The history of Gallup can be traced back thousands of years to the earliest inhabitants of the region. As the influence of the Ancestral Puebloans in Chaco Canyon expanded in the region between 800-1100 A.D., the Four Corners area became an active hub on ancient trade routes. When Coronado arrived in Zuni in 1540 A.D. looking for gold, sophisticated, well-established trade routes were already in place.

Though Coronado’s quest for the “Seven Cities of Gold” was based on a rumor rather than reality, he did find a mineral rich region populated by numerous large settlements. The native inhabitants were skilled artisans and savvy traders. They made a variety of commodities and crafts, with a network of trails connecting many key villages. The Spanish scouting parties and expeditions relied on those trails. In fact, most of the Spanish petroglyphs at El Morro National Monument were inscribed on the way to or from Zuni Pueblo while traveling the Acoma-Zuni trail.

Zuni ToursFrontier Settlement

The village that evolved into Gallup started as a dusty, isolated Westward Overland Stagecoach stop. It was a quiet, mellow, peaceful community by Old West standards. False storefronts and wooden sidewalks lined a single dirt road. That road would eventually run next to the railroad tracks, becoming Main Street Gallup, as well as a stretch of historic Route 66.

Initially, the newcomers and the Navajo clashed occasionally, but the cavalry from Fort Wingate, established in 1862 near Grants, responded aggressively to attacks on settlements and homesteads. In fact, the U.S. Army’s assault on the Navajo Nation was brutal in the 1860s. The U.S. Army moved Fort Wingate from its initial location near Grants to a location east of Gallup in 1864. Their focus was rounding up the Navajo by force, eradicating their ability to support themselves through ranching or hunting.

The Long Walk of the Navajo

Joined by Ute allies, the U.S. Army razed crops. They killed livestock and destroyed homes, ultimately forcing thousands of Navajos to march 400-miles to the Bosque Redondo Reservation. Poor soil, little water, and no access to hunting resulted in widespread disease, malnutrition, and starvation. In total, the U.S. Army detained the Navajo at the Bosque Redondo reservation for four years. The trek is referred to as The Long Walk by the survivors and their descendants. It is the Navajo version of The Trail of Tears.

With the risk of raids eliminated, entrepreneurs set up shop to cater to people traveling west on the stagecoach. The Navajo who traded there referred to the town as “spanned across,” which was a reference to a foot bridge across the Rio Puerco next to the stagecoach stop. Among those early enterprises, there was an obligatory saloon and a general store called The Blue Goose.

Gallup railroad historyThe Popularity of the Paymaster

When the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, later the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe , picked a route for their west bound tracks in 1881, the stagecoach stop became construction headquarters for the railroad. David Gallup was the railroad paymaster at the time. He opened a small company office on the construction right-of-way for the proposed southern transcontinental route. Since the railroad was the only large employer in the area, workers on that section of the tracks had to head to his office to pick up their check. They would say they were “going to Gallup” and the name stuck.

Gallup incorporated in 1891, becoming the county seat of McKinley County by 1901. It was a divisional terminal for the railroad by 1895, further solidifying prominence in the sparsely populated region. Unlike other railroad towns in the American West, the trains are an ongoing presence in Gallup, with more than 100 freight and two passenger trains passing through daily. On November 2, 2015 BNSF honored the city with its BNSF Railway Heritage Community Award for “embracing their past, present and future ties to freight rail.”

Gallup history muralCoal Mining History in Gallup

Though the railroad was instrumental in establishing Gallup as a settlement, it wasn’t the only lucrative resource around the community. Coal was discovered outside of town in 1885. In fact, there are several former coal mining camps within a 10-mile radius of Gallup and the Rex Museum on Main Street honors the area’s mining history and original mining families.

The combination of mining and railroad interests attracted wealthy, Anglo investors from back east, as well as enticing a new wave of immigrants west for work. There was an influx of European and Asian immigrants. The combination of cultures, and profound economic disparity between the owner class and working class, provoked conflict within the community. The railroad symbolically and literally separated the “Haves” from the “Have Nots,” with most of the latter working for the former. In many cases, the investors behind the mines and the railroad provoked infighting between groups within the community to prevent unionization and effective cooperative action. There was zero tolerance towards any form of labor movement.

Coal mining muralHistory of Union Busting in Gallup

Though mining is a hazardous occupation, the people of Gallup were traditionally ambivalent towards labor unions. However, the United Mine Workers (UMW) succeeded in negotiating a labor contract with one of Gallup’s big coal companies, the Victor American Fuel Company, in 1917. The town’s other big mine, run by the Gallup American Coal Company, was not unionized. The UMW called a strike. In response, Gallup American brought in new workers to replace those who joined the strike. The new workers were mostly from Mexico. Gallup American Coal encouraged the strikebreakers to build on the town’s western edge, a district that became known as Chihuahuaita. This community eventually became home to about 100 mining families.

