Governor Pérez Heads to Santa Fe!

Governor Pérez Heads to Santa Fe!

In early April 1835, Mexican Army Colonel Albino Pérez left Chihuahua for his new post as Governor of New Mexico. He arrived in Santa Fe with 1000 pesos “for the needs of that office,” and a strong reputation as a military man. A “man of fine presence … privileged and well-to-do,” Pérez began his administration with a brisk efficiency that boded well.

However, once New Mexicans got a closer look at the governor, they were less impressed. The funds he brought were depleted fairly quickly. Also, Pérez seemed to think his 3,000-peso-a-year salary was insufficient, even though it was high for New Mexico. He borrowed large gilded mirrors from former governor Francisco Sarracino, a chest of drawers from Justice Santiago Abréu, and a large table clock from Judge Juan Estevan Pino. And local transport options weren’t good enough for him. He ordered an American-made two-wheeled carriage and two horses worth 800 pesos from Santa Fe trader Jesse Sutton.

The new governor also lived an immoral life. Although he was believed to have a wife in Mexico City, he became involved in a relationship with his housekeeper, Trinidad Trujillo, and fathered her child.

New Mexicans might have merely muttered at all this and gone on with their lives, but Federal politics began to exacerbate already-negative feelings.

On October 3, 1835, a decree by President Santa Anna’s centralist Congress abolished Mexico’s State and Territorial legislatures and replaced them with five-member Councils with no decision-making powers. Instead, they were subordinate to the president-appointed—and therefore controlled—governor. This gave Governor Pérez much more authority than he’d had when he arrived.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, New Mexico’s tax exemption was about to run out. There was no assurance it would be renewed. New Federal decrees made the governor responsible for supervising collections, a potentially lucrative job. He didn’t have much incentive to ask for a continued exemption.

Rumors swirled. The governor was about to impose exorbitant tariffs. Thing never taxed before—like water, wood, and pasture—would be now. It was even whispered that men would be taxed for laying with their wives. Some people believed the new rates were actually being levied by the governor, not Mexico City, as a way to fund his lifestyle. When Pérez called a July 10 meeting to discuss the process for collecting the new revenues, the pot of rebellion began to heat up.

A month later, the governor’s naked body would lie headless in the road south of Santa Fe. All the efficiency and fine presence in the world couldn’t save him from the consequences of his lifestyle choices and Congressional mandates.

For more about what happened in New Mexico before, during, and after August 1837, check out my novel There Will Be Consequences, which is available from your favorite brick and mortar storeBookshop.orgebook retailerAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

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 Río Arriba 1837, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico, Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Company, 1912; 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: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.

Manuel Alvarez, Consul at Santa Fe

Manuel Alvarez, Consul at Santa Fe

On Friday, March 22, 1839, 45-year-old Spanish-born Manuel Alvarez was named U.S. Consul at Santa Fe. He was effectively the first American consul in New Mexico—the one appointed in 1825 had decamped to Chihuahua within the year.

As consul, Alvarez was responsible for dealing with American mercantile matters and also taking provisional possession of the estates of Americans who died without legal representation and sending word of their death back home. In addition, he voiced the concerns of Americans in the region, an activity that didn’t always make him popular with the governor.

Alvarez had been a merchant in New Mexico since 1824 and was comfortable complaining to the authorities. In July 1837, he’d signed on to a complaint to Governor Pérez about a confrontation between a group of Americans and some Mexican soldiers. After Pérez’s death the following month, Alvarez was one of the merchants who petitioned the Mexican government for repayment of loans made to the governor and his officials.

The real test of Alvarez’s ability to get things done came in September 1841, two-and-a-half years after he was named consul. Three hundred Texans, two-thirds of them soldiers, were marching toward Santa Fe and it was making everyone nervous. Some people believed the American merchants in New Mexico supported the Texan plan to take it over. Threats were made.

Manuel Alvarez’s signature. Source: Conflict and Acculturation, Manuel Alvarez’s 1842 Memorial by Thomas E. Chavez

Alvarez asked for formal assurance that the Americans would be protected from angry citizens. Governor Manuel Armijo responded that they would be—as long as no one gave aid to the Texans. If anyone did, Alvarez would be held personally responsible.

This warning doesn’t seem to have slowed the consul down much. When the Expedition members arrived and were taken into custody, he offered to act as intermediary, noting that the Republic of Texas had been recognized by the United States, but not by Mexico.

