Padre Martínez, Not Just a Priest 

Padre Martínez, Not Just a Priest 

As the priest at Taos in the 1830s, Padre Antonio José Martínez  played a pivotal role in the New Mexico government’s attempt to keep discontent at bay. He was especially active in 1837/38, working against the revolt that is the subject of my forthcoming biographical novel, There Will Be Consequences.

The rebellion centered in Santa Cruz de la Cañada, about fifty miles south of Taos, but after its initial suppression in September 1837, many of the revolutionaries seem to have headed north to Taos.

Antonio José had grown up in the Taos area, the oldest of six children from the wealthy Martín-Santistéban family. The fortress-like home his parents built outside town still stands as a monument to their status. Although he was well educated, his family had apparently not planned for Antonio José to enter the priesthood. He married María de la Luz Martín of Abiquiu in May 1812, in a joint ceremony with her brother José Manuel and Antonio José’s sister Juana María.

However, life didn’t go as planned. María de la Luz died the following year after giving birth to a little girl, also named María de la Luz. This seems to have begun a turning point for Antonio José. Four years later, at age 25, he entered the Tridentine Seminary in Durango, Mexico and began studying for the priesthood.  

Padre Antonio José Martínez

When he returned to New Mexico in 1823, Antonio José was not only ordained, but he’d also adopted the use of the less-common last name Martínez. After an introductory period serving in temporary positions, he was assigned to the communities in the Taos area.    

By 1837, the padre was responsible for more than the religious lives of his parishioners. He was also running a school for local children and a preparatory seminary. At the same time, he served as consul for Americans in New Mexico, operated a printing press that produced literary publications as well as church forms, and was the Taos representative to New Mexico’s Departmental Assembly.

So Antonio José Martínez was a man to be reckoned with, both in his religious and secular roles. From what we know of his later interactions with Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, I think it’s safe to say he was also not someone who bowed easily to the opinions of others. As a rico and a priest, he seems to have been firmly on the side of what he might have called “law and order.” While I was writing There Will Be Consequences, I had great fun imagining his reaction in late 1837 when the rebels at Taos demanded that he quit preaching against the revolt. They also wanted him to stop asking for the customary church burial, baptism, and marriage fees. The evidence indicates that this conversation did not go well.

However, the rebels’ pushback does seem to have slowed Antonio José’s remarks down a little. After all, they were also threatening his younger brother, Subprefect Santiago Martínez.

But Martínez the brother was still padre at Taos. Although the exact sequence of events isn’t clear, we know his actions and language precipitated at least one other confrontation, one so intense that it required the appearance of the local magistrate and other loyalists to keep violence from erupting.

Tensions remained high. By early January 1838, Antonio José sent a letter to interim governor Manuel Armijo warning of the likelihood of another rebel outbreak. In the middle of the month he followed his missive to the capitol.

And stayed there. When Armijo began to prepare to meet the rebels one last time, Martínez volunteered to act as his chaplain. But he didn’t hover in the background. The padre was at the governor’s side during the final battle at Pojoaque Pass on Saturday, January 27. In fact, he reportedly went “heroically about attending to the wounded and consoling the dying with the last rites.”[1]

Antonio José Martínez may have been a man of the cloth, but he was clearly also a man of action. Will we ever know exactly what he was thinking that cold January day? Probably not, but it’s certainly interesting to consider the possibilities.


[1] Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, pp. 56-57.

The Final Battle of New Mexico’s Tax Rebellion

On Saturday, January 27, 1838, the rebels of northern New Mexico made their last stand against the Mexican government.

They’d succeeded in their initial insurgency the previous August. In fact, for a brief time, a rebel governor controlled Santa Fe. But internal strife and a concerted effort by New Mexico’s ricos had crippled the insurrection.

But it hadn’t destroyed it. Even though Manuel Armijo had replaced rebel leader José Angel Gonzales as governor, the insurgents held on through November and December, keeping him nervous about their intentions and building their strength in the north.

However, when government troops arrived in mid-January 1838, the time had come for a final confrontation. The rebels gathered once again at Santa Cruz de La Cañada and marched south, as they had in August.

This time, they didn’t make it to the capitol. Government troops marched out to meet them, led by Governor Armijo and Lt. Col. Cayetano Justiniani and accompanied by Taos priest Antonio José Martínez.

The result of the coming conflict was by no means certain. Even with Justiniani’s dragoons and artillery men, Armijo had only 582 troops. The rebels had around 1300, including several hundred Pueblo warriors. And the insurgents held the high ground, positioned among the icy crags and hills just north of Pojoaque

When the troops sighted the insurgents, there was a small delay as Armijo hesitated, unsure where to begin. The rebels fired the first shot, and still he dithered. But then the professional soldiers took over and the Governor found his voice. As Justiniani’s dragoons moved to the front, Armijo cried “Arriba! To die or conquer!” and the rest of his troops moved in on the rebel flanks.

