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.

Another Rebellion in Santa Fe!

To the casual observer, New Mexico in early October 1837 may have looked like a peaceful place. The August 1837 rebellion had been quelled, four of its leaders were in jail in Santa Fe, and former Governor Manuel Armijo was firmly in control.

However, Armijo was convinced the insurgency would erupt again. Before he left the capitol for Albuquerque in mid-October, he gave Captain Jose Caballero explicit instructions about what to do if this happened—the imprisoned rebels were to be executed at once.

Early the morning of Wednesday, October 18, it appeared that Armijo’s orders would need to be carried out. Word reached the capitol that the rebels were rallying in the mountains east of Santa Cruz, where the August insurgency had been headquartered.  Armijo got the news in Albuquerque about the same time Caballero did in Santa Fe. The next day, he sent a letter north, ordering that the four hostages be executed.

But on Friday, the Captain staged a small rebellion of his own. When he received Armijo’s instructions, he didn’t follow them. Instead, he called a meeting of Presidio officers to consider how to respond. He had several concerns with Armijo’s directive. For one thing, the prisoners had still not been formally tried for their crimes. Also, there was a good chance that following Armijo’s orders would inflame revolutionary sentiment in Santa Fe instead of quelling it. And the garrison wasn’t at full strength. Successfully putting down a full-scale revolt would required reinforcements.  

Given all this, Caballero and his officers decided they would obey Armijo’s orders only if and when there was an imminent threat to the city and they had the forces necessary to repel it. The prisoners would be executed only if the rebels attacked.  On Sunday, Captain Caballero sent a formal letter south to Armijo, explaining what he was doing and why.  Although the missive was in his name, the other men signed it.

Some of the signatures on Captain Caballero’s letter. Source: New Mexico State archives

The governor was not happy when he received this news. Early the next week, he responded with a letter criticizing Caballero’s decision. But he didn’t overturn it. And he sent a troop of active Albuquerque militia north to help in case of attack.

It was all a moot point anyway. The rebel threat dissipated. The men in the Santa Fe jail would live several more months, though Governor Armijo’s orders were eventually implemented. When rebellion burst out again in early 1838, the four prisoners were publicly garroted.

There are still historians who wonder if this action was really necessary. The threat of the executions didn’t stop the rebels from rising or keep the subsequent battle from being any less bloody.  But Armijo did get the last word.

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Paul Horgan, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History, Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1984; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, The Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Print Shop, 1963.

Refugees in Santa Fe!

The fall of 1837 was a tense time for the people of Santa Fe. Not only was the capitol invaded by rebels in August, but there was another threat in late September. Then after former Governor Manuel Armijo fended that off, a different kind of incursion began. Refugees started arriving in town.

Most of the newcomers came from down river, following the militia, men who were ordinarily tasked with keeping the settlements there safe. With the militia now in Santa Fe, these villages were susceptible to raids from the First Nation groups New Mexicans called the “wild tribes”—primarily Apache in the south and Navajo in the west­.

While the Apache seem to have contented themselves with raiding Chihuahua-bound merchant caravans, the Navajo went after the settlements, venturing as close to Albuquerque as Bernalillo and as far northeast as the Taos Valley. New Mexico’s unrest was a great opportunity for the Navajo warriors to supplement their sheep herds and perhaps pick up a few captives to replace people taken by New Mexicans in earlier raids. In response to the danger, New Mexican families who could afford to do so headed to Santa Fe.

Almost 75 years later, one of those refugees, a boy who turned eight that winter, left behind a record of what the capitol was like during that time. Jose Francisco Perea’s family arrived in early October from Bernalillo. “We found the place full of soldiers, citizens, and a miscellaneous gathering of humanity,” he recalled. The plaza was “crowded with all kinds of vehicles, beginning with the cart that was made entirely of wood . . . to the well-constructed wagon that had brought a consignment of merchandise over the Santa Fe Trail; together with teamsters, camp-cooks, roustabouts, horses, mules, burros, pigs and goats. Some were about their camp-fires, preparing their food, while others were feeding and caring for their animals. Near the northeast corner of the plaza, which was then surrounded on its four sides with flat-roofed one-story buildings, with portals (porches) in front of them, were three cottonwood trees of the mountain variety, and opposite the Palace (the capital) stood a flagstaff (pirome), from the top of which was displayed the Mexican flag in all its glory: and the four entrances at the corners of the square were guarded, each with a single cannon of small caliber.”

What seems to have fascinated him even more was the entertainment available. “Dancing was much indulged in,” he reported. “Particularly during Sunday nights and evenings following marriages, baptisms, and feast days. Theatricals, principally rudely constructed  after the writings of Cervantes (Don Quixote de la Mancha) and Gil Blas, were occasionally played. . . Some of these were played with figures and images hung on strings, to be moved about when required.”