The UMW represented miners in Gallup for about 15 years, but a rival union, the National Miners Union (NMU), moved into the community in 1933. They made inroads with the local miners, calling for a strike on August 29, 1933. Workers from multiple mines walked off the job in solidarity with the miners represented by NMU. They formed picket lines at each of the five major mines in town. In total, the NMU claimed that 970 out of 1,000 miners joined the picket lines during the strike.

Unfortunately, collective action elicited an extreme response. The strike in Gallup made state politicians and local business leaders nervous. Their paranoia was, in part, exacerbated by the Great Depression, Dust Bowl refugees, and the general ambivalence towards the “Red Scare” and encroaching Communism.

Gallup coal mining historyRetaliation and Retribution

Though the miners were picketing peacefully, the Governor on New Mexico declared martial law and dispatched National Guard troops to seal off Gallup for five months. A “mass gathering ordinance” required a permit for meetings of five or more people. Officials denied permits to strikers and union organizers, forcing the union to hold meetings across the border in Arizona. Picketers protested on the roads in groups of three or four. Checkpoints and search warrants were commonplace, with some union leaders jailed for violating curfew. Local support for the worker’s grievances waned due to the overall scarcity of work during the Depression. Eventually the miners and the coal companies reached a contentious settlement in 1934. Though smaller mines adhered to the negotiated agreement, Gallup American did not. They shunned most of the miners who had joined the strike and drove union organizers out of the state.

Life in Gallup muralCorruption and Capitalism

By the 1930s, the families who lived in Chihuahuaita were 2nd or 3rd generation mining families, with multiple generations in the same household working the mines. However, many of them had chosen to participate in the strike and they weren’t rehired. Based on their initial contract with the mines, these families had paid $10-15/year for housing since 1917.

Gallup American wanted them to move, but had no legal way to evict them so they sold about 110 acres of Chihuahuaita to a state senator, Clarence Vogel. In turn, Vogel offered to sell it back to the striking workers for $10-$15/month. Beyond the exorbitant increase in rent, he also included a clause in the contract forcing buyers to surrender all payments if they defaulted one time. Then, leveraging his role as a state senator, he introduced a bill to make it easier to foreclose on defaults. The entire scheme was transparently corrupt and exploitative.

Riot in Gallup

Vogel served eviction notices on three families who refused to vacate. He had the men arrested on April 3, 1935. By the following day, an angry crowd gathered around the jail demanding their release. Tempers flared and a riot erupted. A sheriff and two other men were fatally shot. Afterwards, one hundred and eighty union members were arrested, forty eight were jailed, fourteen were arraigned, and ten (all Mexican) were jailed on murder charges. The ensuing trial in October 1935 was sensationalized by the media, with jingoistic charges of “agitation,” “communism,” “Bolshevism,” “radicalism,” and “anarchism.”

Though all ten men were acquitted of capital murder, the jury found three guilty of second-degree murder. Despite a clemency recommendation, the judge sentenced the three men to 45 years of hard labor. However, the court overturned the conviction of one of the men in 1937 and, under pressure from the union, Governor John E. Miles pardoned the remaining two in 1939.

Route 66 GallupGet Your Kicks on Route 66

National demand for a better system of roads increased in the 1920’s as more people purchased automobiles. Route 66, aka “the Mother Road” followed the railroad west, incorporating existing highways, like the Grand Canyon Route, National Old Trails Highway, and the Will Rogers Highway. It cut across New Mexico from Tucumcari to Gallup. That travel conduit changed tourism in New Mexico forever. Ultimately crossing eight states and covering over 2,400 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles, Route 66 officially opened on November 11, 1926.

From Amarillo to Gallup New Mexico

Gallup’s combination of frontier ruggedness and Native American charm appeals to tourists. The community has been an important hub for trade and commerce with the surrounding Native American communities since the late 1800’s. With the influx of tourism on Route 66, Main Street sprouted numerous hotels, restaurants, gift shops and galleries.

Due to the proximity to multiple pueblos and reservations, Gallup featured dozens of trading posts that specialized in authentic Native American arts and crafts. Several of the vintage trading posts are still around, passed down within families from one generation to the next. As a result, Gallup has a better selection and lower prices than anywhere else in New Mexico. This is where collectors and galleries are sourcing their products. It’s also a great place for artisans to buy supplies due to the unusually high local demand.

