HISTORICAL SIDEBAR

New Mexico Counties

Much of the history of New Mexico is recorded in placenames.  The origin of the names of New Mexico's counties show an interesting  cross-section of this history. 

Each of New Mexico's 33 counties is listed below, with a brief description of the origin of the name and the town which serves as its county seat.  To ease the narrative flow, counties are listed in order of date created. 

Socorro - created in 1844 by the Republic of Mexico and designated in 1850 by the territorial government of what was to become New Mexico; named for the largest city in the county, which is also the county seat. 

Bernalillo - created in 1852 as one of the nine original counties; named for the settlement of Bernalillo nearby; county seat is Albuquerque. 

Dona Ana - created in 1852 as one of the nine original counties; named for its first county seat - the village of Dona Ana; county seat is now Las Cruces. 

Rio Arriba - created in 1852 as one of the nine original counties; named for the georgraphic location of the area relative to the Rio Grande ("rio arriba" translates to "upper river"); county seat is Tierra Amarilla. 

San Miguel - originally created by the Republic of Mexico in 1844 and designated in 1852 as one of the nine original counties by the territorial legislature; named for the town of San Miguel del Bado (Saint Michael of the Ford); county seat is now Las Vegas. 

Santa Fe - originally created by the Republic of Mexico in 1844 and designated in 1852 as one of the nine original counties by the territorial legislature; county seat is Santa Fe. 

Taos - originally created by the Republic of Mexico and designated in 1852 as one of the nine original counties by the territorial legislature; named for it's largest town; county seat is Taos. 

Valencia - originally created by the Republic of Mexico and designated in 1852 as one of the nine original counties by the territorial legislature; named for the village of Valencia; county seat is Los Lunas. 

Mora - created in 1860, named for the town of Mora, which is also its county seat. 

 
Grant - one of five counties named for a president (though at the time, Grant was still General and had not won the Office of President yet); created in 1868 and named in honor of General Ulysses S. Grant. 

 
Lincoln - one of five counties named for a president; created in 1869 and named in honor of President Abraham Lincoln. 

Colfax - the only New Mexico county named after a Vice-President; created in 1869 and named in honor of Vice-President-Elect Schuyler Colfax. 

Sierra- created in 1884 and possibly named for the Black Range mountains ("sierra" means "mountain range"). 

San Juan - created in 1887 and named for the San Juan River; county seat is Aztec. 

Chaves - created in 1889 and named for Col. Jose Francisco Chaves, a native of Bernalillo and delegate to Congress; county seat is Roswell. 

Eddy - created in 1889 and named for Charles B. Eddy, a developer in the area; county seat is Carlsbad. 

Guadalupe - created in 1891 and named for Our Lady of Guadalupe; the county was once renamed Leonard Wood for a colonel in the First NM Volunteer Cavalry, but the name was later changed back to Guadalupe; county seat is Santa Rosa. 

Union - created in 1893; county seat is Clayton. 

Otero - created in 1899 and named for Miguel Otero, the Territorial Governor of New Mexico at that time; county seat is Alamogordo. 

 
McKinley - one of five counties named for a president; created in 1889 and named in honor of President William McKinley; county seat is Gallup. 

Luna - created in 1901 and named for Solomon Luna, a prominent political figure in the area; county seat is Deming. 

Quay - created in 1903 and named for Matthew S. Quay, a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who fought for statehood for New Mexico; county seat is Tucumcari. 

 
Roosevelt - one of five counties named for a president; created in 1903 and named for President Theodore Roosevelt. 

Sandoval - created in 1903 and named for the Sandoval family of the area; county seat is Bernalillo. 

Torrance - created in 1903 and named for Francis J. Torrance, a railroad developer; county seat is Estancia. 

Curry - created in 1909 and named for George Curry, a Kansas native who was territorial governor of Nw Mexico from 1907-1910; county seat is Clovis. 

DeBaca - created in 1917 and named for Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca, New Mexico's second state governor; county seat is Fort Sumner. 

Lea - created in 1917 and named for Capt. Joseph Calloway Lea, a prominent leader in Chaves County and founder of the New Mexico Military Academy; county seat is Lovington. 

Hidalgo - created in 1919 and named for Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest who fought for Mexico's independence; county seat is Lordsburg. 


Catron - created in 1921 and named for Thomas B. Catron, a very prominent politician in New Mexico's history; county seat is Reserve. 

 
Harding - one of five counties named after a President; created in 1921 and named in honor of President Warren G. Harding; county seat is Mosquero. 

Los Alamos - created in 1949 and named for its principal town; county seat is Los Alamos. 

Cibola - created in 1981; county seat is Grants. 


Additional Resources

WEB SITES 

BOOKS  

  • Julyan, Robert.  The Place Names of New Mexico.  Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1996.