Las Vegas Hot Springs Lodging Available!

In late April 1854, W. W. Donaldson of Las Vegas, New Mexico announced that he’d made “ample arrangements” for accommodating “invalids and others” with board and lodging at the celebrated Las Vegas hot springs.

April 22 illustration

Donaldson wasn’t the first to take advantage of the healing mineral-filled springs six miles northwest of today’s Las Vegas. The Springs had been used for centuries by the Native Americans in the region, reputedly to heal battle wounds and other ailments.

And Donaldson wouldn’t be the last. The board and lodging. He offered were considerably upgraded in 1886. That year, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company built the 90,000 square foot Montezuma Castle as a destination hotel.  The castle capitalized on the hot springs as well as the trout fishing in nearby Gallinas Creek and hosted guests as diverse as Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Jesse James, Theodore Roosevelt, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.

The hot springs and the hotel, which is now the home of an international high school, are currently owned by the United World College, which still allows public access to the springs. Board and lodging is available in nearby Las Vegas.

Sources: Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, April 22, 1854, front page; http://www.visitlasvegasnm.com/montezuma-castle  Accessed 3/6/19; http://www.visitlasvegasnm.com/montezuma-hot-springs  Accessed 3/6/19.

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Texas Stage Route Is Better In Winter Months

On April 8, 1853, the readers of the Santa Fe Weekly Gazette were reminded that winter wasn’t truly over in New Mexico—the mail and passengers to and from Texas were still being transported under the “winter arrangement.”

There really wasn’t any difference between the summer and winter time schedule. Each month, the stage left Santa Fe on the 15th and arrived in El Paso six to eight days later. The next leg of the trip was from El Paso to San Antonio, where it  arrived on the 14th or 15th of the following month. So it took about a week to get from Santa Fe to El Paso, a trip which takes about five hours today. Interestingly, the fare from Santa Fe to El Paso was $30, only about $10 more than the cost of gas for the same route today. In fact, if wear and tear on one’s vehicle is factored in, it might have been cheaper to travel between Santa Fe and El Paso in 1853 than it is now. That is, of course, if you have seven or eight days for the trip.

April 8 illustration

On the other hand, the cost to travel from Santa Fe to San Antonio was significantly higher in 1853 than it is today—$125 as opposed to $48 in fuel costs. The timeframe for the trip is also considerably less now—about 12 hours as opposed to 30 days.

One thing has remained the same. The advertisement in the Gazette points out that the trip to and from “the States” via the San Antonio route was considerably more pleasant during the winter months than was travel via the Santa Fe Trail to Independence, Missouri. The southern route was, and is still likely to be, “entirely free from the intense cold and heavy snows that so frequently obstruct” the northern Trail.

There was another advantage to taking the stage to San Antonio. Passengers were not required to stand guard.

Sources: Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, April 8, 1853, first page; MapQuest.com, accessed March 5, 2019.

 

The Battle of Glorieta Pass

On Saturday, March 22, 1862, Colorado Militia Colonel John Potts Slough led his troops out of Fort Union to meet the Texan Confederate army that had seized Santa Fe twelve days earlier—the same day Slough and his Colorado Militia, or Pike’s Peakers, had arrived at Fort Union. The irascible and rather arrogant Slough, who’d virtually seized command of the Fort when he arrived, had about 1500 men at his disposal, a combination of Pike’s Peakers, New Mexico Militia, and Army infantry and cavalry.

On Sunday, Slough’s Union forces camped overnight at Las Vegas, then on Monday swung west  toward Santa Fe. Tuesday was another day of slowly moving forward and into the mountains. Santa Fe must have seemed a long way away, especially to the Colorado militiamen, who’d already trekked over 300 miles from Denver to Fort Union.

But then on Wednesday, Union scouts clashed with a small Confederate force in Apache Canyon, at the west end of Glorieta Pass and less than twenty miles from Santa Fe.

Both sides pulled back. The Confederates—about 200 men under Major Charles L. Pyron—headed to Johnson’s Ranch at Canoncito, where they were joined by the main Confederate force, which had just arrived via a trail through the mountains north east of Albuquerque.

march 26 illustration

The Union men moved to Kozlowski’s ranch, at the eastern end of the Pass. When the rest of Slough’s forces joined them on Friday morning, everything went into high gear.

Most of Slough’s men headed on into the Pass. But Colonel Manuel Antonio Chaves, of the New Mexico First Infantry, led Major John M. Chivington and 530 men (New Mexico Militia, two Pike’s Peakers infantry columns, and a detachment of Third U.S. Cavalry) into the mountains south of the Pass. Their goal was to circle south and west around the Confederates and hit them from behind while the main body met the Texans head on.

And the Union and Confederate troops did meet head on, at Pigeon’s Ranch, a trail hostelry in the middle of the Pass owned by Frenchman Alexander Valle. It was a hard-fought, all-day battle between evenly-matched combatants. When the fighting ground to a halt late in the day, the two sides agreed to a truce so they could tend their wounded and dying. But both sides saw the break in fighting as temporary. They were confident they’d ultimately win the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

Until that evening, when news arrived from the western end of the Pass.

