Early in the summer 1825, yet another young man joined a wagon train headed over the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico.
This particular traveler’s name was Doctor Rowland Willard. Dr. Willard’s diary during his time on the Trail and afterwards in New Mexico, Chihuahua, and Durango has now been published with detailed notes and provides a fascinating look at life in Mexico in the second half of the 1820s.
As a medical doctor, Doctor Willard’s perspective was slightly different from other Americans on the Trail and in Mexico. However, in some ways it was very much the same — he was there to make money.
He spent less than six months in New Mexico and did not find there the financial success he was looking for. However, he did find it in Chihuahua. He returned to the States in 1828 with $7000 in cash.
This edition provides not only the diary but also Joy L. Poole’s extensive notes and Willard’s autobiography, published here for the first time. This book is worth its price for Poole’s notes alone, which provide the context for fully appreciating Willard’s experiences and observations.
If you’re a student of the Santa Fe trail or of New Mexico history in the late 1820s, Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico will be a valuable addition to your library. If you’re simply looking for a good read about old New Mexico— or old Mexico— I would definitely recommend it.
On Saturday, May 21, 1853, Baptist missionaries in Santa Fe began construction of the first Protestant church in New Mexico, located on the corner of what is now Grant and Griffin Street. The Reverend Henry W. Reed and the Reverend L. Smith officiated.
Henry Reed had arrived in Santa Fe in Summer 1846 and opened a school. Smith arrived several years later. They seem to have been focused on converting New Mexicans to Protestantism rather than serving the Anglo population. In 1851, Reade reported to his constituency back East that he’d been in Taos to share information about his Baptist school curriculum with Padre Martinez and had attended the Catholic services there. He disapprovingly described the mass as “not above a whisper and in Latin.”
The Baptist church services in Santa Fe were apparently in Spanish and English. At the cornerstone-laying ceremony on May 21, Reverend Smith spoke in Spanish and Reverend Read in English. This bilinqual approach doesn’t seem to have been enough to attract a large congregation. The adobe brick building was sold to the Presbyterians in 1866, at the end of the Civil War.
The Presbyterians eventually pulled the adobe building down and replaced it in 1882 with a brick structure. That building was replaced in 1939 with a Pueblo Revival building designed by John Gaw Meem, which is still in use today.
Sources: Thomas Harwood, The History of New Mexico Spanish and English Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1850 to 1910, Vol. I. Albuquerque: El Abogado Press, 1908; E. A. Mares, ed., Padre Martinez: New Perspectives From Taos, Taos: Millicent Rogers Museum, 1988; Ralph Emerson Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Vol. II. Cedar Rapids: The Torch Press, 1912.
Gerald lowered the gun and looked down at the boy. “Coyote’ve been nipping at the elk all spring and they left tracks by that half-eaten calf up the hill.”
Andrew shook his head. “He didn’t kill that calf, Papa.”
Gerald frowned. “You know that for a fact?”
Andrew hesitated, then nodded. “I’ve been watching him. He lets me get mighty close. He’s not as skittish as the others.”
“You’ve been following that coyote around?”
The boy scuffed the muddy ground with his boot. “I was curious.” He lifted his head. “The calf was dead when he ate off it.”
Gerald shook his head. “You are something else,” he said. He scanned the valley. The coyote was still visible. It trotted purposefully across the far side of the grassy slope beyond the meandering creek. “We’d best head back,” he said. “They’ll be waiting dinner on us.”
New Mexico’s weather so far this year has reflected the weather patterns across the nation—unpredictable, to put it kindly. To put the snow, rain, hail, and general nastiness into perspective, take a look at this May 9, 1907 article from the Cimarron News and Press.
The winter had been a dry one. The stockmen’s herds hadn’t been buffeted by much cold, so they were healthy, over all. But the dry conditions meant the summer was going to bring sparse summer grasses. Until early May. When it rained and snowed!
