Happy 400th Birthday, Santa Fe

Santa Fe, the city that kept Billy the Kid in chains in the city jail and chained Gov. Lew Wallace to his desk so he could finish Ben-Hur, turns 400 years old this year.

Well, sort of.

Some historians say the 400th anniversary should have been two years earlier, because in 1608 Spanish Conquistadors moved south into what became known as La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís, later shortened to Santa Fe.

No, others argue, Europeans settled around there at least a year earlier.

“Hold on,” supporters of Don Pedro de Peralta proclaim, pointing out that it was 1609 when the Spanish Viceroy ordered ol’ Don to settle the villa.

Indians, who have been hanging around here for a millennia or so, might argue that the 400th anniversary passed a long, long time ago.

But 1610 was when the City Different was chartered and it is the year on the city seal, making 2010 a year to party.

After all, Santa Fe is the oldest European burg west of the Mississippi River. A city press release noted two older Eastern cities: Virginia’s Jamestown (1607) and Canada’s Quebec (1608). Guess the city decided: Screw Florida’s St. Augustine, established in 1565.

Santa Fe also has the highest elevation (7,000 feet) of any U.S. capital. Amazing what you can learn by watching Jeopardy.

Between now and the closing gala event—the Legacy Ball on New Year’s Eve—Santa Fe will be partying with movies, music, lectures and art. You know, events Santa Fe usually offers, whether the city is 396 or 403 years old. So what should a tourist take in?

Billy the Kid (a.k.a. William Bonney): The Fray Angélico Chávez History Library at the Palace of the Governors now houses two letters written by the outlaw to Gov. Wallace. William Bonney’s March 2, 1881, letter asks the governor to “come down to the jail and see me,” while an undated letter contains Bonney’s offer to testify about a murder in exchange for a pardon. Plus, Santa Fe has two plaques commemorating where his jail cell might have been. Ironically, the first one is at the former location of Collected Works (208 W. San Francisco St.), while the new one is at the new location of Collected Works (202 Galisteo St.). Billy must really like that bookstore.

Culture: The newly-opened New Mexico History Museum is a good start, then head to Museum Hill on Camino Lejo for four museums showcasing folk traditions and the local culture of American Indians and the Spanish Conquistadors.

Eats: Tourists haven’t yet discovered the mixed burrito at the Burrito Spot. They have discovered the Bobcat Bite, Bull Ring, Harry’s Road House, Tia Sophia’s, The Shed and Tecolote Café, but that’s okay. They’re all worth the wait.

Drinks: Locals hit Del Charro. You can get your tapas fix at El Farol while enjoying flamenco music, or R&B, maybe folk, perhaps Latin, could be jazz. Bill Hearne is often found picking and singing his Folk-Country blend at the La Fonda Hotel’s La Fiesta Lounge. Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi’s bar is pricey and small, but you’ll not find better bartenders in town.

Art: You have more than 250 galleries to pick from. For Indian art, try the Allan Houser Gallery, Blue Rain Gallery, Legends of Santa Fe and Traditions. For Western art, try Joe Wade Fine Art, Manitou Gallery and Old Santa Fe Trading Company, which is full of collector Forrest Fenn’s treasures. Galerie Zuger carries Carrie Fell (my wife’s favorite artist). If you want some lighter fare (a Bugs Bunny cel, maybe?), check out the Chuck Jones Gallery.

Events: Civil War Weekend at El Rancho de las Golondrinas in May. Pancakes on the Plaza on July 4. International Folk Art Market and Spanish Markets in July. August’s epic Santa Fe Indian Market. September’s Fiesta, plus the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. December’s Santa Fe Film Festival and the Canyon Road Farolito Walk on Christmas Eve.

Kind of makes you wonder why this city’s even bothering with a 400th anniversary. The party never stops in Santa Fe!

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