Westward Expansion

United States Territorial AcquisitionsUnited States Territorial AcquisitionsMap of United States territorial acquisitions during the era of “westward expansion.”
Courtesy National Atlas of the United States.
United States Territorial AcquisitionsMap of United States territorial acquisitions during the era of “westward expansion.”
Courtesy National Atlas of the United States.

Santa Fe – the capital city toward which the horseman rode – was then a disorderly motley of low-lying, dun-colored, adobe houses, sprawled along the lifeline of Santa Fe Creek ... lying more than 6,000 feet high on the sloping western tablelands of the beautiful Sangre de Cristo range, the straggling community boasted some 4,500 souls of Spanish and Indian blood in 1810.
—Howard Lamar, 2000

This quote emphasizes the multicultural landscape of then northern Mexico territory, reflecting a period of social disorder and new opportunities for cultural exchange. When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, the Santa Fe Trail became the most important trade route for settlers in the greater Southwest. Mexican traders moved into the area, bringing more new materials such as dyes, metals, beads, and other commodities.

Meanwhile, socio-political tensions with Anglo-American settlers to the north became increasingly heightened. The annexation of Texas in 1845 and the subsequent Mexican-American War of 1846 through 1848 opened “new territory” to Anglo-American settlers for homestead. The concept of Manifest Destiny, a term coined by political columnist John Louis O’Sullivan in his 1845 New York Morning News article, justified these claims:

Pitcher (3-D)Pitcher (3-D)Marianita Roybal (San Ildefonso)
Clay and paint
IAF.2011
Stereo photograph by Jason S. Ordaz. Request 3-D glasses or build your own (PDF, 315 KB).

Inscription reads: “Esta losa para el Coronel Green, Junio 1, A.D. 1881.”
Pitcher (3-D)Marianita Roybal (San Ildefonso)
Clay and paint
IAF.2011
Stereo photograph by Jason S. Ordaz. Request 3-D glasses or build your own (PDF, 315 KB).

Inscription reads: “Esta losa para el Coronel Green, Junio 1, A.D. 1881.”

And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.

The Southwest experienced a rapid change of events during this time period as territorial boundaries were redefined, expanded, and negotiated. Traditional trading relationships were also affected by the establishment of the Santa Fe Railroad, first chartered in 1859. For example, in 1881, Marianita Roybal created a pot for Colonel Green while he was overseeing the construction of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1881.

While these intrusions on Indigenous territories were detrimental consequences of westward expansion, local community artists were quick to become innovative in a new market. Capitalizing on the influx of tourists, Native artists created wares that catered to the needs and space considerations of seasonal travelers. For example, portable miniature versions of pottery were created by many Pueblo artists for sale to Anglo-American tourists and settlers.

With the expedition of trade through newly established train routes, Native communities also took advantage of new travel opportunities for continued inter-tribal trade. For instance, beaded design and materials on a pair of San Ildefonso moccasins were certainly influenced by the material culture of Plains tribal communities. Such trading relationships, of course, had existed prior to Anglo-American contact, but the new railroad increased the frequency of trade among all residents along its route.

MoccasinsMoccasinsSan Ildefonso, b. 1965
White deerskin, rawhide, trade beads
IAF.M623
Photograph by Addison Doty
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
Moccasins

The nineteenth century witnessed several social changes that were reflected in the art and trade of this time period. Viewing collections, such as those held at the Indian Arts Research Center, can reveal the complex histories of the objects held within. More importantly, they demonstrate the diversity of communities located in the Southwest, both historically and currently.

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