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.

But Why Did It Happen?

But Why Did It Happen?

One of the most frustrating moments in researching historical fiction is when you realize  the historical record doesn’t provide any clues about why a particular event occurred. While I was researching my forthcoming novel There Will Be Consequences, the incident I struggled most with in this way was the August 10, 1837 death of former New Mexico governor Santiago Abreú and his aide Diego Saenz.

The historical sources focus in rather gruesome detail on the men’s capture by indigenous rebel warriors, Abreú’s overnight confinement in the stocks at Santo Domingo Pueblo and subsequent dismemberment, and both men’s death. However, these sources provide no explanation for these killings other than one obscure reference to Abreú’s support for a New Mexico militia ten years before. The clear subtext of the reports is that the people of Santo Domingo were irrational, barbarous, and treacherous savages who had no real reason to treat Abreú and Saenz the way they did.

The thread of Santo Domingo treachery runs through all the published accounts of the 1837 New Mexico revolt, beginning with the battle of La Mesilla on August 8, when the Pueblo’s warriors are said to have switched sides, thus ensuring the defeat of the government forces. The theme continues in the accounts of Governor Pérez’s August 9 death—Santo Domingo men are said to have used his severed head as a football—and culminates in Santiago Abreú’s death the next day.

My initial reaction to this trope of treacherous savagery was to suspect that the initial Spanish historians and later American chroniclers had, at the very least, greatly exaggerated the Pueblo’s actions because they wanted to transfer the blame for the bloodier outcomes of the revolt away from the Spanish and mixed race participants.

However, given the unanimity of the accounts about where and how Santiago Abreú died, I thought it possible there could be some truth in them. At the very least, I felt I should explore why he and Diego Saenz were killed. The implication that their deaths were a natural result of the Santo Domingo character and not the consequence of any action of Abreú or Saenz felt racist and lacking in nuance, to say the least.

I began to look further, moving back in time and broadening my scope. In that process, I learned that, aside from long-simmering tensions between the Spanish/Mexican conquerors and New Mexico’s First Peoples, an incident during Abreú’s 1832-33 term as governor could shed light on what happened in 1837.

Abreú’s administration had granted a man named José Francisco Ortiz, or “El Sonoreño,” the right to mine in what is now known as the Ortiz Mountains, east of the pueblo of Santo Domingo. This cluster of peaks includes Mount Chalchihuitl, a location important to the region’s First Nations people as a source of turquoise, the opaque blue-green stone revered for its healing and protective properties.

I imagine this handover to Ortiz as deeply disturbing to the land’s traditional users, especially those who lived as close to it as the residents of Santo Domingo. Ortiz was from Sonora (hence the nickname). Since he hadn’t been born and raised in New Mexico, it’s unlikely he would have understood or felt any empathy with the Pueblos or their concerns.

Also, the historical record indicates Ortiz may not have been the most savory of persons. His first appearance in the archives is as the defendant on a September 1805 charge of vagrancy, theft, and sedition. In June 1820, he was in court again, this time in response to a lawsuit for 11,000 pesos he’d neglected to pay for merchandise received in Chihuahua. And then there’s the report that after Ortiz and two associates were given the mining grant, he convinced New Mexico officials to invoke a seldom-enforced law that forced one of his partners out of the country, leaving more of the operation for himself.

These incidents led me to suspect that Ortiz’s relationship with the traditional users of the mountains he was mining wouldn’t have been a pleasant one. The long-standing conflict between New Mexico’s Spanish and Pueblo peoples, as well as the fact that Ortiz gained the right to mine during Santiago Abreú’s term seemed to provide a plausible rationale for the August 1837 events at Santo Domingo.

Will I ever know for sure? I doubt it. In this case, plausibility is all I have to go on. And it makes for some intense scenes in There Will Be Consequences, as the Pueblo warriors demonstrate to the former governor the inevitable consequences of assuming that one can control and divide up a resource that, in truth, belongs to no one.

Image by propix-at from Pixabay

Padre Martínez, Not Just a Priest 

Padre Martínez, Not Just a Priest 

As the priest at Taos in the 1830s, Padre Antonio José Martínez  played a pivotal role in the New Mexico government’s attempt to keep discontent at bay. He was especially active in 1837/38, working against the revolt that is the subject of my forthcoming biographical novel, There Will Be Consequences.

The rebellion centered in Santa Cruz de la Cañada, about fifty miles south of Taos, but after its initial suppression in September 1837, many of the revolutionaries seem to have headed north to Taos.

