“Me and Joe didn’ come alla way out here jus’ to cook for no white men,” Frank Edwards grumbled as he slammed dirty dishes into the hotel sink. “You’d think we was still slaves in Kentucky.”
“You be only eighteen,” Louis the cook said. He positioned a pan of potatoes on the wooden table and picked up the pealing knife. “And what’s Joe, twenty three? You all have plenty o’ time.”
Joe Williams came in the door with an armload of firewood. “I here tell there’s a gold claim for sale in Humbug Gulch,” he told Frank as he dumped the wood into the bin next to the stove. “They askin’ seventy-five dollars.”
Frank’s hands stopped moving in the dishwater. “You reckon we got enough?”
Louis looked up from his potatoes. “You two listen to me and you listen good,” he said sharply. “You go to minin’ and you’re gonna lose every penny you have. Miners gotta eat, even when they so broke they sellin’ their claims. Stick to feedin’ ’em and you’ll do better in th’ long run.”
Frank and Joe looked at each other and shrugged. “We don’t got enough anyway,” Joe said. He jerked his head sideways, toward Louis. “An’ the old man has a point.”
“You better watch who you callin’ an old man,” Louis said gruffly. “And that wood box ain’t full enough yet, neither. Not by a long shot.”
On Wednesday, December 4, 1861, Governor Henry Connelly issued his first proclamation as New Mexico’s governor. Ironically, his message came almost exactly fifteen years after he’d been arrested south of Mesilla by Mexican authorities and taken to Chihuahua.
In 1846, Connelly has been suspected of being part of the invading American Army, which was sweeping south across New Mexico, en route to the Sonora desert, California, and possession of the entire continent.
Now, in 1861, Connelly’s proclamation warned of another invasion, this one moving north from the Mesilla area into the rest of New Mexico. This time, the invasion was from Texas, which had recently joined the Confederate States of America. The Governor’s proclamation called for volunteers to fight the invading forces.
Near Mesilla, at Fort Bliss, the former commander of New Mexico’s Fort Union, Confederate General Henry H. Sibley, was preparing his own proclamation to the citizens of New Mexico. It was addressed to his “old comrades in arms” and declared that his troops’ goal was to free New Mexicans from the “yoke of military despotism.”
But the thought of Texas trying yet again to invade New Mexico, as they had in 1841, swayed the Territory’s citizens more powerfully than Sibley’s reminder that they lived under a rule enforced from Washington DC.
Governor Connelly’s rhetoric was more convincing. “The enemy is Texas and the Texans,” he declared. That was enough for New Mexico’s citizens. The Territory raised five regiments of volunteers and one of militia, as well as three independent militia companies and four independent cavalry companies with three-month enlistments. In all, 3,500 New Mexicans fought for the Union—and against Texas—in the War Between the States.
Sources: Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, a brief multi-history, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.
“Make it stop,” the little boy moaned. He rubbed his ears with his fingers and rocked himself back and forth in his mother’s lap. “Mama, please make it stop.”
“I wish I could,” Alma said, stroking his golden hair. She pulled him closer to her chest, then began moving the rocking chair rhythmically back and forth.
“It hurts,” he whimpered.
“I know.” She gazed out the window at the clouds scudding across the Moreno Valley sky. The spring winds had always been a sign to her of coming warmth and green things sprouting. Until now. Until the pain from the changing air pressure had reduced her energy-filled child into a whimpering puppy hiding in her lap.
The rocking chair’s rhythm and the warmth of her arms was relaxing him into sleep. She stroked his head gently and he snuggled closer. Alma smiled. She had planned to start turning the garden soil today. It could wait until tomorrow, she decided. Until the wind had subsided at least a little.
In mid November, 1875, the Utes and Apaches gathered at New Mexico’s Cimarron Indian agency for their treaty-mandated weekly distribution of food, and their patience ran out.
Both tribes had been complaining for several years that the flour doled out to them was hardly fit for anything and that the distributed meat was from worn-out Santa Fe Trail oxen too tough to eat. But the meat they were offered in mid November 1875 was worse than anything they’d seen yet. It was rotten.
This was the last straw. The Apaches, at least, had had enough, and shots rang out. The agency employees retreated into the agency office, in what is now Cimarron’s Old Mill Museum.
With Indians firing into the mill, and agency staff firing outside, several people, including Indian agent Alexander G. Irvine, were injured.
Eventually, the Apaches withdrew. In spite of his wounds, Irvine headed to the telegraph office and wired Fort Union for reinforcements, which arrived the next day. The troop officer went to the Apache camp and talked them into a meeting in Cimarron. But the gathering wasn’t a productive one. Irvine was interested only in who’d fired a gun, not the quality of the food he’d been distributing. He issued an ultimatum: If the Apaches didn’t hand over Juan Barilla, Juan Julian, and a man named Chico, he’d stop distributions entirely.