The Cimarron News and Press tended to be very upbeat, so I question just how positively the stockmen felt about the loss of their calves and lambs to the recent storms.
But we can take comforting in noting know that storms this late in the year are not a new phenomenon.
There were a lot of pieces to the conflict that engulfed New Mexico’s Colfax County in the 1870s–the conflict we know today as the Colfax County War. As far as I know, no one has ever provided a good fictional account of how some of those pieces fit together and just who did what to whom. Until now.
The hero of Thomas D. Clagett’s West of Penancedoesn’t get to Colfax County until a little over one-third of the way into the book. But once he does, he’s in the middle of events that actually happened. Events that Clagett lines up nicely and for which he provides explanations that not only make sense, but make for a great story.
Although Father Graintaire and the woman who takes him in are fictional characters, everyone else in this section of the book actually existed. Based on my own Colfax County research, Clagett’s conceptions of them and their actions are right on target. The portraits of Clay Allison and Sheriff Chittenden, and the explanation of why Cruz Vega was in William Lowe’s cornfield the night he was lynched are especially well done. And Clagett’s portrait of Santa Fe Ring attorney Melvin W. Mills gave me new insight into Mills’ character. I wish I’d read West of Penance before I wrote his scenes in The Pain and The Sorrow!
Given how well Clagett handles the Colfax County material in this book, I think it’s safe to assume that the first part of West of Penance is just as authentic. I certainly feel like I know more now about the French Foreign Legion than I did before I read this book.
So, if you’re interested in the French Foreign Legion at the battle of Camerone and the role they played in acquiring Mexico for France, or in New Mexico’s Colfax County war, I recommend that you read West of Penance!
“She threw a stick at a mountain cat that was goin’ after the boy and it run off?” the old man who was visiting asked. “Mid-lunge?” The two men sat on stools in front of the cabin fire, a whisky jug between them.
“That’s what she says.”
They both turned to look at Gina, who sat on the bed in the corner, singing a lullaby to the child, crooning him to sleep.
“Hard to believe,” the old man said, stroking his stringy white beard.
“Old cat,” Charles said.
“Maybe.” The old man took a sip from the jug. “Coulda been a young one, though. A woman’s protective instincts can be almighty strong.”
There was a disbelieving grunt at the fire and then silence.
“Stranger things’ve happened,” the old man observed. “And she does take kindly to that child.”
I’d been told that, in addition to being an outlaw, Billy the Kid was also a lady’s man. That didn’t make him more attractive to me. A thug and a womanizer. Why would I find that appealing?
However, Diana Holguín-Balogh’s masterful fictional portrayal of Billy the Kid and a young woman who falls for him has me seeing Billy in a new light.
Rosary Without Beads presents a Billy who’s passionate about justice and fair play, and loyal to a fault—characteristics which end up placing him on the wrong side of the law. He also has a facility with English and Spanish that could sweet talk a rattlesnake out of its rattles.
Billy’s linguistic charm is a primary reason I like this book so much. Holguín-Balogh has a gift for writing broken English/Spanish so that it’s not only comprehensible, but has a music all its own. This is true not only of Billy’s verbal skills, but also of the other characters, especially the female protagonist, Ambrosia.
Ambrosia doesn’t have an easy life. She’s been promised to a man who would really rather have her sister. That’s bound to make a girl feel unattractive. So when Billy shows up and shows some interest, she’s pretty much swept off her feet. She doesn’t succumb to his charms easily, though. Holguín-Balogh does a great job of expressing this girl’s mixed emotions about Billy all the way through the novel.
I suppose I can safely tell you that the Kid dies at the end of this book. I suspect that’s a story most of us know. However, Rosary Without Beadspresents a take on the usual explanations for the circumstances of Billy’s death, and what happens afterward, which may surprise you. But you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out what that take is.
If you’re looking for a historical novel you can sink your teeth into and feel like you’ve learned something in the process, I recommend this book!