Instead of Confederate troops, Colonel Chavez and Major Chivington had found a weakly-defended supply train. Chivington ordered his men down from the bluffs above the camp and set them to attacking, pillaging, and then burning the Texan wagons and everything they contained: food, clothing, equipment, ammunition, and medical supplies.

The Confederates had stationed the majority of their horses and mules with the train—as many of 500 animals. Chivington ordered his men to destroy them, as well. It’s not clear what actually happened to all the animals in question, though. At least some were driven off into the mountains and presumably into the hands of citizens for whom they were more useful alive than dead.

Wherever the Confederate livestock ended up, they certainly weren’t going to help the Texans. With their supplies, wagons, and animals gone, Sibley’s men forfeited the Battle of Glorieta Pass and beat a retreat for Santa Fe and, ultimately, Texas.

Most of the Coloradans headed home, too, although at least one of them returned a few years later. In 1865, John Potts Slough was named chief justice of the New Mexico Territorial Court.

Although Slough was an able judge—he would announce the 1867 legal decision that declared Pueblo Indians to be United States citizens—Slough was still as thin-skinned and greedy for honor and position as he’d been five years before. His furious response to New Mexico legislative political intrigues and Capt. William L. Rynerson’s role in them culminated in a December 1867 shootout in what is now Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel. Slough died as a result.

At the ensuing trial, Rynerson was found to have drawn his gun in self-defense.

It’s likely Slough would have insisted on a different opinion.

 

Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishing, 1988; David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2014; Jacqueline D. Meketa, Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier of Territorial New Mexico, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1982; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts & Trails: A guide to New Mexico’s past. Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1994; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia¸ Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2015; Ralph Emerson Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. II. Cedar Rapid: Torch Press, 1912; https://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=125 Accessed 1/10/19

Pike’s Peakers Arrive At Fort Union!!

Tuesday, March 10, 1862 was a momentous day for New Mexico. That morning, Confederate troops from Texas seized control of Santa Fe. Led by Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, the Texans had moved steadily north through New Mexico since the previous July, receiving little opposition and clashing with Union forces in only one major battle, which they’d won.

By this time, the Texans must have been feeling pretty confident about making it to Denver and its gold fields. The idea was to seize those resources and use them to restore the Confederacy’s fortunes (literally). Then Sibley and his men would press on to California and the Pacific, opening its ports to Confederate shipping and sidestepping the Union blockades on the Eastern seaboard.

But late on March 10, Colonel John Potts Slough and his 950-man First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers (aka the Pike’s Peakers)  arrived at New Mexico’s Fort Union, more than doubling the number of men available in New Mexico to face down the Confederates.

Slough abruptly assumed command of the Fort. Although the Denver attorney had been in the military for only six months, he’d been a Colonel longer than twenty-seven-year veteran Colonel G.B.  Paul, who was in charge before the Pike’s Peakers arrived. But Slough, ever concerned about his rights and privileges, pulled rank, and Paul conceded his position as Commander, albeit unwillingly. Then Slough got busy outfitting his Pike’s Peakers with clothing, arms, and ammunition from the Fort Union supply depot.

march 10 illustration.john slough

Meanwhile in Santa Fe, Sibley’s Confederates  were also looking to their supplies. Their lines had been stretched thin on the march north and the Union supplies in Santa Fe had either been moved west to Las Vegas with the Governor’s baggage or skillfully hidden.

The Confederates’ stores were dangerously low. Although getting to Santa Fe had been quite an accomplishment, they badly needed Fort Union’s supplies if they were going to make it all the way to Denver.

But on March 10, they didn’t have a lot more time to worry about their situation. In less than two weeks, the thin-skinned and arrogant Slough would begin moving his men south out of Fort Union, then west toward Santa Fe. What would become known as the Battle of Glorieta or, more dramatically, the Gettysburg of the West, was about to begin.

Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishing, 1988; Jacqueline D. Meketa, Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier of Territorial New Mexico, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1982; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts & Trails: A guide to New Mexico’s past. Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1994; Leo E. Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army of the Southwest, Santa Fe: Southwest Cultural Resources Center Professional Papers No. 41, Division of History, National Park Service, 1993; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia¸ Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2015.

Illegal Trappers Leave New Mexico, For Now

In February 1815, a group of St. Louis trappers led by Joseph Philibert left Taos for the Arkansas River and on to St. Louis. After five months under arrest in Taos, they were returning to the U.S. with a healthy load of beaver plews.

The entire group had been arrested by Spanish soldiers the previous September and charged with crossing the international boundary illegally. The furs they had with them were confiscated to cover the costs of their incarceration over the course of the winter. It’s not clear where they collected the furs they took back East the following spring. But they seem to have gathered enough plews to make the whole expedition worthwhile.