The Apaches refused this proposal and headed back to camp. But somewhere along the way, Juan Barilla was unlucky enough to get himself arrested and thrown into the Cimarron jail. On Tuesday, November 23, he attempted to break out and was killed in the ensuing scuffle.
The Apaches were furious. They wanted someone to pay for what they viewed as Barilla’s murder.
Irvine just wanted out. He resigned his position and suggested that the Army take over. The authorities at Fort Union not only agreed to this proposition but wired General Nelson A. Miles in Kansas for help.
As a well-known Indian fighter, General Miles could have been expected to move immediately into action against the Apaches in the Cimarron area. Instead, he took the time to do a little investigating and concluded that the government had failed miserably in its responsibilities toward the Native Americans assigned to the Agency. He put a military man in charge at the Mill, established new procedures, and left town satisfied that he’d averted serious hostilities.
Whether Juan Barilla’s friends and families were satisfied is another question entirely. But at least they had better food distributed to them after his death.
Source: Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont, a history of New Mexic’s Cimarron Country, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1972.
I’m pleased to announce that Not Just Any Man, my mountain man novel set in New Mexico, is now available in paperback and ebook. Here are the details:
Just a man. Known for his character, not the color of his skin. That’s all Gerald, son of a free black man and and Irish servant girl, wants to be. It’s an impossible goal in slave-holding Missouri, but in the West, mountain men and villagers alike seem to accept him without question.
New Mexico is all that Gerald hoped for, but shortly after he arrives in Taos, he realizes he wants more than he’d thought: A girl with her own complex ancestry and a high mountain valley with intriguing potential.
To make either dream possible, Gerald needs to earn something more than a scratch living. The only way to do that is to trap beaver. It’s a tough way to earn cash and the wilderness is an unforgiving place.
Can Gerald survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid south rim of the Grand Canyon as well as the fellow trapper who hates him for the color of his skin? Can he prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?
Not Just Any Man is set in the late 1820s in Old New Mexico and is filled with historical characters and events.
You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online outlets, or from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore.
There was a knothole in the cabin door, in the fourth board from the right. Kenneth stood on tiptoe and peered through it at the men on the horses.
“It’s Clay Allison!” he hissed.
His little sister Elizabeth stood on tiptoe and tried to shoulder Kenneth out the way so she could see for herself. “Are you sure?” she whispered.
Kenneth nodded. “He’s tall and he’s got those black whiskers and he’s ridin’ that big blond horse Papa says is so dangerous.”
Elizabeth bit her lip and shrank back. She hugged herself tightly around her waist. “I’m scared,” she whimpered. “I’ve heard tell that he’s mean.”
“Ah, he’s only mean to those who are mean,” Kenneth scoffed. But he didn’t open the door. His mother had instructed him to stay inside if anyone came while she and his father were gone. As far as Kenneth was concerned, ‘anyone’ included the gunslinger Clay Allison. If that’s who it was. He wasn’t at all certain, now that he thought about it. He’d never seen the man close up. But he sure wasn’t gonna tell Elizabeth that.
The knothole suddenly went black and there was a thud on the wooden door that shook Kenneth in his boots. “What are we going to do?” Elizabeth gasped.
Kenneth put his hand over her mouth. “Hush!” he hissed. “He’ll hear you!”
Boots scuffed on the porch, as if whoever it was had walked away and then come back. “I believe you two young uns ought to open this door,” a man’s deep voice said. “Your Mama says you won’t be wantin’ too, but I’ve got important news for ya’ll.”
The children looked at each other. Kenneth shook his head.
“But he’ll break the door down!” Elizabeth hissed. “And if he has to do that, he’ll be really mad! And then he’ll be extra mean!”
Kenneth’s lower lip jutted out and he shook his head again. Elizabeth had seen that look before and she knew it was no use arguing with him. She sank to the floor in a heap and tried not to cry.
There was a long silence. Booted feet paced the porch. Then they stopped outside the door again. The man coughed. The children looked at each other apprehensively.
“All right,” the man said. “I guess I’ll just have to tell you my news through the door. Your Mama’s been laid up at your Aunt Ginny’s house and she says you’re to stay here until your Pa comes for you. That’ll more than likely not be till tomorrow. She says to have your chores done and your things ready, because your Pa’s gonna be taking you back to Ginny’s house so’s you can meet your new baby brother.” There was a short pause. “Or sister. Your Mama doesn’t know yet just which it’ll be.”
The children stared at each other, then Kenneth moved to the door and looked through the knothole again. “Really and truly?” he asked.