JUST A MAN

JUST A MAN

“I seen him! I seen him!” The boy stopped, breathless, just inside the kitchen door.

“You mean you saw him.” His mother shook her head at him as she lifted the lid from the Dutch oven in the fireplace to check the biscuits. She smiled. “Who did you see?”

“Kit Carson! He was on the other side of the street, going into the Governor’s house.”

She nodded. “I heard this morning that he was back. What is he like?”

His shoulders sagged. “He didn’t look anything like the pictures in the book Grandpa gave me when we left Kansas City.”

“That was just a story,” she pointed out. She turned to stir the great pot of venison stew.

“I know,” he said. “But he wasn’t what I expected at all. He’s just a man.”

Copyright ©2013 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

Old One Eye Pete and the Half-Grown Pup

Old One Eye Pete and the Half-Grown Pup

It’s a gangly mutt, large for an Indian dog, with dirt-matted curly black hair. Old One Eye Pete looks at it in disgust as it half-crouches at his feet. It’s been following him and the mule for the past two hours, ever since they left the Ute Indian encampment down canyon. “Damned if the thing ain’t smilin’,” Pete mutters. He pokes the dog’s side with his foot. “You a doe or a buck?” The animal rolls over obligingly, paws in the air. Buck.

Old Pete toes it again. “Well, I expect you won’t last long. You’ll be running off to the first camp with a bitch in heat.” He turns and twitches the mule’s lead rope. “Giddup.”

They trail the Cimarron River up canyon through the afternoon and settle into camp under an overhanging sandstone boulder as the light begins to fade. It’s still early. The sunlight goes sooner as the canyon walls narrow. But Old Pete’s in no particular hurry and the pup’s acting a mite tired.

“Gonna have to keep up,” Pete tells it as he cuts pieces of venison off the haunch he traded from the Utes. The dog slinks toward the fire and Pete tosses it a scrap. “Too small for my roaster anyway,” he mutters as he skewers a larger chunk onto a sharpened willow stick and holds it out over the flames.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Where’d that damn pup get to now?” Old Pete mutters as he and the mule reach the rocky outcropping that overlooks the valley. He can see through the ponderosa into a good stretch of grassland below, but there’s no evidence of the curly-haired black Indian dog. Pete shakes his head in disgust, jams his rabbit fur hat farther down on his head, and snaps the mule’s lead rope impatiently.

At least the mule doesn’t need voice direction. Which is more than can be said for the dog, but Pete refuses to call the damn thing, no matter how aggravated he might feel.

Jicarilla Apaches are likely roaming the valley for elk, and Pete’s taking no chance of being found before he wants to be. The dog can go to hell, for all he cares. He grunts irritably as he works his way down the hillside. Idiot pup.

He pauses at the tree line, getting his bearings, the air crisp on his face. A light snow powders the ground. A herd of perhaps thirty elk is bunched on the hillside to his left. He squints his good eye. They seem a mite restless.

Then he sees the wolves, eight or nine of them waiting downwind while two big ones trot the herd’s perimeter, checking for weakness.

At his feet to his right, a low whine emanates from the prickly ground-hugging branches of a juniper bush. As Pete turns his head, the black pup eases from the grasping needles. The dog slinks to Pete’s feet and crouches beside him, tail between its legs. Then it looks anxiously toward the wolves and whines again.

“Not as dumb as I took you fer,” Old Pete says, adjusting his hat.

~ ~ ~ ~

There’s a reason it’s called Apache Canyon and Old Pete proceeds cautiously, aware that there’s been a recent outbreak of hostilities between the Jicarillas and the locals. Somebody got twitchy-brained and shot off their gun without thinking twice and now the whole Sangre de Cristo range is on edge. And it doesn’t matter at all that he had no part in the original quarrel.

However, Pete hasn’t seen a soul in three days, and he’s beginning to think he’s going to get to Taos in one piece after all, if the damn half-grown dog tagging him will quit wandering off, then coming back, widening the scent trail with his idiot nosing around.