He also requested permission to meet with the American citizens among the Texans. He may have been especially concerned for the safety of George Wilkins Kendall. As publisher of a New Orleans newspaper that had printed disparaging articles about New Mexico in general and Armijo in particular, Kendall was likely to be unpopular with the governor and his associates.

Certainly, Alvarez’s concerns made him unpopular. In fact, the Governor’s shirt-tail relation Ensign Tomás Martín was so irritated that he and a group of friends confronted the consul in his Santa Fe office. During the ensuing altercation, Martín drew a knife and wounded Alvarez on the cheek. Alvarez likely would have suffered further if fellow merchant and New Mexico Secretary of State Guadalupe Miranda hadn’t arrived and dispersed the crowd.

Alvarez fled Santa Fe shortly thereafter, going East to report to Washington D.C. But he  returned to New Mexico and his duties, maintaining his position as consul until the American takeover  in 1846. At that point, the position was no longer necessary. But Alvarez didn’t turn to mere money making. He became active in regional politics and in 1850 was elected New Mexico’s Lt. Governor. He was also active in the faction that fought for New Mexico to be made a state instead of a territory.

Alvarez continued to be active politically until his August 1856 death in Santa Fe. The consul before him may have left quickly, but Alvarez, for all his faults, appears to have been committed to New Mexico. Or at least the Americans there.

Sources: William Campbell Binkley, “New Mexico and the Texan Santa Fé Expedition,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 27:2, Oct. 1923, pp. 85-107; Lansing Bloom, “Ledgers of a Santa Fe Trader,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 21, April 1946, pp. 135-139; Lansing Bloom, “Texan Aggressions, 1841-1843,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. 2, pp. 143-156; Thomas Esteban Chavez, “The Trouble With Texans, Manuel Alvarez and the 1841 ‘Invasion,’” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 53:2, April 1978, pp. 133-144; Janet Lecompte, “Manuel Armijo, George Wilkins Kendall, and the Baca-Caballero Conspiracy,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 59:1, Jan. 1984, pp. 49-66; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1985; Max L. Moorhead, New Mexico’s Royal Road, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1958; Joy 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; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico, New Mexican Printing Company: Albuquerque, 1912; Daniel Tyler, “Gringo Views of Governor Manuel Armijo,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 45:1, Jan. 1970, pp 23-46; David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1982; Consular duties: https://adst.org/a-brief-history-of-the-consular-service/ accessed 1/18/22)

Governor Pérez’s 1837 Navajo Campaign

Governor Pérez’s 1837 Navajo Campaign

On Tuesday, February 7, 1837, Governor Albino Pérez, his New Mexico militia, and their Pueblo allies returned to the Rio Grande Valley from an unsuccessful campaign against the Navajo.

It had been a difficul campaign from its inception. When the Governor issued a call for the militia to assemble in November 1836, nobody came. This was primarily because of the members’ personal finances. They wouldn’t be paid to be on campaign and also had to supply their own ammunition and mounts. And Pérez couldn’t promise to help. He barely had enough funds to pay his Presidio soldiers to guard Santa Fe while he was gone.

So he decided to levy a forced loan on New Mexico’s ricos. This wasn’t exactly met with enthusiasm either. In fact, the necessary funds for the campaign still hadn’t arrived in the capital when Perez mustered the men who’d finally shown up and set out for Navajo country. They would be gone two months.

Miera map of New Mexico, circa 1788.

This type of campaign typically lasted forty-five days, so this one was longer than usual. If the militia were going to be paid at the end of it, or at least collect some spoils of war while they were gne, they probably wouldn’t have minded too much. But food supplies ran low. Also, the weather was so cold that one man froze to death and others lost toes and ears to frostbite. The temperatures affected the animals too. The militia’s mounts began to fail. To add insult to injury, the New Mexicans made no contact with the enemy during the entire period they were in the field.

By the time they got home, the New Mexicans and Pueblo warriors were fed up. They headed home in disgust and Governor Pérez turned to local governance issues only to discover that there wasn’t enough money in the treasury to continue paying his Presidio troops. He saw no alternative but to send them home as well. And then the Navajos who hadn’t been anywhere in sight during the winter campaign suddenly materialized and began raiding across the region. The Governor’s year was not starting out well.

It wouldn’t end well, either.  Mexico’s Congress had made changes to the Federal constitution, reducing the autonomy of communities throughout the country. In addition, Federal taxes were going up and were set to be collected directly from New Mexicans for the first time in decades. To say people were unhappy is putting it mildly. Navajo raids would be the least of Governor Pérez’s worries in the coming months.

