Is This Historical Record Racist?

Is This Historical Record Racist?

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 los indios 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.

Manuel Armijo, The Ultimate Politician?

Manuel Armijo, The Ultimate Politician?

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.

Didn’t I Already Write This Book?

Didn’t I Already Write This Book?

When I finished writing No Secret Too Small, I had every intention of moving directly into another novel about the Locke family and their friends, this one focusing on the 1841 Texan Santa Fe Expedition.

But New Mexico’s 1837 revolt wouldn’t leave me alone. I kept thinking about all the people who’d been involved on both sides of the rebellion and how little I’d been able to plumb the depths of their experience in No Secret Too Small. There was so much more to explore.

“What did it feel like to be there?” is always the first question I ask about historical events. For example, how did it feel to be Governor Pérez on the night he fled Santa Fe? Why did he return the next day? What was Taos Pueblo-born José Angel Gonzalez’s reaction to replacing Pérez? What was it like for him to try to govern a divided New Mexico? And what exactly was Manuel Armijo doing in the meantime?

And all the others: Santa Cruz de la Cañada alcalde and rebel leader Juan José Esquibel. Gambling salon owner Gertrudes “Doña Tules” Barceló and the women who went with her to the rebel camp. Padre Antonio José Martínez  of Taos, trying to keep the rebels there in check. The children of the families who refugeed to Santa Fe. The spouses of the rebels. What was it like for them?

I just couldn’t let it go. I had to tell their stories. But whose should I tell? The rebels? The government officials? The refugees? Any point of view I chose limited my ability to explore the full complexity of events, reduced my scope for examining the class differences, long-standing racial divides, and deep-seated frustrations that I believe lay behind the rebellion’s more immediate precipitating factors.

So I decided to take a huge risk and tell all the stories in one book. Well, not really. But at least part of them. All the points of view. Each section of the forthcoming There Will Be Consequences (February 2022) moves the narrative forward in time and tells that portion from a different perspective, including the wife of a rebel leader, Pérez, Doña Tules, Gonzales, Esquibel, Armijo, Martínez , and others.

Is this too many points of view? My editor tells me it works. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

Cover Reveal, There Will Be Consequences

Cover Reveal, There Will Be Consequences

Here it is, the cover of my forthcoming biographical novel There Will Be Consequences! Thank you to everyone on my author Facebook page who provided feedback about the image and color options!

I’m very pleased with the end result and want to give a huge shout out to D.K. Marley at TheHistoricalFictionCompany.com for her design work on this.

You can find information about There Will Be Consequences at Amazon and Books2Read. Ebook preorders are now open!

Albino Pérez Arrives in New Mexico!

Albino Pérez Arrives in New Mexico!

Newly appointed Governor Albino Pérez arrived in New Mexico in May 1835 to general relief. The previous governor, Francisco Sarracino, was generally viewed as inept and Pérez was a breath of energetic fresh air. He brought funds for the Presidio troops and immediately set out on a tour that included visits to outlying communities as well as a successful action against the Navajo, who’d been picking off sheep and other prizes. When Pérez returned to Santa Fe, he gave an inaugural address in which he praised New Mexicans’ peaceful habits, love of order, and obedience to justice, among other virtues.

However, the longer Pérez was in office, the more complicated things became. The money he’d brought was spent and more was needed. Sarracino, now New Mexican Treasurer, was accused of embezzling funds. The Navajo were active again and another campaign was necessary. And Pérez’s idea of paying for it with forced loans from the region’s ricos was not met with universal acclaim.

The Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe. Courtesy: NM History Museum

Then New Mexico’s exemption from the national sales tax expired. The governing council asked Pérez to forward a petition for its renewal to Mexico City, but he didn’t do so right away. Instead, he started talking about how to collect the tax.

This didn’t go well with the populace. In fact, it may have been the spark that ignited  what is popularly known as the Chimayó revolt, the rebellion that resulted in Pérez’s death in early August 1837. The good feeling surrounding Pérez’s arrival had disappeared completely by the time he lost his life and his head on the road outside the village of Agua Fría south of Santa Fe.

Which is a good reminder that no matter how an official begins their term, it’s what they do afterwards—and how their time in the sun ends—that people are most likely to remember.

