American Civil War Reaches New Mexico

On Wednesday, December 4, 1861, Governor Henry Connelly issued his first proclamation as New Mexico’s governor. Ironically, his message came almost exactly fifteen years after he’d been arrested south of Mesilla by Mexican authorities and taken to Chihuahua.

In 1846, Connelly has been suspected of being part of the invading American Army, which was sweeping south across New Mexico, en route to the Sonora desert, California, and possession of the entire continent.

Now, in 1861, Connelly’s proclamation warned of another invasion, this one moving north from the Mesilla area into the rest of New Mexico. This time, the invasion was from Texas, which had recently joined the Confederate States of America. The Governor’s proclamation called for volunteers to fight the invading forces.

Near Mesilla, at Fort Bliss, the former commander of New Mexico’s Fort Union, Confederate General Henry H. Sibley, was preparing his own proclamation to the citizens of New Mexico. It was addressed to his “old comrades in arms” and declared that his troops’ goal was to free New Mexicans from the “yoke of military despotism.”

But the thought of Texas trying yet again to invade New Mexico, as they had in 1841, swayed the Territory’s citizens more powerfully than Sibley’s reminder that they lived under a rule enforced from Washington DC.

Governor Connelly’s rhetoric was more convincing. “The enemy is Texas and the Texans,” he declared. That was enough for New Mexico’s citizens. The Territory raised five regiments of volunteers and one of militia, as well as three independent militia companies and four independent cavalry companies with three-month enlistments. In all, 3,500 New Mexicans fought for the Union—and against Texas—in the War Between the States.

Sources:  Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, a brief multi-history, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.

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Spoiled Meat Nearly Starts Indian War

In mid November, 1875, the Utes and Apaches gathered at New Mexico’s Cimarron Indian agency for their treaty-mandated weekly distribution of food, and their patience ran out.

Both tribes had been complaining for several years that the flour doled out to them was hardly fit for anything and that the distributed meat was from worn-out Santa Fe Trail oxen too tough to eat. But the meat they were offered in mid November 1875 was worse than anything they’d seen yet. It was rotten.

This was the last straw. The Apaches, at least, had had enough, and shots rang out. The agency employees retreated into the agency office, in what is now Cimarron’s Old Mill Museum.

With Indians firing into the mill, and agency staff firing outside, several people, including Indian agent Alexander G. Irvine, were injured.

Nov 23 llustration.Aztec mill.j.s. pierce collection
Aztec Grist Mill, Cimarron, New Mexico. J.S. Pierce Collection

Eventually, the Apaches withdrew. In spite of his wounds, Irvine headed to the telegraph office and wired Fort Union for reinforcements, which arrived the next day. The troop officer went to the Apache camp and talked them into a meeting in Cimarron. But the gathering wasn’t a productive one. Irvine was interested only in who’d fired a gun, not the quality of the food he’d been distributing. He issued an ultimatum: If the Apaches didn’t hand over Juan Barilla, Juan Julian, and a man named Chico, he’d stop distributions entirely.

The Apaches refused this proposal and headed back to camp. But somewhere along the way, Juan Barilla was unlucky enough to get himself arrested and thrown into the Cimarron jail. On Tuesday, November 23, he attempted to break out and was killed in the ensuing scuffle.

The Apaches were furious. They wanted someone to pay for what they viewed as Barilla’s murder.

Irvine just wanted out. He resigned his position and suggested that the Army take over. The authorities at Fort Union not only agreed to this proposition but wired General Nelson A. Miles in Kansas for help.

As a well-known Indian fighter, General Miles could have been expected to move immediately into action against the Apaches in the Cimarron area. Instead, he took the time to do a little investigating and concluded that the government had failed miserably in its responsibilities toward the Native Americans assigned to the Agency. He put a military man in charge at the Mill, established new procedures, and left town satisfied that he’d averted serious hostilities.

Whether Juan Barilla’s friends and families were satisfied is another question entirely. But at least they had better food distributed to them after his death.

Source:  Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont, a history of New Mexic’s Cimarron Country, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1972.

Shoot out at Fort Stanton Over Indian Deaths!!

In mid October 1862, troops led by Captain James “Paddy” Graydon of  Fort Stanton killed at least eleven Mescalero Apaches at Gallinas Springs, on the west slopes of New Mexico’s Gallinas Peak. The circumstances were murky, but Graydon was thought to have gotten the Mescaleros drunk and then shot them down in cold blood.

Whatever had occurred, Graydon’s fellow officer Major Arthur Morrison believed Graydon had acted improperly. He demanded an official investigation. But when Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson took command at the Fort Stanton later that month, he declined to get involved. After all, he wasn’t sure what had actually happened at Gallinas Springs.