Antonio José had grown up in the Taos area, the oldest of six children from the wealthy Martín-Santistéban family. The fortress-like home his parents built outside town still stands as a monument to their status. Although he was well educated, his family had apparently not planned for Antonio José to enter the priesthood. He married María de la Luz Martín of Abiquiu in May 1812, in a joint ceremony with her brother José Manuel and Antonio José’s sister Juana María.

However, life didn’t go as planned. María de la Luz died the following year after giving birth to a little girl, also named María de la Luz. This seems to have begun a turning point for Antonio José. Four years later, at age 25, he entered the Tridentine Seminary in Durango, Mexico and began studying for the priesthood.  

Padre Antonio José Martínez

When he returned to New Mexico in 1823, Antonio José was not only ordained, but he’d also adopted the use of the less-common last name Martínez. After an introductory period serving in temporary positions, he was assigned to the communities in the Taos area.    

By 1837, the padre was responsible for more than the religious lives of his parishioners. He was also running a school for local children and a preparatory seminary. At the same time, he served as consul for Americans in New Mexico, operated a printing press that produced literary publications as well as church forms, and was the Taos representative to New Mexico’s Departmental Assembly.

So Antonio José Martínez was a man to be reckoned with, both in his religious and secular roles. From what we know of his later interactions with Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, I think it’s safe to say he was also not someone who bowed easily to the opinions of others. As a rico and a priest, he seems to have been firmly on the side of what he might have called “law and order.” While I was writing There Will Be Consequences, I had great fun imagining his reaction in late 1837 when the rebels at Taos demanded that he quit preaching against the revolt. They also wanted him to stop asking for the customary church burial, baptism, and marriage fees. The evidence indicates that this conversation did not go well.

However, the rebels’ pushback does seem to have slowed Antonio José’s remarks down a little. After all, they were also threatening his younger brother, Subprefect Santiago Martínez.

But Martínez the brother was still padre at Taos. Although the exact sequence of events isn’t clear, we know his actions and language precipitated at least one other confrontation, one so intense that it required the appearance of the local magistrate and other loyalists to keep violence from erupting.

Tensions remained high. By early January 1838, Antonio José sent a letter to interim governor Manuel Armijo warning of the likelihood of another rebel outbreak. In the middle of the month he followed his missive to the capitol.

And stayed there. When Armijo began to prepare to meet the rebels one last time, Martínez volunteered to act as his chaplain. But he didn’t hover in the background. The padre was at the governor’s side during the final battle at Pojoaque Pass on Saturday, January 27. In fact, he reportedly went “heroically about attending to the wounded and consoling the dying with the last rites.”[1]

Antonio José Martínez may have been a man of the cloth, but he was clearly also a man of action. Will we ever know exactly what he was thinking that cold January day? Probably not, but it’s certainly interesting to consider the possibilities.


[1] Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, pp. 56-57.

What Is Biographical Fiction?

What Is Biographical Fiction?

My forthcoming book There Will Be Consequences(February 2022) is a biographical novel. Unlike my previous works, which incorporate both fictional and nonfictional characters, this book contains only people who exist in the historical record, but is still written as fiction.

Biographical fiction as a genre strives to present “real life” people in a way that moves beyond the strictly biographical to imagine their emotions at specific moments in their lives. It also bridges the undocumented gaps that strict biography can’t cover by imagining what might have happened, given what we know.

The earliest biographical novel is believed to be W. Somerset Maugham’s 1919 The Moon and Sixpence about painter Paul Gauguin. Perhaps the most famous are Irving Stone’s 1964 Lust for Life about Vincent Van Gogh and Michael and Jeff Shaara’s books about the Civil War.

More recent biographical fiction include Hillary Mantel’s Wolfe Hall andnovels about the British royalty or that focus on people active during World War II. These books may or may not be strictly biographical as I define it: using only historical characters and adhering firmly to documented, or at least plausible, timelines. I know some authors are more comfortable about breaking these “rules” than I am.

One thing these books all have in common is that they tend to focus on one or two individuals and their experiences. There Will Be Consequences breaks new ground by using twelve different characters. As each section of the narrative moves forward, the reader experiences that portion of the story through the eyes of another person, who may be anyone from a rebel to the governor to a priest.

