Padre Martinez and His Brother Flee Taos!

Early the morning of Saturday, September 2, 1837 someone got news to Padre Antonio Jose Martinez in Taos that his life was in danger. Even though the rebels had taken over New Mexico’s government in August, they were still after anyone who hadn’t complained loudly enough about the men they’d killed on their way to power.

In Taos, that included Padre Martinez and his brother Santiago, a local judge appointed by the authorities in Santa Fe. Apparently, Santiago had been appointed by former Governor Albino Perez. His position and his life were now at risk.

As the oldest of the Martinez siblings, Antonio Jose took charge. The brothers fled south to Santa Fe, probably along the rocky but shorter route that skirted the Rio Grande river. It seems to have been a harrowing journey. By the time they reached Santa Fe on Sunday, Padre Martinez was ready to flee all the way south to Durango and the bishop, perhaps even to give up his Taos ministry.

Sept 3 illustration.Martinez, Antonio José
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez

But then his other brother, Jose Maria Martinez, arrived with a message from the rebels. They begged the Padre to return to help restore order in Taos and promised that if he did, they would receive him, and presumably Santiago, well.

So he turned around and headed back, but this time with protection. The rebel-appointed governor, Jose Angel Gonzalez, accompanied him.

Even Gonzales’ presence didn’t smooth the way completely. The rebels had conditions. If Padre Martinez didn’t appear before them and retract his approval of the previous administration, he would still be at risk.

Negotiating with the rebels took time, and Governor Gonzales stayed in Taos several days while they and the Padre reached an agreement: Martinez would disavow his previous allegiances and also promise not to ask for fees for baptisms, marriages, and other church ceremonies.

Then Governor Gonzales headed back to the capital. While he’d been away, the leaders of the counter-revolutionaries had met in Tomé, organized their own men, and issued their own set of ultimatums. Their representatives met Gonzales at the door of the Governor’s palacio and took him into custody. Padre Martinez’ refusal to immediately give in to the Taos rebels’ demands had cost their leader his freedom.

 Sources: Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time And Chance, The Story of Padre Martinez of Taos, 1793-1867, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1981; Paul Kraemer, An Alternative View of New Mexico’s 1837 Rebellion, Los Alamos Historical Society, 2009; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1982.

WILD KNOWLEDGE

He wasn’t a man to pay much attention to girl children, but this one was different. She didn’t seem interested in cooking or clothes. More likely, she’d be in the canyon, fishing the Cimarron River. Her brother was the dreamy one, the one watching the fish swim ’stead of trying to catch ’em.

So the man was surprised when she came around the curve of the path and stopped to watch him cook the wild carrot root. He’d cut off the flowers and was slicing the root into the pot on the fire.

“Good eatin’,” he told her. “Back home, they say these make your eyes strong.”

She frowned. “Not that,” she said, shaking her head.

He was hungry. He lifted the last piece to his mouth.

“No!” she said sharply.

He raised an eyebrow at her and lowered his hand.

“That isn’t carrot,” she said. “It’s poison hemlock.”

from Valley of the Eagles

What is a “Genízaro”?

My August 3, 2020 post discussed the 1837 rebellion in New Mexico and described the rebel governor as genízaro Jose Angel Gonzales. Today, I want to discuss what meant by the word “genízaro.”

In New Mexico in the 1830s, the term was technically outlawed. All racial identifiers had been banned in the 1820s, after Mexico gained its independence from Spain. However, the term was still generally used for people whose ancestors originated in one of the Native American tribes in the region, more specifically the “wild tribes” of the Utes, Apaches, Comanches, or Navajos.

My 1960s-era Spanish dictionary tells me “genízaro” means “composed of different species,” or, in Mexico, “half-breed.”  According to Ruben Cobos’ dictionary specific to New Mexico, in the 1800s, the term referred to the children of non-European parents of mixed blood, or to a non-Pueblo Indian captive rescued by the Spanish settlers.

This term “rescued” is very telling. It underscores the idea that a child taken from a nomadic tribe, baptized Catholic, and raised by Spanish settlers was both saved from hell and given the chance to be “civilized.” This idea a justification purchasing children from tribes that had stolen them from other tribes, as well as capturing them directly. Thus, a Navajo child could be “rescued” from its Comanche captors but could also be “rescued” by stealing it away from its parents.

The resulting group of people formed a useful work force for the Spanish settlers. As adults, they often set up households of their own. In some cases, they banded together in communities at the margins of the Spanish settlements. Some of these—Abiquiu, Jarales, and Carnué, for examplte—still exist.

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence in interest in these communities and their story. The two links below are to videos with more information about this topic.

https://www.npr.org/2016/12/29/505271148/descendants-of-native-american-slaves-in-new-mexico-emerge-from-obscurity

New Book Shares Genízaro Slavery History in New Mexico

This book was released December 1, 2019. You can find it here.

Sources: James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002; Cassell’s Spanish Dictionary, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1960; Ruben Cobos, A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish, Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003.

BOOK REVIEW: Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837

Lecompte.Rebellion.cover
University of Mexico press, 1985
ISBN: 978-0826308016

In Spring 1835, the citizens of New Mexico met their new Governor, sent from Mexico City this time instead of being appointed from the men of the province.

Governor Albino Perez and the new laws he’d been ordered to enforce didn’t sit well with his constituents, especially those living in Rio Arriba, along the upper Rio Grande.  After years of essentially self-rule, New Mexico’s elected town councils would now be appointed by the Governor. He would also be collecting taxes that had never been required before.

The governor also simply rubbed people the wrong way. He had an autocratic manner, he dressed flamboyantly, and he wasn’t from New Mexico. Perhaps most importantly, when people began to complain about the new laws, he didn’t listen.

The result was a rebellion that exploded in early August 1837. Janet Lecompte’s book Rebellion in Rio Arriba provides a clear narrative of what happened before, during, and after August 1837 and also includes translations of key documents. Lecompte does an excellent job of evaluating and sorting out the various accounts of the revolt. Although it’s concise, this book is a treasure trove of valuable material. I’ve used it extensively as a resource for my forthcoming novel, No Secret Too Small.

The 1837 revolt is an important episode in New Mexico’s history that I believe has lessons for us today. A little less heavy-handedness and a little more communication could very well have resulted in a workable solution for everyone, instead of death for so many. I highly recommend Rebellion in Rio Arriba.

TOO SILENT

The boy sits silently near the creek bank and watches his twelve week old puppy among the grasses, sniffing invisible trails. The boy has learned from long practice to sit motionless for long stretches of time. Being still has enabled him to see much that other humans, especially adults, will never discover–coyote puppies learning to hunt, damsel fly nymphs emerging from their chrysalis, the way a brook eddies at times against the wind.

The dog may never see these things either, the boy reflects complacently as he watches his new pet. Not until he is much older and has learned to be still.

In the warm mountain sun, the boy’s shoulders relax and his eyes begin to glaze over. He is not prepared for the sudden movement from above. The golden eagle’s outstretched wings shadow the boy and dog at the same moment, then the pup gives a high-pitched yelp and is gone, the boy too startled to cry out.

When he stumbles home with tear-streaked face, his mother folds him wordlessly into her arms. “I sat too still,” he moans into her chest. “I was too silent!”

from Valley of the Eagles

 

Rebellion in Northern New Mexico!

On Thursday, August 3, 1837, rebellion broke out in northern New Mexico.

Trouble had been brewing for over a year, fed by a Governor who was quicker to borrow money than distribute it, new laws restricting the right to vote, and the threat of new taxes. On top of that, Governor Perez was now inserting himself into local affairs. When he slapped the alcalde of Santa Cruz de la Canada in jail for making a decision the Governor didn’t like, something snapped.

A mob freed Alcalde Esquibel and he came out of prison with a plan. The people would set up their own government, one that he felt reflected the original intentions of the Mexican revolution and also asserted the right of New Mexicans not to pay taxes.

When Perez got wind of the rebel’s intents, he marched out of Santa Fe with a coalition of his officials, Presidio troops, militia, and Pueblan warriors. Unfortunately for the Governor, on the morning of Tuesday, August 8, shortly after he and his men stumbled on the rebel troops at the volcanic outcropping known as Black Mesa, most of his militia and warriors switched sides.

1837 Rebel Pronouncement
A copy of the rebel proclamation, courtesy of the New Mexico State Archives.

The battle took less than an hour. The Governor and his officials fled south. The rebels followed. By nightfall two days later, Perez and his men were dead and the rebels had installed a new Governor, genizaro Jose Angel Gonzales.

There would be push-back from the government loyalists in New Mexico, of course, especially those in the Albuquerque area and farther south. But, for now, the rebels were in charge.

 

Sources: Lecompte, Janet. Rebellion in Rio Arriba 1837. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Simmons, Marc. New Mexico: An Interpretive History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988; Weigle, Marta, Ed. Telling New Mexico. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2009

 

RATTLED

“I don’ keer if you don’ believe me,” the old trapper said as he pushed his matted brown hair away from his eyes. He shifted the Harpers Ferry 1803 rifle impatiently. “If’n yer too smart for yer own good, it ain’t none o’ my doin’.” He stroked the maple half-stock with its short barrel, looked balefully at the younger man, and turned to place the rifle next to his pack. The metal rib brazed to the underside of the barrel glinted in the firelight. “Thinks he’s smarter’n the rest o’ us,” the trapper muttered to the wagon master, who was sitting on his heels on the other side of the fire, smoking a carved cottonwood pipe.

“I didn’t say that I disbelieved you,” the young man in the black broadcloth coat said evenly. He brushed a piece of ash from his sleeve. “I simply stated that I was unaware of any unique characteristic of the 1803 issued to Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, other than the half-stock and its excellent balance.” He shrugged a shoulder. “My father was issued an 1803 during the 1812 conflict. He recollected it quite fondly and frequently. However, he never mentioned an unusually short barrel.”

“Jest cuz yer Daddy didn’ say it, don’ mean it weren’ so,” the old trapper grumbled.

“That may be the case,” the young man said stiffly. “I was unaware that I was contradicting you. I understood that we were merely exchanging some particularly intriguing information.”

“Ten dollar words.” The old man rubbed his matted hair, unfolded himself upward without looking at the others, and stalked off into the night.

The young man in the black coat looked across the firelight at the wagon master. “I didn’t intend to offend him,” he said uneasily.

The wagon master took his pipe from his mouth. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry ’bout it,” he said. “Ol’ Matt gets himself worked up like that sometimes. But he’s like a garden snake, all fizz an’ no real fury.” He glanced into the darkness. “But don’t say I said so. Not where he can hear. He wants ya t’ think he’s a rattler.”

from Valley of the Eagles

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.

Book Review: Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier of Territorial New Mexico

Meketa.Louis Felsenthal.Cover
UNM Press, 1982
ISBN-13: 978-0826306043

Most of the people prominent in New Mexico history have had at least one book written about them (Kit Carson, Padre Martinez, Bishop Lamy, and Thomas Catron, to name a few). However, there aren’t many books about people who played minor roles in New Mexico’s history. That’s why Jacqueline Dorgan Meketa’s biography of Louis Felsenthal is so valuable.

Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier of Territorial New Mexico tells the story of a young Prussian Jew who arrived in Santa Fe in 1858 with high hopes. He had a gift for language and law, and was extremely interested in New Mexico’s history. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Army and saw action at Valverde. He stayed in the military after the war and led patrols along the Santa Fe Trail that ensured the safety of the mail as well as stage passengers.

But Louis Felsenthal did not become famous. His passion for preserving New Mexico’s archives led him into conflict with the politicians of the day, and the effects of a stroke caused some of his fellow Anglos to believe he had an alcohol problem. As a result, he was denied the Veterans assistance to which he was entitled. He died in poverty and obscurity.

In some ways, this is a sad tale of a talented young man who didn’t achieve fame and fortune. But in other ways, Louis Felsenthal’s story is a heartening one. He’s one of many Anglos who came to New Mexico looking for adventure and fortune and instead fell in love with the land and its history, and did his best to protect it and to preserve its historical record. He may not be famous now, but he contributed to the society of his day and to posterity to the best of his abilities.