However, Carson knew what happened next. Dr. John Marmaduke Whitlock of Las Vegas and Santa Fe arrived at Fort Stanton in early November and he wasted no time forming an opinion about Gallinas Springs. He heard all about it from Major Morrison, who he knew from Las Vegas. Whitlock was outraged at the news of the purported massacre, and he wasted no time in jumping into action. He excoriated Graydon at the Fort and also wrote a letter to the Santa Fe Gazette condemning the Captain.

Nov 5 illustration.Arthur Morrison.Felsenthal book.
Major Arthur Morrison, Museum of New Mexico Photo Collection

Graydon was not pleased, to put it mildly. On the evening of Thursday, November 4, he  confronted Whitlock and demanded an explanation. Whitlock put him off, saying he’d give Graydon the “satisfaction you desire” in the morning.

They were both apparently ready to render ‘satisfaction’ the next morning. The two men fired simultaneously. Although they were just yards apart, neither was hit. They continued to exchange shots, with Graydon behind a wagon and Whitlock crouched behind a nearby soldier’s tent in true gunfight style. Eventually, they managed to hit each other at the same time. Graydon was wounded in the chest and Whitlock took bullets in his side and his hand.

Soldiers carried Graydon into a nearby tent while Whitlock retreated into the sutler’s store, pursued by thirty of Graydon’s men,  Lt. Philip Morris in the lead. When bullets started breaking through the store windows and door, Whitlock exited through the back door toward headquarters and Colonel Carson’s protection.

He didn’t make it. He was shot down, thrown into an icy ditch, and then shot some more. Lt. Morris was so beside himself with rage that when he ran out of bullets, he began pelting Whitlock’s body with rocks.

Three days later, 31-year-old Captain Graydon was also dead. One of Whitlock’s bullets had pierced his left lung.

In Carson’s opinion, the men responsible for Whitlock’s death deserved to “swing before sunset.” They got a court-martial instead, a somewhat pedestrian outcome to a bloody deed, especially the one at Gallinas Springs that precipitated the whole episode.

Source:  Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.

There’s Always a Way – Fur Trapping Under Mexican Law

On Friday, October 29, 1824, Santa Fe Trail originator William Becknell swerved from the Trail he’d inaugurated three years before and instead got a license from the Mexican government to go trapping. He may have been the first American to do so.

Getting a trapping license that October was complicated. Four months earlier, the Mexican government  had ordered New Mexico’s governor to ban all non-citizens from trapping. Only Mexican nationals were allowed to hunt beaver, although even they needed a license to do so. The process required the applicant to pay a fee, provide information about the number of hunters in the party, the type of hunting to be done and the weapons used, and the length of the planned expedition.

The American trappers got around the new restrictions by asking Mexican citizens to apply for the permits, then allow the Americans to hunt under their licenses. This subfertuge seems to have done with the Governor’s knowledge: Becknell sent Governor Baca a letter to confirm receipt of the permission he’d obtained through Manuel Rada, the priest at Santa Cruz de la Canada.

oct 29 illustration.pixabay

And Becknell wasn’t the only trapper to do this. A year later, Sylvester Pratte and Jean Pierre Cabanné went through customs collector Juan Bautista Vigil y Alarid to get a permit.

However, there was a slight problem with this approach. Different officials read the law differently, and difficulties could develop. For example, in May 1826, the Taos alcalde confiscated the pelts of Sylvestre Pratte and Francois Robidoux, even though they both had permits issued by the Governor. (Robidoux’s had been obtained through Juan Bautista Vigil.) When Pratte and Robidoux protested the seizure, Santa Fe officials ordered the alcalde to return the plews.

But this approach made life uncertain. Additional conflicts occurred the following summer over plews brought in by Ewing Young and his trappers.

And there was another solution to the license problem. A naturalized Mexican citizen could obtain one without a go-between.

This fact seems to have triggered a rash of applications for Mexican citizenship. In 1830 alone, thirteen men (Abraham Ledoux, William Wolfskill, Geronimo Lonte, Pedro Laliberte, Antoine Leroux, Jose Bissonette, Amablo Para, Antonio Blanchilla/Blanchard, Jean Baptiste Trudeau, Luis Ambroise, Carlos Guara, Francisco Siote, Pierre Lesperance, and Paul Anderson) all became Mexican citizens. They joined Richard Campbell, Antoine Robidoux, John Rowland, and Gervais Nolan, who’d already made the switch.

These are the men for whom citizenship records are still extant. Who knows how many other men also decided to live by the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?”

Sources: Daniel J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1971

Santa Fe Trail Survey Reaches Point of Rocks

On  Wednesday, October 19, 1825, George Champlin Sibley’s Santa Fe Trail Survey expedition arrived at Point of Rocks, New Mexico. But they didn’t head to Santa Fe.

Sibley was one of three Commissioners named to head up the United State’s survey of the road between Missouri and Santa Fe that had been inaugurated by William Becknell four years earlier. The survey had two purposes: 1. to facilitate trade with Mexico and 2. to negotiate with the Native American tribes along the Trail for safe passage for future travelers.

