Taos, now in its 402nd year of European settlement, is a three-culture enclave in a restless — and often divided — nation, where the American Indian, Hispanic and Anglo people have learned to live in harmony within a protective curve of the Rocky Mountains’ southern portion. These cultures have made Taos a unique and ever-attractive lure for visitors — the world-class skiing, inventive and traditional cuisines, lively music scene and, of course, art to die for also have something to do with Taos’ magnetism. Taos’ history is no less compelling.
“People such as tutelary goddess cum Taos doyenne Mabel Dodge, promoted the idea that ‘Taos’ was possibly a reference to a way of life. ‘Taoism,’ [Romanized as Daoism], is a term meaning ‘the way’ or ‘the path.’ It is a Chinese philosophical tradition that emphasizes living in harmony,” wrote local historian Larry Torres for The Taos News special publication Tradiciones in September 2017.
The birth of Taos really begins with the Pueblo. It extends back thousands of years, long before pre-Columbian history. It is speculated by historians and archaeologists that around 1000 A.D., splinter groups of Anasazi Indians built settlements in Taos Valley. In circa 1320-1350 A.D., nearby Pot Creek residents in the valley abandoned their pueblo, relocated to an area near Taos Mountain and built multi-storied structures that became Taos Pueblo. Nomadic Indian tribes, such as the Comanche, and Spanish explorers were relentless in their attempts to overtake the Pueblo.
Before Taos Pueblo became an official village as declared by the Spanish Colonial Government around 1615, according to local historian F.R. Bob Romero in his book “History of Taos,” the Pueblo had been known by seven other names. “The name Taos as it is known today, however, is first found in the journals that document the Don Juan de Oñate colonization of New Mexico in 1598,” Romero wrote.
When settlers started heading West, Taos became an important and popular trade area. The first Anglo trappers appeared in these parts around 1805, with one of the most recognizable being Kit Carson. The original Santa Fe Trail of the early 1820s passed through Taos, but was abandoned when wagon masters found a route to the southwest that was easier to follow than the precarious trails of Taos Canyon.
In 1846, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearney captured the territory from Mexico for the United States during the Mexican-American War. New Mexico became the 47th state on Jan. 6, 1912.
Some of Taos’ most famous (and some infamous) citizens during the Santa Fe Trail and territory days were Carson, Padre Jose Antonio Martinez (who established the first newspaper published west of the Mississippi), and Capt. Smith Simpson (in 1861, he achieved notoriety by nailing the Union flag to a tall cottonwood pole and planting it in Taos Plaza).
And then came the artists. When Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips, co-founders of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915, first arrived in Taos in the fall of 1898, they were so enchanted with the land, the architecture and the people, they decided to travel no farther. The two painters had journeyed from New York after being in Paris, where they had seen paintings by J.H. Sharp who told them about the challenging beauty of Northern New Mexico. En route to Mexico on a sketching trip, one of the wagon’s wheels broke on the road from Colorado’s San Luis Valley to Taos. After walking the wheel into Taos for mending, Blumenschein was enamored. The two men ended their trip here and transformed Taos into a bonafide art colony.
Outdoor recreation then became a major part of Taos’ allure. In 1953, a European immigrant and avid Alpine skier named Ernie Blake “discovered” the bowl and slopes that would become Taos Ski Valley three years later. It is one of the most acclaimed and beautiful ski areas in the country.
The next wave of influential newcomers came in the form of “flower power” in the late 1960s. This “hippie invasion” created the New Buffalo Commune down the road in Arroyo Hondo in 1967.
In a nutshell, this is who has helped influence the “Taoism” that is alive and well today.
Now, it’s outdoor adventurers, art lovers, spiritual seekers, sun worshipers and the curious who visit our small town of roughly 5,700 residents.
— Scott Gerdes, special sections editor