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. 2. Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Read, Benjamin M. 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; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, the Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Press Shop, 1963.

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.

Rebel Leaders Executed in Santa Fe

On the morning of Wednesday, January 24, 1838, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Governor Manuel Armijo followed through on a threat he’d made the previous October.

He’d said then that if the insurgents in northern New Mexico menaced the capital again, he’d have the four rebel leaders in the Santa Fe jail executed. Now, despite the fact that the central government had sent dragoons and artillery men to support Armijo’s administration, the rebels were gearing up for another attack.

So at 9 o’clock that winter morning, outside the sentry-house on the road north of town, former Santa Cruz Alcalde Juan José Esquibel, rebel leader Juan Vigil, and the brothers Desiderio Montoya and Antonio Abad Montoya were decapitated. Armijo announced the event in a printed circular later that day and Santa Fe alcalde José Francisco Ortiz y Delgado pinned a copy on the door of the Palacio on the north side of the plaza.

Antonio Abad and Desiderio Montoya’s signatures. Source: New Mexico State Archives

The rebel leaders’ deaths were clearly meant as a lesson for their followers. And even for those who weren’t followers. At least one set of siblings—seven-year-old José Francisco Perea and his five-year-old brother Joaquin—were taken to the execution, perhaps as a way to impress them with the importance of obeying the law and subjecting themselves to authority.

Francisco, at least, seems to have learned that lesson thoroughly. He would fight on the side of the Union during the American Civil War and serve as New Mexico’s delegate to the American Congress in the 1860s.

In late January 1837, however, it wasn’t clear whether the rebels would hear what the governor was trying to tell them. Would they finally disperse, or would Armijo have to use the tools Mexico City had sent him? 

Sources: Allison, Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Benjamin Read, An Illustrated History of New Mexico, Santa Fe: NM Printing Co., 1912; David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1982.

The Dragoons Arrive in Santa Fe!!!

On Friday, January 12, 1838, New Mexico’s Governor Manuel Armijo must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. The dragoons from the south had finally arrived in Santa Fe.

Armijo had been waiting for them since the previous September, when he’d sent a call for help to Mexico City. He’d quelled the Santa Cruz de la Cañada rebellion in northern New Mexico as best he could, but he knew he was sitting on the proverbial powder keg. Armijo was a big man, but even he couldn’t hold that lid down forever.

And he’d had reason to be nervous. The insurgents stayed in the north that winter, but they weren’t peaceful. Even Armijo’s threats to execute the rebel leaders incarcerated in the Santa Fe jail hadn’t kept the men in Taos from threatening physical harm to Padre Antonio José Martínez and his brother if the priest didn’t stop preaching against the revolution.

But now it was January 12, and Lt. Colonel Cayetano Justiniani had arrived in Santa Fe with 94 dragoons of the Veracruz squadron, 12 artillery men from Chihuahua, 22 men of the San Buenaventura squadron, 26 from San Eleazario, and 23 from El Paso del Norte. More followed. Three or four hundred troops entered Santa Fe that week.

Mexican cavalry trooper, ca. 1832-1836. Source: Santa Anna’s Mexican Army, Rene Chartrand

Justiniani also brought Armijo’s official appointment as New Mexico’s constitutional governor, principal commandant, and colonel of the militia. The governor celebrated by issuing a proclamation that announced both his titles and the presence of the soldiers. He also took the opportunity to remind the rebels that their leaders were still in jail—a not so subtle hint of what would happen if the insurgents didn’t disperse. The four had almost lost their heads in October. They might still do so if the rebels didn’t go home.

While he was waiting to see how the rebels would respond, Armijo took care of some housekeeping items: he issued yet another proclamation, this one to the citizens of Santa Fe. He ordered them not to take advantage of the newly-arrived troops by raising prices or taking their guns, horses, or ammunition in exchange for goods. Also, they were to stay away from wine shops or gambling houses frequented by the soldiers.

It’s not clear if these admonitions were really necessary or simply Armijo demonstrating his willingness to keep his citizens from disturbing or taking advantage of Justiniani’s troops. At any rate, there’s no record of conflict between the populace and the newly-arrived men.

