The Final Battle of New Mexico’s Tax Rebellion

On Saturday, January 27, 1838, the rebels of northern New Mexico made their last stand against the Mexican government.

They’d succeeded in their initial insurgency the previous August. In fact, for a brief time, a rebel governor controlled Santa Fe. But internal strife and a concerted effort by New Mexico’s ricos had crippled the insurrection.

But it hadn’t destroyed it. Even though Manuel Armijo had replaced rebel leader José Angel Gonzales as governor, the insurgents held on through November and December, keeping him nervous about their intentions and building their strength in the north.

However, when government troops arrived in mid-January 1838, the time had come for a final confrontation. The rebels gathered once again at Santa Cruz de La Cañada and marched south, as they had in August.

This time, they didn’t make it to the capitol. Government troops marched out to meet them, led by Governor Armijo and Lt. Col. Cayetano Justiniani and accompanied by Taos priest Antonio José Martínez.

The result of the coming conflict was by no means certain. Even with Justiniani’s dragoons and artillery men, Armijo had only 582 troops. The rebels had around 1300, including several hundred Pueblo warriors. And the insurgents held the high ground, positioned among the icy crags and hills just north of Pojoaque

When the troops sighted the insurgents, there was a small delay as Armijo hesitated, unsure where to begin. The rebels fired the first shot, and still he dithered. But then the professional soldiers took over and the Governor found his voice. As Justiniani’s dragoons moved to the front, Armijo cried “Arriba! To die or conquer!” and the rest of his troops moved in on the rebel flanks.

The insurgents fled from the onslaught, but not for long. They regrouped 15 miles north and again took to the heights, positioning themselves among the trees and firing down at the men below. But even their superior position couldn’t beat the professionals. Armijo’s sharpshooters quickly dislodged the men above, leaving dozens wounded.

And with that, the final battle of the rebellion was over. Armijo and Justiniani marched unopposed into La Cañada.  At some point that day, rebel leader José Angel Gonzales arrived there, too. His final confrontation with Armijo has become the stuff of New Mexican legend.

The story goes something like this: After the troops arrived in Santa Cruz, Armijo and Padre Martínez found lodging with the local priest. Gonzales came in and he tried to brazen it out by greeting Armijo as an equal and offering his support in exchange for the tax concessions at the core of the rebels’ discontent.

Armijo, exasperated at his attitude, refused the request. Then he turned to Padre Martínez and ordered him to hear Gonzales’ “confession so that he may be given five bullets.” Martínez complied and Gonzales was led out and executed by firing squad.

And thus ended the Rebellion of Río Arriba. At the time, it appeared to have been a completed failure. Yet, by mid-1838, two of the insurgents’ demands had been met. New Mexico now had a governor—Manuel Armijo—who was born and raised there and tended to side with the locals against outsiders. Also, in late April, the Mexican Congress granted New Mexico a seven-year exemption from the hated sales tax.

Would either event have occurred if the men of the north hadn’t risen? More importantly, would they have revolted if their concerns had been addressed in a timely manner in the first place? Questions worth considering which have applications even today.

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Paul Kraemer, An Alternative View of New Mexico’s 1837 Rebellion, Los Alamos Historical Society, 2009; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999; Pedro Sanchez, Recollections of the Life of the Priest Don Antonio Jose Martinez, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2006; Ralph E. Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. 2, Cedar Rapids: Torch Press, 1912; David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1982.

Rebel Leaders Executed in Santa Fe

On the morning of Wednesday, January 24, 1838, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Governor Manuel Armijo followed through on a threat he’d made the previous October.

He’d said then that if the insurgents in northern New Mexico menaced the capital again, he’d have the four rebel leaders in the Santa Fe jail executed. Now, despite the fact that the central government had sent dragoons and artillery men to support Armijo’s administration, the rebels were gearing up for another attack.

So at 9 o’clock that winter morning, outside the sentry-house on the road north of town, former Santa Cruz Alcalde Juan José Esquibel, rebel leader Juan Vigil, and the brothers Desiderio Montoya and Antonio Abad Montoya were decapitated. Armijo announced the event in a printed circular later that day and Santa Fe alcalde José Francisco Ortiz y Delgado pinned a copy on the door of the Palacio on the north side of the plaza.

