The first full-time inhabitants of the area at the base of Taos Mountain were Tiwa-speaking descendants of the ancestral Puebloans (also called Anasazi) who migrated from the Four Corners area around a.d. 1000. Taos , from Tiwa for “place of the red willows,” was a thriving village when Francisco de Coronado’s exploratory crew arrived in 1540. By 1615, settlers had arrived and established their own small community.
The Spanish initially had difficulty getting a toehold, however. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680, led by Popé in Taos, succeeded in driving settlers out of New Mexico for 12 years. Under the heavy hand of Governor Diego de Vargas, most of the area was reclaimed in 1692, but the Taos Pueblo  Indians held out for four more violent years before they formally surrendered. The only thing that held the truce was that the Pueblo people and the Spanish both had to defend themselves against Comanche and Jicarilla Apache raiders.
By the middle of the 18th century, Taos had become moderately more secure and was an integral part of a brisk trade network, thanks in part to French fur trappers who had discovered wealth in beaver pelts from the lakes in the surrounding mountains.
The little village became a place to gather and swap goods brought from Mexico and in from the surrounding wilderness. At the trade fairs, rugged mountain men met and mingled with wealthy Spanish merchants, mule-train runners up from Mexico, and local Indians selling their wares.
Early in Taos’s history, the population was so sparse and life so hard that it took only one energetic person to have a significant impact. Padre Antonio José Martinez, son of an established trader, was one of the area’s most dynamic leaders in the first half of the 19th century.
In 1835, he acquired the first printing press in the American West and began producing books and a periodical, (The Dawn of Freedom), which was published off and on well into the 20th century, eventually becoming the He also established a co-ed school, a seminary, and a law school.
Jean Baptiste Lamy, the Frenchman appointed bishop of Santa Fe  in 1853, earned the enmity of Taoseños by curtailing the popular Padre Martinez’s work, even filing an order to excommunicate him. Although the papers don’t appear to have been processed, Martinez claimed to have been cast out of the church, and he set up a private chapel at his house, from which he ministered until he died in 1867.
When Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, little changed for Taos, but the transition to U.S. rule in 1846, after the Mexican-American War, caused much upheaval. Wealthy Spanish landowners and Catholic priests (including Padre Martinez) both foresaw their loss of influence under the Americans and plotted a rebellion. On January 19, 1847, the leaders incited a mob, many of them Indian, to kill New Mexico’s first American governor, the veteran merchant Charles Bent; elsewhere in town and the larger region, scores of other Anglo landowners were massacred before U.S. cavalry came from Santa Fe to squelch the uprising.
The last half of the 1800s saw the establishment of a mining industry in Twining (now Taos Ski Valley ) and a gold rush in nearby Elizabethtown , but the 1879 arrival of the railroad in Raton to the north bumped Taos from its role as trading hub, and the town slipped into backwater status.
Nonetheless, the era brought colorful characters to Taos, some of whom would soon work their way into local legends. The six-foot-tall outlaw “Long” John Dunn, for instance, made a business in toll bridges across the Rio Grande (only one of the three survived the ravages of floodwaters), monopolizing road travel to the west; he also set up a gamblers’ hotel and was the first car owner in Taos. He finally died in 1955.
Equally legendary: Bert Geer Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein, two painters on a jaunt from Denver in the summer of 1898 who “discovered” Taos when their wagon wheel snapped near town. After being happily waylaid in this inspirational place, Phillips stayed, marrying the town doctor’s sister, Rose Martin. Blumenschein eventually returned with others, such as Oscar E. Berninghaus, Eadgar Irving Couse, Joseph Sharp, and W. Herbert “Buck” Dunton. Together, the six established the Taos Society of Artists (TSA) in 1915.
In the 12 years of the TSA’s existence, not only did these and other artists make names for themselves as painters of the American West, but they also put Taos on the map. A deal with the Santa Fe Railway even promoted travel in exotic New Mexico with works by TSA painters in its brochures and posters.
In another forward-thinking move, in 1923, Bert Phillips and Victor Higgins encouraged a wealthy local widow to donate some of her property for a permanent home for the TSA’s legacy from the previous eight years; the Harwood Museum  is still open on Ledoux Street. The TSA name also helped creative locals survive in the lean years. During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration funded several projects in the area, including the work of master wood-carver Patrocinio Barela, whose santos were later exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
More important, the TSA piqued the curiosity of influential East Coasters. One was Mabel Dodge Luhan, a well-off, freethinking woman who had fostered art salons in New York City and Florence. She then decamped to Taos in 1916, much to the fascination of cultural critics of the day. Her name is now inextricably linked with Taos’s 20th-century history because she had an eye for budding artists and writers and encouraged them to come live with and meet one another at her several homes around town.
By the 1920s, D. H. Lawrence, who spent some time in Taos at Luhan's behest, had taken to calling the place “Mabeltown,” and figures as grand and varied as Greta Garbo, Willa Cather, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, Robinson Jeffers, and Carl Jung were making the long trek to this dusty mountain town. Mabel’s steamy memoirs, published in the 1930s after Lawrence’s death, reveal the feuds and affairs that fueled the massive creative output of this period.
The next generation, in the 1960s, was even more dedicated to living together and sharing ideas: This was when dedicated hippies, attracted by New Mexico’s isolation, established several communes in the area. One, the New Buffalo commune in Arroyo Hondo , inspired Dennis Hopper when he filmed which in turn led to another wave of countercultural immigrants. Locals, living by very traditional mores, were horrified at the naked, hallucinogen-ingesting, free-loving, long-haired aliens who had appeared in their midst; more than a decade of antagonism followed. Eventually, however, the most extreme communes disbanded and everyone mellowed a bit with age; even members of old Spanish families now talk about maximizing the solar gain of their adobe houses.