Once he’d issued his proclamations, all Armijo could do was wait and see how the rebels responded to the news. Hopefully, they would simply break camp and head home. But the insurgents had been organizing all winter. And they had over 1300 men to throw against Justiniani’s forces. The revolt wasn’t over.

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999.

Christmas in 1837 – An Excerpt From No Secret Too Small

1837 was a stressful year for many New Mexicans. But even then, Christmas was a time of respite and hope. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my new novel No Secret Too Small.

CHAPTER 32

Three days later, it’s the day before Christmas. Señora Garcia announces that there’ll be no combing or spinning this day. “It is la Noche Buena,” she tells the children’s mother flatly. “A day to prepare for la Navidad and feasting and the giving of gifts.”

“We don’t have money for a feast.” Alma’s mother glances toward the children, her face suddenly tired and worn. “Much less the giving of gifts.”

“We have the gift of each other and a roof over our heads. There’s still enough wheat flour for a small batch of bread. And I have been putting aside an egg each day. If the hens are kind to us this morning, there will be enough for natías.” She looks at the children. “Though I will need help stirring the custard to keep it from burning.”

“We can do that!” Andrew says.

His mother shrugs and moves to her loom. She places her feet into position on the treadles, moves her head from side to side to ease her neck, then sets to work. The steady thump of the loom fills the room.

By the time the outdoor oven has yielded two loaves of yeasty bread and the egg custard is cooked and cooling, it’s late in the day. Andrew hovers over the natías, sniffing appreciatively.

“That’s for tomorrow,” the señora tells him. “Tonight we will eat a little of the new bread with our beans, but tomorrow is the true feast day.”

“It’s going to be a long night,” he moans. “I’m not going to be able to sleep.”

She chuckles. “Perhaps that is why the priests hold la Misa del Gallo on la Noche Buena. So boys have something to do while they wait for the morrow’s feast.”

Andrew’s forehead wrinkles. “La Misa del Gallo? The mass of the rooster?”

“Sí. The service begins at the first hour of the day and doesn’t end until the rooster crows.”

“The first hour? You mean midnight?” His forehead wrinkles. “You stay up all night?”

“That’s a long service,” Alma says.

The señora chuckles. “It is only a saying. I will be home before the rooster truly crows.” She purses her lips and studies the children. “I am going to la capilla de castrense, the military chapel on the Santa Fe plaza, with a friend from Agua Fría. Would you like to go with us?”

Andrew turns toward the loom. “Can we, Mama? Can we stay up all night?”

His mother’s right foot pushes down, moving the warp threads apart. She reaches for the shuttle. The yarn inside it is a deep red. She runs the yarn through the V of the warp and snugs it into place, then looks up. Her eyes are smudged, as if she hasn’t slept in a week. Alma’s heart snags in her chest. Maybe she should stay here and keep her company.

“Who is going with you?” her mother asks.

“The widow who lives on the plaza near the chapel along with three of her grown sons and their wives and children. Two of the men are Presidio soldiers. We will be safe enough.”

Alma’s mother looks at Andrew, who’s watching her anxiously. Her face softens. “Yes, you can go to the service.”

“Will you come with us, Mama?”

She shakes her head. “I have work to do.” She shrugs and looks away. “Besides, I would only spoil your fun.”

“But you’ll be alone. It won’t be safe.”

“I’ll have Chaser to protect me.” She makes a shooing gesture at him. “Go. I’ll be all right.”

He nods doubtfully, but he can’t help but be intrigued with the idea of staying up all night. He grins at Señora Garcia and Alma expectantly.

The evening threatens to be a long one, since they won’t leave for the chapel until well after dark, but the señora insists that Andrew and Alma nap a little beforehand. Then suddenly there are men at the gate and the children are wrapped well in extra shawls and bundled out into the cold.

There is no moon. The men on the edge of the little crowd are armed with knives, iron-tipped pikes, and torches, but the blackness beyond the flickering light still makes Alma shiver. Andrew feels it too. He stays close and slips his hand into hers.

They move through the night, up the dirt road and over the rise north of the house. Then the darkness ahead is broken by the glow of a bonfire. A guitar thrums and the men and women around the fire burst into song. The voices die out as Alma’s group approaches.

“Feliz Nochebuena!” one of the widow’s sons says gruffly.

“Greetings!” a man by the fire answers. He raises a wooden cup to them. “Come and drink with us!” He waves a hand toward a table half-hidden in the shadows. “Come and eat!”

“We thank you, but we are on our way to la capilla de castrense.”

“Ah, it is a dark night for such a journey and the chapel will be crowded! Stay with us instead!”

“I thank you, but we must not delay.”

“Safer with friends than in the dark!” the man persists. “You never know when a rebel might be lying in wait!” They all laugh uproariously as Alma’s group continues on its way.

Her eyes swim, trying to adjust again to the darkness. The governor’s decapitated body seems to rise out of the shadows, just beyond the men’s torches. A shudder runs down her spine. Antonia Garcia pats her shoulder, but Alma hardly feels the woman’s hand. She has a sudden urge to turn and run back down the road. All she wants is the warmth of the casita and the steady thump of her mother’s loom. Or, even better, her father’s arms. Gregorio’s smile.

She bites her tongue against the sudden tears and trudges on, surrounded by Señora Garcia’s friends and utterly alone. Even Andrew’s warm hand between her palm and fingers doesn’t dissolve the knot in her chest, the twitch of tears under her lids.

They pass more bonfires and the widow’s sons turn down more invitations to stop, eat, and drink. “As if they don’t remember what the purpose of the season is,” the old woman sniffs.

Finally, the little group reaches Santa Fe’s narrow streets. They pass Elisha Stanley’s closed-up shop and enter the plaza. Here, the darkness is pushed back by the flare of more torches as other groups of worshippers move from every direction toward the chapel on the square’s south side. Many are singing hymns accompanied by men and women strumming guitars. The voices aren’t loud and some aren’t very melodious, but there’s a reverence in their tone and a solemnity in the singers’ faces that makes the children look at each other in wonder. The plaza itself looks different tonight. Calmer. Less cluttered and dusty.

Alma’s group is close to the chapel entrance, but they can’t enter. Men in blue and red uniforms block the big wooden doors. Their gold-fringed shoulder boards glitter in the torchlight, making the soldiers wearing them seem bigger than they actually are.

Except for one, who is taller than the rest. Andrew sucks in an admiring breath. “That’s Donaciano Vigil,” he whispers in Alma’s ear. “See him?”

But she doesn’t have a chance to respond. Movement ripples on the opposite side of the square. A stout man in a swirling cloak and hat with a tall white feather moves toward the church, a soldier on each side and two behind. The crowds part to let them pass.

“Tarnation!” Andrew says. “Who is that? Is he a prisoner?”

“It is General Armijo,” Señora Garcia tells him. “The men with him are his escort.”

“To protect him from the likes of us,” the widow adds drily.

The governor and his guard sweep past and into the chapel. Donaciano Vigil and the other waiting soldiers enter behind him. Now the way is clear for the populace. The singing stops and men douse their torches. In the sudden darkness, Señora Garcia puts a hand on each child’s shoulder. “Stay close,” she says in Alma’s ear. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Alma nods numbly. The plaza’s beauty has vanished. Now it’s simply a dark and crowded space that contains too many people, all of them edging toward the chapel entrance. Everyone’s very quiet and polite, but she still feels as if she can hardly breathe.

Then she’s through the door and the señora has maneuvered herself and the children into a position halfway up the long narrow room but off to the right, next to the white adobe wall. If Alma lifts her fingers from her skirt, she can touch its smooth surface.

A woman behind them taps the señora on the shoulder. She turns and gasps in delight. “Mi amiga!” she exclaims softly. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you!” She twists farther toward the woman, to look at the youngsters beside her. “And are these your grandchildren?”

She’s has released Alma and Andrew as she turned. Alma moves closer to the wall. All over the church, people are smiling and nodding and whispering to each other. Andrew is watching them with bright, curious eyes, but Alma feels only a dull loneliness. She wishes her father was here. Or Ramón. Or Gregorio. All three of them.

