By early Summer 1837, tales were spreading across New Mexico about the taxes the Mexican Congress had recently imposed, and getting taller as they went. Rumor had it that collectors would be confiscating one-third of the fruits of individual families’ labor—crops and chickens alike—and also levying charges on community-held water, wood, and pastures. There were even stories that men would have to pay a fee every time they lay with their wives.
Although New Mexicans paid municipal tariffs, they’d hadn’t paid the alcabala, or Federal sales tax, for most of the time since 1795. They’d been exempted in exchange for their role on Mexico’s northern frontier, providing a buffer for the interior against the United States as well as uncolonized Native tribes.
This tax exemption was due to expire in mid-1837. In addition, Congress had added a 12.5 cent per vara tariff on U.S. goods like plain-weave cotton (white or printed), and banned the import of shirting, calico, and other cloth. While the law seems to have been intended to protect Mexican production of these items, it was also likely to raise their cost.
So prices were going to go up. This in itself was upsetting. In addition, Mexico City had given Governor Pérez the authority to supervise tax collections. This was perhaps more worrisome. While New Mexico didn’t send tax revenues to Mexico City, it didn’t receive assistance from it, either. The Santa Fe administration was funded via levies on goods imported from the U.S. over the Santa Fe Trail. With imports being curtailed, government funds were going to have to come from somewhere else.
Since he’d arrived in Santa Fe two years before, the governor had demonstrated a talent for finding new sources of revenue, including enforced loans from rico families and, in 1836, a sweeping set of new fees that affected everyone else. While some taxes, such as the two dollars per vehicle carrying foreign merchandise and additional charges for the animals pulling them, were directed at American traders, those costs were still going to be passed on to consumers.
On top of this, Santa Fe residents now had to pay five dollars a month for the right to cut timber for lumber, twenty-five cents a head for cattle or sheep driven through the city, two dollars per performance for “entertainments” (presumably plays), and fifty cents for a dance license.
So people were already hurting. With the governor’s new authority to supervise collections, there was little chance to get around the coming taxes. There’d be no appeals to friendship, cousinship, or any other kind of interpersonal relation to ease the financial burden that was about to descend.
And then rumors about even more taxes began moving up and down the Río Grande Valley. Governor Pérez apparently made no effort to squash the more exaggerated claims or to let people know he’d asked Mexico City to renew the alcabala exemption. As the stories grew wilder and spread further, they ignited a fire that would cost Perez his life in early August 1837.
Sources: Paul Horgan, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History, Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1984; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico, Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Company, 1912; Joseph P. Sanchez, “It happened in Old Santa Fe, The Death of Governor Albino Pérez, 1835-1837,” All Trails Lead to Santa Fe, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2010; Marc Simmons, Spanish Government in New Mexico, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968; Ralph E. Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. 2, Cedar Rapids: Torch Press, 1912.
In early April 1835, Mexican Army Colonel Albino Pérez left Chihuahua for his new post as Governor of New Mexico. He arrived in Santa Fe with 1000 pesos “for the needs of that office,” and a strong reputation as a military man. A “man of fine presence … privileged and well-to-do,” Pérez began his administration with a brisk efficiency that boded well.
However, once New Mexicans got a closer look at the governor, they were less impressed. The funds he brought were depleted fairly quickly. Also, Pérez seemed to think his 3,000-peso-a-year salary was insufficient, even though it was high for New Mexico.He borrowed large gilded mirrors from former governor Francisco Sarracino, a chest of drawers from Justice Santiago Abréu, and a large table clock from Judge Juan Estevan Pino. And local transport options weren’t good enough for him. He ordered an American-made two-wheeled carriage and two horses worth 800 pesos from Santa Fe trader Jesse Sutton.
The new governor also lived an immoral life. Although he was believed to have a wife in Mexico City, he became involved in a relationship with his housekeeper, Trinidad Trujillo, and fathered her child.
New Mexicans might have merely muttered at all this and gone on with their lives, but Federal politics began to exacerbate already-negative feelings.
