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.

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