Torres.
Little is known of this original church structure, except that it was built at the expense of the citizens, but by 1732 it was said to be “beyond repair and in danger of collapsing.” The resident friar at San Ildefonso Pueblo, Fray José de Irigoyen, then administering the Santa Cruz parish, petitioned for the building of a new church. The petition was approved by the viceroy in 1733, but it took nearly 15 years, until about 1748, to complete, as again it was being built at the expense of the citizens. By 1760 although some 1500 people lived on the farms up and down the valley, at the villa of Santa Cruz itself, according to visiting Bishop Pedro Tamarón y Romeral, “there is no semblance of a town.” By that date the new church was large, but sparsely adorned, and a Franciscan friar, Fray Mariano Rodriguez de la Torre, was in residence.
At the time of the visit of Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez in 1776, the villa of Santa Cruz had not grown appreciably. The urbane Domínguez recorded that the church had only “eight small houses like ranchos to keep it company. The rest of the villa is nothing more than ranchos located at a distance…. Some of them lie down the road to the south in the direction of San Ildefonso, other to the West on the meadows of the Río del Norte, and still others, the least in number, to the north.” Domínguez noted that the Santa Cruz River and its tributaries provided the necessary irrigation water for “a copious harvest” each year, and that there were good orchards of pears, grapes, peaches, and other fruits. The villa at this time was the administrative and religious center for a larger area including Chimayó, Quemado (now Córdova), and Truchas. According to Domínguez’s census the population of these places totaled 1389 people, including servants: “most of them pass for Spaniards…. All speak the Spanish current and accepted here.” “Passing for Spaniards” would include the genízaros (detribalized Indians), most of whom had been ransomed from nomadic tribes and served as servants in the wealthier families.
The formal plaza of the villa of Santa Cruz may be said to date from 1779. In the preceding year the viceroy issued orders for the consolidation of towns on the frontiers of New Spain for defensive purposes, and also as a means of having more control over the local citizenry. In 1779 Governor Juan Bautista de Anza reduced the villa to a regular form, requiring settlers to cluster their homes around the church to form a plaza. This plaza existed through the nineteenth century and is still partially intact today. Thanks in part to these defensive plazas, the danger of Indian incursions began to lessen in northern New Mexico, and in response the Hispanic population increased dramatically all over the region, including both the plaza of Santa Cruz and in the towns and villages throughout the valley. The 1790 census shows a population of over 7000 españoles in the Santa Cruz jurisdiction. While these figures may include a few settlements not counted in 1760 and 1776, it still shows a huge increase in population. Again the citizens began to spread out away from the plaza, establishing new settlements wherever they found water and could farm.
With this large increase in population, most of the citizens of the Santa Cruz valley were subsistence farmers barely able to make a living. After 1821 the government of the new republic of Mexico went through a long period of instability changing frequently from a more democratic to a more dictatorial form. In 1837 President Santa Anna whose tendency was dictatorial attempted to institute a centralized form of government, greatly reducing local autonomy and increasing the ability of the central government to collect taxes.
In response many poor people in northern New Mexico objected and a rebellious movement came together centered in Santa Cruz. Governor Albino Pérez, who was not a native New Mexican, was unpopular in the north for his autocratic style. In the summer of 1837 he marched towards Santa Cruz with an inadequate force and was defeated by the rebels at nearby Black Mesa. On his retreat towards Santa Fe he was captured and decapitated by the rebels who installed José González as governor. Under the leadership of Manuel Armijo, and with financial help from Anglo-American merchants in Santa Fe, the final battle of the rebellion took place at Puertocito Pojoaque a few miles east of Santa Cruz. Here the rebels were defeated. González was captured and executed by firing squad in Santa Cruz.
In the Taos Rebellion of January 1847 Santa Cruz de la Cañada again played a part. The rebels, having killed Governor Charles Bent in Taos, marched south to Santa Cruz with the intention of attacking Santa Fe. In response Colonel Sterling Price marched north from Santa Fe with his troops and with superior fire arms. Just east of the Santa Cruz plaza he routed a force of about 1500 rebels. He then stationed his troops in the Santa Cruz plaza for the night, before going on to defeat the rebels again in Embudo and in Taos.
In 1776 Father Domínguez noted that one of the outlying districts to the west of Santa Cruz where people had settled was “the meadows of the Río del Norte.” After the American occupation and change of sovereignty in 1846 this area was to assume a much greater importance, especially after the coming of the Denver and Rio Grande railroad in 1881 when it reached a place, at the juncture of the Chama with the Rio Grande, known as La Vega de Los Vigiles. There a new railroad station was built and became known as Española. Because of the railroad and later the highway from Santa Fe to Taos, Española soon became the commercial center of the area, eclipsing Santa Cruz, which today has become more like a satellite community. Yet Santa Cruz still retains its character as a rural Hispanic town. The church continues to be the center of a large and active parish encompassing the surrounding communities of Cuarteles, La Mesilla, La Puebla, San Pedro, and Santo Niño. It is the second largest extant church in New Mexico to have been built in the colonial period and contains important examples of works by eighteenth and nineteenth century santeros (folk artists), such as Fray Andres García, Pedro Fresquiz (the Truchas Master), and José Rafael Aragón.