Jan. 6, 1912: New Mexico gains statehood

Greg Keraghosian

On this day in 1912, the American territory of New Mexico became the 47th state of the U.S., solidifying its status after centuries of claims ranging from Spanish to Mexican to Texan.

New Mexico’s name was created not by Mexico, but by Spanish explorers in the late 1500s. It was part of New Spain until 1821, when Mexico claimed the province after its war of independence. The Republic of Texas claimed parts of New Mexico as well, but it never really established a presence and the current boundary between New Mexico and Texas was created with the Compromise of 1850.

Long before European colonization, New Mexico was home to indigenous Americans, and that heritage remains apparent in everything from the state’s flag (which includes an ancient Zia sun symbol) to its demographics: it has the highest percentage of Native Americans in the U.S. after Alaska, with 22 Indian tribes. The state also has the highest percentage of Hispanics.

Visitors to New Mexico can learn about its heritage from Native American museums and pueblos, explore its natural beauty at national parks such as Carlsbad Caverns or indulge in its recent pop-culture exposure with a “Breaking Bad” tour of Albuquerque.