Pete scowls as the puppy reappears, this time from a thicket of scrub oak, dead leaves rattling on the ground. As the dog gets closer, it goes into a half crouch. It’s holding something in its mouth and its curly black tail droops anxiously.

“What’ve you got there?” Pete asks. He squats and holds out his hand, and the dog releases the item into his palm. “Shit!” Pete says, dropping it.

Then he leans closer and sniffs. It really is shit. Human, too. Fresh enough to still stink. He rises, studying the slopes on either side, turning to examine the Pass behind him. So much for being alone.

“Thankee, pup,” he mutters. “I think.”

from Old One Eye Pete

Josefa Jaramillo is Born in New Mexico!

On Thursday, March 27, 1828 in Portrero, New Mexico, María Josefa Jaramillo was born to Francisco Esteban Jaramillo and María Apolonia Vigil in Portrero, New Mexico. Her parents moved to Taos before the end of the year, María Josefa and her older siblings, including three sisters, in tow.

Josefa, called “Josefita” by her family, and her older sister Ignacia would grow up to ally themselves with two prominent americanos—Christopher “Kit” Carson and Charles Bent. In the early 1830s, the now-widowed Ignacia entered into a common-law marriage with American merchant Charles Bent. About ten years later, on February 6, 1843, Josefa married  newly-converted Catholic Christopher “Kit” Carson, exactly seven weeks before her fifteenth birthday.

Source: Kit Carson and His Three Wives, Marc Simmons

Four years later in mid-January, while Kit was away and Josefa was staying with Ignacia and Charles in Taos, the Jaramillo girls’ brother and Bent were killed by an angry mob. The nineteen-year-old testified at the trial of the accused men.  Refined in dress and manners, she had a heart-breaking beauty, one observer said, that “would lead a man with the glance of the eye, to risk his life for a smile.”

After that, Josefa’s life settled down a little, though it seems to have never been truly calm. Carson was gone for long stretches of time: trapping and hunting, and serving as a scout for John C. Fremont, as a courier during the Mexican war, as a military officer during the Civil War, and as commander of the troops that forced the Mescalero Apaches and Navajos onto the Bosque Redondo reservation in 1863-64. In the meantime, Josefa moved from Taos to Rayado to Bent’s Fort and back again, then followed Carson to Fort Garland and finally Boggsville, Colorado.

But Carson and the woman he called “Chepita” and “Little Jo” seem to have had a loving relationship. They had eight children, the last one born just ten days before her death in April 1868. Carson followed her a month later. They are buried side by side in a small cemetery in Taos, ending their journey together in the town where it began.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico Biographical Dictionary, 1540-1980, Vol. I, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande Books, 2007; Lewis H. Garrard, Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955; Leroy R. Hafen, Ed., Fur Traders of the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State University Press, 1997; Howard R. Lamar, Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, New York: Harper & Row, 1977; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003

Charles Beaubien Requests Mexican Citizenship

On Sunday, February 22, 1829, Charles Hipolite Trotier Sieur de Beaubien (aka Carlos Beaubien) submitted his application for Mexican citizenship. One of the first French-Canadian trappers to settle in New Mexico following Mexican independence, Beaubien had already married Paula Lobato, a member of a prominent family, by the time he formalized his decision to stay there.   

Beaubien and Lobato made there home in Taos. In early January 1841, he and then-Secretary of State Guadalupe Miranda asked  the Mexican government to give them a swath of land east of Taos. The property was granted to them in January 1843, although they didn’t leave  Taos to take possession of it until Wednesday, February 22 that year.

Although they don’t seem to have made much effort to settle the grant, the two men held onto it through the final years of the Mexican period. After the 1846 American occupation, they began the lengthy U.S. process of confirming title, an procedure that wasn’t completed until  1860, almost 28 years after Beaubien became a Mexican citizen.

Charles Beaubien

In that time, he’d been, sequentially, a citizen of the United States, then Mexico, and then the U.S. again. He’d been a successful Taos merchant and a judge under both the Mexican and American systems, lost a son during the insurrection of 1847, and given his daughter Luz in marriage to the mountain man Lucien B. Maxwell.

When Beaubien died in February 1864, Luz and Lucien moved quickly to buy out her sibling’s inherited portions of the grant, as well as Guadalupe Miranda’s share, and take full control. They would sell it in 1870 to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company, a group which became infamous for its treatment of the people Lucien and Luz had allowed to live, ranch, and mine on their holdings.

But it had all started on that February day in 1829 when Charles Hipolite Trotier Sieur de Beaubien became a Mexican citizen.

Sources:  Don Bullis, New Mexico Autobiographical Dictionary, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande Books, 2007; Harriet Freiberger, Lucien Maxwell, Villain or Visionary, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999; Victor Westphall, Mercedes Reales, Albuquerque:UNM Press, 1983.

The French in New Mexico: A Talk

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to catch Francois-Marie Patorni’s recent talk about his book The French in New Mexico at the Santa Fe Public Library. And then I discovered it had been recorded and put up online! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Book Review: Following The Royal Road

I already had a book about the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro—the highway from New Mexico to Mexico City that came into being in the late 1500s. I had no business buying Following the Royal Road by Hal Jackson.

But I’m certainly glad I did.

The book I already owned is a good overview of the road’s history, but Following the Royal Road gets into the details that make a historical researcher salivate. It answered questions I ran into while gathering information for No Secret Too Small and also provided details I didn’t know I needed. For example, both battles of New Mexico’s 1837/38 revolt happened on the Camino Real. And El Alamo—where Governor Perez and his officials spent the night of August 8, 1837, is on the route, south of Santa Fe and just north of Los Golondrinos.

One of the things I really like about Following the Royal Road is the detailed maps it provides for each section of the Camino. Also, it traces the road all the way to Taos, a connection most books don’t make. In fact, it lays out the alternate routes people took to get to Taos, depending on the weather, material I used in No Secret Too Small.

But Following the Royal Road isn’t just a map with words. Jackson sprinkles a liberal amount of historical and cultural information throughout the book, so you’ll learn about everything from hornos to the founding of El Paso del Norte and the silver mines of Zacatecas.

And you can actually follow Following the Royal Road. It provides driving instructions from Taos to Mexico City. Whether you want to explore pieces of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro from your armchair or on the road, I heartily recommend this book as your guide.

Another Excerpt from No Secret Too Small

This is another excerpt from my new Old New Mexico novel, No Secret Too Small.

CHAPTER 8

When the children appear in the doorway to the kitchen, Consuela looks up in surprise.

“Grandfather said we should have tea here,” Andrew tells her.

The cook waves a hand at the table. It’s covered with flour, baking utensils, and a tray that holds a blue-flowered teapot and a plate piled with biscuits. “There is no room.” In the corner fireplace, a big copper kettle begins to burble. She turns toward it. “And I am baking. It is not a good time.”

“We can go into the courtyard,” Alma offers. “We can have our tea there.”

“Two places,” the cook sniffs. She lifts the teakettle from the fire, moves to the table, and begins filling the flowered pot. She glances at the corner cupboard, where there’s another pot, a simple brown one. “Two teas and not one.”

“I can help.” Alma moves to the cupboard, lifts the pot from its shelf, and carries it to the table.

Consuela picks up the flowered pot, pours the water from it into the brown one, then drops tea leaves into the first pot and adds more hot water. She looks up and jerks her chin toward the cupboard. “The tea is in the wood box.”

Alma returns to the corner, lifts down a flat ornately carved container, and carries it to the table. When the cook lifts the lid, the rich scent of black tea fills the air. Alma leans forward to examine the oblong of compressed leaves inside. Three of the squares have been cut out and used already, so the block is no longer rectangular. The piece that juts out has been reduced to perhaps half its original size.

Consuela drains the water from the brown pot, then reaches for a small knife. She carefully slices a sliver of tea off the block, places it in the pot, and pours more hot water in. As she pours, she nods toward the pot on the tray. “You should take that in now. Before it gets bitter.”