Antonio Abad and Desiderio Montoya’s signatures. Source: New Mexico State Archives

The rebel leaders’ deaths were clearly meant as a lesson for their followers. And even for those who weren’t followers. At least one set of siblings—seven-year-old José Francisco Perea and his five-year-old brother Joaquin—were taken to the execution, perhaps as a way to impress them with the importance of obeying the law and subjecting themselves to authority.

Francisco, at least, seems to have learned that lesson thoroughly. He would fight on the side of the Union during the American Civil War and serve as New Mexico’s delegate to the American Congress in the 1860s.

In late January 1837, however, it wasn’t clear whether the rebels would hear what the governor was trying to tell them. Would they finally disperse, or would Armijo have to use the tools Mexico City had sent him? 

Sources: Allison, Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Benjamin Read, An Illustrated History of New Mexico, Santa Fe: NM Printing Co., 1912; David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1982.

Churches of Northern New Mexico

I know Christmas is over, but this has been a tumultuous year, so a video about the churches of northern New Mexico with some peaceful music in the background seemed appropriate. At minute 27:30, you’ll see the Santa Cruz de la Cañada church which Alma and her mother and brother attend with Señora Ortega in No Secret Too Small.

The church retains the altar pieces and much of the character it had in 1837. There are differences though. Back then, the floor was hard-packed dirt and there were no pews. You’ll have to use your imagination for that part. Happy Holy Days! Wishing you a peaceful New Year!

Making Bread in 1837

My new novel No Secret Too Small has a certain amount of cooking and baking in it. Alma, daughter of a woman who doesn’t cook, is taken under the wing of the other women in the story, who are determined that she learns this skill. As a result, by the end of the book, she can make passable tortillas, beans, and bread.

The bread is baked in a horno, or free-standing beehive-shaped adobe oven. I understood the mechanics of this process, but appreciated its complexities even more when I discovered this video.

I’m one of those people who think it’s work to combine ingredients, knead, and let rise before shaping into loaves and placing in the oven. But all I have to do is turn the oven on and wait twenty minutes or so until it’s hot. This video made me realize just how easy my life is! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

New Mexico’s Rebellions

My new Old New Mexico novel No Secret Too Small is set during what is commonly called the Chimayó rebellion of 1837. However, this wasn’t the only time the people of New Mexico let the ruling elite know they weren’t happy. This video provides a great overview of New Mexico’s tradition of forceful protest. Enjoy!

What’s a Buckboard Wagon?

In my new novel No Secret Too Small, Suzanna and the kids spend quite a bit of time riding in a buckboard wagon. Today, I thought I’d explain what a buckboard wagon looks like.

A buckboard is basically a big rectangular wooden box with four sides, no top, and four wheels. It’s called a buckboard because an extra board is added to the wagon box directly in front of the driver’s seat. This protects the driver and passengers from the mule or horse’s hooves in case they buck. The board also acts as a footrest.

Below is a picture of a modern-day buckboard. This seat has a back, unlike the one on the Locke wagon.

Hitching an animal to one of these was not a simple task. Here’s a video of a pony being hitched to a cart. Imagine that animal a good deal bigger and you’ll get the idea.

You can see from this why Suzanna was glad to have help hitching up her mules! I enjoy learning and writing about Old New Mexico, but I have to admit that I’m glad we have more modern transportation available to us!

Drop Spindle Spinning

My new Old New Mexico novel No Secret Too Small debuts tomorrow!

This book is set in 1837 against the backdrop of what is commonly known as New Mexico’s Chimayó revolt. However, the story is centered on the relationships of the Locke family. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here, but I will say this: when Suzanna and the children leave the valley, they end up at Chimayó for a while, where Suzanna gets instruction from a master weaver in both spinning and weaving.

My primary source for the weaving scenes in this book was Chimayo Weaving by Helen R. Lucero and Suzanne Baizerman. However, I had trouble visualizing how drop spindle spinning is done. This video of Navajo weaver Clara Sherman came to my rescue. I hope you learn as much from it as I did!