Sources: Lansing Bloom, Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico. Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Company, 1912, Francis Stanley, Giant in Lilliput: The Story of Donaciano Vigil. Pampa: Pampa Printing, 1963; Daniel Tyler, New Mexico in the 1820’s: The First Administration of Manuel Armijo, PhD Dissertation, 1970, UNM, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

One Week to Consequences!

One Week to Consequences!

The countdown has begun! This time next week, my new novel There Will Be Consequences will be live and available for purchase at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and other retailers! For the first week, both ebooks and paperbacks will be available at special discount prices, so pre-order or mark your calendar now to get this book!

It’s August 3, 1837, and rebellion has broken out in northern New Mexico. By the end of the week, Governor Albino Pérez and key members of his administration will be dead, and a governor with indigenous ancestry will be installed in Santa Fe.

Trouble’s been brewing for over a year, fed by new laws restricting the right to vote, the threat of new taxes, and a governor who’s quicker to borrow money than distribute it. On top of that, Pérez has jailed the Santa Cruz de la Cañada alcalde for making a decision he didn’t like. The locals free the alcalde and go to war, campesinos and Pueblo warriors against the ricos of the south.  

But the rich aren’t about to give up their privileges so easily. More people will die before the violence ends.

A deeply-researched biographical novel with implications for today, There Will be Consequences explores the events before, during, and after early August 1837 through the eyes of the people who participated in them. Twelve linked stories propel the narrative forward from the perspective of individuals as diverse as Albino Pérez, rebel governor José Angel Gonzales, Santa Fe gambler Gertrudes “Doña Tules” Barceló, Taos priest Antonio José Martinez, and that most flexible of New Mexico’s politicians, Manuel Armijo.

The Real Gertrudis Barceló

The Real Gertrudis Barceló

The illustration for this post is a picture of New Mexico monte dealer, power broker, and business woman María Gertrudis Barceló. It accompanied an April 1854 Harper’s Weekly Magazine article by Lt. G. Douglas Brewerton about New Mexico. The evidence suggests it was created by a Harper’s artist who never actually met Barceló.

The picture appeared alongside a lengthy quote about Barceló from Josiah Gregg’s 1844 Commerce of the Prairies:

“Some twelve or fifteen years ago, there lived, or rather, roamed in Taos a certain female of very loose habits, known as La Tules. Finding it difficult to obtain the means of subsistence in that district, she finally extended her wanderings to the capital. She there became a constant attendant upon one of those pandemoniums where the favorite game of monte was dealt … for some years she spent her days in lowliness and misery. At last her luck turned … [and she was able] to open a [monte] bank of her own, and being favored with a continuous run of good fortune, she gradually rose higher and higher in the scale of affluence … [and is] now known as Señora Doña Gertrudes Barceló… ”[1]

While Gregg’s book seems to contain solid data about the goods that moved between Missouri and New Mexico in the 1830s, I’ve found him less than accurate in his reports about the people he met in Santa Fe. This is certainly true in the case of Gertrudis Barceló.

For example, Barceló was not from Taos. She was born in Sonora circa 1800 and in 1815 moved with her parents and siblings to the hamlet of Valencia, New Mexico, about 100 miles south of Santa Fe. They were well-off—her parents are identified as Don and Doña in extant baptism records.

In addition to these rico beginnings, Gertrudis became wealthy in her own right as a result of her skill with numbers and cards. As a monte dealer in the mid to late 1820s, she spent time in the mining camps of what is now Cerrillos, New Mexico where she accumulated a large enough stake to set up a gambling salon in Santa Fe. There, she entertained officials, dealt cards, loaned money at interest, purchased property, and provided a home for her mother, an adopted daughter, and more than one foster child.

Barceló had married Manuel Antonio Sisneros on June 20, 1823. She was about 4 months pregnant at the time. That baby boy, and a subsequent son two years later, died in infancy. Her relationship with Sisneros may not have been ideal. They seem to have lived in separate houses on the same Santa Fe street from 1836 to at least 1841. He may have died or it’s possible they simply went their separate ways. The records don’t indicate that he participated in her business activities.

Barceló made ends meet not only as a money lender and monte dealer, but also by taking in boarders. This led to an 1835 accusation that she was illegally cohabiting with americano Lucius Thruston. She refuted the charge and it was withdrawn. She was still renting rooms out in the early 1850s, when she provided space to Governor  John Munroe.

