My new Old New Mexico novel No Secret Too Small is set during what is commonly called the Chimayó rebellion of 1837. However, this wasn’t the only time the people of New Mexico let the ruling elite know they weren’t happy. This video provides a great overview of New Mexico’s tradition of forceful protest. Enjoy!
To the casual observer, New Mexico in early October 1837 may have looked like a peaceful place. The August 1837 rebellion had been quelled, four of its leaders were in jail in Santa Fe, and former Governor Manuel Armijo was firmly in control.
However, Armijo was convinced the insurgency would erupt again. Before he left the capitol for Albuquerque in mid-October, he gave Captain Jose Caballero explicit instructions about what to do if this happened—the imprisoned rebels were to be executed at once.
Early the morning of Wednesday, October 18, it appeared that Armijo’s orders would need to be carried out. Word reached the capitol that the rebels were rallying in the mountains east of Santa Cruz, where the August insurgency had been headquartered. Armijo got the news in Albuquerque about the same time Caballero did in Santa Fe. The next day, he sent a letter north, ordering that the four hostages be executed.
But on Friday, the Captain staged a small rebellion of his own. When he received Armijo’s instructions, he didn’t follow them. Instead, he called a meeting of Presidio officers to consider how to respond. He had several concerns with Armijo’s directive. For one thing, the prisoners had still not been formally tried for their crimes. Also, there was a good chance that following Armijo’s orders would inflame revolutionary sentiment in Santa Fe instead of quelling it. And the garrison wasn’t at full strength. Successfully putting down a full-scale revolt would required reinforcements.
Given all this, Caballero and his officers decided they would obey Armijo’s orders only if and when there was an imminent threat to the city and they had the forces necessary to repel it. The prisoners would be executed only if the rebels attacked. On Sunday, Captain Caballero sent a formal letter south to Armijo, explaining what he was doing and why. Although the missive was in his name, the other men signed it.
The governor was not happy when he received this news. Early the next week, he responded with a letter criticizing Caballero’s decision. But he didn’t overturn it. And he sent a troop of active Albuquerque militia north to help in case of attack.
It was all a moot point anyway. The rebel threat dissipated. The men in the Santa Fe jail would live several more months, though Governor Armijo’s orders were eventually implemented. When rebellion burst out again in early 1838, the four prisoners were publicly garroted.
There are still historians who wonder if this action was really necessary. The threat of the executions didn’t stop the rebels from rising or keep the subsequent battle from being any less bloody. But Armijo did get the last word.
Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Paul Horgan, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History, Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1984; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, The Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Print Shop, 1963.
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.
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.