George Sibley was the only Commissioner to cross the international boundary into New Mexico. However, when he arrived at Point of Rocks, he didn’t continue south along the Trail to Santa Fe. Instead, arguing that it was too late in the year to travel safely to the capitol, Sibley headed west across the Sangre de Cristos to Taos, where his business associate Paul Baillio was located.

Oct 19 illustration.Sibley photo.Source Noble.272.cropped

Sibley spent the winter of 1825/26 in Taos, where he completed the map of the American portion of the Trail and waited for permission to complete the Mexican portion. Although there’s no evidence he ever travelled the portion between Point of Rocks and Santa Fe, he felt confident enough of that section to note that there was no need to make physical alterations it, since “the open nature of the country” enabled wagon to pass “without the least difficulty … with no other labor than removing a few logs, poles, etc.” (Gregg, 201).

In any event, in 1827, Sibley completed his work and returned to Missouri in 1827, where he and his wife established the Linden Wood School for Girls, which would later become the Linden Wood College, and is today Lindenwood University. In Missouri, he is probably best known for this school. In New Mexico, his name is still more closely associated with the survey of the Santa Fe Trail and the mystery of why he didn’t actually travel the full length of the Trail.

Sources: Kate L. Gregg, ed., The Road to Santa Fe, the journal and diaries of George Champlin Sibley, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1995; Leroy R. Hafen, ed., Fur Traders and Trappers of the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State UP, 1997; Daniel J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1971

Former Taos Trapper Dies in Los Angeles

On Wednesday, October 3, 1866, trapper William Wolfskill died at age 68 in Los Angeles, California, where he’d emigrated from New Mexico.

Born in Kentucky, Wolfskill had arrived in New Mexico as part of William Becknell’s second (1822) Santa Fe Trail expedition and was based in Taos for the next eight years. During that time, Wolfskill trapped on the San Juan, Gila, and Colorado Rivers, and participated in mule and horse trading missions to Missouri.

On one of those missions, in late 1824, Wolfskill joined an expedition to northwest Chihuahua led by a Captain Owens. There, they purchased horses and mules to export to Missouri. Shortly afterward, Owens was killed in an Indian raid. Wolfskill and another man rounded up the mules that had escaped capture, bought more, and took them all to Alabama, where they sold for a nice profit.

Oct 3 illustration.Wolfskill, William, ca.1831_(CHS-1765)
William Wolfskill

But the two men didn’t keep the money for themselves. Instead, Wolfskill took it to Boone’s Lick, Missouri, where he handed over the funds to Captain Owens’ family.

In late September 1830, Wolfskill left New Mexico and never returned. He led a party of about 20 men acrossed the Great Basin into southern California, in the process opening what is today called the “Old Spanish Trail.”

Wolfskill had originally intended to trap beaver in California, but when this turned out to be impractical, he and fellow trapper George Yount turned to hunting sea otter instead. This project seems to have been lucrative, because by 1838, Wolfskill had the funds to join his brother in buying a  4,000-vine Los Angeles vineyard, which would eventually grow to 85,000 vines.

Agriculture must have been more enjoyable than trapping, because three years later, Wolfskill planted the first commercial orange grove in California. These activities formed the basis of a kind of agricultural empire that would introduce the Australian eucalyptus, the soft-shelled almond, the chestnut, and the persimmon to California.

Certainly, by the time he died, Wolfskill had traveled a long way from Kentucky and accomplished a great deal besides trapping furs.

Sources: Leroy R. Hafen, ed., Fur Traders and Trappers of the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State UP, 1997; Daniel J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1971.

Two American Governors for New Mexico

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1846, just over a month after Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny seized New Mexico for the United States, he appointed Virginia-born Taos businessman Charles Bent as New Mexico’s first American civil governor. When Kearny and the majority of his 1700-man force headed on to California to participate in acquiring it as well, Colonel Sterling Price, as senior U.S. Army officer in New Mexico, became its military governor.

Sept 22 illustration.Bent

Bent had been in Nuevomexico since 1829, first as a fur trapper, then as a Santa Fe trail trader based in Taos. He occupied his post as Governor less than four months. In mid-January 1847, he died at the hands of a New Mexican mob protesting the American occupation.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, Colonel Price, supported heavily by American businessmen and trappers in New Mexico, crushed that rebellion and assured that New Mexico would remain part of the United States.

Sept 22 illustration.Price

Ironically, Price’s own career would include participation in an even larger rebellion against the nation he had helped to force on New Mexico. Following a term as Governor of Missouri, he joined the Confederate Army, rising to the level of General. He died on September 29, 1867, almost exactly 21 years after he took over as military governor of New Mexico.

Sources: Leroy R. Hafen, Ed., Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest,  Logan: Utah State UP, 1977; Marc Simmons, New Mexico, an interpretive history, Albuquerque, UNM Press, 1988