U.S. Mail Heads to Santa Fe!

U.S. Mail Heads to Santa Fe!

On Monday, July 1, 1850, the first stage-transported U.S. mail left Independence, Missouri for Santa Fe, New Mexico with eight men guarding the mule-drawn coach.

This was the first Congressionally authorized four-year contract for mail transported by vehicle between Independence and New Mexico. It had initially been set to leave Fort Leavenworth but the contract was modified to send it out of Independence instead, reducing the route distance from 885 to 840 miles.

The mail contractors in 1850 were Dr. David Waldo of New Mexico and Jacob Hall of Independence. The stage not only carried the mail, it also provided passenger service, with fares of $100 in the summer and $150 during the winter. A letter of less than half an ounce cost $0.10 and could be sent collect, postage to be paid by the recipient.

The company that Waldo and Hall formed in 1850 dissolved four years later, when Hall bought Waldo out and teamed up with John M. Hockaday to transport the mail for the next contract period. In 1857, service moved to semimonthly and the following year Hall again placed a successful bid, this time as sole proprietor. In 1862, he bid again, but the contract was awarded to George H. Vickroy and Thomas J. Barnum.

The Eastern terminus for the stage also shifted that year, moving west to Kansas City. Now the shortening of the line that had begun on the first run accelerated, responding to the growth of the railroads. Stage service to Santa Fe would end completely in 1880 with the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. But the idea of the stage and its symbolic connection to the American frontier would linger much longer.  

Uncle Dick Wootton Marries Again!

Uncle Dick Wootton Marries Again!

On Saturday, June 17, 1871, Richens Lacey “Uncle Dick” Wootton married for the fourth time. He had recently turned 55. His bride was sixteen-year-old Maria Paulina Lujan of Mora, New Mexico. They would have ten children together, six of whom lived to adulthood.

Wootton had arrived in the Rocky Mountains at age twenty as a member of a Bent Brothers and St. Vrain wagon train and promptly turned his hand to trading with the Sioux. Following that venture, he went on to trap as far west as Fort Vancouver, serve as a hunter for Bent’s Fort, raise buffalo for sale to Eastern zoos, and scout for Colonel Doniphan during the U.S.’s 1846 invasion of Mexico. 

Richens Lacey Wootton. Courtesy: http://www.legendsofamerica.com

In 1848, Wootton married Dolores Lefebvre of Taos, where he was based until 1854. When she died in childbirth in 1855, he went into business freighting goods between Kansas City and New Mexico. Around 1857, he married Mary Ann Manning and they moved to Denver, where he ran a saloon and hotel along with a general trading and loan business. After Mary Ann died in 1861, he sold out and built a house at Pueblo, where he farmed on the east side of Fountain Creek.

In 1863, Wootton married again, to Fanny Brown, who died just over a year later, leaving an infant daughter. The following year, he settled in the mountains between Colorado and New Mexico, and got permission from both legislatures for him and his partner to build a toll road through Raton Pass. By the early 1870s, he was also operating a stage station out of his log-and-stone home there.

All of this was going on when Wootton married the teenage Maria Paulina. Unlike her predecessors, she seems to have had little problem with childbirth. Wootton finally had a life partner and a steady business—the road itself averaged roughly $600 a month.

Then, in ­­­­­1878, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad came calling. The toll road was in the way of the new track they wanted to lay. On the face of it, Wootton doesn’t seem to have made a good deal with them. He settled for $50 a month, with the stipend to continue to Maria Paulina after his death. However, she lived until 1935.

He may have gotten the best of that bargain after all.  

Sources: LeRoy R. Hafen, Fur Trappers and Traders in the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State University Press, 1997; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West: Stagecoach Lines on the Santa Fe Trail, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.

Albino Pérez Arrives in New Mexico!

Albino Pérez Arrives in New Mexico!

Newly appointed Governor Albino Pérez arrived in New Mexico in May 1835 to general relief. The previous governor, Francisco Sarracino, was generally viewed as inept and Pérez was a breath of energetic fresh air. He brought funds for the Presidio troops and immediately set out on a tour that included visits to outlying communities as well as a successful action against the Navajo, who’d been picking off sheep and other prizes. When Pérez returned to Santa Fe, he gave an inaugural address in which he praised New Mexicans’ peaceful habits, love of order, and obedience to justice, among other virtues.

However, the longer Pérez was in office, the more complicated things became. The money he’d brought was spent and more was needed. Sarracino, now New Mexican Treasurer, was accused of embezzling funds. The Navajo were active again and another campaign was necessary. And Pérez’s idea of paying for it with forced loans from the region’s ricos was not met with universal acclaim.

The Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe. Courtesy: NM History Museum

Then New Mexico’s exemption from the national sales tax expired. The governing council asked Pérez to forward a petition for its renewal to Mexico City, but he didn’t do so right away. Instead, he started talking about how to collect the tax.

This didn’t go well with the populace. In fact, it may have been the spark that ignited  what is popularly known as the Chimayó revolt, the rebellion that resulted in Pérez’s death in early August 1837. The good feeling surrounding Pérez’s arrival had disappeared completely by the time he lost his life and his head on the road outside the village of Agua Fría south of Santa Fe.

Which is a good reminder that no matter how an official begins their term, it’s what they do afterwards—and how their time in the sun ends—that people are most likely to remember.

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. 2. Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Read, Benjamin M. Illustrated History of New Mexico, Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Company, 1912; Joseph P. Sanchez, “It happened in Old Santa Fe, The Death of Governor Albino Pérez, 1835-1837,” All Trails Lead to Santa Fe, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2010; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, the Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Press Shop, 1963.

A Furry Conflict in New Mexico

On Wednesday, May 16, 1827, a man named Ignacio Sandoval showed up in Santa Fe, New Mexico with important information for Governor Antonio Narbona. Sandoval had just returned from a trapping expedition led by an American named Ewing Young. Young, who didn’t have a permit to trap, had come back with thirteen packs of furs—probably mostly beaver—and hidden them south of Santa Fe at the Peña Blanca home of Luis María Cabeza de Baca.

Narbona, in one of his last official acts as governor, sent men to confiscate the furs. Cabeza de Baca, trying to protect them, died as a result.  Manuel Armijo, who took over as Governor on May 21, promptly issued an order for Ewing Young’s arrest in connection with the illegally-obtained furs.

Young escaped incarceration for the time being, but the pelts remained confiscated. Well, most of them did. Some of them belonged to another American, Milton Sublette.

Beaver pelt

In July, Young and two other Americans obtained permission to clean the furs, which they worried had become damaged in storage. They and the local alcalde were busy shaking them out and taking inventory when Sublette appeared, grabbed a pack, threw it over his shoulder, and took off for the nearby home of Cristobal Torres.

The local authorities converged on the house, but it was too late. Sublette and his pelts had disappeared. Armijo blamed Young and called him into his office for explanations. When he threatened to incarcerate the American, Young walked out. Armijo had him arrested, threw him in jail, then released him when Young claimed a debilitating fever.  But Armijo didn’t release the furs. Legally, they were now government property. They would eventually be sold, though at a fraction of what their original value.

So once again, a conflict between the Mexican administration and the Americans in New Mexico ended in a standoff, with no one the clear winner. I find this a fascinating story because it highlights the conflicts and complexities of American-Mexican interactions twenty years before the 1847 revolt at Taos, which stunned the Americans with its ferocity.

They weren’t looking at the larger picture. The kind of high-handedness and disregard for local customs Young and Sublette displayed were common among the American trappers during the Mexican period.  The 1827 incident, among many others, appears to me to be directly linked to the events of early 1847, when the newly-appointed American governor and former trapper and merchant Charles Bent was killed.

Retribution, no matter how long it takes, is still retribution.

Source: David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.

Ten Americans Killed At Wagon Mound, New Mexico Territory!

Ten Americans Killed At Wagon Mound, New Mexico Territory!

In early May 1850, three men headed across the plains toward Santa Fe with the U.S. mail. Seven other men had joined them for safety’s sake. It wasn’t enough. Around May 7, a band of Jicarilla Apache and Mouache Ute led by a man named White Wolf struck near Wagon Mound.  When the ensuing running fight was over, the entire party of Americans lay dead on the greening grass. The bodies were found by other travellers on Sunday, May 19.

The number of men killed made this incident even worse than the one the previous October when Mrs. White died and her slave woman and daughter were captured. At a glance, it appeared that the Apache and Utes had gone on a senseless killing spree.  

But there was a reason for these deaths. In August 1849, a band of Jicarilla had visited Las Vegas, New Mexico discuss a possible peace treaty. Not much discussion seems to have taken place. Instead, the Jicarillas were attacked by armed men who killed fourteen of them and captured White Wolf’s daughter.

Wagon Mound, New Mexico. Courtesy: Cultural Atlas of New Mexico

After the White party deaths two months later, White Wolf’s daughter was pulled out of jail and taken along on a mission to find the survivors. The idea was to use her as an interpreter/negotiator as well as a bargaining chip. En route, she decided to take matters into her own hands and escape. In the process, she shot two men and did her best to stampede the group’s mules herd but was herself shot and killed.

So no one should have been at all surprised that the mail carriers and their companions died at the hands of White Wolf and his fellow warriors. What else had the men of Las Vegas expected?

Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishing, 1988; Leo E. Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army in the Southwest, Southwest Cultural Resources Center, National Park Service, Santa Fe, 1993; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2000.

Maxwell Land Grant = Trouble

Maxwell Land Grant = Trouble

Mid-April 1871 was a busy time for the newly-formed Maxwell Land Grant Company. Lucien and Luz Maxwell had received their cash for the grant, moved out of the house at Cimarron, and were busy spending their money. Lucien had used a good chunk of it to set up the First National Bank in Santa Fe. He’d also bought land at Fort Sumner. While Luz turned the former the officers quarters into a home, he bought racehorses.

However, the Company wasn’t having an easy time establishing their control over the former Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant’s vast acreage. There’d been an initial dust-up in late 1870, when the Elizabethtown miners rioted against the new owners and the Governor had to send soldiers in to squelch them. But that wasn’t the end of it. In early April 1871, the Cimarron Squatters Club organized a mass protest and fundraising meeting in front of the county courthouse. 

The Company apparently decided to demonstrate a little force in response. They sent a group of employees into the Ute Creek placer mines and took over. That strategy didn’t work out too well—the miners disarmed the Company’s men and held them hostage.

Again, the Governor got involved. This time he came himself, forced the miners to free the prisoners, ordered them to abstain from further violence, and then got the Army to station soldiers from Fort Union in the area to enforce the peace.

The soldiers’ presence does seem to have calmed the boiling pot for a little while. But it was bound to boil over again—the Company was enforcing rent payments Maxwell had never bothered to collect and also kicking people off range and farmland Maxwell had allowed them to use.

Maxwell Land Grant Map, circa 1870

Whether the Company was within their rights isn’t clear. Things got even murkier in late January 1873, when the U.S. Department of Interior ordered much of the Grant’s acreage to be treated as public lands. This brought more settlers (the Company called them “squatters”) into the area and, with them, more unrest. 

With the newcomers came Methodist Episcopal missionary Rev. Franklin J. Tolby. Tolby sided with the settlers and miners and didn’t hesitate to speak his mind. In mid-September 1875 he was ambushed and killed on the canyon road between Elizabethtown and Cimarron, and the Colfax County War was on in earnest.

The conflict didn’t end until April 18, 1887, when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the Company’s right to almost two million acres. Even then, the violence didn’t come to an immediate halt. However, even the most ardent settlers didn’t have any legal arguments left in their arsenal and the Colfax County War gradually faded away.

Once again, money and political power had prevailed in the fight for control of New Mexico’s lands.

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing The Santa Fe Ring, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014; Harriet Freiberger, Lucien Maxwell,Villain or Visionary, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999; Larry Murphy, Out in God’s Country: A History of Colfax County, New Mexico, Springer, NM: 1969; Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont: A history of New Mexico’s Cimarron Country, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972; Moreno Valley Writers Guild, Lure, Lore and Legends of the Moreno Valley, Angel Fire, NM: Columbine Books, 1997; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, The People of the Cimarron Country, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999.

Railroad Finally Reaches Albuquerque!!!!

Railroad Finally Reaches Albuquerque!!!!

On Monday, April 5, 1880, after almost 30 years of waiting, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific railroad, a subsidiary of Atchison, Topeka And Santa Fe, arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Territory’s first hope for a railroad that connected it to both coasts had been in 1853, when a survey was completed from Albuquerque toward Arizona and California. But then the nation got caught up in the conflict that would lead to the Civil War and nothing happened.

After the war, all eyes were on the transcontinental rail link which lay to the north, along the 32nd parallell. When that final spike was pounded into place at Ogden, Utah in 1869, the next logical place to build was on or near the southern border. Surely now it was New Mexico’s turn.

In the early 70s, it looked like that turn had come. Various rail lines built steadily west across Kansas and Colorado.

Then came the financial Panic of 1873. Once again, everything ground to a halt. Ranchers and farmers in New Mexico must have fumed as Texans loaded cattle and Californians boxed up grapes and pears and sent them east by rail while New Mexico still received its mail via stagecoach and had to use Santa Fe Trail freight wagons for anything larger.

Albuquerque in 1889. Source: U.S. Library of Congress.

But then the great day finally arrived and a train chugged into Albuquerque. The new track was positioned over a mile east of the town plaza. This resulted in a flurry of real estate,  commercial, and other activity. Albuquerque took on the characteristics of a boomtown, with brawls, thefts, and shootings and the inevitable ad hoc vigilante groups to try to keep them under control.

Was the arrival of the railroad a good thing? I suspect not everyone thought so.

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing The Santa Fe Ring, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014; Lawrence A. Johnson, Over The Counter And On The Shelf, Country Storekeeping in America, 1620-1920, Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1961; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West, stagecoach lines on the Santa Fé trail, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.