On Tuesday, February 7, 1837, Governor Albino Pérez, his New Mexico militia, and their Pueblo allies returned to the Rio Grande Valley from an unsuccessful campaign against the Navajo.

It had been a difficul campaign from its inception. When the Governor issued a call for the militia to assemble in November 1836, nobody came. This was primarily because of the members’ personal finances. They wouldn’t be paid to be on campaign and also had to supply their own ammunition and mounts. And Pérez couldn’t promise to help. He barely had enough funds to pay his Presidio soldiers to guard Santa Fe while he was gone.

So he decided to levy a forced loan on New Mexico’s ricos. This wasn’t exactly met with enthusiasm either. In fact, the necessary funds for the campaign still hadn’t arrived in the capital when Perez mustered the men who’d finally shown up and set out for Navajo country. They would be gone two months.

Miera map of New Mexico, circa 1788.

This type of campaign typically lasted forty-five days, so this one was longer than usual. If the militia were going to be paid at the end of it, or at least collect some spoils of war while they were gne, they probably wouldn’t have minded too much. But food supplies ran low. Also, the weather was so cold that one man froze to death and others lost toes and ears to frostbite. The temperatures affected the animals too. The militia’s mounts began to fail. To add insult to injury, the New Mexicans made no contact with the enemy during the entire period they were in the field.

By the time they got home, the New Mexicans and Pueblo warriors were fed up. They headed home in disgust and Governor Pérez turned to local governance issues only to discover that there wasn’t enough money in the treasury to continue paying his Presidio troops. He saw no alternative but to send them home as well. And then the Navajos who hadn’t been anywhere in sight during the winter campaign suddenly materialized and began raiding across the region. The Governor’s year was not starting out well.

It wouldn’t end well, either.  Mexico’s Congress had made changes to the Federal constitution, reducing the autonomy of communities throughout the country. In addition, Federal taxes were going up and were set to be collected directly from New Mexicans for the first time in decades. To say people were unhappy is putting it mildly. Navajo raids would be the least of Governor Pérez’s worries in the coming months.

Sources: Lansing Bloom, Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico. Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Company, 1912, Francis Stanley, Giant in Lilliput: The Story of Donaciano Vigil. Pampa: Pampa Printing, 1963; Daniel Tyler, New Mexico in the 1820’s: The First Administration of Manuel Armijo, PhD Dissertation, 1970, UNM, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

2 thoughts on “Governor Pérez’s 1837 Navajo Campaign

  1. Interesting, Loretta. Thanks for sharing. Now I’ve got to look at the Miera map in more detail. How much damage to Dine communities did Perez’s Navajo Campaign inflict, 27 years before the Long Walk?

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