Augusta Meinert stood firmly in the center of the makeshift courtroom, her eyes on the judge. At thirty-seven, she was still attractive, though the stubborn tilt to her chin said she didn’t often take “no” for an answer.
Judge Watts studied her. “You understand what divorce means?” He spoke slowly, as if unsure her English could withstand the strain of the concept.
Augusta’s chin went up. “I understand no longer the bastard takes the money I earn.” A ripple of suppressed laughter ran through the onlookers behind her. She turned and glared, and the men fell silent.
“You will be a marked woman,” Judge Watts warned. “This isn’t Germany.”
She frowned. “In Germany, he takes my money, and I can do nothing.” She smiled suddenly, her eyes twinkling. “It is why I like America.”
The Judge nodded and gaveled the rough wooden planks of the table before him. “The first divorce in Colfax County, New Mexico Territory, is hereby declared final,” he announced.
NOTE: This tale, like most of the other stories in Valley of the Eagles, is based on an actual event. In this case, Augusta Meinert’s petition for divorce was the first heard in newly formed Colfax County in the Spring 1869 court session in Elizabethtown, New Mexico. For more details, see the footnote in the book.
By mid-April 1865 Jose Francisco Perea had finished his term as New Mexico Territory’s Congressional delegate. The Civil War was over and he must have been looking forward to returning home again to a quieter life.
But Perea had one more Washington DC event to experience. On Friday, April 14, 1685, he attended the Ford’s Theater production of Our American Cousin.
His seat was near President Lincoln’s box.
Perea, who had been educated at a Jesuit college in St. Louis, would have known the meaning of the words John Wilkes Booth yelled as he leapt to the theater stage from Lincon’s box. “Sic temper tyrannis!” meant “Thus always for tyrants!”
It wasn’t the first time Perea had witnessed a death as the result of rebellion. As a seven-year-old in Santa Fe, he’d watched four men who’d led a revolt against the Mexican government suffer the ultimate punishment on a cold January 1837 morning.
Now he watched as a doctor rushed to Lincoln’s side and gravely shook his head. It was only a matter of time. Booth’s shot was clearly mortal.
Perea himself would live another 48 years, dying in May 1913. Until then, he would busy himself with his business interests, the post office and hotel in Jemez Springs, and his home in Albuquerque. But he would never forget that January morning in 1837 or that rainy night in April 1865.
Sources: W.H.H. Allison, Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Ralph Emerson Twitchell, Ed., Old Santa Fe Press, Santa Fe; John W. Kirshon, Ed., Chronicling America, Chronicle Publications, Mt. Kisco, 1987; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War HIstory of the New Mexico Volunteers & Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.
Valverde is a novel about the Civil War in New Mexico that begins in Texas. This location may seem odd to you unless you’re familiar with the relationship of Texas and New Mexico. You see, the Texas Republic tried to invade New Mexico twenty years before the Civil War, and it didn’t go well.
His father’s involvement in that earlier invasion plays a role in teenage Texan Jemmy’s decision to join the Confederate Texan forces. It also affects New Mexico teenager Raul’s attitude toward the invading forces.
Valverde follows each boy as he experiences the beginnings of the Civil War in New Mexico and as their paths cross at the battle of Valverde in February 1862.
The characters are well drawn, the situations are believable, and the battle scenes are handled nicely—there’s enough detail to make the reader feel the characters’ pain but not more than is strictly necessary.
This book is the first in the trilogy Rebels Along the Rio Grande, a series of Middle-Grade novels about the Civil War in New Mexico. The next in the series is Glorieta and I’m looking forward to reading it, too!
You don’t have to be a Middle-Grader to enjoy and learn a little something from this book. I recommend Valverde to young and old!
On Thursday, March 30, 1854, in the mountains of New Mexico, the U.S. Army experienced its worst defeat at the hands of Native American warriors up to that time, west of the Mississippi. It would be another twelve years before larger losses occurred at the 1866 Fetterman defeat near Fort Phil Kearny, and another twenty-two before the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
The New Mexico clash wasn’t what the top brass had ordered. The dragoons from Cantonment Burgwin near Taos had been sent out under Lt. John W. Davidson to monitor the Jicarillas camped west of the traditional Spanish village of Cienequilla (today’s Pilar, New Mexico), not attack them.
There was a history of conflict between the Spanish settlers in the fertile little valley along the Rio Grande and the Jicarilla Apaches. The Jicarilla had been farming and hunting in the area well before 1795, when the Spanish governor granted land there to his settlers. The Apaches protested his decision and, in 1822, petitioned for their own grant of land in the area, but the settlers in Cienequilla and in Taos vigorously opposed the idea and the request was denied.
So the Jicarillas were left to farm and hunt where ever they could find space. By 1854, this was becoming more difficult, as American settlers moved into New Mexico and further reduced the supply of arable as well as hunting land.
Early that year, complaints against the Jicarillas had increased in the area east of the Rio Grande. The Territory’s top military officials were skeptical about the validity of many of these complaints, but in February credible reports began coming in that the Jicarillas were stealing livestock north of Fort Union. A few weeks later, a group of 45 Jicarilla lodges were reported to be camped near Mora, west of the Fort.
When soldiers led by West Point graduate Davidson went to investigate, they discovered that the Apaches had moved away from Mora and were headed west through the mountains. Davidson noted the “miserable quality of their arms and their mean shrinking deportment” and returned to Cantonment Burgwin, where he and his men were stationed, convinced the Apaches weren’t a threat.
Eight days later, he and his U.S. Second dragoons were ordered to the Cieneguilla area to observe the movements of the same band, but not to attack.
On March 30, two hours east of the Rio Grande, the dragoons found the Jicarilla camp. The order not to attack was apparently not obeyed. Someone fired a gun and by nightfall, at least a third of Davidson’s men were dead, with another third wounded, and 45 horses lost.
