The earliest Spanish explorers, including Cortés, were aware of iron ore deposits in the New World. Ironworking was the first craft to be regulated in New Spain when in 1524 price controls were legislated. In 1552 Gínes Vásquez de Mercado found the first major iron ore deposit in northern Mexico at Cerro de Mercado. Through the years other sources of iron were encountered, but they were not seriously developed until after Mexico’s independence in 1821. This was partially the result of the Spanish Crown’s restriction against the production of iron in New Spain, enacted in an effort to protect its own iron industry, and partially the result of the preference in Mexico for extracting valuable silver ore. Consequently, iron and steel were imported from Spain either in bulk form as sheets or in bars or as worked pieces. Long before their arrival in New Mexico, Spaniards knew iron objects were valuable to Native Americans. The Oñate expedition brought large quantities of small metal utensils and trinkets, including awls, thimbles, hawk’s bells and religious medallions, to New Mexico specifically for trade with the Pueblo and Plains Indians. Throughout the colonial period all types of metal objects were important trade items among Spaniards and Pueblo and Plains Indians.
Several Spanish settlers who came to New Mexico with the Oñate expedition were trained blacksmiths. Other settlers were capable of making minor items and repairs as well. Although Oñate had been instructed by the king to “teach the Indians…in such a way that, upon learning the trades, they may apply themselves and attract others to them,” little seems to have been done to this end by the Spanish civilians, other than what was required for the production of trade items, such as painted hides, woven textiles, and knitted woolen stockings. The friars, however, set up workshops at the missions where the Pueblo Indians were instructed in various trades, particularly blacksmithing and carpentry. In the seventeenth century there was an armory in the casas reales and there were probably several blacksmith shops in Santa Fe.
[excerpted from an article by Donna Pierce in Spanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection]