First Legal Americans Arrive in Santa Fe

When William Becknell and his companions reached Santa Fe, New Mexico on Wednesday, November 16, 1821, they experienced a very different reception then they would have received a year before.

In the fall of 1820, Becknell could have easily faced jail time for entering New Mexico. But by November 1821, Mexico had completed its break from Spain and the new government welcomed the Americans it had previously shunned. Travelers from the eastern part of the continent were no longer illegal aliens and subject to arrest at any time. Instead, they and their goods were welcomed.

Becknell had about 17 men with him. Their original intent had been to trade with the Indians and catch “wild animals of every description.” However, trading in Santa Fe was a lot easier. Becknell disposed of his goods and started back to Missouri for more. Most of the men with him liked New Mexico so much that they decided to stay and spend the winter trapping.

Nov. 16 illlustration.Santa Fe Trail map.1826.cropped

Becknell may have left many of his men behind, but he returned to Missouri with someone who hadn’t made the outgoing trip with him. David Kirker, a member of the John McKnight and Thomas James party, which had followed Becknell across the plains but were going to Mexico to retrieve members of a previous expedition, was sent back to Missouri with Becknell. Kirker had put his party in danger by surrendering himself and his weapons to a threatening Comanche war party instead of standing up to them. The men he was with wanted nothing more to do with him.

David did not return to New Mexico, but his cousin James Kirker must have been inspired by what he heard about it. He arrived a few years later and would eventually become a byword in New Mexico and Chihuahua for a trouble-making American.

Becknell’s appearance in Santa Fe that November day was definitely the beginning of a more complex relationship with New Mexico’s neighbor to the east than had been possible in the past.

Sources: Robert Glass Cleland, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1950; Leroy R. Hafen, Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State University Press, Logan, 1997; Marc Simmons, New Mexico, An Interpretive History, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1988; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1971.

Book Review: Youth on the Santa Fe Trail

 

Kattell.Youth On The Santa Fe Trail cover
Youth on the Santa Fe Trail
by Camilla Kattell
Light Horse Publishing, November 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0996675406

We tend to forget just how young many of the travelers on the Santa Fe Trail were. I suppose this is because we associate the Trail with merchant caravans more than we do with family settler groups.

In Youth On The Santa Fe Trail, Camilla Kattell reminds us that some of the most famous voices from that famous road were not yet twenty when they travelled it. In addition to Christopher “Kit” Carson, these young people included the soon-to-be mountain man Richens Lacey Wootton, future authors Francis Parkman, Jr. and Hector Lewis Garrard, diarist Susan Shelby Magoffin, and—youngest of them all at age seven—Marian Sloan Russell.

One of the things I especially appreciate about this book is that Kattell includes information about travelers I was unfamiliar with, including James Ross Larkin, an early health seeker on the Trail, sportsman William B. Napton, and New Mexico native José Librado Gurulé.

But Youth on the Santa Fe Trail does more than provide a concise biography of these travelers. It also provides context for their particular story and, in doing so, helps us to understand their world. For example, Kattell’s portrayal of Susan Shelby Magoffin helped me to see this young woman in a way I hadn’t before.

When I read the Magoffin diary a number of years ago, I was frustrated by what I saw as her very narrow view of the world. Youth on the Santa Fe Trail reminded me that Magoffin’s strict, rather puritanical, upbringing would naturally make her look askance at women smoking cigarettes and church hymns set to apparent dance tunes. What I saw as a narrow mindedness can also be viewed as a difference in cultures which Magoffin was doing her best to assimilate. Kattell expanded my view of this young woman’s perspective.

While Youth On The Santa Fe Trail is about the youth who traversed the Santa Fe Trail, it is certainly not only for young readers. It will give you a new appreciation for the Trail’s travelers, the impact they had on both their destination, and the way their experiences on the trail shaped that impact. I recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the Trail and of New Mexico.

 

Mormon Battalion Reaches Las Vegas

In early October 1846, the 500-member Mormon Battalion of Volunteers of the U.S. Army of the West marched through Las Vegas, New Mexico. They were on their way to California from Council Bluffs, Iowa, where they’d volunteered to fight in the Mexican-American conflict.

Their service had two conditions. First, each man would receive his $42 uniform allowance in advance but would wear his civilian clothing on the march. This enabled the men to donate most of their clothing money to the Church to buy wagons, animals, and other necessities for the coming move to what is now Utah. Second, the Battalion members would serve twelve months and no longer.

These men hadn’t volunteered because they supported the war against Mexico. Their leaders had asked them to join up. The Latter Day Saints needed Federal government agreement to cross what was rapidly becoming U.S. Territory and settle around the Great Salt Lake.