On October 3, 1835, a decree by President Santa Anna’s centralist Congress abolished Mexico’s State and Territorial legislatures and replaced them with five-member Councils with no decision-making powers. Instead, they were subordinate to the president-appointed—and therefore controlled—governor. This gave Governor Pérez much more authority than he’d had when he arrived.
In addition, and perhaps more importantly, New Mexico’s tax exemption was about to run out. There was no assurance it would be renewed. New Federal decrees made the governor responsible for supervising collections, a potentially lucrative job. He didn’t have much incentive to ask for a continued exemption.
Rumors swirled. The governor was about to impose exorbitant tariffs. Thing never taxed before—like water, wood, and pasture—would be now. It was even whispered that men would be taxed for laying with their wives. Some people believed the new rates were actually being levied by the governor, not Mexico City, as a way to fund his lifestyle. When Pérez called a July 10 meeting to discuss the process for collecting the new revenues, the pot of rebellion began to heat up.
A month later, the governor’s naked body would lie headless in the road south of Santa Fe. All the efficiency and fine presence in the world couldn’t save him from the consequences of his lifestyle choices and Congressional mandates.
Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Paul Kraemer, An Alternative View of New Mexico’s 1837 Rebellion, Los Alamos Historical Society, 2009; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico, Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Company, 1912; Ralph E. Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. 2, Cedar Rapids: Torch Press, 1912; David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.
On Friday, March 22, 1839, 45-year-old Spanish-born Manuel Alvarez was named U.S. Consul at Santa Fe. He was effectively the first American consul in New Mexico—the one appointed in 1825 had decamped to Chihuahua within the year.
As consul, Alvarez was responsible for dealing with American mercantile matters and also taking provisional possession of the estates of Americans who died without legal representation and sending word of their death back home. In addition, he voiced the concerns of Americans in the region, an activity that didn’t always make him popular with the governor.
Alvarez had been a merchant in New Mexico since 1824 and was comfortable complaining to the authorities. In July 1837, he’d signed on to a complaint to Governor Pérez about a confrontation between a group of Americans and some Mexican soldiers. After Pérez’s death the following month, Alvarez was one of the merchants who petitioned the Mexican government for repayment of loans made to the governor and his officials.
The real test of Alvarez’s ability to get things done came in September 1841, two-and-a-half years after he was named consul. Three hundred Texans, two-thirds of them soldiers, were marching toward Santa Fe and it was making everyone nervous. Some people believed the American merchants in New Mexico supported the Texan plan to take it over. Threats were made.
Alvarez asked for formal assurance that the Americans would be protected from angry citizens. Governor Manuel Armijo responded that they would be—as long as no one gave aid to the Texans. If anyone did, Alvarez would be held personally responsible.
This warning doesn’t seem to have slowed the consul down much. When the Expedition members arrived and were taken into custody, he offered to act as intermediary, noting that the Republic of Texas had been recognized by the United States, but not by Mexico.
He also requested permission to meet with the American citizens among the Texans. He may have been especially concerned for the safety of George Wilkins Kendall. As publisher of a New Orleans newspaper that had printed disparaging articles about New Mexico in general and Armijo in particular, Kendall was likely to be unpopular with the governor and his associates.
Certainly, Alvarez’s concerns made him unpopular. In fact, the Governor’s shirt-tail relation Ensign Tomás Martín was so irritated that he and a group of friends confronted the consul in his Santa Fe office. During the ensuing altercation, Martín drew a knife and wounded Alvarez on the cheek. Alvarez likely would have suffered further if fellow merchant and New Mexico Secretary of State Guadalupe Miranda hadn’t arrived and dispersed the crowd.
Alvarez fled Santa Fe shortly thereafter, going East to report to Washington D.C. But he returned to New Mexico and his duties, maintaining his position as consul until the American takeover in 1846. At that point, the position was no longer necessary. But Alvarez didn’t turn to mere money making. He became active in regional politics and in 1850 was elected New Mexico’s Lt. Governor. He was also active in the faction that fought for New Mexico to be made a state instead of a territory.
