Stephen Elkins Takes Lucrative Federal Position

On Saturday, December 22, 1866, New Mexico Territory’s acting Governor W.F.M. Arny appointed Stephen B. Elkins Territorial Attorney General, putting Elkins into the first of a series of Federal positions that would be extremely beneficial to his bank account.

William Frederick Milton Arny had arrived in New Mexico in 1861 as President Lincoln’s  Indian Agent to the Ute and Jicarilla Apache of northern New Mexico. Stationed at what is now Cimarron, Arny worked to provide agricultural opportunities for the Native Americans for whom he was responsible. However, he was moved out of this position to that of Territorial Secretary in 1862, where he served under Governor Henry Connelly until Connelly’s death in July 1866. Arny served as interim Governor about six months, until Robert B. Mitchell took over. During that period, he appointed Stephen B. Elkins to his new job.

The two men seem to have been quite different in their approach to New Mexico. Even after he was no longer Indian agent, Arny continued to work for what he saw as the good of Native Americans in New Mexico and to express his opinions about Native American issues, even when they weren’t popular. He opposed moving the Navajo people to Bosque Redondo and suffered the political consequences of that stance. He died in Santa Fe in 1881, virtually penniless.

Dec 22 illustration.Arny, W. F. M

Elkins, on the other hand, seems to have always been focused on his own needs. He arrived in New Mexico in 1863, after resigning from his position as Captain in the Union Army in the middle of the Civil War. Elected to the Territorial House of Representatives the following year, he moved from there into Federal positions, beginning with his appointment as Attorney General. When his right to the job was challenged by Governor Mitchell, he negotiated himself into being named the Territorial U.S. District Attorney instead.

While District Attorney, Elkins also practiced law with Thomas Catron. He was elected New Mexico’s Congressional Delegate in 1872 and served two terms, during which he worked to delay New Mexico statehood, an event he and Catron felt would be detrimental to their business activities, which included land grant speculation and other questionable practices.

Elkins left New Mexico in 1877 and moved to West Virginia. There, he served as Secretary of War during the Benjamin Harrison administration and was elected to the U.S. Senate. He remained Senator until his death, all the while continuing to dabble in shady enterprises. These included exploiting the government-owned Alaska fur seal industry and participating in the mail contracts that played into the Star Route mail frauds exposed in 1881.

By the time Elkins died in 1911, he was wealthy enough to have co-founded Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. He left behind a legacy, both financial and educational.

But I’m still inclined to think that Arny was the better man. Even if he did give Elkins a leg up in his political career.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico Biographical Dictionary, Vol. I, Rio Grande Books: Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 2007; Howard R. Lamar, The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, Harper & Row, New York, 1977; Hal Stratton and Paul Farley, Office Of The Attorney General, State Of New Mexico History, Powers And Responsibilities 1846-1990, State of New Mexico, 1990.

 

ICY MORNING

At first, the girl thought it was snowing, the tiny flakes glinting in the early morning sun. Then she saw they were miniscule ice crystals, floating from the cabin’s cedar-shake roof and the long green needles of the ponderosas looming above it: sparkling flecks of ice drifting through the air like frozen sunlight. She held her breath for a long moment, taking it in.

Then her mother opened the heavy wood-plank cabin door behind her. “It’s freezing out there!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing? You’ll catch your death!” And the girl turned reluctantly toward the house.

from Valley of the Eagles

Book Review: But Time And Chance

Chavez.But Time and Chance.cover
by Fray Angelico Chavez
Sunstone Press, 1981
ISBN: 978-0913270950

Padre Antonio Jose Martinez is perhaps  New Mexico’s most famous home-grown priest, and his chroniclers seem to either heartily disapprove of him or love him unconditionally. Fray Angelico Chavez’s But Time And Chance appears to try to fall somewhere between the two, striving for neutrality. I’m not sure he succeeds, but I believe this is still a valuable book for students of New Mexico history.

