Community Profiles
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Gallup, New Mexico: The ceremonial capital of native New Mexico

In the heart of western New Mexico, just 26 miles east of the Arizona border, lies Gallup, New Mexico, home to a diversity of customs, traditions, and people.

When the Spanish explorers arrived in the region in 1540, they found it home to Navajo, Acoma, Hopi, and Zuni Indians, some of whom had migrated to the area centuries before from Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly. Later, as railroad construction crawled across the landscape, many railroad workers, including Europeans, Asians, and Mexicans, stayed in Gallup to mine coal after construction moved on. Another wave of immigration brought merchants from the Middle East to set up pawnshops and jewelry stores. All these people contribute to the unique ethnic flavor of the area, and the mix of languages spoken around Gallup includes Croatian, Slovenian, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, German and at least four Native American languages.

The town of Gallup was founded in 1880 when David Gallup, a paymaster for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, established an office along the future right-of-way of the southern transcontinental route. Railroad workers collected their pay by “going to Gallup,” and when the tracks were laid through the area in 1881, the new settlement was named after the paymaster.

Cultural resources
  • Rex Hotel Museum includes collections belonging to the Gallup Historical Society.
  • Discover Gallup is a Chamber of Commerce newspaper distributed twice yearly.
  • Archives are available at the Gallup Independent Newspaper, through church and cemetery records, and at the Santa Fe Railroad Depot, a multi-modal, multicultural complex completed in 1923 and renovated in 1995.
  • Other museums include the Red Rock State Park Museum, Storyteller Museum, and the Navajo Code Talker Museum, which that is dedicated to World War II heroes who devised a code for military operations that was never broken.
  • Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, 90 miles northeast of Gallup, preserves a complex community that was abandoned in the late 1100s. Through interpreting remnants of trade goods, pottery, turquoise, and jewelry, researchers believe that Chaco was the religious and cultural hub of a trading network that extended south into Mexico and west to the Pacific.

Themes: the railroad, mining, trading posts, diversity, and Native American culture
In many ways, these themes are intertwined. Merchandise unloaded from the railroad was taken to trading posts. In turn, wool from Navajo sheep was brought to the railroad to go to other states for textiles. The Manuelito statue, recently restored by the Smithsonian, was a landmark for many Navajos, who reference it in social dance songs. Even today there are summer dances downtown every night where people put dollar bills under a rock to pay the dancers.

The arrival of Route 66 marked the beginning of the end of the railroad as the dominant mode of long-distance travel, but Gallup survived the transition because of its trade. As tourism began to grow through use of the family car, Gallup provided hotels such as the El Rancho and set up shops to sell goods to tourists. In November of 1926, interstate highway routes connecting the entire nation were mapped. The famous Route 66, “The Mother Road,” started in Chicago and ended in Los Angeles, cutting across Tucumcari to Gallup and changing New Mexico forever.

For the first half century, the economy of the emerging town was supported by coal mining, giving Gallup, for a time, the nickname Carbon City. Within five miles of Gallup were most of the area’s 57 mines. Most of this coal was shipped via railroad: in 1929, Gallup shipped the highest freight volume for any city between Kansas City and Los Angeles. Shortly afterward, in 1933, a major strike hit the mines.

Today, many mines are covered and sealed, but a local map shows 200 underground mines in the area. Power plants in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and other points from the Rio Grande to the Pacific are still fueled by coal mined from the Pittsburgh-Midway Open Pit Mine near Gallup.

Gallup today. Contemporary Gallup is a colorful mix of enterprises with over 100 trading posts, galleries, and shops that serve a blend of Native American and Hispanic culture. Twenty thousand people live in Gallup, and six times that number of people are served as they come through the region. Today Gallup exports 95% of the handmade crafts of the nearby Navajo, Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni reservations. The city is the hub for cultural tours in the Four Corners and with the annual Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, Gallup is the ceremonial capital of Native America. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (now the Burlington Northern), Route 66, and I-40 all bring visitors to enjoy the varied multicultural aspects of this town.

Attending the Community Profile meeting held at the library of the University of New Mexico–Gallup branch were Sherry Bourdage, Thomas Gasparish, Martin Link, Frank Morgan, Sally Noe, and Jack Starkovich.

© Copyright 2004, Regents of New Mexico State University
This file was last updated Friday September 3, 2004