University of Oklahoma Press


Billy Kiser, an Assistant Professor of History at Texas A & M University – San Antonio, is one remarkably productive historian. This time he has written an engaging and interesting study of the first decades of United States conquest in New Mexico. Kiser proposes that the Santa Fe trade, the American military occupation during the Mexican-American War, the antebellum Indian wars, the slavery question, the transcontinental railroad speculations, and the Civil War should be seen as “a single, interconnected process of imposed political and ideological transformation” (p. 13). While arguing that New Mexico mattered in the era’s national context more than previously thought, Kiser reflects on why and how the United States took it. The answer is often far from straightforward, in part because of powerful independent Apache and Navajo polities challenged the invasion and because Texas and California so clearly outshined New Mexico in the eyes of settlers, prospectors, businessmen, and politicians. Kiser proposes that New Mexico’s value was its geographical location. In order to have California, globalize the American economy, and challenge European powers in Asia, the expansionist United States needed New Mexico as a connecting thoroughfare. This interpretation underlines the role of the federal government, especially the military, and it convincingly positions New Mexico as an object pursued by rival Northern and Southern brands of settler colonialism (free soil vs. slavery).