And to make them want to try the same stunt again. When Philibert headed to St. Louis, he went with the hope of arranging financial backing for yet another venture into New Mexico.

oct 29 illustration.pixabay

Under Spanish law, what Philibert had done and was proposing to do again was flatly illegal. Foreigners weren’t allowed across the New Spain/U.S. border without explicit permission from Spanish officials. In fact, in the five months the Philibert group was in Taos, at least four other illegal foreigners were arrested and sent to New Spain’s interior. Why Philibert’s group was allowed to remain is as much of a mystery as the source of the furs they took back to St. Louis.

What’s clear is that the border between the two countries was already extremely porous. It was almost inevitable that American trappers would continue to filter into Spanish territory. The furs there, and the money they were worth in the U.S., were just too tempting. New Mexico’s officials may have simply been bowing to the inevitable when they allowed Joseph Philibert and his band of men to remain in Taos the winter of 1814/15.

Sources:  Leroy R. Hafen, editor, Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State University press, Logan, 1997; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, University of Oklahoma press, Norman, 1971.

William Workman Orders Still For Taos Lightning

On Monday, February 13, 1826, William Workman of Taos, New Mexico sent a letter to his brother David in Franklin, Missouri. William asked David to have two 80-gallon stills shipped to him from St. Louis. Copper stills were essential in the production of hard liquor like the wheat-based Taos Lightning that William produced and sold.

Not only did William Workman’s letter ensure that Taos residents would have more liquor available to them, it also may have triggered one of the American West’s most famous runaway stories.

David Workman, a saddle and harness maker, had a teenage apprentice named Christopher “Kit” Carson. The letter from New Mexico may have reminded the young Kit that there were more exciting ways to earn a living. When he took off for New Mexico that August, he may well have traveled in the same wagon train as the stills that William Workman had ordered.

Workman manufactured Taos Lightning until 1841, when he himself had to run away, this time from—rather than to—New Mexico. Workman and his distillery partner John Rowland fled Taos for California that September, after rumors spread that they were collaborating with a Republic of Texas expedition to annex New Mexico.

feb-13-illustration-workman-william-1855-mnm-13492.jpeg
William Workman, 1855. MNM 13492

While Carson stayed in New Mexico and made him name for himself, Workman, in California and still partnering with John Rowland, obtained a Mexican land grant of over 48,000 acres and founded  Rancho de la Puente, now a cultural landmark in Southern California.

In both cases, running away seems to have been the best move either Workman or Carson could have made. They both made a name for themselves as a result.

 

Sources: Samuel P. Arnold, Eating up the Santa Fe Trail, University Press of Colorado, Niwot, 1990; Leroy R. Hafen, editor, Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State University Press, Logan, 1997; Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder, Doubleday, New York, 2006; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson, and His Three Wives, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2003.

 

U.S. Agency Triggers Colfax County War

On Wednesday, January 28, 1874, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued the order that began New Mexico’s Colfax County War.

The Department had decided to designate the approximately 2 million acres claimed by the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company as public land, not private. This meant that the former Beaubien/Miranda land grant was now open to settlement under federal homestead laws.

The Interior Department’s decision was part of an ongoing dispute over the size of the Land Grrant. According to the Department, until that matter was settled in Federal Court, the land was public and therefore available to qualified homesteaders.

But the Land Grant Company wasn’t about to let anyone settle without payment on acreage they claimed as their own. And that payment certainly wasn’t going to go to the U.S. government.

In fact, the Company was already fighting settlers on the vast acreage they claimed. Their attorney, Frank Springer, was hard at work in New Mexico’s Territorial Courts, evicting anyone the Board believed shouldn’t be there. With evictions already occurring, opening the Grant lands to federal homestead claims was simply asking for more trouble.

Jan 28 illustration.Springer, Frank

And it came. If the Company couldn’t get rid of “squatters” through the courts, they’d try other strategies. This all cost money, of course, something that the Board was often short of. But even as the Company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, its board members continued the fight. If this required extra-legal methods, then so be it.

Right about the time the Department of the Interior announced its decision, another factor arrived in Colfax County. His name was Reverend Franklin J. Tolby. Tolby believed that the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company was taking more than its share of local resources. In fact, he advocated that some of the acreage in dispute be handed over to the Native Americans who’d hunted and lived there long before anyone even thought that American capitalists would have a use for it.

Tolby was articulate and people listened to him. This put him solidly in the sights of the Company’s board members. A lot had happened on the Grant up to this point: legal and extra-legal evictions, miners’ protests in Elizabethtown, meetings of concerned citizens in Cimarron, heated newspaper articles for and against the Grant Company. But none of that compared to what occurred after January 28, 1874. The Colfax County War was about to begin.

By the time it was over, Reverend Tolby and others would be dead, homesteaders would be burned or run out, and the Land Grant Company would be on the verge of yet another reorganization. The grant never did return the profit its investors had hoped for.

As with most wars, everyone got hurt in the end.

Source: David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2014; Moreno Valley Writers Guild, Lower, Lower, and Legends, a history of northern New Mexico’s Moreno Valley, Columbine Books, 1997; Victor Westphal, Thomas Benton Catron and His Era, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1973; Stephen Zimmer, editor, For Good Or Bad, People Of The Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1999.