It’s a mere mule track, the man thought, eying the rocky ground on the hillside ahead. A fine silt hovered in the air behind him, marking the path he and the packhorse had followed from Rayado and the Santa Fe Trail at the base of the mountains.
They’d been climbing steadily and the vinegar-scented blue-green junipers had given way to taller, straighter, deeper-green trees: fir and pine. The man looked at them appreciatively, glad it was June and not mid-winter, when the snow that provided these trees with the moisture to live would have made the trail difficult.
He clucked at the packhorse and headed up the rocky slope. At Rayado yesterday, Jesús Abreu had told him there’d be a series of small mountain valleys before he reached the larger one. Then he was to move north, to where the Cimarron River began in a marsh on the east side of the Valley. The Indians met there to trade. The traveler shook his head. It was a long way to go on the chance that they’d be there—and able to pay for the goods he had with him. He hoped this worked.
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.
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.