Mexico Declares Its Independence!

On Saturday, February 24, 1821, halfway between Mexico City and Acapulco, General Agustin de Iturbide published the Plan of Iguala and effectively established Mexico’s independence from Spain and set the stage for American conquest of New Mexico, California, and the land in between.

Feb24 illustration.Iturbide.Twitchell
General Augustin de Iturbide. Source: R. E. Twitchell

The plan of Iguala maintained the Catholic Church as the official religion of Mexico, created an independent limited monarchy, and established equal rights for Spaniards and creoles. The new government also reversed the Spanish policy which forbade foreign merchants to enter New Mexico, thus opening the door for William Becknell and his mule train of goods as well as the many trappers and traders who would follow him down the Santa Fe Trail.

However, the new relationship with the United States was fraught with complications. Within a few years, Mexican officials realized that the Americans were taking every opportunity to keep from paying customs duties on the goods they brought into and the furs they took out of nuevomexico. Although officials tried various measures to control the Americans, nothing was really effective. The American trappers and traders continued to be a thorn in the side of the Mexican government. In fact, it could be argued that the Americans that the Mexicans allowed in after 1821 would turn out to be a major factor in the lack of resistance to the American invasion in 1846, 25 years later.

Sources: Paul Horgan, Great River, The Rio Grande in North American History, Wesleyan Univeristy Press, Middletown, CT, 1984; : Ralph E. Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. II, The Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, 1912; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, David J. Weber, U of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1970.

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New Mexico’s Rep Issues Warning About Americans

In January 1826, Santiago Abreú, New Mexico’s representative in Mexico City, sent a letter to the government officials in Santa Fe. In it, he cautioned them to be wary of the Americans in the province, especially those who wanted to settle, buy land, and marry without first obtaining the appropriate citizenship papers. In addition, the letter asked officials to record the activities of all non-Mexicans in New Mexico. This governmental policy of monitoring the Americans continued into the next decade, including after Abreú himself was appointed Governor in 1831. His duties included enforcing the laws that governed the americanos’ activities, including the regulations related to trapping and trading.

Jesus G. Abreu.Meketa
Jesus Abreu, Santiago Abreu’s son and Lucien B. Maxwell brother-in-law Source: Louis Felsenthal by J. D. Meketa

Ironically, Governor Abreú  was the father of Jesús Abreú, the man who would become Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell’s brother-in-law and fellow heir (through their wives) of a substantial portion of the Beaubien-Miranda land grant east of Taos. Although Canadian-born Carlos Beaubien, Jesus Abreú’s and Lucien Maxwell’s respective wives, had become a naturalized Mexican citizen prior to the grant’s being made, there is no record that Lucien Maxwell, ultimate owner of most of the land, was ever a naturalized Mexican citizen. However, by the time Beaubien died in 1864, Maxwell’s citizen was a moot point. The thing Santiago Abreú had feared, that the Americans would eventually take over, had occurred 18 years before and many of his countrymen were in eminent danger of losing their patrimony to the men who were flooding in from the eastern States.

 

Sources:   J. Rush Pierce, Red River City: A history of Northern New Mexico 1800-2000, JRP Publications, 2008; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, UNM Press, 2008; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, 2015; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, U of Oklahoma, 1971; Stephen Zimmer, ed., For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, 1999.

Kit Carson and Friends invest in Coyote Creek Copper Mine

On this day, Sunday, January 21, 1866, Kit Carson and nine other men filed a Kit Carson Mining Company claim for El Coyote Copper Mine near the town of Coyote on Coyote Creek, Mora County.  Carson’s partners were Colfax County sheriff Andrew J. Calhoun, H.J. Farnsworth, Charles McClure, J.C. Collier, Vicente Romero, George W. Ashenfelter, M. Calhoun, E.A. DeBreuils, and T.J. Donahue. The paperwork was witnessed by a John Gibbs and a John Moore, who may have been the sutler at Fort Union.

Carson had just turned 57 and was in poor health. The El Coyote mining claim may have been part of an attempt to provide for his family after his inevitable demise. The copper claim wasn’t his first venture into mining. He and Ceran St. Vrain had also invested in Arroyo Hondo mining claims near Taos as part of the 100 or more claims registered there by 1865.

Carson.Simmons.3 Wives

Source: Kit Carson and his three wives, Marc Simmons 2003

Unfortunately, the Arroyo Honda ore was low grade and unevenly distributed and that mining boom seems to have gone bust fairly quickly. It’s unknown whether any ore was ever actually extracted from the El Coyote Copper Mine, so Carson’s investment there may have been even less successful than those  in Arroyo Hondo and therefore of little benefit to his family. At any rate, he likely didn’t see much benefit from any of his mining ventures: he was dead by the end of May 1868.