Random Roadside Stops: The Rico Auto Complex was established in the 1920s. Beyond being an active car dealership, they display handmade, antique rugs and a buggy that once belonged to the President of the Navajo Nation in the showroom.

Navajo code talker at Cultural CenterGallup in WW2

Military service is a tradition in Gallup. Though far from the fields of battle, this small town has sent their sons and daughters to fight in every American conflict. There is a particularly strong connection to WW2, because many of the Navajo Code Talkers were trained at nearby Fort Wingate. They deployed from the Gallup railroad depot. The Navajo language provided an indecipherable code to communicate battle plans and troop movements, which helped the U.S. prevail in Europe and Japan.

Japanese Internment

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the forced internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans based on suspicions about their loyalty to the U.S. Japanese families, many with sons or daughters serving in the U.S. military, were forced into internment camps from coast to coast. About 6,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent by train to four camps in New Mexico: Santa Fe, Fort Stanton, Old Raton Ranch, and Camp Lordsburg.

At the time, there were about 100 Japanese-American families living in Gallup. Many were 1st or 2nd generation Americans, having relocated to the area to work for the railroad or to work in the mines. Many of their neighbors were also immigrants, hailing from various countries around the world. To their credit, the people of Gallup refused to “remove any of their citizens” based on country of origin. One of Gallup’s local military heroes is Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, a Gallup native of Japanese descent who served during the Korean War.

Films made in GallupFilm History in Gallup

The rugged, majestic terrain around Gallup was a popular backdrop for filming Westerns during the 1940s and 1950s. Hollywood royalty, like John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, were frequent visitors, living in Gallup while filming in the area. The production schedule was so consistent that R. Griffith, the brother of movie mogul D.W. Griffith, built the El Rancho Hotel in 1937 to provide lodging for film crews and celebrities. The wall of photos, covering the walls of the second floor, is an impressive “who’s who” of the Golden Era of Hollywood. Among others, the El Rancho Hotel hosted Ronald Reagan, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Doris Day, Burt Lancaster, and Lucille Ball.

Today, Hotel El Rancho is on the National Historic Register. The property still attracts travelers drawn to the old school, Route 66 neon experience (with a heavy side of New Mexico kitsch).

Historic Buildings

Gallup’s historic district is lined with renovated light-red sandstone buildings. In total, there are about 20 structures of historic and architectural interest in Gallup’s historic district. Most were built in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Visitor’s Center provides brochures, maps, and more information about the historic and architectural sights of Gallup.

Gallup Cultural Center
Gallup Cultural Center at the Santa Fe Railroad depot
Santa Fe Railroad Depot

The El Navajo Hotel was just west of the railroad station. It was one of many Fred Harvey properties in New Mexico. They designed the hotel in 1916, but construction was delayed for a few years due to the outbreak of World War 1. They completed the hotel in 1923. Sadly, it was short-lived, demolished 34 years later, in 1957. The original design was a blend of Mission style and Spanish Pueblo Revival style, with the Santa Fe Railroad symbol incorporated into the parapet.

The city renovated the building. It currently houses the Gallup Cultural Center, with a variety of exhibits and events highlighting the culture, history and heritage of the area.

The Drake Hotel

Built during Gallup’s 2nd coal boom in a decorative blond brick commercial style, the Drake Hotel was also known as the Henry Hotel. Businesses were located on the first floor, with hotel rooms on the second floor. Local legend has it that bootleggers controlled the place at one point, with wine running from the faucets in lieu of water.

200 block of West 66Hotel El RanchoRoute 66, aka Main Street in GallupEl Morro TheaterLexington HotelMcKinley County CourthouseRichardson Trading PostKitchen's Opera HouseSanta Fe Railroad Depot
Rex Museum

The Rex Hotel, also known as the Angeles Hotel, was built around 1900. At one point, it was a brothel. Oddly, it was a police substation after that.

Currently, The Rex is a museum, with exhibits highlighting Gallup’s history, including the culture of the area’s earliest inhabitants, mining, and railroad activities. The museum curators have literally packed the shelves and cases with a hodge-podge assortment of day-to-day items and coal-industry staples from the early 20th century, like lanterns, medical equipment, and lunch boxes. They even a contraption used to extract coal dust from miners’ lungs. (505) 863-1363

McKinley County CourthouseMcKinley County Court House

Built in 1938, the courthouse is Spanish Pueblo Revival Style. The building houses an interesting New Deal Art Collection. There’s also a beautiful historic courtroom with a wraparound mural depicting the history of the Gallup region on the second floor.

