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.

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.

The Dragoons Arrive in Santa Fe!!!

On Friday, January 12, 1838, New Mexico’s Governor Manuel Armijo must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. The dragoons from the south had finally arrived in Santa Fe.

Armijo had been waiting for them since the previous September, when he’d sent a call for help to Mexico City. He’d quelled the Santa Cruz de la Cañada rebellion in northern New Mexico as best he could, but he knew he was sitting on the proverbial powder keg. Armijo was a big man, but even he couldn’t hold that lid down forever.

And he’d had reason to be nervous. The insurgents stayed in the north that winter, but they weren’t peaceful. Even Armijo’s threats to execute the rebel leaders incarcerated in the Santa Fe jail hadn’t kept the men in Taos from threatening physical harm to Padre Antonio José Martínez and his brother if the priest didn’t stop preaching against the revolution.

But now it was January 12, and Lt. Colonel Cayetano Justiniani had arrived in Santa Fe with 94 dragoons of the Veracruz squadron, 12 artillery men from Chihuahua, 22 men of the San Buenaventura squadron, 26 from San Eleazario, and 23 from El Paso del Norte. More followed. Three or four hundred troops entered Santa Fe that week.

Mexican cavalry trooper, ca. 1832-1836. Source: Santa Anna’s Mexican Army, Rene Chartrand

Justiniani also brought Armijo’s official appointment as New Mexico’s constitutional governor, principal commandant, and colonel of the militia. The governor celebrated by issuing a proclamation that announced both his titles and the presence of the soldiers. He also took the opportunity to remind the rebels that their leaders were still in jail—a not so subtle hint of what would happen if the insurgents didn’t disperse. The four had almost lost their heads in October. They might still do so if the rebels didn’t go home.

While he was waiting to see how the rebels would respond, Armijo took care of some housekeeping items: he issued yet another proclamation, this one to the citizens of Santa Fe. He ordered them not to take advantage of the newly-arrived troops by raising prices or taking their guns, horses, or ammunition in exchange for goods. Also, they were to stay away from wine shops or gambling houses frequented by the soldiers.

It’s not clear if these admonitions were really necessary or simply Armijo demonstrating his willingness to keep his citizens from disturbing or taking advantage of Justiniani’s troops. At any rate, there’s no record of conflict between the populace and the newly-arrived men.

Once he’d issued his proclamations, all Armijo could do was wait and see how the rebels responded to the news. Hopefully, they would simply break camp and head home. But the insurgents had been organizing all winter. And they had over 1300 men to throw against Justiniani’s forces. The revolt wasn’t over.

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” 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; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999.

Churches of Northern New Mexico

I know Christmas is over, but this has been a tumultuous year, so a video about the churches of northern New Mexico with some peaceful music in the background seemed appropriate. At minute 27:30, you’ll see the Santa Cruz de la Cañada church which Alma and her mother and brother attend with Señora Ortega in No Secret Too Small.

The church retains the altar pieces and much of the character it had in 1837. There are differences though. Back then, the floor was hard-packed dirt and there were no pews. You’ll have to use your imagination for that part. Happy Holy Days! Wishing you a peaceful New Year!

Manuel Armijo Marches Into Santa Fe

On Thursday, September 14, 1837, former New Mexico governor Manuel Armijo and his combined troops, about 1000 men, marched into Santa Fe to begin the push against the rebels who’d captured the city in early August.

The rebels had already left town. They’d installed Jose Angel Gonzales as governor and returned to their homes in Santa Cruz de la Canada, Chimayo, Truchas, and Taos. After all, it was the harvest season. They had wheat and other crops to harvest in preparation for the coming winter.

In Santa Fe, Manuel Armijo faced a similar lack of resources at the governmental level, but he was apparently less uncomfortable requisitioning what he needed.  This included seizing three large wagons to carry  provisions and also soliciting contributions from American merchants Jesse Sutton, John Scully, Luis and Antonio Robidoux, and David Waldo as well as New Mexico’s ricos, especially those who lived south of Santa Fe.

Money even came from Padre Antonio Jose Martinez in Taos. Martinez was probably feeling particularly anxious that the rebels be quelled. Even though he’d returned to Taos earlier in the month at the rebels’ request and come to terms with them, they still weren’t happy.

Not only did they want him to perform marriages, baptisms, and burials for alms, rather than the customary fees, they also wanted their dead buried inside the church. Martinez refused, saying he didn’t have the authority to do so and warning that anyone who undertook such a burial faced excommunication.

Sept 14 illustration.wheat

Nothing he said made a difference. The rebels seized the Los Ranchos de Taos chapel and buried a corpse by the chancel steps. When the Padre remonstrated, they gave him a document saying they took full responsibility.

By doing this, the rebels denied the priest’s authority in this and other areas of their lives.  While Manuel Armijo, in Santa Fe, was preparing physically for the coming altercation, the rebels in Taos were preparing mentally, establishing themselves and their comrades as the arbiters of their temporal and spiritual destinies.

They would need that self-assurance in the weeks to come.

Sources: Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time And Chance, The Story of Padre Martinez of Taos, 1793-1867, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1981; 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; 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

 

No Rain In Taos

On Sunday, July 31, 1825, Taos-based physician Rowland Willard had been in Taos since July 2 and the village had received no rain in the past month. The doctor was disappointed.

The New York born Willard had apparently expected to find not only rain but a prosperous community that could afford American fees and make him rich. He was destined to be disappointed on both counts.

July 31 illustration
Source: Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico, Julie L. Poole, ed.

Although Doctor Willard had a number of clients in Taos and as far south as Santa Cruz de la Canada, payment for services in the 1820s tended to be in goods rather than in cash. By September, it was clear that Taos was not the land of opportunity he had sought. On September 15, he headed south, to try his luck in Chihuahua.

The move paid off. Willard developed a successful practice in Chihuahua and remained there for the next two years, where he invested in the Santa Rita copper mines as well as his medical practice.

In 1828 Willard decided to return to the United States. To be eligible to leave the country, Mexican law required a 2% duty payment. The good Doctor paid $80 on the $4000 he declared, but actually left Mexico with $7000 in cash and his “outfit.”

Clearly, trappers were not the only Americans who believed they didn’t need to comply with Mexico’s duty laws.

Source: Julie L. Poole ed., Over The Santa Fe Trail To Mexico, The Travel Diaries And Autobiography Of Dr. Rowland Willard, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 2015