The insurgents fled from the onslaught, but not for long. They regrouped 15 miles north and again took to the heights, positioning themselves among the trees and firing down at the men below. But even their superior position couldn’t beat the professionals. Armijo’s sharpshooters quickly dislodged the men above, leaving dozens wounded.

And with that, the final battle of the rebellion was over. Armijo and Justiniani marched unopposed into La Cañada.  At some point that day, rebel leader José Angel Gonzales arrived there, too. His final confrontation with Armijo has become the stuff of New Mexican legend.

The story goes something like this: After the troops arrived in Santa Cruz, Armijo and Padre Martínez found lodging with the local priest. Gonzales came in and he tried to brazen it out by greeting Armijo as an equal and offering his support in exchange for the tax concessions at the core of the rebels’ discontent.

Armijo, exasperated at his attitude, refused the request. Then he turned to Padre Martínez and ordered him to hear Gonzales’ “confession so that he may be given five bullets.” Martínez complied and Gonzales was led out and executed by firing squad.

And thus ended the Rebellion of Río Arriba. At the time, it appeared to have been a completed failure. Yet, by mid-1838, two of the insurgents’ demands had been met. New Mexico now had a governor—Manuel Armijo—who was born and raised there and tended to side with the locals against outsiders. Also, in late April, the Mexican Congress granted New Mexico a seven-year exemption from the hated sales tax.

Would either event have occurred if the men of the north hadn’t risen? More importantly, would they have revolted if their concerns had been addressed in a timely manner in the first place? Questions worth considering which have applications even today.

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 Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999; Pedro Sanchez, Recollections of the Life of the Priest Don Antonio Jose Martinez, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2006; 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: UNM Press, 1982.

Padre Martinez’ Ministry Begins

On Saturday, December 22, 1821 Antonio José Martinez of Taos was ordained in Durango, Mexico as a deacon in the Catholic church. He was 28 years old. Martinez had arrived at Durango’s Tridentine Seminary four years earlier just after his 25th birthday. He came to the ministry late, following the death of his wife in childbirth. The ceremony on December 22, 1821 marked the beginning of the end of Martinez’ life at the Seminary. A year later, he would be an ordained priest  and on his way by to New Mexico, where he would eventually become pastor in exclusive charge at Taos.

Antonio_José_Martínez
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez

Besides his priestly duties, Padre Martinez would be a force to be reckoned with in New Mexico cultural and political affairs, both before and after the 1846 American takeover. Before the war, he was consul for expatriate Americans in New Mexico, he founded a school in Taos and also installed a printing press in Taos for literary publications as well as church forms , and he served as one of seven deputies to New Mexico’s Departmental Assembly. After the American invasion,  the Padre served as president of both New Mexico’s 1848 and 1849 state constitutional conventions and of the 1851 New Mexican Legislative Assembly.

To describe Antonio José Martinez as a busy man seems like an understatement.  One wonders whether he had any idea  on that long ago day in late 1821 just how much he would accomplish for New Mexico and for Taos before he died almost 50 years later at the age of 75.

Sources: Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, the story of Padre Martinez of Taos, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1981; Thomas C. Donnelly, The Government of New Mexico, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1953; Richard W. Etulain, New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Stories, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2002; Dan Galbraith, Turbulent Taos, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1983; Pedro Sanchez, Recollections of the Life of the Priest Don Antonio José Martínez, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 2006.

Taos Gets New Mexico’s First Press

When New Mexico’s first printing press arrived in Taos in late November 1835, its new owner Padre Antonio José Martinez didn’t waste any time putting it to work. On Friday, November 27, he announced that the press was be available to residents to use to publish “literary contributions.”

Antonio_José_Martínez
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez circa 1848

The press and its printer, Jesús María Baca of Durango, Mexico, had arrived in Santa Fe in 1832, brought there by Don Antonio Barreriro, a barrister and governmental deputy from Mexico City, apparently at the behest of nuevomexico Legislature’s Secretary, Don Ramón Abreu.

Barreriro used the new press to print a short-lived newspaper El Crepúsculo de la Libertad (The Dawn of Liberty), the first newspaper in New Mexico and possibly the first paper published west of the Mississippi. Abreu may have also used it to publish the first book printed in New Mexico, a spelling primer titled Cuaderno de Ortografía.

Following Barreriro’s return to Mexico, Ramón Abreu sold the printing equipment to Padre Martinez, the priest assigned to Taos’ Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel, who moved it to Taos. Once it and its printer were in place, Martinez put them to work, with output ranging from diligencia matrimonials (the standard forms for pre-nuptial investigations) to religious books. And hopefully Taos residents’ “literary contributions,” as well!

Sources: Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, NM 1981; Richard W. Etulain, New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Stories, UNM Press, Albuquerque 2002; Rubén Saláz Márquez, New Mexico A Brief Multi-History, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999.