John Tunstall Dies, Lincoln County War Begins!!!

On the morning of Monday, February 18, 1878, on an otherwise-deserted road in Southeast New Mexico, a young Englishman was shot and killed, and event which initiated the Lincoln County War.

The young man was John Henry Tunstall. He and Alexander McSween had been in the process of organizing a business  partnership when McSween was accused of absconding with some life insurance money. Although Tunstall wasn’t legally responsible, he was wealthy and he was friends with McSween, who had already ruffled feathers in the County. The court decided that Tunstall should participate in repaying the $8,000 involved.

Feb 18 post illustration

That Monday morning, Tunstall was on his way to the town of Lincoln to try to negotiate a settlement in the case. Instead, he and the four gunfighters he’d recently hired encountered a posse which had been sent out to collect Tunstall’s cattle as partial payment of McSween’s debt. In the ensuing battle, Tunstall was killed.

Born in Middlesex, England, Tunstall emigrated to British Columbia when he was 19, then headed for the American West in February 1876, looking for investment possibilities. After six months looking into sheep ranching in California, he went to New Mexico, where he met Alexander McSween.

McSween persuaded Tunstall to move to Lincoln County. Land was cheap there and the profit potential was high. Eighteen months later, Tunstall was dead. McSween would follow him shortly thereafter.

Tunstall’s death not only started the Lincoln County War, it brought the British government into the conflict. The embassy wanted to know how and why their countryman had been killed and his body left where it fell.

As a result of the British inquiries, Frank Warner Angel was sent West to investigate Tunstall’s murder and other New Mexico violence. Angel’s report would put an end to the current Governor’s term and bring Lew Wallace to New Mexico in his stead.

However, it wouldn’t end the Lincoln County conflict. More people would die, including William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, who’d fought beside Tunstall that February morning, and Juan Patron, leader of the County’s Mexican-American faction and staunch opponent of Tunstall’s killers.

But eventually, the conflict fizzled out. Like so many wars, it started with a bang but ended with a whimper, with no clear winners and a lot of damage that would never be fully repaired.

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, UNM Press: Albuquerque, 2014; Howard R. Lamar, ed., The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, Harper & Row: New York, 1977; tomrizzo.com/killing-john-tunstall/accessed 1/10/19; Marc Simmons in Marta Weigle, ed., Telling New Mexico, A New History, Museum of NM Press: Santa Fe, 2009; Stephen Zimmer ed., For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1999

 

 Taos Girl Marries Kit Carson

On Monday, February 6, 1843, 15-year-old Maria Josefa Jaramillo of Taos married 33-year-old Christopher  “Kit” Carson at Our Lady of Guadalupe church just west of the Taos Plaza. It was very much a family wedding. George Bent, the brother of Josefa’s brother-in-law Charles Bent, acted as a sponsor and one of the witnesses was José Maria Valdez, the husband of Josefa’s oldest sister, Maria Manuela.

However, Carson’s two daughters weren’t in attendance. His youngest daughter had recently died following a kitchen accident at the Bent home and his oldest, six-year-old Adaline, was living in Missouri with members of her father’s extended family. The girls were the result of Carson’s marriage to the Arapahoe woman named Waa-Nibe  or (roughly translated) Singing Grass, who had died in the winter of 1839/40.

Kit and  Josefa would not have children of their own until 1850, when their first son was born. Although that baby died a year later, the Carsons would go on to have seven more, the youngest of whom was born two weeks before Josefa died in late April 1868.

Carson would follow her less than a month later, on May 23rd. They had been married over 45 years.

Source: Marc Simmons, Kit Carson & His Three Wives, UNM Press: Albuquerque, 2003

Boone Outfits Santa Fe Trail Travelers

On Saturday, January 22, 1853, the front page of the Santa Fe Weekly Gazette contained an advertisement offering supplies to people traveling to Santa Fe. The ad had been placed by Daniel Boone’s grandson, Albert Gallatin Boone, and stated that Boone has “an acquaintance of many years” with the Trail.