Alma looks at her in surprise, then realizes the cook doesn’t know why she and Andrew were sent out of the room. She takes a deep breath and gingerly lifts the tray. When she nears the doorway, Andrew snatches a biscuit from the plate, then retreats into the hall and out the courtyard door. It thuds behind him as she moves carefully toward the parlor.

The tray is heavy and requires both hands. Alma pauses outside the door, uncertain how to hold it and open the door at the same time. She braces the edge of the tray between the adobe wall and her hip and reaches for the door.

Then she stops. Inside the room, her mother’s voice rises in frustration. “Tarnation! You haven’t heard a word of what I’ve just said!”

“I have heard you very well,” Alma’s grandfather answers. “However, I believe you are not being entirely truthful with yourself or with me.”

“Truthful! How dare—” There’s a short silence, then she speaks again. “Would you care to explain yourself?”

“Before Gerald asked me for your hand you made it very clear that you saw no need to pry into his background.” His voice drops. Alma has to strain to hear him. “You were in love.”

“I didn’t want you to discover something that would make you refuse him.” Her tone sharpens. “You were convinced I was too young. You would have latched onto anything to make us wait.”

“Hmm.” It’s the voice he uses when he doesn’t want to say what’s really on his mind.

“My age at the time is not relevant to this discussion.” Her mother sounds downright sulky. “He lied to me.”

“He wasn’t completely forthcoming. It’s not quite the same thing.”

A chair squeaks. When she speaks again, it’s clear she’s moved across the room. Her voice has changed. She sounds more puzzled than angry. “Doesn’t this news surprise you, at least? Concern you in any way?”

His tone is carefully neutral. “Why would it?”

“You knew.” There’s a pause, then she says again, “You knew! And you didn’t think I should be told?”

“You said you didn’t want to know anything about him but what you had seen with your own eyes and heard with your own ears. Perhaps not in those words. But that was clearly your intent.”

“Tarnation!” she says again.

There’s another moment of silence. Then suddenly the door to the room flies open. Alma straightens and lifts the tea tray. Her mother glares down at her. “You undoubtedly knew, also!” She stalks into the hall and toward the courtyard door. “Everybody seems to have known but me!”

The next morning, she stays in bed. Old One Eye Pete has gone off to visit friends at the pueblo. The children and their grandfather eat breakfast in silence at the kitchen table, although Alma stirs her porridge more than she eats it. There’s a hard lump in her belly that’s been there since her mother stormed out of the parlor.

Alma watches Andrew gulp down his food. When he eyes her dish, she scoots it across to him. When the bowl scrapes the table top, her grandfather looks up but doesn’t comment. Alma sits with her hands in her lap, waiting dully for whatever is going to happen next. She’s very tired. The night was a long one.

Finally, Grandfather Peabody puts his spoon in his bowl, drains the last of his strawberry leaf tea, and nods to the cook. “Thank you, Consuela. That was a fine repast.”

“I am sorry there were no eggs for you this morning, señor,” she says. “Gregorio is still trying to understand where the snake is entering the coop.”

“I’ll manage without eggs every morning,” he says. “Though I do enjoy them when they’re available.” He turns to Andrew. “I wonder if that dog of yours might help to locate the reptilian entrance point.”

Andrew nods eagerly. “Chaser can find anything!”

Consuela sniffs. “He is so big, he will destroy the nest boxes.”

Alma’s grandfather strokes his chin beard. “He might at that. Perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea.” He turns back to Andrew, whose mouth is twisted in disappointment. “But I know he is an excellent companion. Perhaps we should take him to the plaza with us and introduce him to mis vecinos.”

On the way to the center of town, their grandfather explains that the Don Fernando de Taos plaza consists of joined abode buildings constructed around a large hollow square. It has four entrances, each with a big wooden gate that can be barred and locked.

“To keep the Comanches out?” Andrew asks.

He nods. “Comanches or Utes or Navajo. It was constructed many years ago. Nowadays, the only Indians who raid in New Mexico are the Navajo and they’re more interested in the pastures than the towns. They primarily want sheep.”

Alma reaches for his hand. She’s heard the stories. “And boys to herd them and girls to spin and weave the wool.”

He squeezes her fingers in his. “But you have a mastiff to protect you. At any rate, I’m certain you aren’t foolish enough to wander the fields by yourself.”

Alma thinks wistfully of her mountain valley streams and their fat trout, and nods. Chaser Two loops around behind Andrew and her grandfather and nudges at her hand. She smiles at him and pats his big head.

They’re at the northeast corner of the plaza now. It looks like a much larger version of her grandfather’s courtyard, except instead of plants and woodpiles on its edges there are long, covered porches and people sitting or squatting in their shade.

Some of the people have laid out blankets and arranged produce, pots, or other goods on them for sale. Others stand talking or move from vendor to vendor, shopping. The sun beats down from a bright blue sky with a single white cloud in it.

Andrew steps to one side to investigate the contents of a blanket. He picks up a wooden whistle and turns to show it to Alma. “It looks like the one Old Pete made me!”

His grandfather gently takes the whistle from the boy’s hand and returns it to the blanket with an apologetic word to the vendor, a man wrapped in a big red-striped white blanket. “You must not touch something unless you are interested in purchasing it,” he tells the children. “It’s not polite.”

“Oh.” Andrew puts his hands behind his back and turns to the man. “Perdóneme.”

The corner of the man’s eyes crinkle as he smiles at the boy, then his sister. “De nada.”

“Are your grandchildren stealing again?” a deep voice says from behind them.

The children jerk around, but their grandfather only laughs. “Ah, Padre,” he says. “You’ve caught us at last.”

A thick-chested man with a high forehead and wearing a long black robe smiles at Andrew, then Alma, benevolently. There’s a sharpness in his eyes that doesn’t match his expression. Alma offers him a small smile anyway. Andrew studies him wide-eyed.

“Padre, these are my grandchildren, Alma and Andrew Locke,” their grandfather says. “Children, this is Padre Antonio José Martínez.”

Alma gives him a small curtsy, as her mother has taught her, and the priest laughs in delight. Andrew says, “I’ve heard about you!”

The Padre chuckles and gives their grandfather a sideways glance. “Only good things, I hope.”

“You share books with Grandfather Peabody and talk with him about important things,” Alma says before her brother can repeat the gossip Old One Eye Pete and Bill Williams have brought to the cabin. Things about women and money and power that she doesn’t really understand. Padre Martínez smiles at her, then turns back to her grandfather. “She looks remarkably like her father. That square-shaped face and that hair.”

Alma takes her grandfather’s hand and turns her head so the priest can’t see her left cheek. She should have worn her sunbonnet.

But the men aren’t paying attention to her anymore. Another man has joined them, a man taller than Grandfather Peabody. She tilts her head to get a better look. His skin is almost as pale as her New England grandfather’s, and he has dancing brown eyes and wavy black hair. He’s standing still, but it almost feels like he’s moving. Energy seems to radiate from him. He gives her a bright glance, then nods respectfully at something her grandfather is saying. Next to Gregorio, he’s the handsomest man she’s ever seen.

Then Grandfather Peabody turns to her and says her name. “This is Señor Donaciano Vigil.” He gives the man a questioning look. “I believe he’s a relative of Ramón.”

“Juan Ramón Chavez of Don Fernando de Taos?” The man laughs and spreads his hands, palms up. “Isn’t everyone in nuevo mexico related to Ramón?”

“I thought you were in prison for insubordination,” Padre Martínez asks. “Or can they jail presidio soldiers for insubordination when you aren’t being paid?”

Señor Vigil laughs again. “I am in town for only a short time, on an errand for the governor, but I have to report to el calabozo as soon as I return to Santa Fe.”

Padre Martínez looks at Alma’s grandfather. “Surely you’ve heard the story.” He nods toward the newcomer. “This one here didn’t give his superior officer due deference and the credit the officer thought he deserved at Valencia’s mercantile. As a result, the señor here was arrested for insubordination.”

