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.

Book Review: Los Capitalistas

Book Review: Los Capitalistas
UNM Press, 1997, ISBN: 0-8263-2235-2


What picture comes to your mind when you hear the words “Santa Fe Trail”? American merchants with wagons full of merchandise heading west and returning with money in their pockets, right? Well, there’s more to that story, and Susan Calafate Boyle’s book Los Capitalistas helps to provide that additional information.

So they did. By 1840, Hispanos were major participants in the trade along the Santa Fe Trail, with extensive trade and financing relationships as far east as New York, London, and Paris. Los Capitalistas explains those relationships and the types of merchandise New Mexican merchants conveyed back and forth and, in the process, expands our understanding of New Mexico. 

The ricos of New Mexico saw pretty early on that hauling merchandising over the Trail could work both ways. After all, they were already taking wool, woven goods, and other items to Chihuahua, Sonora, and other points south. Extending their freighting operations east was the next logical step.

Los Capitalistas is written in a clear, matter-of-face style that conveys a great deal of information and provides a glimpse of New Mexico that most of us haven’t seen before, and is an important book for understanding the history of the Southwest as well as an enjoyable read. I recommend it!

Maxwell Land Grant = Trouble

Maxwell Land Grant = Trouble

Mid-April 1871 was a busy time for the newly-formed Maxwell Land Grant Company. Lucien and Luz Maxwell had received their cash for the grant, moved out of the house at Cimarron, and were busy spending their money. Lucien had used a good chunk of it to set up the First National Bank in Santa Fe. He’d also bought land at Fort Sumner. While Luz turned the former the officers quarters into a home, he bought racehorses.

However, the Company wasn’t having an easy time establishing their control over the former Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant’s vast acreage. There’d been an initial dust-up in late 1870, when the Elizabethtown miners rioted against the new owners and the Governor had to send soldiers in to squelch them. But that wasn’t the end of it. In early April 1871, the Cimarron Squatters Club organized a mass protest and fundraising meeting in front of the county courthouse. 

The Company apparently decided to demonstrate a little force in response. They sent a group of employees into the Ute Creek placer mines and took over. That strategy didn’t work out too well—the miners disarmed the Company’s men and held them hostage.

Again, the Governor got involved. This time he came himself, forced the miners to free the prisoners, ordered them to abstain from further violence, and then got the Army to station soldiers from Fort Union in the area to enforce the peace.

The soldiers’ presence does seem to have calmed the boiling pot for a little while. But it was bound to boil over again—the Company was enforcing rent payments Maxwell had never bothered to collect and also kicking people off range and farmland Maxwell had allowed them to use.

Maxwell Land Grant Map, circa 1870

Whether the Company was within their rights isn’t clear. Things got even murkier in late January 1873, when the U.S. Department of Interior ordered much of the Grant’s acreage to be treated as public lands. This brought more settlers (the Company called them “squatters”) into the area and, with them, more unrest. 

With the newcomers came Methodist Episcopal missionary Rev. Franklin J. Tolby. Tolby sided with the settlers and miners and didn’t hesitate to speak his mind. In mid-September 1875 he was ambushed and killed on the canyon road between Elizabethtown and Cimarron, and the Colfax County War was on in earnest.

The conflict didn’t end until April 18, 1887, when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the Company’s right to almost two million acres. Even then, the violence didn’t come to an immediate halt. However, even the most ardent settlers didn’t have any legal arguments left in their arsenal and the Colfax County War gradually faded away.

Once again, money and political power had prevailed in the fight for control of New Mexico’s lands.

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing The Santa Fe Ring, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014; Harriet Freiberger, Lucien Maxwell,Villain or Visionary, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999; Larry Murphy, Out in God’s Country: A History of Colfax County, New Mexico, Springer, NM: 1969; Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont: A history of New Mexico’s Cimarron Country, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972; Moreno Valley Writers Guild, Lure, Lore and Legends of the Moreno Valley, Angel Fire, NM: Columbine Books, 1997; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, The People of the Cimarron Country, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999.

THE FOURTH TIME

THE FOURTH TIME

She could be incandescently angry and Gerald’s trip to Santa Fe and back had taken a week longer than he’d told her it would, so he braced himself as he opened the cabin door. But Suzanna barely raised her head from the rocking chair by the fire. She wasn’t rocking. Her shawl was clutched to her chest, her face drawn and gray under the smooth, creamy-brown skin. She glanced at Gerald, then turned her face back to the flames, her cheeks tracked with tears.