For this reason, and for its discussion of New Mexico in the second half of the 1800s, I recommend Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier of Territorial New Mexico.

MAXWELL BEFORE THE BAR

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell sits on one of the mismatched chairs in Elizabethtown’s makeshift Colfax County courtroom and studies the man behind the judge’s table. He’s sat at such tables himself, though he doubts he ever looked so uncomfortable. Joseph Palen looks out of place here in this rough mining town and angry that it has the audacity to call itself a county seat. He apparently disapproves of nuevomexico, too, for that matter.

Maxwell feels the impulse to laugh, but instead lifts his right foot to his left knee and watches the crowd gather. Most of the men nod to him politely, touching their foreheads in a kind of salute, and he nods back. They’re good people. Know what they want, have no pretense about them. He grins at Old Pete, who’s still wearing his hat, even inside the courtroom.

Beside him, the old attorney Theodore Wheaton mutters, “Here we go,” and Judge Palen gavels the room to attention.

“Apparently, Mr. Maxwell has deigned to honor us with his presence this morning,” Palen says, glaring at Lucien.

Maxwell resists the impulse to straighten his spine and put both feet on the floor. “I believe you wanted to see me,” he says coolly.

Judge Palen’s lips tighten. “You have an interest in a number of cases before this court.”

Maxwell nods and tilts his head toward the old lawyer beside him. “Mr. Wheaton is my designated attorney,” he says. “I believe that releases me from the need to be present.” He adjusts his right foot higher on his left knee.

“You have also been indicted on a serious charge.” Palen leans forward. “That indictment requires your attendance.”

“The probate court issue?” Maxwell lifts a shoulder. “We have an excellent probate court clerk. As you’ll see from his records, there was no need to hold formal court.”

Palen’s lips thin. “You committed to appearing on the first day of this session in regard to the indictment against you. It is now the fourth day.”

“I was unexpectedly detained.”

Palen stares at him for a long moment, then turns to the court clerk. “Let the record show that Mr. Maxwell has appeared and apologized for his failure to appear, and that we are satisfied no contempt was intended.”

Maxwell’s jaw tightens, then he nods slightly and pulls his right foot more firmly onto his knee. If that’s the way the man wants to play it, he can adjust.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Things are changing, Mr. Maxwell.” Judge Joseph Palen sets his whisky glass on the saloon table and looks around the room. “In another year or so, these ragged placer miners will be replaced by businessmen with laborers to do the rough work.”

Maxwell nods, following his gaze. “And many of these men will be laborers, instead of independent men with claims of their own,” he says ruefully.

“Claims so poorly worked they bring in barely enough to keep body and soul together.” Palen flicks a speck of dust from the sleeve of his dark broadcloth suit.

“That’s all that matters, I suppose.” Maxwell grimaces. “Efficiency.”

“It’s a large territory, and its resources are going to waste.”

“So they tell me,” Maxwell says. He shakes his head, puts his glass on the table, and reaches for his battered black hat. “I’ve been here a long time, Mr. Palen, and I happen to like nuevomexico’s lack of efficiency. So do most of the men in this room, I expect. Though none of us are averse to making a penny or two.” He stands, towering over the table. “Good day to you, Judge.” A mischievous smile flashes across his face. “And good luck.”[1]

from Old One Eye Pete

[1] This story is based on events that occurred during the Spring 1870 First Judicial District Court session in Elizabethtown, the Colfax County seat. Lucien Maxwell, as Colfax County Probate Judge, was indicted for not holding court, but the charges were dismissed. At the time, Maxwell and his wife were in the final stages of selling the Beaubien/Miranda Land Grant (aka the Maxwell Land Grant) to a consortium of English investors. Judge Joseph Palen was newly appointed to his position as Justice for the First District Court of New Mexico. He would go on to become an important member of the notorious Santa Fe Ring, which sought to monetize the agricultural and other assets of New Mexico Territory.