Finally, a priest in holiday vestments enters the chapel and stands before the altar. He raises his hands and the crowd flutters into silence.

Alma watches the ceremony and listens to the music and words in a kind of haze. She’s tired from the walk and, although the warmth of the crowd seeps into her, it isn’t a cozy feeling. If anything, it only makes her more anxious, more hemmed in. A tiny bird beats in her chest, searching for relief.

But there is no relief. She’s old enough to know that help isn’t coming, that grownups don’t always resolve their differences. That her mother’s worry and weariness and irritation aren’t likely to lessen any time soon. And that her father may never come for them. Tears prickle her eyelids. She bites the insides of her cheeks and tries to focus on what’s happening at the far end of the room, beyond the gold shoulders of the men in uniform.

The congregation is kneeling now. She drops with them and peers at the candle-lit altar. The priest’s back is to the congregation. He raises a shining cup. Her gaze moves beyond it.

The wall behind the altar isn’t smooth white adobe like the one next to her. It’s rock. A tall expanse of stone as wide and almost as tall as the room that towers over the priest and the table below. Alma sucks in her breath. Every inch of its surface is carved with designs and figures that seem to dance in the candlelight.

The decorations aren’t random. The flat surface is divided into two rows of three shallow rectangular niches set on end. The center bottom space is deeper and there’s a statue in it. Alma can’t see what it looks like because the priest blocks her view.

But she can see most of the spaces. Each contains a carved and painted stone picture. In one, a man holds up a cross. There’s a shell of some kind in his other hand. Worshippers kneel at his feet. In the niche above him, a man holds a cross in one hand and a plant of some kind in the other.

Alma smiles. He must love plants as much as her mother does. Her smile fades. There’s been no planting or gathering since they reached Santa Fe. Will there ever be again? But she can’t think about that now or the tears will start again. She concentrates on the carvings.

Her forehead wrinkles. Each picture by itself seems very simple and she doesn’t understand what they mean. But together they do something calming to her heart. She looks around the room. The kneeling worshippers are focused reverently on the priest and the altar. They all seem so peaceful, so intent, so sure of what they believe. She feels a little envious, but also strangely peaceful herself. The bones in her chest loosen, making more space for her lungs.

The priest turns toward the congregation and raises his hands. They all rise. Alma doesn’t understand the words he speaks, but she can sense the quiet joy in them, the confidence that he and the people he speaks to will have strength to face tomorrow. And that it will be a better day. She’s not sure she really agrees with him, but somehow she does feel better. As if she can cope a little longer with her life and all its fears and confusions.

The crowd says something in unison, answering the priest, and sings a final hymn. Then the service is over. The people begin to stream out into the night. Señora Garcia nods goodby to her friend and touches Alma lightly on the arm. “Stay close now.” Alma smiles up at her and looks at her brother, who solemnly slips his hand into hers. She turns back to the señora. “We won’t get lost.”

from No Secret Too Small

No Secret Too Small Is Live!

The newest book in my Old New Mexico series went live this morning! Please help me welcome No Secret Too Small! This novel is set in New Mexico in the late 1830s, during what is popularly known as the Chimayó Revolt. If you’ve seen my historical blog posts in the last couple months (start here), you know a little about that event.

The story is from the perspective of Alma Locke, the eight-year-old daughter of Gerald and Suzanna. Gerald and Suzanna have been married almost ten years. In that time, he’s never told her that his grandmother was a runaway slave.

When Gerald’s father shows up in the valley, the truth comes out. Suzanna is furious. She leaves the family’s New Mexico mountain home and takes Alma and six-year-old Andrew with her. As she and the children reach Santa Fe, revolt breaks out and Alma and Andrew are exposed to sights no child should ever have to experience.

This trauma and the prejudice they experience because of their heritage makes Alma long for home.

But even if her mother can forgive past secrets, the way back to the valley is now blocked by winter weather and entrenched rebels. Will Alma’s family ever be reunited?

Early readers agree that this is a heart-breaking yet ultimately triumphant story about secrets, prejudice, love, and the impact of adult conflict on our children.

I hope you’ll think so, too! Here’s the link for the ebook. I’ll post the ones for the paperback as soon as they’re available.

Happy Reading!