The Veteran’s Pillars are located in the plaza in front of the courthouse. The pillars are inscribed with the names of  local veterans who served from WWI onward, including individual pillars honoring the Bataan Veterans, the Navajo Code Talkers, and local Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura.

White Cafe

The White Cafe catered to tourists traveling Route 66, providing food, supplies, and free road maps. Currently houses the Southwest Indian Foundation. Built with blond brick in 1928, it is the most elaborate decorative brick building in Gallup.

Eagle Café

Serving diner food in an authentic atmosphere since 1920. (505) 722-3220

Kitchen’s Opera House

Pat Kennedy and Pete Kitchen built the two-story edifice in 1895. It had a large hall with a stage on the second floor. A saloon and cafe occupied the first floor commercial space. The Opera House, was the setting for plays, musicals, church functions, fancy balls, and, later, boxing tournaments.

Richardson’s Trading Company

Richardson’s Trading Company has been selling good Native American arts and crafts since 1913. (505) 722-4762 There are several buildings on the 200 block of West 66 Avenue built during Gallup’s first coal boom, between 1890-1900, including banks, hotels, and entertainment halls.

Morello Brothers Saloon and Palace

The Morello Brothers built The Palace Hotel with locally quarried sandstone around 1900. When subsequent owners renovated the building, they reconstructed the first floor arches due to prior damage. The new first floor windows are similar to the original design, but not an exact replica.

C.N. Cotton Warehouse

C.N. Cotton opened his wholesale Indian Trading Company in 1894, trading coffee and Pendleton blankets for Navajo rugs and textiles. He was the first to market Navajo weaving to people on the eastern seaboard, marketing his company through a catalogue. The catalogue provoked national interest in Native American artisans. Ultimately, Cotton was instrumental in developing Gallup’s reputation as an epicenter for Native American arts and crafts.

The Grand Hotel

Built in the Decorative Brick Commercial style in 1925, shortly after the completion of Route 66, The Grand Hotel was originally a dry goods store and bus depot. There was a hotel on the second floor. The Gallup Cadillac Company was in the basement and storefronts flanked the center hotel entry.

El Morro Theater

Designed by Carl Boller in 1928, the 460-seat theatre reopened as a movie theater and performance center in 2015. Many of the architectural elements are original.

Home of the annual Gallup Film Festival, the El Morro Theater is the finest example of the decorative Spanish colonial revival style in Gallup. They offer tours and it is supposedly haunted. Additionally, David A. Swing, an artist from Phoenix, painted four murals depicting the history of New Mexico inside.

El Rancho Gallup frontEl Rancho Hotel

R.E. Griffith, brother of Hollywood movie producer D.W. Griffith built El Rancho hotel in 1937 for the movie stars and film crews that frequented Gallup from the 1930s-1950s. He decided to move to Gallup after directing a film in the area, later returning to oversee the Chief Theater and to open the El Rancho. The southwestern influence infuses every nook and cranny. The brick lobby floor is a basket weave pattern. They filled the public spaces with memorabilia and regional arts. Autographed photos of Hollywood royalty adorn the second floor mezzanine. They welcome visitors to take a self-guided tour of the premises.

Chief Theater

The Chief Theater was originally The Strand Theater, built in 1920. R.E. “Griff” Griffith. He leased the property in the 1930s, completely redesigning and redecorating the building in 1936. A lightning strike in the 1970s destroyed the original marquee. Subsequent renovations also destroyed the first floor façade; however, they preserved and restored the upper façade.

City Electric Shoe Shop is currently based in the building, (505) 863-5252. City Electric is the “go-to” for feathers, leather, and other goods to make ceremonial clothing.

Gallup Real True bannerVisiting Gallup?

Heading to Gallup?

Gallup detailsHome to over 20,000 people, Gallup is the largest community between Flagstaff and Albuquerque. As a result, Gallup attracts travelers on I-40 and Route 66, as well as providing services for approximately 120,000 people in the surrounding area.

Gallup is located on I-40, on a stretch of historic Route 66. It is 139 miles west of Albuquerque and 25 miles east of the Arizona border. The community is the primary transportation and financial hub for the Four Corners area. For more information, check out the Guide to Gallup.

Gallup has more than 280 sunny days each year, 9.6 inches rainfall annually. In general, the Four Corners area has pleasant weather year around, though there are occasional winter storms that hit the Continental Divide and it gets unpleasantly hot in July and August. For the most part, low humidity and warm temperatures are the norm. However, jackets or sweaters are advisable for evening activities, because there is a stark difference between day and night time temperatures in the high desert.


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