Alvarez continued to be active politically until his August 1856 death in Santa Fe. The consul before him may have left quickly, but Alvarez, for all his faults, appears to have been committed to New Mexico. Or at least the Americans there.
Sources: William Campbell Binkley, “New Mexico and the Texan Santa Fé Expedition,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 27:2, Oct. 1923, pp. 85-107; Lansing Bloom, “Ledgers of a Santa Fe Trader,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 21, April 1946, pp. 135-139; Lansing Bloom, “Texan Aggressions, 1841-1843,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. 2, pp. 143-156; Thomas Esteban Chavez, “The Trouble With Texans, Manuel Alvarez and the 1841 ‘Invasion,’” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 53:2, April 1978, pp. 133-144; Janet Lecompte, “Manuel Armijo, George Wilkins Kendall, and the Baca-Caballero Conspiracy,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 59:1, Jan. 1984, pp. 49-66; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1985; Max L. Moorhead, New Mexico’s Royal Road, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1958; Joy L. Poole, Ed., Over The Santa Fe Trail to Mexico: The Travel Diaries and Autobiography of Dr. Rowland Willard, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 2015; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico, New Mexican Printing Company: Albuquerque, 1912; Daniel Tyler, “Gringo Views of Governor Manuel Armijo,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 45:1, Jan. 1970, pp 23-46; David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1982; Consular duties: https://adst.org/a-brief-history-of-the-consular-service/ accessed 1/18/22)
On Tuesday, February 7, 1837, Governor Albino Pérez, his New Mexico militia, and their Pueblo allies returned to the Rio Grande Valley from an unsuccessful campaign against the Navajo.
It had been a difficul campaign from its inception. When the Governor issued a call for the militia to assemble in November 1836, nobody came. This was primarily because of the members’ personal finances. They wouldn’t be paid to be on campaign and also had to supply their own ammunition and mounts. And Pérez couldn’t promise to help. He barely had enough funds to pay his Presidio soldiers to guard Santa Fe while he was gone.
So he decided to levy a forced loan on New Mexico’s ricos. This wasn’t exactly met with enthusiasm either. In fact, the necessary funds for the campaign still hadn’t arrived in the capital when Perez mustered the men who’d finally shown up and set out for Navajo country. They would be gone two months.
This type of campaign typically lasted forty-five days, so this one was longer than usual. If the militia were going to be paid at the end of it, or at least collect some spoils of war while they were gne, they probably wouldn’t have minded too much. But food supplies ran low. Also, the weather was so cold that one man froze to death and others lost toes and ears to frostbite. The temperatures affected the animals too. The militia’s mounts began to fail. To add insult to injury, the New Mexicans made no contact with the enemy during the entire period they were in the field.
By the time they got home, the New Mexicans and Pueblo warriors were fed up. They headed home in disgust and Governor Pérez turned to local governance issues only to discover that there wasn’t enough money in the treasury to continue paying his Presidio troops. He saw no alternative but to send them home as well. And then the Navajos who hadn’t been anywhere in sight during the winter campaign suddenly materialized and began raiding across the region. The Governor’s year was not starting out well.
It wouldn’t end well, either. Mexico’s Congress had made changes to the Federal constitution, reducing the autonomy of communities throughout the country. In addition, Federal taxes were going up and were set to be collected directly from New Mexicans for the first time in decades. To say people were unhappy is putting it mildly. Navajo raids would be the least of Governor Pérez’s worries in the coming months.
Sources: Lansing Bloom, Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico. Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Company, 1912, Francis Stanley, Giant in Lilliput: The Story of Donaciano Vigil. Pampa: Pampa Printing, 1963; Daniel Tyler, New Mexico in the 1820’s: The First Administration of Manuel Armijo, PhD Dissertation, 1970, UNM, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
There Will Be Consequences is now available at Bookshop.org, so you can buy it from an independent bookstore without leaving the comfort of your home! Personally, my favorite store to order from is Collected Works here in Santa Fe. If you don’t already have a favorite Bookshop.org store, please give them a try or order from them directly
The illustration for this post is a picture of New Mexico monte dealer, power broker, and business woman María Gertrudis Barceló. It accompanied an April 1854 Harper’s Weekly Magazine article by Lt. G. Douglas Brewerton about New Mexico. The evidence suggests it was created by a Harper’s artist who never actually met Barceló.