Around 1846, Gertrudis did become romantically involved with a foreigner, a highly-educated Prussian lieutenant in the U.S. Army named Augustus de Marle, who provided security for her monte dealings and represented her in court during at least one debt collection process. They remained close until her death in 1852, when he served as an executor of her will.

Other anglos were not so friendly. In addition to quoting Josiah Gregg’s inaccuracies about Barceló’s background, Brewerton described her face as “scarred and seamed, and rendered unwomanly by those painful lines which unbridled passions … never fail to stamp upon the countenance.”[2]

Susan Shelby Magoffin also encountered Barceló and found her wanting, reporting that the “stately dame of a certain age” wore false hair (probably the curls then fashionable) and teeth, smoked, and exhibited “that shrewd sense and fascinating manner necessary to allure the wayward, inexperienced youth to the hall of final ruin.”[3]

These statements contradict other reports, which tell us Barceló had a neat figure and intelligent, shrewd eyes, and was an elegant dancer. However, she did like fashionable clothes and heavy jewelry, often wearing a gold chain with a large crucifix.[4] The jewelry is included in the Harper’s Weekly image. The artist also uses the fashionable curls and cigarette, wielding them to portray someone who’s everything he believes a woman shouldn’t be—haggard from “fast living,” with long straggly hair, and smoke billowing around her head from a dangling cigarette. In the eastern part of the United States at the time, smoking by women had long been associated with loose morals and dubious sexual behavior. So a picture showing Barceló  with a lit cigarette effectively placed her in the lowest possible social category, that of a sexually promiscuous woman.

I can find no evidence she was, in fact, promiscuous or involved romantically with anyone other than her husband and, later, Augustus de Marle. To the contrary, in some ways, Barceló could be held up as a model of how to behave toward others. She seems to have made a habit of taking in children who needed a home.

In March, 1826, she and Sisneros adopted at least one little girl, Maria del Refugio. In 1832, Gertrudis adopted another child, named María Guadalupé de Altagracia. She also fostered Petra Gutierrez, daughter of Diego Gutierrez and Dolores Sisneros. When Petra became pregnant at 14, Barceló raised the baby herself, freeing Petra to marry James Giddings four years later. When Barceló died, her will included provisions for the unmarried girls still in her care.

But nothing she did would be enough for the americanos. Even after Barceló died and was buried in the Santa Fe parish church, they couldn’t leave her alone. Almost immediately, the Missouri Daily Republican reported that “she took early to two professions [gambling and prostitution] common in this country of easy morals,”[5] a dig at both Barceló and New Mexico.

This attitude continued through the next century. In his 1912 discussion of the 1847 revolt, Ralph Emerson Twitchell called Barceló “a woman of shady reputation”[6] even while he credited her (in a footnote) with warning the Americans of the planned uprising and providing the names of its leaders. In 1984, Paul Horgan described Barceló “with her wig and false teeth”[7] whispering this same warning to Governor Bent, as if her appearance was somehow relevant to the service she provided.

Even in the 21st century, the defamation hasn’t stopped. An essay in the 2009 Telling New Mexico identifies Barceló as an unmarried woman with a dubious reputation.[8] The first statement is flat out wrong and the second depends on who your source is. Certainly, she had a dubious reputation with some Americans.

As far as I can tell, the primary reason they disliked her so much was that she had the audacity to be a successful businesswoman. No other New Mexico monte dealer is singled out in the historical record with the abuse and accusations that are levied against Barceló. This is doubly annoying considering that the U.S. would have had a much more difficult time occupying New Mexico in 1846/47 without her assistance. She not only provided valuable information during a precarious time, she also gave them a loan to cover Army salaries until funds arrived from the East.

The fact that this loan was from a woman must have galled them. A woman who’d acquired her riches via gambling and loaning money at interest. These were provinces of male endeavor, not female. And then (gasp!) she took a lover! So they tried to erase her with ugly words and grotesque drawings.

But María Gertrudis Barceló lives on, the very symbol of the independent New Mexican woman who could love and care for children she didn’t bear while using her brains and skills to amass enough wealth to provide for them after she died. The americanos tried to cancel her with jeering words and an ugly picture. These representations are what should be cancelled. I’ve tried to do so in my forthcoming novel There Will Be Consequences, by showing Barceló’s positive interactions with the women of Santa Fe during the revolt of 1836 and also with her employees and the children in her life. It’s only a small part of what I believe should be done to mitigate the nonsense that has been written about her.


[1] “Incidents of Travel in New Mexico,” G. Douglas Brewerton, Harper’s Weekly Magazine, Vol. XLVII, April 1854, p. 588.

[2] Ibid

[3] Susan Shelby Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico, Yale UP, 1926, pp. 119-120

[4] John E. Suner ed., Matt Field on the Santa Fe Trail, pp.207-209; Mary J. Straw Cook, Doña Tules,UNM Press, 2007, pp. 26-28

[5] Mary J. Straw Cook, Doña Tules, UNM Press, 2007, p. 100

[6] Ralph Emerson Twitchell, Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Vol. II, The Torce Press, p. 233, note 168

[7] Paul Horgan, Great River, Wesleyan University Press, 1984, p. 762

[8] Michael L. Olsen, “The Santa Fe Trail and  Nineteenth-Century New Mexico,” Telling New Mexico, ed. Marta Weigle, Museum of NM Press, 2009, p. 156.

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.

Book Review: First Mail West

Book Review: First Mail West
by Morris F. Taylor, UNM Press, 2000

For many Americans, the stagecoach symbolizes the 1800s in the West. And yet, stage mail and passenger service to Santa Fe lasted just thirty years, from 1850 to 1880. In that time, the route grew shorter and shorter, as the railroad crept toward New Mexico and finally ended the stagecoach era completely.

Morris F. Taylor’s book First Mail West: Stagecoach Lines on the Santa Fe Trail tells that story and much more.  It begins with equine transport of military dispatches and goes on to describe when and how the first Post Office Department contracts were put in place and the many details connected with the mail stage system.

But this is not a dry fact-and-figures kind of book. It’s filled with the names of people associated with New Mexico history—the Bent brothers, David Waldo, Ceran St. Vrain, William W.H. Davis, Kit Carson, Governors Lane and Meriwether, and many more. It also identifies lesser-known individuals, including the stage conductors and drivers, and provides fascinating glimpses into life along the route to Santa Fe—descriptions of the stage stops, how they were operated, the people who ran them, and the dangers they encountered. In addition, because the stage had connections into Denver, there’s a good overview of the early Colorado mine fields and the towns that sprang up around them.

First Mail West is a pleasure to read and full of information you never realized you wanted to know. I recommend it to anyone researching New Mexico and Colorado history in the 1846-1880 time frame and also to those who’d simply like another approach to Old West history.

Thomas Catron is Named U.S. Attorney for New Mexico!!!

In early March 1872, Thomas B. Catron was named U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Territory, replacing his good friend Stephen Elkins, who’d just been elected New Mexico’s delegate to Congress. Catron had come to the Territory in 1866 at Elkins’ urging. He used his appointment to become a powerhouse in New Mexico politics and the center of what became known as the Santa Fe Ring, a group of men who sought to keep New Mexico’s political and financial power firmly in their own hands.

Catron and Elkins were business as well as law partners. They focused their efforts on anything that would increase their wealth, including banking, mining, and land speculation. Elkins left the Territory in 1877 and moved to West Virginia, but Catron stayed and continued his business and political activities. He served as Santa Fe’s mayor, president of the New Mexico Bar Association, and—perhaps most importantly—kingpin of New Mexico’s Republican party.

Source: Thomas Benton Catron and His Era by Victor Westphall

These positions and his control of the Santa Fe Ring enabled Catron to amass huge landholdings, many of them fraudulently. By the end of the 1800s, he reportedly owned around two million acres in New Mexico land and had a financial interest in another four million, much of it former Spanish and Mexican land grants.

It seems fitting that Catron County, one of New Mexico’s largest counties in terms of area but smallest in terms of population, is named after Catron. I suspect he was one of those people who didn’t tolerate others well unless they could benefit him in some way, so he needed a certain amount of elbow room. Naming a county for him that contains plenty of acreage but not many people seems appropriate.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico: A Biographical Dictionary, 1540-1980, Vol. 1. Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande Book, 2007; Howard R. Lamar, Ed. The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, New York: Harper and Row, 1977; Hal Stratton and Paul Farley, Office of the Attorney General, State of New Mexico, History, Powers & Responsibilities, 1846-1990. Santa Fe: State of New Mexico, 1990; Victor Westphall, Thomas Benton Catron and his era, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1973.

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.