History of Socorro County

Socorro County was established by the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico in 1852 with the City of Socorro as the county seat. At the time of the County’s founding, it stretched all the way from Texas to California. Subsequently, many counties have been carved out of Socorro County giving the County it’s current boundaries.

Among the early inhabitants of the county were the pueblo people the “Piros” who settled in the area around 1200. Several centuries later the region was also populated by tribes to be later known as the Navajo’s and Apaches.

In 1598 the village of Socorro was so named by Don Juan de Oñate who was given supplies by the Piros on his expedition through the area. Socorro is the Spanish word for “help/aid.” Throughout the 1600’s Spanish missionaries were sent to the area to teach Christianity to the Piros, and the region also was host to a few Spanish settlements serving as stops along the Camino Real. Some of these early settlements were, La Joya, Luis López and Valverde.

In 1680, the “Pueblo Indians” revolted against the Spanish forcing the settlers to retreat to present day Mexico. Although New Mexico was re-conquered by the Spanish in 1692, the Socorro County area remained relatively uninhabited by European settlers, however the area was the site of numerous battles between the Spanish and native tribes. By the 1810’s the region was again permanently settled by the Spanish, including ranching villages such as San Antonio and trading stops along the Camino Real. The Socorro County area became part of Mexico in 1821, and the area continued to be colonized.

After war with Mexico in the late 1840’s, the area of Socorro County became the territory of the United States. In 1854 Fort Craig was established at it’s current location to protect European settlers from native tribes. 1861 brought the Civil War to Socorro County, most significantly the battle of Valverde, where Confederate forces were victorious over the Union army. After the Civil War the region saw increased settlement and prosperity due to mining and ranching. 

Socorro County was known for being part of the “wild west” during the booming years of the 1880’s. Some significant events include Sheriff Elfego Baca’s famous shoot out, the Socorro vigilante movement as well as less dramatic events such as the founding of the New Mexico School of Mines in 1889. The booming times came to an end in the 1920’s leaving Socorro County as a peaceful agricultural community. During World War II the first atomic bomb was detonated in the County at Trinity site not far from San Antonio. 

Today in Socorro County, ranching and farming is still the most vital part of the economy, but the County is also leading the way in the technological development of the county with the help of world renown research facilities such as New Mexico Tech, the NRAO's VLA, and Stallion Site on White Sands Missile Range to name a few.