But Time And Chance provides a good overview of Martinez’s life and his conflict with Bishop Lamy and also describes Martinez’s background, and his relationship with his constituents and the Americanos who were so prevalent in Taos during his lifetime. Certainly, this book helped me to get a better feel for Martinez’s role in the politics of the day.

However, I do feel that Chavez spends more time than necessary in this book sifting through the Taos baptismal records to attempt to identify possible children Martinez may have fathered. Some of the evidence Chavez presents in this endeavor seems a little thin. I also question the idea that a mental health issue lay at the heart of the Padre’s actions in his later years, after he was excommunicated by Bishop Lamy.

However, despite my disagreements with Fray Chavez, I still found this book helpful in providing insight into Padre Martinez’s character and the times in which he lived. At the very least, it’s certainly a more well-rounded depiction of him than is Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop.

I believe But Time and Chance is a book that anyone interested in Padre Martinez’s life and works should definitely include in their list of items to read.

 

Land Grant Controversy Begins!!!!

On Friday, December 8, 1843, Taos residents Ceran St. Vrain and Cornelio Vigil asked the Governor of New Mexico to grant them the equivalent of 922 square leagues (over four million acres) of land in what is now southern Colorado. The acreage in question included the valleys of the Greenhorn, Huerfano, Apishapa, Cucharas, and Purgatoire Rivers. St. Vrain and Vigil said they intended to use it to “encourage the agriculture of the country to such a degree as to establish its flourishing condition” and to raise cattle and sheep south of the Arkansas River and opposite Bent’s Fort.

They got what they wanted. By January 4 of the following year, they were in possession.

And they did raise cattle and sheep on the land. Between 1844 and 1847, fifteen to sixteen hundred head of cattle grazed there.

But then the Americans showed up. After things settled down following the Mexican-American War, the new government informed the owners of all the land grants in New Mexico that they needed to prove their right to the property in question.

Vigil had died in the Taos revolt in 1847, and by this time the land had been sold to or inherited by various parties, but they were all interested in pursuing title to the grant. On June 4, 1857, thirteen and a half years after Vigil and St. Vrain took possession, the owners presented the required documentation and waited for an answer.

Things went smoothly enough at first. On September 17, Surveyor General William Pelham approved what was now being called the Las Animas grant and recommended that Congress confirm it.

The first sign of trouble was during the review by the House’s Committee on Private Land Claims. The committee was taken aback when they realized the land grant documents didn’t identify the number of acres involved. Instead, it laid out the grant boundaries, which included a spot “one and one-half leagues below the junction of the San Carlos River . . . thence following in a direct line to the south, until it reaches the foot of the first mountain, two leagues west of the Huerfano River…” The committee stalled for a while on this traditional terminology, but eventually did recommend approval.

And then the Bill reached the Senate. Here the boundaries description wasn’t the problem. The grant simply contained too much land to be handed over to private control. The Senate was willing to approve 22 square leagues (97,514.53 acres), but not over four million. Donaciano Vigil and the others protested, but the Civil War broke out right about then and the case was set aside for more pressing concerns.

Dec 8 illustration.Colorado Land Grants

When Congress finally returned to the issue in 1869, it confirmed its original 22 square league decision, but granted the owners the right to choose which part of the land to retain.

However, in the meantime, grant owners had sold parcels to other people, people whose land was now in danger of being considered public domain. There would be further court battles and examinations of evidence until the United States Supreme Court handed down a final ruling on December 3, 1900, almost exactly 57 years after Ceran St. Vrain and Cornelio Vigil first requested the land.

The answer was still “no.” Sometimes it’s just not worth it to keep pressing your case.

Sources: J.J. Bowden, “Las Animas Grant,” New Mexico State Record Center and Archives, accessed via  dev.newmexicohistory.org/ filedetails.php? fileID=25012, 11/4/19; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2003; Ralph E. Twitchell The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Vol. 2, Cedar Rapids: Torch Press; Victor Westphall, Mercedes Reales, Hispanic Land Grants of the Upper Rio Grand Region, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1983.

