Ten Americans Killed At Wagon Mound, New Mexico Territory!

Ten Americans Killed At Wagon Mound, New Mexico Territory!

In early May 1850, three men headed across the plains toward Santa Fe with the U.S. mail. Seven other men had joined them for safety’s sake. It wasn’t enough. Around May 7, a band of Jicarilla Apache and Mouache Ute led by a man named White Wolf struck near Wagon Mound.  When the ensuing running fight was over, the entire party of Americans lay dead on the greening grass. The bodies were found by other travellers on Sunday, May 19.

The number of men killed made this incident even worse than the one the previous October when Mrs. White died and her slave woman and daughter were captured. At a glance, it appeared that the Apache and Utes had gone on a senseless killing spree.  

But there was a reason for these deaths. In August 1849, a band of Jicarilla had visited Las Vegas, New Mexico discuss a possible peace treaty. Not much discussion seems to have taken place. Instead, the Jicarillas were attacked by armed men who killed fourteen of them and captured White Wolf’s daughter.

Wagon Mound, New Mexico. Courtesy: Cultural Atlas of New Mexico

After the White party deaths two months later, White Wolf’s daughter was pulled out of jail and taken along on a mission to find the survivors. The idea was to use her as an interpreter/negotiator as well as a bargaining chip. En route, she decided to take matters into her own hands and escape. In the process, she shot two men and did her best to stampede the group’s mules herd but was herself shot and killed.

So no one should have been at all surprised that the mail carriers and their companions died at the hands of White Wolf and his fellow warriors. What else had the men of Las Vegas expected?

Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishing, 1988; Leo E. Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army in the Southwest, Southwest Cultural Resources Center, National Park Service, Santa Fe, 1993; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2000.

 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.

 

Kit Carson’s Home is Attacked!

On June 26, 1850, while Kit Carson was traveling home from Missouri with trade goods, a band of Native Americans attacked the Carson’s hamlet of Rayado, in the shadow of the Cimarron mountains. Despite the presence of a company of Army dragoons at Rayado, the Indians—no one was sure if they were Ute or Jicarilla Apache—drove off six horses, four mules, and 175 head of cattle valued at over $5000. Two Rayado men were killed: an unarmed Army bugler and a civilian (possibly trapper William New).

The dragoons had been stationed at Rayado in response to the Indian raids against the communities on the eastern mountain slopes and on the Santa Fe Trail on the eastern plains since the middle of 1849. Some of the violence was undoubtedly triggered by events in August 1849, when Jicarilla Apache Chief Chacón took his band to Las Vegas to make peace, but was attacked by an armed party led by Lt. Ambrose E. Burnside, the future Civil War General. Burnside’s men killed fourteen Jicarilla and  captured the daughter of Chief White Wolf, who was then incarcerated in a Las Vegas jail. She was shot and killed during an escape attempt later that year.

June 26 illustration
Source: Fort Union and the Frontier Army of the Southwest by Leo E. Oliva

Following the June attack, the army sent another company of dragoons from Las Vegas and called for citizen volunteers to assist with a campaign against the Indians. The resulting expedition doesn’t seem to have helped much, although people died. Only after Fort Union was constructed in the Spring of 1851 did things settle down a bit.

Rayado had been established in 1848 by Lucien B. Maxwell and Christopher “Kit” Carson on land owned by Maxwell’s father-in-law. The idea seems to have been to raise stock. When the military unit was stationed there, Maxwell took the opportunity to rent out living space to them as well selling them fodder for their animals.

 

Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Clear Light Publishers, 1988. Leo E. Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army of the Southwest, Southwest Cultural Resources Center, National Park Service, 1993; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, UNM Press, 2003.