Gerald’s stomach clenched. “What is it?” he asked. “The children?”

Suzanna shook her head without looking at him. “The children are fine,” she said dully. She moved a hand from the shawl and placed it on her belly. The tears started again and she looked up at him bleakly. “This is the fourth time,” she said. “There will—” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “There will be no third child,” she choked, and he crossed the room, knelt beside her, and wordlessly took her into his arms.

from Valley of the Eagles

THICKER’N SNOT

“It’s s’posed to be August, dadburn it.” Julius Fairfield looked gloomily out the door of the long, narrow log cabin that served as the Quartz Mill & Lode Mining Company barracks outside of Elizabethtown. “This fog is thicker’n snot.”

In one of the iron beds lining the walls behind him, somebody sneezed. “And there’s the snot for ye,” Edward Kelly, the company’s lone Irishman, chortled as he added more wood to the pot belly stove halfway down the room.

A door opened at the far end and the chief engineer came out. He ignored the men in the beds as he walked down the room to peer over Fairfield’s shoulder. “That fog’ll lift shortly,” he said. He clapped Fairfield on the back. “Be thankful it’s not rain.”

“That was yesterday’s gift to us all,” Fairfield said gloomily. He shook his head. “And here I thought New Mexico Territory’d be drier than New York.” He grinned and glanced at the engineer. “When’d you say payday was?”

Behind them, Kelly began to sing a song praising Ireland and its green hills, and a chorus of voices yowled at him to be still. The engineer chuckled and turned. “That’s enough now!” he said.

from Valley of the Eagles

Charles Beaubien Requests Mexican Citizenship

On Sunday, February 22, 1829, Charles Hipolite Trotier Sieur de Beaubien (aka Carlos Beaubien) submitted his application for Mexican citizenship. One of the first French-Canadian trappers to settle in New Mexico following Mexican independence, Beaubien had already married Paula Lobato, a member of a prominent family, by the time he formalized his decision to stay there.   

Beaubien and Lobato made there home in Taos. In early January 1841, he and then-Secretary of State Guadalupe Miranda asked  the Mexican government to give them a swath of land east of Taos. The property was granted to them in January 1843, although they didn’t leave  Taos to take possession of it until Wednesday, February 22 that year.

Although they don’t seem to have made much effort to settle the grant, the two men held onto it through the final years of the Mexican period. After the 1846 American occupation, they began the lengthy U.S. process of confirming title, an procedure that wasn’t completed until  1860, almost 28 years after Beaubien became a Mexican citizen.

Charles Beaubien

In that time, he’d been, sequentially, a citizen of the United States, then Mexico, and then the U.S. again. He’d been a successful Taos merchant and a judge under both the Mexican and American systems, lost a son during the insurrection of 1847, and given his daughter Luz in marriage to the mountain man Lucien B. Maxwell.

When Beaubien died in February 1864, Luz and Lucien moved quickly to buy out her sibling’s inherited portions of the grant, as well as Guadalupe Miranda’s share, and take full control. They would sell it in 1870 to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company, a group which became infamous for its treatment of the people Lucien and Luz had allowed to live, ranch, and mine on their holdings.

But it had all started on that February day in 1829 when Charles Hipolite Trotier Sieur de Beaubien became a Mexican citizen.

Sources:  Don Bullis, New Mexico Autobiographical Dictionary, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande Books, 2007; Harriet Freiberger, Lucien Maxwell, Villain or Visionary, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999; Victor Westphall, Mercedes Reales, Albuquerque:UNM Press, 1983.

Elisha Stanley Is Allowed To Stay In New Mexico

In early February 1826, New Mexico’s Governor’s included an American named Elisha Stanley on the list of foreigners in the country without a passport. Under Mexican law, Stanley could have been deported immediately, but he wasn’t. Instead, he became what was known as an American merchants—men who shipped goods from Missouri to sell at retail shops in Santa Fe.

Said to have a “gentlemanly deportment and a generous nature,” the merchant Stanley plays a small but important role in my newest novel No Secret Too Small, which is set in New Mexico during the 1837/38 tax revolt. He played a much bigger role in the aftermath of that revolt.  

Almost immediately following the successful August 1837 insurrection against Governor Perez, the rebels began disagreeing about their next steps. Some wanted to seize and redistribute the property of all New Mexico’s ricos. Others wanted to push for church tithe and fee reform. There seemed to be as many different opinions about what ought to be done as there were people expressing them.