 

MISNOMER

“Who you callin’ squirt?” The tall young man with the long sun bleached hair moved toward him down the bar, broad shoulders tense under his heavy flannel shirt.

“I didn’t mean anything,” the man said apologetically. The premature wrinkles in his face were creased with dirt.  Clearly a local pit miner. He gestured toward the tables. “I heard them callin’ you that. Thought it was your name.”

“Only my oldest friends call me that,” the young man said.

“Sorry ’bout that,” the other man said. He stuck out his hand. “Name’s Pete. They call me Gold Dust Pete, ’cuz that’s all I’ve come up with so far.”

They shook. “I’m Alfred,” the younger man said. “My grandfather called me Squirt. It kinda got passed down as a joke when I started getting my growth on.”

Pete chuckled. “I can see why it was funny,” he agreed. “Have a drink?”

from Valley of the Eagles

Top New Mexico Republican Murdered!!!!

Early on Sunday morning, November 27, 1904, news reached Santa Fe that J. Francisco Chaves was dead. Chaves had been eating dinner at a friend’s house at Pino’s Wells in Torrance County when a lone gunman shot through the window of the room he was in, then escaped on horseback.

The murder was shocking both because of its Wild West nature and because of the victim’s status in New Mexico. Born at Los Padillas in what is now Valencia County, the 71-year-old Chaves was considered the father of the Territory’s Republican party. He was a veteran of the battle of Valverde and subsequently commander at Fort Wingate. The was followed by service as Territorial Delegate to Congress from 1865 to 1871 and also as New Mexico’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. By 1904, he’d served in the Territorial Legislature for almost 30 years and was a longtime friend and political ally of Governor Miguel Otero.

Nov 27 illustration.Chaves

But political power had apparently given Chaves a sense that he wasn’t obliged to abide by other men’s rules. He was a strong supporter of the idea that New Mexico should be made a state as soon as possible and had been working hard at the territorial and national levels to make that happen. When Bernard Rodey, New Mexico’s delegate to Congress, came out in opposition to immediate statehood, Chaves was furious.
But he didn’t confront Rodey, who was up for reelection. Instead, he publicly supported Rodey’s candidacy, while quietly arranging for another man to get the Republican nomination to the position.

Chaves’s candidate would win that election and proceed to Congress, but Chaves wouldn’t live to see his success. He was dead by then, killed in a way that contributed to the idea that New Mexico Territory was still a violent frontier and not ready yet for statehood.

The behavior of the new Delegate didn’t help matters. Within seven weeks of his arrival in Washington, D.C., scandal engulfed him, raising further questions about New Mexico’s right to become a full-fledged state. It would be another eight years before the cloud lifted and New Mexico achieved Chaves’ desire. One has to wonder if Statehood would have happened sooner if Chaves hadn’t tried to hurry it along.

Sources: David V. Holtby, Forty-Seventh Star, New Mexico’s Struggle For Statehood, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2012.; Frank H. H. Roberts and Ralph E. Twitchell, History and Civics of New Mexico, Robert O. Law Company, Chicago, 1914; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2015; Ralph E. Twitchell, The Leading FActs of New mexican History Vol. III, The Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, 1917.

WINTER STOP, MORENO VALLEY

There was no grass visible, covered as it was by three feet of snow. Clouds obscured Aqua Fria Peak, meaning there’d be more snow in the night. The lower branches of the aspens had clearly felt the teeth of hungry deer and elk. There’d no doubt be wolves shadowing their flanks.

Old Pete cut branches for the two pack mules and created a feeding pile. They came eagerly to investigate.

What they left would clearly indicate the passing of a stranger, but he didn’t expect anyone was watching for him, anyhow. And by midday tomorrow the pile would be just another white-mounded windfall.

He added wood to the fire and pulled the buffalo robe tighter around his shoulders. He wished he had some coffee or Taos lightning. The snow-melt water was hot enough to warm him, but something with a kick in it would feel mighty handy right about now.