It must have been a shock to realize that the Jicarillas’ weapons weren’t quite as miserable, and their warriors nearly as shrinking, as Davidson had thought.
Source: David M. Johnson, Chris Adams, Larry Ludwig, and Charles C. Hawk, “Taos, the Jicarilla Apache, and the battle of Cienequilla,” Taos: A Topical History, Corina A. Santistevan and Julia Moore, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2013; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts And Trails A Guide To New Mexico’s Past, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1994; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History Of The New Mexico Volunteers And Militia, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2015.
The girl lifted her skirts away from her feet and eased toward the small brown-mottled duck on the creek bank. It was busily investigating a small marshy area where water had seeped past the bank. Alma wished she’d brought her bow and arrows, but she’d been sent out to collect greens, not meat.
The duck had its back to her. Alma eased forward and crouched, getting into position. Her right foot pressed her skirt into the mud, but she didn’t notice.
The duck turned slightly. Alma lunged forward. As her hands touched the bird’s smooth feathers, her foot ground into her skirt, yanking her off balance. The duck flew off with a panicked series of quacks and Alma pitched forward into the mud.
“Hell and damnation!” she said angrily. “I hate dresses!”
She got to her feet and looked down ruefully. Her mother was not going to be happy.
On Saturday, March 20, 1830, former New Mexico Governor Antonio Narbona died in Arizpe, Sonora, Mexico.
A well-traveled and educated man, Narbona was born in 1773 at Mobile, in what is now Alabama, when it was still under Spanish control. He left when he was sixteen, heading to Santa Cruz, where he was a cadet in the army and a protégé of the company Commandant, who also happened to be his brother-in-law.
Narbona rose steadily through the ranks and had made lieutenant by 1804, when he was sent north to the Canyon de Chelly area as part of an effort to squash Navajo raiding at its source. His name is still associated with the primary battle of that raid—an attack on a group of women, children, and elders in what is now called Canyon del Muerto. His men killed 115 people that day. Some say their cries can still be heard in the canyon.
The next January, as part of the continuing effort against the Navajo, Narbona led his men into New Mexico. He would return there in 1825, when he was appointed political governor. He served in that capacity from September 1825 to May 1827 and earned a reputation as a reasonable man. He met with George Sibley during Sibley’s Santa Fe Trail mapping expedition, raised money for public schools, and expressed concern to his superiors about the influx of Anglo-Americans into Taos and Santa Fe.
There is no evidence that he ever expressed concern about the elders, women, and children he and his men killed in 1804.
Sources: Dr. Rick Hendricks, Antonio Narbona Talk at NM Archives, Sept. 18, 2019; Joy L. Poole, editor, Over The Santa Fe Trail To Mexico: The Travel Diaries And Autobiography Of Doctor Rowland Willard, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2015; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2015.
Knight’s Odyssey is the second in W. Michael Farmer’s Legends of the Desert series and follows the now-fictional Henry Fountain into new terrain.
I say “now-fictional Henry Fountain” because, as those of you familiar with the name know, the historical Henry Fountain disappeared in the deserts of New Mexico when he was eight years old. The first book in the Legends of the Desert series Mariana’s Knight, focused on his disappearance and imagined a way in which he might have survived and revenged his father’s assassination.
This second book in the series imagines Henry’s life after that revenge, taking him into Mexico and through a series of adventures that sees him fall in love and experience even more reasons for vengeance. But revenge isn’t the only purpose in Henry’s life. The story ends in an unexpected way that made me eager to read the next book and find out what happened next.
Knight’s Odyssey is more than a action-filled western with strong characters and well-described landscape. It’s a well-balanced story that looks at both the motivations that drive us and what gives our lives meaning. I recommend it!
By early March 1828, mountain man Thomas L. Smith was walking again. And he had a new nickname. He was now Peg-Leg Smith, the trapper who’d amputated his own foot.
He’d been trapping with a large party of other men in what is now the Colorado Rockies when it happened.
During an attack by Crow warriors, Smith caught a bullet in his left leg just above the ankle. As the battle raged on, Smith grabbed a buckskin thong, used it as a tourniquet, and hoped for the best.
The bleeding was still heavy when the battle was over. Both bones were completely shattered. The damage was too severe to even hope that Smith’s foot could be saved. But none of his fellow trappers felt they had the skills to do what needed to be done.
So Smith did it himself. He called for the cook’s biggest knife, gritted his teeth, and slashed through the shattered bones and torn muscles, cutting his foot free. He couldn’t quite reach the Achilles tendon in the back. He had to talk Milton Sublette into doing that for him.
He and Sublette used an old shirt to bind up the still-bleeding wound. Then the whole camp waited for the inevitable. They all expected Smith to bleed to death, but they wouldn’t break camp until he’d said his last goodbyes.
But twenty-four hours later, the bleeding had stopped. A day after that, Smith was strong enough to travel, by litter, at least. But not back to Taos and medical help. They went on into the Rockies, trapping as they went.
By the time the mountain men reached a Ute camp a month later, Smith was on horseback again, although his wound was far from healed. The trappers decided to camp nearby and the Utes took Smith under their medicinal wing, applying their skills to his wound.
By the beginning of March 1828, the leg had healed enough that he could put pressure on the stump. In the meantime, his fellow trappers had carved him a wooden leg and he spent the next week or so hobbling around camp getting used to it. And to his new name. He’d be Peg Leg Smith the rest of his life.
The story of Smith’s self-amputation is often used as an example of just how tough the mountain men could be. But it’s useful to remember that Smith would probably not have survived the aftermath of his impromptu surgery without the help of his friends.
Source: Leroy R. Hafen, editor, Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State University Pess, Logan, 1997.