On Wednesday, May 16, 1827, a man named Ignacio Sandoval showed up in Santa Fe, New Mexico with important information for Governor Antonio Narbona. Sandoval had just returned from a trapping expedition led by an American named Ewing Young. Young, who didn’t have a permit to trap, had come back with thirteen packs of furs—probably mostly beaver—and hidden them south of Santa Fe at the Peña Blanca home of Luis María Cabeza de Baca.
Narbona, in one of his last official acts as governor, sent men to confiscate the furs. Cabeza de Baca, trying to protect them, died as a result. Manuel Armijo, who took over as Governor on May 21, promptly issued an order for Ewing Young’s arrest in connection with the illegally-obtained furs.
Young escaped incarceration for the time being, but the pelts remained confiscated. Well, most of them did. Some of them belonged to another American, Milton Sublette.
In July, Young and two other Americans obtained permission to clean the furs, which they worried had become damaged in storage. They and the local alcalde were busy shaking them out and taking inventory when Sublette appeared, grabbed a pack, threw it over his shoulder, and took off for the nearby home of Cristobal Torres.
The local authorities converged on the house, but it was too late. Sublette and his pelts had disappeared. Armijo blamed Young and called him into his office for explanations. When he threatened to incarcerate the American, Young walked out. Armijo had him arrested, threw him in jail, then released him when Young claimed a debilitating fever. But Armijo didn’t release the furs. Legally, they were now government property. They would eventually be sold, though at a fraction of what their original value.
So once again, a conflict between the Mexican administration and the Americans in New Mexico ended in a standoff, with no one the clear winner. I find this a fascinating story because it highlights the conflicts and complexities of American-Mexican interactions twenty years before the 1847 revolt at Taos, which stunned the Americans with its ferocity.
They weren’t looking at the larger picture. The kind of high-handedness and disregard for local customs Young and Sublette displayed were common among the American trappers during the Mexican period. The 1827 incident, among many others, appears to me to be directly linked to the events of early 1847, when the newly-appointed American governor and former trapper and merchant Charles Bent was killed.
Retribution, no matter how long it takes, is still retribution.
Source: David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.