On top of this discord was the threat that the wealthy landowners from Albuquerque and farther south would organize, throw the new rebel government out of Santa Fe, and take power into their own hands. Some of these men—including former governor Manuel Armijo—were already sniffing around the capital, looking for ways to widen the cracks in the rebel coalition.

The new rebel governor, Jose Angel Gonzales, was so desperate to find a way out of the mess that he approached an American merchant in Santa Fe about asking the U.S. to step in and take over.

That merchant was Elisha Stanley. He didn’t agree with the idea and it was dropped. As a result, the United States’ acquisition of New Mexico was averted by almost ten years.  

Stanley returned East shortly after the 1837 revolt and spent the rest of his life dividing his time between Connecticut and Missouri. He died in 1874, almost thirty years after New Mexico had, in fact, become a part of the United States. But his decision not to grab the idea and run with it had given New Mexico a little more time before the juggernaut of manifest destiny sucked it into its maw.

Sources: Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999; Israel P. Warren, The Stanley Families of America as Descended From John, Timothy, and Thomas Stanley of Hartford, CT, Portland, Maine: B. Thurston & Co., 1887.

LEONIDAS AND GEORGE, PART 1 OF 2

“Where’d you be gettin’ a name like Leonidas?” the young Irishman asked the tall young man next to him at the Etown bar.

The big Canadian looked at him. “My mother had scholarly ambitions beyond her station,” he said. He lifted a fist. “And my father made sure I could defend myself.”

“I’d not be denying you the right to the name.” George Cunningham grinned. “An’ I’m thinking your father trained you good and well.”

“The trouble is, they didn’t have the money for proper scholarship,” Leonidas Van Valser told him. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Get enough gold, you won’t be havin’ to worry ’bout scholarship,” Cunningham observed.

“I intend to pan enough gold to go to school properly,” Van Valser explained. “I’m only twenty-five. There’s still time.”

“You’ve got ambitions,” Cunningham said. “’Tis a good thing in a man.”

The two grinned at each other companionably.

~ ~ ~ ~

George Cunningham was small, even for an Irishman, with a perpetually restless face. His Canadian friend Leonidas Van Valser was the steady one, until Etown’s gold placer mines wore down even his perseverance.  

“There must be an easier way to make a living,” Leonidas said one night in Herberger’s saloon, examining his bandaged hand. He’d had a run-in that morning with some unstable sandstone.

“Somewhere else, is what I’m thinkin’,” Cunningham said. “Anywhere but these water-forsaken rock-bound hillsides.”

Van Valser nodded gloomily. “I think you’ve finally convinced me, George. But I don’t know what to do about it.”

“It’s cattle I’m thinkin’ of.”

“Neither of us have cattle.”

“There’s plenty o’ cattle running through these hills with nary a brand mark t’ be seen.”

“That’s rustling,” Leonidas said.

“Not if you don’t get yourself caught.” Cunningham bent toward him.

Van Valser studied his friend’s face. “I’m listening,” he said.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Do you know anything about cattle?” Leonidas asked as he studied the longhorns in the clearing below.

“Aye, I was in Texas for a while after the war,” Cunningham said. “Though my size was agin me, I do admit.” The little Irishman grinned at his friend. “But you’ve got the leverage to bring those yearlings onto their sides smooth as whisky.” He hefted the rope in his hand. “I rope ’em, you flip ’em, then we brand and sell ’em to the first Etown slaughterhouse we reach.”

“It’s certainly worth a try,” Leonidas agreed. “Beef’s selling at a good price and the slaughterhouses aren’t too careful about ownership, from what I hear.” He looked at the herd. “Who do they actually belong to?”

Cunningham shrugged. “Some Texan turned ’em loose on grass that don’t belong to him. To my mind, we’re just helpin’ the Maxwell Company even the score.”

~ ~ ~ ~

“You git off my property!” The woman was thin as a garter snake, with the eyes of a rattler. She glared at the two dusty young men down the cold steel of a rifle barrel. “And git your hands up!”

Van Valser and Cunningham did as she said, their horses shifting beneath them.

“We do apologize, ma’am,” Cunningham said. “We were hoping for a wee bit of water from your well. Drivin’ cattle is hard work on an uncommonly warm day as it is.”

She studied them. Her mouth twitched as she looked at Van Valser, whose face was streaked with dusty sweat. She lowered her rifle and gestured toward the well. “Help yourself,” she said. “But only to the water. Not my cattle or anythin’ else. Then git on outta here ’for you get caught.”

“Yes, ma’am,” they said in unison.

“Godforsaken young idiots,” she muttered, watching them dismount.

. . . . to be continued

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.