Manifest Destiny refers to the time of western expansion in the United States during the mid 1800’s. Its doctrine was that a dominant culture had the God-given right to spread across a continent, regardless of any preceeding culture. In New Mexico, this policy was directed especially against the Navajo and Mescalero Apache.
The Washington Treaty of 1849 set the stage for this great land grab. Anglo American settlers and Spanish colonists sought to acquire land in the Southwest by outright appropriation of unoccupied or sparsely settled areas and would push the Indian aside in favor of economic expansion. So long as Indians remained where they were, economic growth of the terrritory was hindered. By 1854, the District Court in Santa Fe ruled that under the laws of Congress, there was no Indian country in New Mexico. With one swift ruling, all Indian land was opened to New Mexican ranchers and farmers for the taking.
The Native Americans viewed the new ranchers and farmers as trespassers on their land. The settlers saw the American Indian as a growing threat to their new way of life.
In New Mexico, as elsewhere across the nation, the effects of the Civil War were apparent and hard felt during 1861. Moral was at at all time low; Army officers by the scores resigned their commission to take up the cause of their native states. Resignation of the Army elite left the Far West in shambles, and along with increasing settlers’ accusations of raiding Indians on their settlements, and a general stereotype and prejudice of the Indian as a war hungry people, set the stage for this great conflict of cultures and swiftly put the U.S. military machine in New Mexico into action.
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“Navajos occupy the finest grazing districts within our limits and infest a mining region extending two hundred miles north, east, and west... an immense pastoral and mining population that are known to exist have remained untouched. The public interest demands that this condition of things should cease to exist.”
—Henry Connelly, Governor of New Mexico