As the priest at Taos in the 1830s, Padre Antonio José Martínez  played a pivotal role in the New Mexico government’s attempt to keep discontent at bay. He was especially active in 1837/38, working against the revolt that is the subject of my forthcoming biographical novel, There Will Be Consequences.

The rebellion centered in Santa Cruz de la Cañada, about fifty miles south of Taos, but after its initial suppression in September 1837, many of the revolutionaries seem to have headed north to Taos.

Antonio José had grown up in the Taos area, the oldest of six children from the wealthy Martín-Santistéban family. The fortress-like home his parents built outside town still stands as a monument to their status. Although he was well educated, his family had apparently not planned for Antonio José to enter the priesthood. He married María de la Luz Martín of Abiquiu in May 1812, in a joint ceremony with her brother José Manuel and Antonio José’s sister Juana María.

However, life didn’t go as planned. María de la Luz died the following year after giving birth to a little girl, also named María de la Luz. This seems to have begun a turning point for Antonio José. Four years later, at age 25, he entered the Tridentine Seminary in Durango, Mexico and began studying for the priesthood.  

Padre Antonio José Martínez

When he returned to New Mexico in 1823, Antonio José was not only ordained, but he’d also adopted the use of the less-common last name Martínez. After an introductory period serving in temporary positions, he was assigned to the communities in the Taos area.    

By 1837, the padre was responsible for more than the religious lives of his parishioners. He was also running a school for local children and a preparatory seminary. At the same time, he served as consul for Americans in New Mexico, operated a printing press that produced literary publications as well as church forms, and was the Taos representative to New Mexico’s Departmental Assembly.

So Antonio José Martínez was a man to be reckoned with, both in his religious and secular roles. From what we know of his later interactions with Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, I think it’s safe to say he was also not someone who bowed easily to the opinions of others. As a rico and a priest, he seems to have been firmly on the side of what he might have called “law and order.” While I was writing There Will Be Consequences, I had great fun imagining his reaction in late 1837 when the rebels at Taos demanded that he quit preaching against the revolt. They also wanted him to stop asking for the customary church burial, baptism, and marriage fees. The evidence indicates that this conversation did not go well.

However, the rebels’ pushback does seem to have slowed Antonio José’s remarks down a little. After all, they were also threatening his younger brother, Subprefect Santiago Martínez.

But Martínez the brother was still padre at Taos. Although the exact sequence of events isn’t clear, we know his actions and language precipitated at least one other confrontation, one so intense that it required the appearance of the local magistrate and other loyalists to keep violence from erupting.

Tensions remained high. By early January 1838, Antonio José sent a letter to interim governor Manuel Armijo warning of the likelihood of another rebel outbreak. In the middle of the month he followed his missive to the capitol.

And stayed there. When Armijo began to prepare to meet the rebels one last time, Martínez volunteered to act as his chaplain. But he didn’t hover in the background. The padre was at the governor’s side during the final battle at Pojoaque Pass on Saturday, January 27. In fact, he reportedly went “heroically about attending to the wounded and consoling the dying with the last rites.”[1]

Antonio José Martínez may have been a man of the cloth, but he was clearly also a man of action. Will we ever know exactly what he was thinking that cold January day? Probably not, but it’s certainly interesting to consider the possibilities.


[1] Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, pp. 56-57.