In fact, Boone was more than acquainted with Western travel. He’d served with fur trapper William H. Ashley in the mid-1820s, traveled a number of times across the Santa Fe Trail, and participated in the Indian conflicts in Michigan territory in the early 1830s.

Jan 22 illustrationBorn in April 1806, Boone was almost 47 when he placed his ad in the Gazette. By then, he’d moved from the adventurous life to the mercantile and supplied travelers as diverse as Washington Irving and John C. Fremont.

Boone’s presence in Santa Fe in late 1852, when he placed the Gazette ad, seems to have been a bit of an anomaly. He had stores in Westport and at Council Grove and may have been on a trading mission—or perhaps a sales trip—when he spoke to the Gazette publishers.

He eventually did go West permanently, but not until 1860 and then to Colorado. In late 1861, he founded the town of Boone east of Pueblo, on the Arkansas River. He also became involved in Colorado politics, which included serving as Indian agent at Fort Lyon, near Christopher “Kit” Carson’s final home.

In fact, Boone accompanied Carson on Kit’s final trip to Washington D.C. to confer with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in February 1868, shortly before Carson’s death. This was yet another trip over the Santa Fe Trail, though in the opposite direction of the travelers he was outfitting in 1853.

Boone himself died sixteen years later at La Veta, Colorado, having more than proved that he was acquainted with the Santa Fe Trail.

Source: Leroy R Hafen, The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Arthur H Clark: Spokane, 2003; Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, January 22, 1853; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers & Militia, UNM Press: Albuquerque, 2015.

New Mexico Joins the U.S.!

On Saturday, January 6, 1912, New Mexico finally became a full member of the United States of America.

The day had been a long time coming. The first attempt at statehood had been promptly crushed by the Compromise of 1850, when Congress used New Mexico in a deal to keep the southern states from revolting over the slavery issue. While California was admitted as a “free” state, New Mexico and Utah were classified as Territories where slavery was allowed.

During the following sixty years, the issue of slavery was resolved, but New Mexico still wasn’t made a state. Over fifty bills to initiate a statehood process were proposed, but none passed.

There are different theories about why New Mexico statehood took so long. One is that the Santa Fe Ring, led by Thomas B. Catron, was doing well under Territorial status and didn’t want to rock that particular financial boat.

Ironically, the wheeling and dealing produced by the likes of the Ring also resulted explosions like the Lincoln County War, a story the Eastern papers seemed especially drawn to. Clearly, New Mexico wasn’t civilized and law-abiding enough to be a State.

It’s also possible that the large number of Catholics in New Mexico made Protestant politicians back East nervous. As well as the fact that so many of those Catholics had brown skin.

Whatever the reason, on January 6, 1912, New Mexico became the 47th member of the United States of America. William C. McDonald, a Carrizozo rancher, was the first State Governor and Albert Bacon Fall and Thomas Catron, the first senators.

Albert-Bacon-Fall.Britanica

Albert Bacon Fall http://www.Britannica.com

Fortunately, Catron was past his prime at this point, so he couldn’t do much harm in D.C. But Fall, at age 51, was still young to get in trouble. He became embroiled in the Teapot Dome scandal—he’d accepted a $100,000 “loan” while officially negotiating the lease of federally-owned oil lands—and had to resign.

So New Mexico finally achieved statehood, but it got off to a less than perfect start. Fall proved that it was still a wild place where newcomers, at least, could end up getting themselves in trouble.  He had, after all, only been in New Mexico since 1883.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico Biographical Dictionary Vol. I, Rio Grande Books: Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 2007; Thomas C. Donnelly, The Government of New Mexico, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1953; David V. Holtby, Forty-Seventh Star, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 2012; Marc Simmons, New Mexico, an interpretive history, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1988.               ;

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.

 

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.

 

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.