Sources: Source: July 9, 2015 email from Mitch Barker, NPS archivist for Ft. Union; Harriett Frieberger, Lucien Maxwell: Villain or Visionary, Sunstone Press, 1999; J. Rush Pierce, Red River City: A history of Northern New Mexico 1800-2000, JRP Publications, 2008; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, 2015.

John Fremont Stumbles Into Taos

On this day in 1849, Saturday, January 13, celebrated explorer John C. Fremont stumbled into the Taos plaza so battered by exposure and starvation that no one recognized him.

Fremont had left what is now Pueblo, Colorado, 52 days earlier on a mission to identify a practicable railroad route across the Rockies to California. He had 32 men and 120 supply-laden mules with him.

Even before he’d left Pueblo, there was trouble. He’d already lost a guide. When former mountain man “Uncle Bill” Wootton took a look at the signs and realized just how bad the coming winter was likely to be, he backed out. But former Army Colonel Fremont refused to give up. He’d been forced to resign from the military in a cloud of disgrace two years earlier and was determined to redeem himself. Come hell or high water, he was determined to prove that a year-round transcontinental railroad operation across the mountains was feasible. If men and mules could cross the path he had in mind under winter conditions, then surely trains could, too.

Fremont hired “Old Bill” Williams to take Wootton’s place. While Williams was a brilliant tracker, he  wasn’t exactly known for his tact. Since Fremont was known for his stubbornness, the partnership seemed destined for trouble. And trouble happened pretty quickly. When Williams announced that the expedition should veer from the route Fremont had laid out, trouble ensued. Fremont relieved Williams of his guide duties and gave them to men who Fremont had worked with before but who didn’t know the region.

As Wootton had predicted, the weather turned treacherously nasty and grew increasingly difficult as Fremont’s men tried to force their way through snow-bound canyons and across icy mountainsides. All of the mules either died of starvation or froze to death. Frostbite and snow blindness plagued both the animals and the men. Not only was the expedition’s goal doomed, but the conditions were so bad that the men feared for their lives. In a desperate attempt to make it to safety, Fremont divided his company into small groups and sent them south to try to reach Taos.

John C. Fremont.Simmons 3 wives

Only 21 men of the original 32 would make it out alive and Fremont himself would need weeks of nursing by Josefa Carson before he fully recovered from the ordeal. Even with the survivors in Taos and whole, the loss of life would continue. Williams would die trying to retrieve valuable records and medical equipment  that had been left behind in the rush to escape the winter conditions Uncle Bill Wootton had warned Fremont about.

Although a year-round transcontinental railroad was eventually built across the Rocky Mountains, it was not constructed on the route that Fremont tried to blaze that winter of 1848/49. The glory of that deed would go to other men.  Fremont’s exploring days were over .

Sources:  Alpheus H. Favour, Old Bill Williams, Mountain Man, U of Oklahoma Press,  Norman, 1962; Leroy R. Hafen, Ed., Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State U Press, Logan, 1972; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2003.

 

Padre Martinez’ Ministry Begins

On Saturday, December 22, 1821 Antonio José Martinez of Taos was ordained in Durango, Mexico as a deacon in the Catholic church. He was 28 years old. Martinez had arrived at Durango’s Tridentine Seminary four years earlier just after his 25th birthday. He came to the ministry late, following the death of his wife in childbirth. The ceremony on December 22, 1821 marked the beginning of the end of Martinez’ life at the Seminary. A year later, he would be an ordained priest  and on his way by to New Mexico, where he would eventually become pastor in exclusive charge at Taos.

Antonio_José_Martínez
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez

Besides his priestly duties, Padre Martinez would be a force to be reckoned with in New Mexico cultural and political affairs, both before and after the 1846 American takeover. Before the war, he was consul for expatriate Americans in New Mexico, he founded a school in Taos and also installed a printing press in Taos for literary publications as well as church forms , and he served as one of seven deputies to New Mexico’s Departmental Assembly. After the American invasion,  the Padre served as president of both New Mexico’s 1848 and 1849 state constitutional conventions and of the 1851 New Mexican Legislative Assembly.

To describe Antonio José Martinez as a busy man seems like an understatement.  One wonders whether he had any idea  on that long ago day in late 1821 just how much he would accomplish for New Mexico and for Taos before he died almost 50 years later at the age of 75.