Another Rebellion in Santa Fe!

To the casual observer, New Mexico in early October 1837 may have looked like a peaceful place. The August 1837 rebellion had been quelled, four of its leaders were in jail in Santa Fe, and former Governor Manuel Armijo was firmly in control.

However, Armijo was convinced the insurgency would erupt again. Before he left the capitol for Albuquerque in mid-October, he gave Captain Jose Caballero explicit instructions about what to do if this happened—the imprisoned rebels were to be executed at once.

Early the morning of Wednesday, October 18, it appeared that Armijo’s orders would need to be carried out. Word reached the capitol that the rebels were rallying in the mountains east of Santa Cruz, where the August insurgency had been headquartered.  Armijo got the news in Albuquerque about the same time Caballero did in Santa Fe. The next day, he sent a letter north, ordering that the four hostages be executed.

But on Friday, the Captain staged a small rebellion of his own. When he received Armijo’s instructions, he didn’t follow them. Instead, he called a meeting of Presidio officers to consider how to respond. He had several concerns with Armijo’s directive. For one thing, the prisoners had still not been formally tried for their crimes. Also, there was a good chance that following Armijo’s orders would inflame revolutionary sentiment in Santa Fe instead of quelling it. And the garrison wasn’t at full strength. Successfully putting down a full-scale revolt would required reinforcements.  

Given all this, Caballero and his officers decided they would obey Armijo’s orders only if and when there was an imminent threat to the city and they had the forces necessary to repel it. The prisoners would be executed only if the rebels attacked.  On Sunday, Captain Caballero sent a formal letter south to Armijo, explaining what he was doing and why.  Although the missive was in his name, the other men signed it.

Some of the signatures on Captain Caballero’s letter. Source: New Mexico State archives

The governor was not happy when he received this news. Early the next week, he responded with a letter criticizing Caballero’s decision. But he didn’t overturn it. And he sent a troop of active Albuquerque militia north to help in case of attack.

It was all a moot point anyway. The rebel threat dissipated. The men in the Santa Fe jail would live several more months, though Governor Armijo’s orders were eventually implemented. When rebellion burst out again in early 1838, the four prisoners were publicly garroted.

There are still historians who wonder if this action was really necessary. The threat of the executions didn’t stop the rebels from rising or keep the subsequent battle from being any less bloody.  But Armijo did get the last word.

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Paul Horgan, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History, Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1984; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, The Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Print Shop, 1963.

Refugees in Santa Fe!

The fall of 1837 was a tense time for the people of Santa Fe. Not only was the capitol invaded by rebels in August, but there was another threat in late September. Then after former Governor Manuel Armijo fended that off, a different kind of incursion began. Refugees started arriving in town.

Most of the newcomers came from down river, following the militia, men who were ordinarily tasked with keeping the settlements there safe. With the militia now in Santa Fe, these villages were susceptible to raids from the First Nation groups New Mexicans called the “wild tribes”—primarily Apache in the south and Navajo in the west­.

While the Apache seem to have contented themselves with raiding Chihuahua-bound merchant caravans, the Navajo went after the settlements, venturing as close to Albuquerque as Bernalillo and as far northeast as the Taos Valley. New Mexico’s unrest was a great opportunity for the Navajo warriors to supplement their sheep herds and perhaps pick up a few captives to replace people taken by New Mexicans in earlier raids. In response to the danger, New Mexican families who could afford to do so headed to Santa Fe.

Almost 75 years later, one of those refugees, a boy who turned eight that winter, left behind a record of what the capitol was like during that time. Jose Francisco Perea’s family arrived in early October from Bernalillo. “We found the place full of soldiers, citizens, and a miscellaneous gathering of humanity,” he recalled. The plaza was “crowded with all kinds of vehicles, beginning with the cart that was made entirely of wood . . . to the well-constructed wagon that had brought a consignment of merchandise over the Santa Fe Trail; together with teamsters, camp-cooks, roustabouts, horses, mules, burros, pigs and goats. Some were about their camp-fires, preparing their food, while others were feeding and caring for their animals. Near the northeast corner of the plaza, which was then surrounded on its four sides with flat-roofed one-story buildings, with portals (porches) in front of them, were three cottonwood trees of the mountain variety, and opposite the Palace (the capital) stood a flagstaff (pirome), from the top of which was displayed the Mexican flag in all its glory: and the four entrances at the corners of the square were guarded, each with a single cannon of small caliber.”