The LDS leadership also hoped that the Volunteers, the only single-religion battalion in U.S. military history, would help change public perception of the Church and its members by demonstrating their loyalty to the United States.

The Mormon Battalion was divided into two groups which traveled several days apart, but they were all in Santa Fe by mid-October 1846, where they met their new Captain, Philip St. George Cooke.

Oct 3 post illustration.Cooke

They were now about 45 percent through their 2,000 mile trek. Mountain man Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the child born to Sacagawea during the 1805 Lewis and Clark Expedition, would guide them the rest of the way. Charbonneau, Cooke, and the men of the Mormon Battalion would create Cooke’s Wagon Road, a route used after American annexation to transport goods and people to California.

They arrived in California in January 1847, shortly after Mexican capitulation to John Fremont, and therefore didn’t see battle. But they completed other useful tasks and fulfilled their full twelve month contract. After their service expired, some of the Battalion members stayed in California. A few of them were working at Sutter’s Mill when gold was discovered there on January 24, 1848.

As a result, not only did the Church receive much of the $30,000 the volunteers had earned during their military service, it also received $17,000 in contributions from the first fruits of what would become the 1849 California Gold Rush. Those funds were instrumental in getting the LDS congregation through the winter, providing the means for their epic journey to the Great Salt Lake area, and helping to establish them there.

Sources: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_Battalion Accessed 9/4/19; Paul J. Horgan, Great River, the Rio Grande in North American History, Connecticut: Wesleyan UP, 1984;  John W. Kirshon, Ed., Chronicle of America, Mt. Kisko: Chronicle Press, circa 1989; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History Of New Mexico, Santa Fe, 1912;  Ralph E. Twitchell The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Vol. 2, Cedar Rapids: Torch Press;  www.mormonbattalion.com Accessed 9/4/19.

 

Book Review: Doña Tules

Dona Tules Bio cover
by Mary J. Straw Cook
UNM Press, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0826343130

In early August I posted a review of a fictional account of the life of Doña Tules Barceló. In it, I said it was the only fictional or non-fictional treatment that had been published about her life. I was wrong.

The week after that post went live, I attended Santa Fe’s Spanish Market. There I found a copy of Doña Tules, Santa Fe’s Courtesan and Gambler.  It was quite a find.

Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of information available about Tules Barceló’s life. However, in this book Mary J. Straw Cook has gathered what is known and fleshed it out with information about Barceló’s family members, both blood and adopted, and her contemporaries. While I don’t agree with all of Cook’s conclusions about Tules—the evidence for prostitution seems weak—the book does provide insight into her life, as well as into the era in which she lived, how it may have influenced her, and how she definitely influenced it.

This is a treasure of a book that reads like a novel. If you want to know more about this fascinating woman, her contemporaries, and her times, I recommend Doña Tules, Santa Fe’s Courtesan and Gambler.

Santa Fe Trail Mail Contractor Changes!

Throughout the month of September, 1855, the Santa Fe Weekly Gazette informed its readers that the U.S. mail contract had recently been transferred to Hockaday and Hall and was providing mail and passenger transport to and from Independence, Missouri for a mere $125 per passenger.

Packages and extra baggage could also be sent via the Hockaday and Hall coaches, at a cost of 25 cents per pound, although there was a minimum charge of $1.00 and the contractors could not be held responsible for anything worth more than $50.

These rates remained the same two years later, even when service increased to twice monthly. This may have been because, no matter how often the mail left Santa Fe, it took about the same length of time to travel  to or from its destination. Round trip to St. Louis was still about three months and delivery from the Atlantic seaboard to Santa Fe remained around six weeks. Letters and packages continuing from Santa Fe on to El Paso were transferred to George H. Gidding’s service south and could take an additional week to ten days.

Sept 22 illustration

Interestingly, the front page items about the new contractors and their service are not set off in a box or with any other markings to indicate that they’re advertisements. They’re treated like news items. Repeating news items—the same language shows up in every September 1855 issue of the Gazette.

While news of the mail was critical to the functioning of business and politics in New Mexico Territory, the decision to promote its service and fees in this way may have been the result of other factors. The Hockaday and Hall agent in Santa Fe just happened to be W. W. H. Davis, the newspaper’s editor.

Sources:  Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, September 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, 1855; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West, stagecoach lines on the santa fe trail, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1971.

The Excitement of Politics—Some Things Never Change

On Saturday, September 15, 1855, the political atmosphere of New Mexico was so tense that a group of political operatives took it upon themselves to steal the Rio Arriba County poll books at gunpoint. The poll books in question contained the county records of the recent election for New Mexico’s territorial delegate to Congress. The two candidates for the post were Jose Manuel Gallegos and Miguel Antonio Otero.