This multi-layered approach was an exhilarating challenge to write and allowed me to explore the events of New Mexico’s 1837 revolt in what I believe is an interesting way that enables the reader to experience a complex situation from multiple perspectives. I hope you’ll agree.

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.

New Old New Mexico Ebook Set Available!

New Old New Mexico Ebook Set Available!

I’m pleased to announce that the first three novels of my Old New Mexico series, Not Just Any Man, Not My Father’s House, and No Secret Too Small are now available in ebook form as a “boxed set” titled The Locke Family Saga.

This story of secrets, prejudice, and the power of love, is told in three books, each from the perspective of a different family member. 

In Not Just Any Man, Gerald must survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, the arid south rim of the Grand Canyon, and the fellow trapper who hates him for the color of his skin before he can return to Taos and the girl he hopes is waiting for him. Can he prove to himself and to her that he is, after all, not just any man?

In Not My Father’s House, Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust to married life in an isolated valley of the Sangre de Cristos, but postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge. However, the mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the Gila wilderness two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought. And his lust for Suzanna is even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

In No Secret Too Small, 1837 New Mexico is teetering on the verge of revolution when the Locke family experiences an upheaval of its own. Eight-year-old Alma’s father, Gerald, has never told her mother that his grandmother was a runaway slave. When his father shows up, the truth comes out. Stunned and furious, Suzanna leaves, taking Alma and six-year-old Andrew with her. However, by the time they reach Santa Fe, rebellion has broken out. Will the Locke family survive the resulting chaos? 

The Locke Family Saga is available at your favorite ebook retailer, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.

BENT’S FORT

BENT’S FORT

“After what you been through these last couple weeks, I’d of thought you’d be right tickled to get inside four solid walls,” the old man said. He pulled off his boots and lay back on the thin pallet with its mangy once-green wool blanket. His socks were black with grime. The stench of them in the windowless room turned Timothy’s stomach.  

“I’ll sleep out,” Timothy repeated. “I suppose I’ve become used to having stars over my head at night.”

The teamster shrugged and stretched his arms luxuriously. “Me, I seen too many downpours,” he said. “Give me a dry bed under a solid roof and I’m in heaven, for sure. All I want to finish it off is a woman.” He propped himself up on one elbow, eyes bright. “You think you could do somethin’ about that third item while you’re out there?”

Timothy laughed. “I don’t speak Indian.”

“Ah, all you need is whiskey and a kiss. And you’re a good lookin’ cub. You probably wouldn’t even need whiskey.” The old man grinned toothlessly. “But you wouldn’t likely bring me that kind of gift, would you now? I know I sure wouldn’t if I was you. Guess I’ll just hafta see what I can rustle up for myself.” He sat up and reached for his boots.

Timothy chuckled and moved to the door. “Good luck with getting all three of your heavenly requirements,” he said.

“Huh?” The teamster was spitting on his hands, then using the moisture to slick back his grimy hair. He stopped his grooming process and frowned. “What requirements?”

“Bed, roof, and woman,” Timothy explained. “Me, I think I’ll just settle for a nice quiet bed.”

“Good luck.” The old man chuckled. “What with those two mule trains that followed us in here this afternoon, I doubt you’re gonna find a quiet spot anywhere near this old fort.”

from Valley of the Eagles

Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

200th Anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail

200th Anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail

This Fall marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and New Mexico. The article in the link below provides an overview of what happened and why the Trail is important in the history of the United States and New Mexico.

https://www.nps.gov/places/santa-fe-national-historic-trail.htm

What’s the Big Deal About the Santa Fe Trail?

This Fall marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri to New Mexico. I was going to write a piece about why the Trail was important to the U.S., then I found this. I think it pretty much covers everything I was going to say…..

https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/becknell-s-1821-journey-to-santa-fe.htm

JUST A MAN

JUST A MAN

“I seen him! I seen him!” The boy stopped, breathless, just inside the kitchen door.

“You mean you saw him.” His mother shook her head at him as she lifted the lid from the Dutch oven in the fireplace to check the biscuits. She smiled. “Who did you see?”

“Kit Carson! He was on the other side of the street, going into the Governor’s house.”

She nodded. “I heard this morning that he was back. What is he like?”

His shoulders sagged. “He didn’t look anything like the pictures in the book Grandpa gave me when we left Kansas City.”

“That was just a story,” she pointed out. She turned to stir the great pot of venison stew.

“I know,” he said. “But he wasn’t what I expected at all. He’s just a man.”

Copyright ©2013 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay