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Albuquerque became part of the United States without the firing of a single musket shot. It later briefly fell into Confederate hands— again without spilled blood -— and slipped back into Union control after only a brief cannon duel.

Years later, its destiny to become New Mexico's biggest city was sealed in the course of just several hours. And with the driving of one final railroad spike, it grew from one Albuquerque to two -— Old Town and New Town.

All of this unfolded during the span of only a few decades during Albuquerque's territorial period, which began in 1846 with the U.S. invasion of what then was Mexico and ended in 1912 when New Mexico attained statehood. The period was spiced with business boom and bustle, a flood, Indian raids and frontier vice.

"A lot was going on. A whole wave of change swept over the territory," said Marc Simmons, a Cerrillos-area historian and author of Albuquerque: A Narrative History.

New Mexico was officially designated as a U.S. territory in 1850, four years after U.S. troops swept in from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to claim it from Mexico during the U.S.-Mexico War.

The U.S. troops were expecting a fight in 1846, but it never materialized, according to New Mexico military historian and author Don Alberts.

The Mexican governor, who had only a small, poorly trained and ill-equipped army at his command, headed for Mexico instead of putting up a defense, Alberts said. And in September 1846, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny hoisted the U.S. flag in the Albuquerque plaza.

The Albuquerque area in the years following continued to suffer repeated raids from Navajo Indians, who were apparently experts at it. One estimate cited in Simmons' book said the Indians from 1846 to 1850 relieved Rio Grande Valley residents of more than 450,000 sheep and 31,000 cattle.

"The Navajos really stepped it up when the sheep were available," Simmons said. "Somebody quoted the Navajos ... as saying they were very careful never to steal all the sheep— because they wanted them to keep breeding sheep so there would be something to steal the next time."

Battles For Albuquerque
The military presence in Albuquerque today is vital to the economic health of the city. It also provided a boost 150 years ago.

Alberts said the U.S. military supply post based in Albuquerque at that time supplied other posts in southern New Mexico and what would later become Arizona.

The Civil War broke out in 1861, and it boiled into the Rio Grande Valley early the following year when Confederate regiments approached from Texas.

Leading the way was Brig. Gen. Henry Sibley, who apparently was a raging drunk.

"He was a dedicated tippler. His men knew him as a walking whiskey keg," Alberts said.

The Confederate forces won a battle near Fort Craig, south of Socorro, but did not take the fort itself, Alberts said. When the Confederate troops reached Albuquerque in early March of 1862, the Union troops had skedaddled— but they torched their supply warehouses on their way out of town.

The so-called Battle of Albuquerque took place the following month, when U.S. troops from Fort Craig came north and traded a few hours of cannon blasts with a contingent of Confederate troops.

The Confederacy at that point was reeling from the burning of its supply wagons during the pivotal battle at Glorieta Pass east of Santa Fe. Alberts said the brief Albuquerque cannon duel— which apparently hurt only one person, a Union officer— convinced the Confederate survivors of Glorieta to head south from Santa Fe to bolster the Albuquerque contingent and secure their last remaining supplies there.

"It was really a feint" from the Union Army, Alberts said. After the cannon fire, the Union troops "simply left their campfires burning and withdrew to Tijeras Canyon ... and to the east side of the Sandias."

The Confederacy not long after decided to give up Albuquerque altogether and retreated south, leaving the city once again in Union hands.

Rails, Floods, And Bernalillo
Although Albuquerque in recent years has been suffering from drought, that wasn't always the case. Simmons in his book writes of an 1874 Rio Grande flood that broke out of the river channel and raged down the east side of the valley, leaving Albuquerque on an island and causing "staggering" damages.

The town that same decade also temporarily lost its status as county seat to Bernalillo, its northern neighbor. At that time, the county's boundaries were much larger than they are now: Bernalillo is now the county seat of Sandoval County.

But Albuquerque, not long after losing its status as county seat, got more than even with Bernalillo.

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, which was moving westward in the 1870s, initially considered Bernalillo as a site for a massive rail office and yard complex. But Simmons writes that after being rebuffed during a brief meeting there, railroad representatives took a coach to Albuquerque, where the rail complex ultimately located.

At Albuquerque, "the business sector welcomed them with open arms," said Jan Dodson Barnhart, president of the Albuquerque Historical Society.

Without that turn of events that brought the first train huffing to town in 1880, Simmons wrote, "We can plausibly assume that Albuquerque would have been relegated to the status of a whistle-stop on the mighty AT&SF and that in its place Bernalillo would have soared onward, through mushroom growth, to become New Mexico's stellar city."

'New Town' Boomtown
The rail works vital to Albuquerque's explosive growth were located more than a mile from Old Town plaza, leading to the creation of a "New Town."

The coming of the railroad brought a rush of eastern Anglo passengers to the new Albuquerque, Dodson Barnhart said. But she pointed out that an 1885 special census found that more than 20 different ethnic groups were located here.

According to one historical background, greater Albuquerque in 1880 had a population of about 1,300 people, with fewer than 60 Anglo residents. By about 1900, the city had a population of nearly 8,000.

"Albuquerque has a line of horse cars in operation and an electric street railway in the course of construction," trumpeted an 1892 booster publication from the Albuquerque Commercial Club, the forerunner of the chamber of commerce. "It has water works, gas works, electric light works, 10 miles of graded streets, seven miles of sidewalks, and the only complete underground sewer system in the Southwest."

Wild Albuquerque
Albuquerque, however, also had a wild side, according to Dodson Barnhart and other historical accounts. Brothels, saloons, gambling, gunfights, vigilante hangings and opium houses were all part of the city's history before the turn of the century.

Dodson Barnhart said she didn't know that Albuquerque was any wilder than other frontier towns during the era but added, "we certainly had our share of gunfights."

A Vermont newspaper editor visiting Albuquerque in 1881 would later write that, "It is conceded by all that as a railroad point Albuquerque will be among the important towns in the territory."

But the editor also added, "A standard of morals has not yet been erected. ... Set down in Vermont any of the business streets of Albuquerque for just one evening, and the Governor, with all his staff and all the Sheriffs, would take to the woods, under the impression that hell had broke loose, and that any attempt at legal restraint would be suicidal."