In Rio Arriba County, a Gallegos stronghold, Probate Court Clerk Ellis T. Clark was responsible for getting the vote results to Santa Fe. He stashed the records in his saddlebags and, accompanied by Territorial Attorney General Theodore Wheaton, headed south.

About 25 miles north of Santa Fe, near Pojoaque Creek, Wheaton and Clark happened to meet five men from Otero’s party. The meeting seemed innocent enough. According to the Santa Fe Weekly Gazette account of the incident, the two groups  “halted and passed the usual compliments, the former not suspecting the object of the latter.” During the ensuing conversation, one of Otero’s partisans asked Clark if he had the poll books and he said he did. The men continued to chat.

Then suddenly the mood changed. As their companions pulled out six shooters, two of Otero’s friends grabbed Clark’s and Wheaton’s arms and demanded the voting records. Then one of them pilfered  Clark’s saddle-bags and grabbed the books.

The thieves didn’t take off immediately. They paused long enough to explain that they planned to hold the records hostage until the votes for Otero’s home county, Valencia, were tallied. They’d heard that there were plans afoot to “disappear” the Valencia poll books and hand Gallegos the election. If Valencia’s votes were “lost”, the records for Rio Arriba would also disappear.

Then the five rode off, heading north. Clark and Wheaton continued south. They arrived in Santa Fe around 10 o’clock that night and told the Sheriff what had happened. He, Clark, and a posse immediately headed north after the thieves. A duplicate set of the Rio Arriba poll books were in Clark’s house. They figured the Otero partisans would want to acquire those as well.

Sept 15 illustration

They were right. In fact, when the posse arrived at Clark’s house the next day, they learned that three of the thieves had already been there. They’d tried to bully Clark’s wife into giving them the records and, when she refused, went in search of a lawman who’d force her to do what they wanted. There’s no record of who they found to play that role. When the Otero men returned to the house, the posse was waiting and the thieves were arrested.

They’d actually had good reason to be concerned about the election results. When all the votes were counted,  Gallegos had won by 99 votes. However, Otero contested the results, alleging illegal activities related to the vote, and was ultimately awarded the Delegate seat. He served in that position until 1861, when he lost a re-election bid to John S. Watts.

As for the theft, the Gazette expressed its editorial sorrow “that men, in the excitement of politics, should commit acts their judgment will condemn in their sober moments,” and called for more stringent laws related to election fraud.

Ironically, we’re still expressing the same kind of sorrow and calling for the same kind of laws today. Some things never change.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico, A Biographical Dictionary, 1540-1980, Vol. 1. Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande books, 2007; Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, September 22, 1855, page 2.

Future Governor Trades on Camino Real

On Monday, August 27, 1827 American traders Henry Connelly, Alphonso Wetmore, and James Erwin Glenn received written permission to travel El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro from Santa Fe to Chihuahua on a trading venture. Although Wetmore was an established Santa Fe trader at the time, then 27-year-old Henry Connelly would become the most well-known of the three men on this expedition, with the most influence on New Mexico.

A medical doctor, Connelly settled in Chihuahua at the end of his 1827 trip, and engaged in the mercantile trade there. However, he didn’t abandon his Santa Fe connections or his links to the United States. When General Stephen Watts Kearny’s army invaded New Mexico in 1846, Connelly had been in Mexico almost 20 years and had influential friends in Santa Fe.

Aug 27 post illustration.Connelly

In fact, Connelly’s connections may have been critical to the success of Kearny’s mission. He is believed to have been Governor Manuel Armijo’s agent during the negotiations that resulted in the bloodless handoff of New Mexico to the U.S.

By 1849, Connelly’s heart was definitely in New Mexico as opposed to Chihuahua. That year, he married Dolores Perea de Chavez of Peralta and subsequently became officially involved in New Mexico Territorial politics. In 1851, he became a member of the Territorial Council. Ten years later, President Abraham Lincoln named him Governor of New Mexico Territory.

Connelly was ill during much of his tenure as governor and actually left the Territory in Fall 1862 to try to recover. He returned in May 1863 and finally retired in mid-July 1866. He died less than a month later, in mid-August 1866, almost exactly 39 years after he first ventured south on the Camino Real.

 Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico, a Biographical Dictionary, 1540-1980, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande Books, 2007; Julie L. Pool, editor, Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico, the travel diaries and autobiography of Doctor Rowland Willard. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, Albuqerque: UNM Press, 2015; Ralph Emerson Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. II, The Torch Press: Cedar Rapids, 1912; web.archive.org/web/20120406161610/http://www.newmexicohistory.org/filedetails.php?fileID=23527