Sources: Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, the story of Padre Martinez of Taos, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1981; Thomas C. Donnelly, The Government of New Mexico, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1953; Richard W. Etulain, New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Stories, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2002; Dan Galbraith, Turbulent Taos, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1983; Pedro Sanchez, Recollections of the Life of the Priest Don Antonio José Martínez, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 2006.

Taos’ Lake Influences National Legislation

On Tuesday, December 15, 1970, United States President Richard Nixon signed the bill that effectively returned Taos Pueblo’s sacred Blue Lake and the surrounding 48,000 acres of National Forest to the people of Taos Pueblo.

The pristine lake, which lies at the bottom of a glacier-carved depression in the Sangre de Cristo mountains east of Taos pueblo, is the Pueblo’s most sacred shrine and the site of some of its most important yearly rituals. Blue Lake and its watershed had been confiscated by President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration in June 1906 as part of the U.S. Forest Service process of creating Carson National Park.

Pueblo leaders took action almost immediately following Roosevelt’s actions, but met with resistance from Washington. Various attempts were made to accommodate the multiple potential uses for the lake and its watershed, but, because the area was national forest, it was subject to non-recreational uses like logging. In the early 1960’s, increased interest in logging the area created a renewed sense of urgency. The resulting pressure on Washington culminated in the legislation Nixon signed in late 1970, sixty-four years after Roosevelt’s signature.

While the return of Blue Lake was of major significance to the Taos Pueblo people, it also had a wider value, because the legislation set a legal precedent for the idea of Native American land ownership based on religious significance. The law also inspired the Indian Religious Freedoms Act of 1978. This act required the U.S. government to preserve and protect  American Indians’ inherent right to believe, express, and exercise their traditional religions. It also enabled access to religious sites and the use and possession of sacred objects. So, while the loss of Blue Lake for so many years was tragic, its return was a blessing that extended far beyond Taos Pueblo itself and is an event worth celebrating.
Sources:  William deBuys, Enchantment and Exploitation, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico: a brief multi-history, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999; Corina A. Santisteven and Julia Moore, eds., Taos, a topical history, Museum of NM Press, Santa Fe, 2013; Marc Simmons, New Mexico, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1993.

Rail Reaches New Mexico!

On Saturday December 7, 1878 the first Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) railway engine crossed from Colorado into New Mexico Territory and the New Mexico and Southern Pacific, an ATSF subsidiary began  building south toward Santa Fe.

It had been a race right to the finish, the ATSF barely making reaching  the New Mexico Territory border from Kansas before the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached it from Denver.

The race began on October 30, 1868, when the ATSF railroad began laying track in Topeka, Kansas. The rail line headed west from there, following the already-established Santa Fe Trail to Raton Pass. Once into New Mexico, the track extended south to Las Vegas, then west through the Glorieta Pass. West of the pass, it moved away from the Trail and headed south to Albuquerque, which it reached in 1880. At Lamy, source of the limestone for Santa Fe’s Catholic cathedral, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific built a spur line north to Santa Fe, thus ensuring a connection to the Territorial capital.

With the railway came connections south and west, as well as east. The New Mexico and Southern Pacific line reached Albuquerque on April 5, 1880, then pushed south and west. It arrived in El Paso, TX in 1881, where it would connect  to the Southern Pacific, which moved steadily west toward Arizona, reaching that boundary in late July 1881. In 1882, this southern route line would extend link Texas and California, forming, with the New Mexico and Southern Pacific’s routes in the rest of New Mexico, a network of rail  throughout the Territory.

El Ortiz hotel and lunchroom.Lamy Harvey House.from www.harveyhouses.net
Harvey House at Lamy Junction. Courtesy of http://www.harveyhouses.net

Fred Harvey was already providing food and lodging for ATSF’s passengers by the time ATSF tracks reached New Mexico, but the Territory was critical to the full development of his Harvey House concept.  In 1883 the male waiters at Harvey’s Raton establishment became so unruly that he fired all of them and hired young women instead. The waitress experiment was so successful that Harvey got rid of the male waiters in all of his rail establishments and replaced them with young women, the iconic waitresses who would become known as the Harvey Girls. So, not only did rail come to New Mexico in early December 1878, but New Mexico would give rail the Harvey Girl, that image of feminine efficiency that has clung ever since to the legend of Fred Harvey and his railroad restaurant/hotels.

Sources: Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate, Roadside History of New Mexico, Mountain Press, Missoula, 1989; Richard W. Etulain, Beyond the  Missouri, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2006; Corina A. Santisteven and Julia Moore, Eds., Taos, A topical history, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2013; Marta Weigle, editor, Telling New Mexico, a new history, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2009; Victor Westphall,  The Public Domain in New Mexico, 1854-1881,UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1965.