The picture appeared alongside a lengthy quote about Barceló from Josiah Gregg’s 1844 Commerce of the Prairies:
“Some twelve or fifteen years ago, there lived, or rather, roamed in Taos a certain female of very loose habits, known as La Tules. Finding it difficult to obtain the means of subsistence in that district, she finally extended her wanderings to the capital. She there became a constant attendant upon one of those pandemoniums where the favorite game of monte was dealt … for some years she spent her days in lowliness and misery. At last her luck turned … [and she was able] to open a [monte] bank of her own, and being favored with a continuous run of good fortune, she gradually rose higher and higher in the scale of affluence … [and is] now known as Señora Doña Gertrudes Barceló… ”
While Gregg’s book seems to contain solid data about the goods that moved between Missouri and New Mexico in the 1830s, I’ve found him less than accurate in his reports about the people he met in Santa Fe. This is certainly true in the case of Gertrudis Barceló.
For example, Barceló was not from Taos. She was born in Sonora circa 1800 and in 1815 moved with her parents and siblings to the hamlet of Valencia, New Mexico, about 100 miles south of Santa Fe. They were well-off—her parents are identified as Don and Doña in extant baptism records.
In addition to these rico beginnings, Gertrudis became wealthy in her own right as a result of her skill with numbers and cards. As a monte dealer in the mid to late 1820s, she spent time in the mining camps of what is now Cerrillos, New Mexico where she accumulated a large enough stake to set up a gambling salon in Santa Fe. There, she entertained officials, dealt cards, loaned money at interest, purchased property, and provided a home for her mother, an adopted daughter, and more than one foster child.
Barceló had married Manuel Antonio Sisneros on June 20, 1823. She was about 4 months pregnant at the time. That baby boy, and a subsequent son two years later, died in infancy. Her relationship with Sisneros may not have been ideal. They seem to have lived in separate houses on the same Santa Fe street from 1836 to at least 1841. He may have died or it’s possible they simply went their separate ways. The records don’t indicate that he participated in her business activities.
Barceló made ends meet not only as a money lender and monte dealer, but also by taking in boarders. This led to an 1835 accusation that she was illegally cohabiting with americano Lucius Thruston. She refuted the charge and it was withdrawn. She was still renting rooms out in the early 1850s, when she provided space to Governor John Munroe.
Around 1846, Gertrudis did become romantically involved with a foreigner, a highly-educated Prussian lieutenant in the U.S. Army named Augustus de Marle, who provided security for her monte dealings and represented her in court during at least one debt collection process. They remained close until her death in 1852, when he served as an executor of her will.
Other anglos were not so friendly. In addition to quoting Josiah Gregg’s inaccuracies about Barceló’s background, Brewerton described her face as “scarred and seamed, and rendered unwomanly by those painful lines which unbridled passions … never fail to stamp upon the countenance.”
Susan Shelby Magoffin also encountered Barceló and found her wanting, reporting that the “stately dame of a certain age” wore false hair (probably the curls then fashionable) and teeth, smoked, and exhibited “that shrewd sense and fascinating manner necessary to allure the wayward, inexperienced youth to the hall of final ruin.”
These statements contradict other reports, which tell us Barceló had a neat figure and intelligent, shrewd eyes, and was an elegant dancer. However, she did like fashionable clothes and heavy jewelry, often wearing a gold chain with a large crucifix. The jewelry is included in the Harper’s Weekly image. The artist also uses the fashionable curls and cigarette, wielding them to portray someone who’s everything he believes a woman shouldn’t be—haggard from “fast living,” with long straggly hair, and smoke billowing around her head from a dangling cigarette. In the eastern part of the United States at the time, smoking by women had long been associated with loose morals and dubious sexual behavior. So a picture showing Barceló with a lit cigarette effectively placed her in the lowest possible social category, that of a sexually promiscuous woman.
I can find no evidence she was, in fact, promiscuous or involved romantically with anyone other than her husband and, later, Augustus de Marle. To the contrary, in some ways, Barceló could be held up as a model of how to behave toward others. She seems to have made a habit of taking in children who needed a home.
In March, 1826, she and Sisneros adopted at least one little girl, Maria del Refugio. In 1832, Gertrudis adopted another child, named María Guadalupé de Altagracia. She also fostered Petra Gutierrez, daughter of Diego Gutierrez and Dolores Sisneros. When Petra became pregnant at 14, Barceló raised the baby herself, freeing Petra to marry James Giddings four years later. When Barceló died, her will included provisions for the unmarried girls still in her care.
But nothing she did would be enough for the americanos. Even after Barceló died and was buried in the Santa Fe parish church, they couldn’t leave her alone. Almost immediately, the Missouri Daily Republican reported that “she took early to two professions [gambling and prostitution] common in this country of easy morals,” a dig at both Barceló and New Mexico.
This attitude continued through the next century. In his 1912 discussion of the 1847 revolt, Ralph Emerson Twitchell called Barceló “a woman of shady reputation” even while he credited her (in a footnote) with warning the Americans of the planned uprising and providing the names of its leaders. In 1984, Paul Horgan described Barceló “with her wig and false teeth” whispering this same warning to Governor Bent, as if her appearance was somehow relevant to the service she provided.
Even in the 21st century, the defamation hasn’t stopped. An essay in the 2009 Telling New Mexico identifies Barceló as an unmarried woman with a dubious reputation. The first statement is flat out wrong and the second depends on who your source is. Certainly, she had a dubious reputation with some Americans.
As far as I can tell, the primary reason they disliked her so much was that she had the audacity to be a successful businesswoman. No other New Mexico monte dealer is singled out in the historical record with the abuse and accusations that are levied against Barceló. This is doubly annoying considering that the U.S. would have had a much more difficult time occupying New Mexico in 1846/47 without her assistance. She not only provided valuable information during a precarious time, she also gave them a loan to cover Army salaries until funds arrived from the East.
The fact that this loan was from a woman must have galled them. A woman who’d acquired her riches via gambling and loaning money at interest. These were provinces of male endeavor, not female. And then (gasp!) she took a lover! So they tried to erase her with ugly words and grotesque drawings.
But María Gertrudis Barceló lives on, the very symbol of the independent New Mexican woman who could love and care for children she didn’t bear while using her brains and skills to amass enough wealth to provide for them after she died. The americanos tried to cancel her with jeering words and an ugly picture. These representations are what should be cancelled. I’ve tried to do so in my forthcoming novel There Will Be Consequences, by showing Barceló’s positive interactions with the women of Santa Fe during the revolt of 1836 and also with her employees and the children in her life. It’s only a small part of what I believe should be done to mitigate the nonsense that has been written about her.
 “Incidents of Travel in New Mexico,” G. Douglas Brewerton, Harper’s Weekly Magazine, Vol. XLVII, April 1854, p. 588.
While writing my forthcoming biographical novel, There Will Be Consequences,I struggled with the historical record regarding José Angel Gonzales, rebel leader and governor of New Mexico from August 10 to September 10, 1837. The accounts are unanimous that Gonzales was the son of María Dominga Martín Liston of Taos Pueblo and a mestizo man named José Santos Gonzales. However, they also insist on identifying José Angel as genízaro.
In New Mexico at that time, a genízaro was a person from one of the unchristianized Native groups, or losindios bárbaros—typically the Ute, Apache, Comanche, or Navajo—who had been baptized and now lived among the “civilized” Christians. The term was used both for people who’d been captured directly from these tribes and for their descendants.
What’s odd about the identification of José Angel Gonzales as genízaro is that he almost certainly wasn’t. His father was mestizo, not genízaro. The term mestizo designated someone of mixed heritage, usually Indian and Spanish. It was a different classification from genízaro, which specified the person’s Native ancestry as “barbarous”. José Santos may very well have been the child of a Spanish mother and Pueblo father, or vice versa.
It’s interesting to me that the historical accounts of New Mexico’s 1837 revolt don’t reflect an awareness that José Angel’s forebears may have included Spanish men or women. Instead, he’s labeled genízaro and thus placed firmly in the “barbarous Indian” category. This labeling provides a useful lens for reading the historical record and assisting us in understanding how Gonzales was viewed by his biographers. A “barbarous Indian” was someone a civilized person might do business with, but they weren’t necessarily to be trusted. They wore clothing that was different from the norm and not entirely respectable. They had different customs. Because of this differentness, someone with this heritage might be less than trustworthy and not as cultivated and respectable as people with Spanish ancestors. Gonzales, as genízaro, could be expected to exhibit these traits.
However, that’s not what the historians report. Instead, we’re told Gonzales was a good, brave man but ignorant of politics, that he had a respectable appearance and a reputation as a good buffalo hunter, or cibolero. In fact, according to one early source, Gonzales was named governor because of his hunting skill. Yet, even as the accounts speak of Gonzales’ honesty and bravery, they insist on his ignorance. The fact that he was functionally illiterate—meaning he could sign his name, but little else—is put forth as proof of this “fact.”
These dichotomies of genízaro/respectable, honest/ignorant indicate to me that the historians didn’t know what to make of Gonzales. He was supposedly the descendant of “wild Indians” and yet he had a respectable appearance. He was the leader of rebels who took supplies without paying for them, and yet was honest. He was ignorant and still managed to impress his fellows enough for them to place him in the Governor’s office (there’s no record that he sought the position).
The fact is, Gonzales was far from ignorant. He was a renowned buffalo hunter, an occupation that required deep knowledge of the animals’ habits as well as skill in killing them and getting the resulting meat and hides back home from the plains. Gonzales was also a clever military tactician, leading the rebels to victory in early August 1837 and engineering their successful withdrawal at the Battle of Pojoaque Pass the following January. The insistence on his ignorance is based solely on the fact that he didn’t display the characteristics of Spanish learning, a learning he almost certainly never had access to. Padre Martinez’s school at Don Fernando de Taos didn’t open until Gonzales was an adult and even then wasn’t large enough to provide for every child in the area.
Gonzales was in office barely a month before the ricos from the lower Rio Grande met to plot his ouster. Some of the men at this meeting (including Manuel Armijo) had been in Santa Fe two weeks earlier and watched Gonzales in action as he presided over the Assembly to organize the new government. What had they seen? A man who was honest, who had experience leading men, who was from Taos Pueblo, and who may have had darker skin than they did. And they wanted him out of office. My guess is that it wasn’t Gonzales’s experience on the battlefield that was in question. Clearly, these men had a problem with some aspects of the governor’s person.
So, to answer the question in the title: Yes, I believe the historical record is racist. I realize the historians of the 19th and early 20th century were ensconsed within their world view and couldn’t see past their prejudices, but I have trouble absolving them of their attitude. No matter what Gonzales did, it was going to be wrong, because he was genízaro. I believe the way I’ve portrayed Gonzales in There Will Be Consequences moves beyond what has been written of him in the past to demostrate what even the racist recounting of the 1837/38 events can’t hide: the man’s honesty, ability to think strategically, and deep desire to aid his fellow humans. I hope you’ll agree with me.
A man named Manuel Armijo repeatedly plays a critical role in my forthcoming biographical novel There Will Be Consequences, which is set during the 1837/38 New Mexico tax rebellion. This isn’t the only time Armijo appeared in New Mexico’s history. In fact, you could say he played a repeating role throughout the Mexican period (1821 to 1846).
One of 15 children from a rico Albuquerque-area family, Armijo was around 30 years old when Mexico gained independence in 1821. A tall, good looking man with family connections throughout New Mexico, he became civil governor in May 1827. His term was short, ending in 1828, and marked by conflicts with the American trappers and traders who had arrived with independence.
Over the next decade, Armijo remained active in politics, serving as Albuquerque alcalde and militia lieutenant and using his influence to get the Santa Fe postmaster reinstated after being removed for mismanagement. In Spring 1836, Armijo was made New Mexico’s interim treasurer while the appointee, Francisco Sarracino, was under investigation for embezzlement.
Shortly after Sarracino was reinstated in July 1837, rebellion broke out in northern New Mexico. The insurrectionists were initially successful in taking over the capitol at Santa Fe, but the rico landowners further south quickly rallied and named Armijo commander of the loyalist forces.
Through what appears to have been a combination of lucky breaks (a rebel governor who allowed himself to be jailed instead of fleeing) and persuasion (prominent rebels who later agreed to take the man’s place in said jail). Armijo managed to get the insurrectos out of Santa Fe. But they didn’t disperse, they merely withdrew. Now interim governor, Armijo spent the winter of 1837/38 alternately threatening to kill his rebel prisoners and cajoling the insurrectionists into behaving by asking them to clarify their grievances so he could address them.
In reality, Armijo was biding his time. One of his first actions as commander had been to send a request south to Chihuahua for troops to reinforce New Mexico’s militia and small garrison of presidio soldiers. When the requested dragoons arrived in January 1838, the governor’s gloves came off. He ordered his rebel prisoners beheaded and marched north.
This time, with adequate troops behind him, Armijo was able to deal a decisive blow that effectively ended the rebellion. His reward for suppressing the insurrection was to remain in office as both civil and military governor, positions that were usually split between two people. His administration lasted through 1844, when he was suspended for a short time.
Armijo was reinstated for a third term in 1845, but the third time was not the charm. The following year, the Americans invaded in what is now known as the Mexican-American War. After much rhetoric and possibly a payoff, Armijo fled south ahead of the U.S. Army. He would be much castigated for this, even by later American historians, although his flight may well have saved New Mexican lives.
The pundits saw him as weak, cowardly, and greedy, a view that may have influenced their perspective on events nine years earlier. They reported that Armijo balked at the January 1838 battle until a dragoon captain forced his hand and some accused him of fomenting the rebellion in order to regain his position as governor. They even claimed that he had the prisoners executed in January 1838 in order to suppress what they knew about his involvement in the rebel coup. I have found no evidence to support either assertion. However, the very fact they were made seems to say a great deal about the complexity and power of Armijo’s character and his hold on the imagination of subsequent historians.
While I was writing There Will Be Consequences, I spent a good deal of time ruminating on the motivations of a man who seemed to have a knack for persuading people to do things contrary to their own interests and who was also quick to put people to death if it suited his needs. Was Armijo simply a selfish, cowardly scoundrel? Or was there more to him than met the historians’ eyes? Why would he hesitate to face the rebels at Pojoaque Pass when the odds were in his favor? Perhaps he really cared about the people and peace of New Mexico and worried about the impact of yet more deaths. Maybe he believed the executions two days before would be enough to bring the insurrectionists to heel.
We know a good deal about what Armijo did—or is said to have done—in the Fall and Winter of 1837/38. However, we don’t know what he was thinking. His actions and hesitation together give me the sense of a complex man with varied motivations. This makes him a fascinating character to write.
Which is a good thing, because he’s bound to show up in future Old New Mexico novels, following There Will Be Consequences. After all, he didn’t fade from public view until after 1846. I can hardly wait.
This Fall marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and New Mexico. The article in the link below provides an overview of what happened and why the Trail is important in the history of the United States and New Mexico.
This Fall marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri to New Mexico. I was going to write a piece about why the Trail was important to the U.S., then I found this. I think it pretty much covers everything I was going to say…..