Why Events in 1837 New Mexico Matter Today

Sometimes I wonder why I’m so obsessed with past events, why the historical record calls to me, demanding to be examined, reimagined, turned into story. Am I just seeking an escape from today’s reality?

But then I remember something that happened just over a year ago.

It was early January 2021. A mob of U.S. citizens invaded the Capitol building in Washington D.C. while Congress was in session. Some of them were on the hunt for the Vice President and the Speaker of the House. They carried firearms and nooses. Across the country, people were glued to their screens, waiting to see what would happen.

What those viewers hoped would occur varied widely. If you saw my Facebook posts at the time, you had a pretty good idea of where I stood. I didn’t vote for Donald J. Trump in November 2020 and my comments made that clear. Some of them weren’t very kind.

Then a dear friend called me out on my attitude. On Facebook. She pointed out that my posts reflected only one side of the story, that those who didn’t agree with me politically had deep-seated concerns and fears and a right to be heard. She didn’t approve of what had happened on January 6, but she understood the frustration and anxiety. She expanded my perspective.

Her post got me thinking about my then work-in-progress, There Will Be Consequences (released February 1), which deals with a similar situation in 1837 New Mexico: a deeply frustrated and angry group of people who staged a bloody revolt against the appointed authorities. There are certain parallels to the events of January 2020. First, the precipitating events (in 1837, new taxes and a non-New Mexican governor) were only the tip of the iceberg of the rebels’ frustrations. Second, if the authorities had been willing to listen more deeply to the rebels’ concerns instead of treating them with disdain, the revolt might never have occurred. Third, the insurrectos got a little ahead of themselves. At least one of their issues—taxation—was actually in the process of being addressed when they revolted.

Which brings me to the present-day United States of America. Congress is busily trying to bring people to account for what happened on January 6, 2021. While this may be necessary to maintain law and order, I’m not sure it’s going to resolve the deeper issues which prompted the events of that day. A longer term strategy might be to start truly listening to each other, adjust our expectations (on both sides), and agree to meet somewhere in the middle. Because, if we don’t, we could very well face a scenario similar to what happened in New Mexico in 1837. People died, some of them pretty horrifically. Because they wouldn’t listen. Others lived with the scars of those events for the rest of their lives. Because they wouldn’t listen. I’m not saying either side was one hundred percent right or wrong, either in 1837 or 2021. We humans rarely are, as much as we’d like to believe otherwise.

So this is why the past calls me to explore, discover, mull it over, turn it into story. Because I am convinced that it can be easier to see the past more clearly than it is to see the present and that, perhaps—just maybe—it can teach us lessons that can help us move into the future with a little more understanding of why we humans do what we do and what we might learn from each other. 

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