What seems to have fascinated him even more was the entertainment available. “Dancing was much indulged in,” he reported. “Particularly during Sunday nights and evenings following marriages, baptisms, and feast days. Theatricals, principally rudely constructed  after the writings of Cervantes (Don Quixote de la Mancha) and Gil Blas, were occasionally played. . . Some of these were played with figures and images hung on strings, to be moved about when required.”

A marionette from Old New Mexico. Source: New Mexico History Museum

He also apparently peaked into establishments “where wine and other liquors were sold by the drink” and gambling occurred. These games of chance included Spanish monte, three-card monte, roulette, and dice. For boys Francisco’s age, there were outside games such as pitarria, played on smooth ground inside a marked square with short sticks of two colors, and quoit pitching at pegs driven into the ground. When he tired of games, he could watch dancers from the nearby pueblos perform on the plaza.

It was all quite an education for the young Perea, one supplemented by three months of classroom experience. Some time in January 1838, he and his younger brother began attending a school run by a Captain Sena and his wife. This ended when the Perea family returned to Bernalillo in late April, but his Santa Fe adventures were only the beginning of Jose Francisco Perea’s experience of the world beyond his family’s hacienda. As an adult, he would return to Santa Fe to sit on the New Mexico Territorial Council. During the Civil War, he would fight for the Union as a Lieutenant Colonel and would later serve as New Mexico’s Congressional representative in Washington, D.C.

He would also leave behind an evocative glimpse of Santa Fe in the winter of 1837/38, one for which we storytellers are quite thankful.     

Sources: W.H.H. Allison as narrated by Col. Francisco Perea, “Santa Fe During the Winter of 1837/38.” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands, Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press, 2002; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, The Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Print Shop, 1963.

Manuel Armijo’s Verbal Skills Save Santa Fe!

On Monday, September 18, 1837, word reached Santa Fe that the rebels who had been so successful in August were approaching the capital again. The threat of Manuel Armijo’s troops wasn’t enough to keep them away.

And Armijo had a crises of confidence. He who’d been named head of the New Mexico militia by his rico compatriots asked Judge Juan Estevan Pino to take command.  When Pino declined, Armijo’s political skills kicked in. He might not know military tactics, but he did know people.

He sent word to the rebels that he wanted to negotiate. Pablo Montoya, now head of the rebels, took the bait. The insurgents camped five miles north of the capitol and negotiations commenced via correspondence.

Sept 28 illustration.Manuel Armijo
New Mexico Governor Manuel Armijo

Eventually, Armijo invited Montoya to come into town to talk. The talks, though somewhat contentious, were ultimately successful. The rebels agreed to dissolve their organization, turn over four of the initial instigators, and recognize Armijo as New Mexico’s political and military leader.

The negotiations were undoubtedly facilitated by the fact that the rebels were short on guns and ammunition, and—without Jose Angel Gonzales’ presence—military organization and discipline. In addition, not all of them considered Armijo an enemy. He had a track record as a former governor who did what he could for the people of New Mexico, even if it meant bending or judiciously ignoring Mexican law.

The treaty was signed on Thursday, September 21, and the rebels disbanded. The conflict was over. But not really. As part of the deal, Jose Angel Gonzales was released from the Santa Fe jail where he’d been lingering the last couple weeks. He was back in Chimayo with his wife and family by the end of the month.

It was a decision Armijo would live to regret. Rebellion still stirred in northern New Mexico. It wouldn’t break out again in full force until the following January, but it would break out. Armijo’s political and verbal skills delayed the conflict, but they didn’t end it.

 

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time And Chance, The Story of Padre Martinez of Taos, 1793-1867, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1981; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, The Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Print Shop, 1963.