Vigil spreads his hands, palms up. “Because Governor Pérez ran out of money for the troops, I was assisting my cousin in his store, translating and clerking, fetching and carrying.” He grimaces. “Now I’m either sitting in jail or running errands for the governor.” Then he grins. “Actually, working in the store and being in jail are much alike. Both involve a great deal of sitting around, interspersed with activity. Except for the pay and not carrying a weapon, I still have the duties of a soldier.”

“You’re a soldier?” Andrew breaks in. He stares at the tall man in admiration.

Alma’s grandfather frowns. Donaciano Vigil gives him a swift glance, then nods at the boy. “I am. But right now there is no money to pay me, so I do other work. Soldiering is not a good livelihood if one has a family. And it’s often quite boring.”

“Like the Navajo campaign you returned from in March,” Padre Martínez observes.

Señor Vigil grins. “That was both boring and cold.” He turns to Alma’s grandfather. “Although your man Gregorio Garcia comported himself well. I was glad to make his acquaintance.”

“He is not my man,” he answers. “Although he does work for me occasionally. But I will pass your kind words on to his mother, who was not pleased when he joined the militia.”

Padre Martínez frowns. “I will speak to her also. It is a man’s duty to participate in the militia when it is called upon. The Navajo are a constant danger to us and must be repelled at all costs. I and my brothers have lost many sheep and even cattle to them over the years.”

Señor Vigil is looking past Alma’s grandfather to the northeast entrance of the plaza. “Ah, but here is the man himself.”

Alma turns. Gregorio moves toward them, a bundle of linens in each hand. She smiles brightly at him, but he’s focused on her grandfather and the other men. He moves his hands toward his back, making the bundles seem smaller.

“Gregorio Garcia!” the priest says playfully. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you at mass!”

Gregorio nods respectfully to each of the men in turn. “Sargento,” he says to Señor Vigil.

“We were just speaking of you and military service,” Alma’s grandfather says.

Gregorio smiles slightly. “Although the campaign last winter was a cold one and we didn’t see any Navajo, I found I enjoyed it.”

Señor Vigil claps him on the back. “Good man!” He peers at Gregorio’s bundles. “And now, like me, you have returned to town and all the duties pertaining thereto.” He grins conspiratorially. “We do what we must to keep our households fed and warm.”

Gregorio gives him a rueful look. “My mother launders, I deliver.” Then he turns to Alma’s grandfather. “And assist others where I can. I will come this afternoon to search again for that snake.”

“Ah, Consuela will be glad to hear it.” He nods toward Chaser, who’s still standing patiently beside Alma. “Andrew and the mastiff may be of some assistance to you, also.”

“I can help too.” Alma looks into Gregorio’s face. “I’m not the least bit afraid of snakes.”

“Like mother, like daughter,” the priest chuckles.

Alma’s head jerks toward him. She certainly hopes not. She opens her mouth to say so, but his eyes are sharp as a serpent’s, even though his lips are smiling. She looks at Gregorio instead.

He grins back at her. “Of course you can help, nita.” He glances at her grandfather. “If your abuelo agrees.” He nods and gives the children a stern look. “Catching a snake is serious business. You must exercise caution and obey Señor Garcia in whatever he tells you to do.”

from No Secret Too Small

Nomads in New Mexico

If you’ve read Jered Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (or even if you haven’t), you’ll want to watch this. Dr. Montgomery looks at the way violence structured how indigenous communities and Spanish settlers interacted in the 18th century, and uses her findings to argue against much of Diamond’s book. She’s not only an expert in the social, political, and economic practices of the Utes, Apaches, Comanches, and Spanish in the Taos region, she’s articulate and fun to listen to. I hope you like this as much as I did.

 Jicarilla Warriors put U.S. Dragoons to Flight!!!

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.

John_W_Davidson
John W. Davidson

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.

 

Mountain Man Gets A New Name

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.