A marionette from Old New Mexico. Source: New Mexico History Museum

He also apparently peaked into establishments “where wine and other liquors were sold by the drink” and gambling occurred. These games of chance included Spanish monte, three-card monte, roulette, and dice. For boys Francisco’s age, there were outside games such as pitarria, played on smooth ground inside a marked square with short sticks of two colors, and quoit pitching at pegs driven into the ground. When he tired of games, he could watch dancers from the nearby pueblos perform on the plaza.

It was all quite an education for the young Perea, one supplemented by three months of classroom experience. Some time in January 1838, he and his younger brother began attending a school run by a Captain Sena and his wife. This ended when the Perea family returned to Bernalillo in late April, but his Santa Fe adventures were only the beginning of Jose Francisco Perea’s experience of the world beyond his family’s hacienda. As an adult, he would return to Santa Fe to sit on the New Mexico Territorial Council. During the Civil War, he would fight for the Union as a Lieutenant Colonel and would later serve as New Mexico’s Congressional representative in Washington, D.C.

He would also leave behind an evocative glimpse of Santa Fe in the winter of 1837/38, one for which we storytellers are quite thankful.     

Sources: W.H.H. Allison as narrated by Col. Francisco Perea, “Santa Fe During the Winter of 1837/38.” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands, Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press, 2002; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, The Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Print Shop, 1963.

Manuel Armijo’s Verbal Skills Save Santa Fe!

On Monday, September 18, 1837, word reached Santa Fe that the rebels who had been so successful in August were approaching the capital again. The threat of Manuel Armijo’s troops wasn’t enough to keep them away.

And Armijo had a crises of confidence. He who’d been named head of the New Mexico militia by his rico compatriots asked Judge Juan Estevan Pino to take command.  When Pino declined, Armijo’s political skills kicked in. He might not know military tactics, but he did know people.

He sent word to the rebels that he wanted to negotiate. Pablo Montoya, now head of the rebels, took the bait. The insurgents camped five miles north of the capitol and negotiations commenced via correspondence.

Sept 28 illustration.Manuel Armijo
New Mexico Governor Manuel Armijo

Eventually, Armijo invited Montoya to come into town to talk. The talks, though somewhat contentious, were ultimately successful. The rebels agreed to dissolve their organization, turn over four of the initial instigators, and recognize Armijo as New Mexico’s political and military leader.

The negotiations were undoubtedly facilitated by the fact that the rebels were short on guns and ammunition, and—without Jose Angel Gonzales’ presence—military organization and discipline. In addition, not all of them considered Armijo an enemy. He had a track record as a former governor who did what he could for the people of New Mexico, even if it meant bending or judiciously ignoring Mexican law.

The treaty was signed on Thursday, September 21, and the rebels disbanded. The conflict was over. But not really. As part of the deal, Jose Angel Gonzales was released from the Santa Fe jail where he’d been lingering the last couple weeks. He was back in Chimayo with his wife and family by the end of the month.

It was a decision Armijo would live to regret. Rebellion still stirred in northern New Mexico. It wouldn’t break out again in full force until the following January, but it would break out. Armijo’s political and verbal skills delayed the conflict, but they didn’t end it.

 

Sources: Lansing B. Bloom, “New Mexico Under Mexican Administration,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1914-1915; Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time And Chance, The Story of Padre Martinez of Taos, 1793-1867, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1981; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999; F. Stanley, Giant in Lilliput, The Story of Donaciano Vigil, Pampa, TX: Pampa Print Shop, 1963.

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.

Padre Martinez and His Brother Flee Taos!

Early the morning of Saturday, September 2, 1837 someone got news to Padre Antonio Jose Martinez in Taos that his life was in danger. Even though the rebels had taken over New Mexico’s government in August, they were still after anyone who hadn’t complained loudly enough about the men they’d killed on their way to power.

In Taos, that included Padre Martinez and his brother Santiago, a local judge appointed by the authorities in Santa Fe. Apparently, Santiago had been appointed by former Governor Albino Perez. His position and his life were now at risk.

As the oldest of the Martinez siblings, Antonio Jose took charge. The brothers fled south to Santa Fe, probably along the rocky but shorter route that skirted the Rio Grande river. It seems to have been a harrowing journey. By the time they reached Santa Fe on Sunday, Padre Martinez was ready to flee all the way south to Durango and the bishop, perhaps even to give up his Taos ministry.

Sept 3 illustration.Martinez, Antonio José
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez

But then his other brother, Jose Maria Martinez, arrived with a message from the rebels. They begged the Padre to return to help restore order in Taos and promised that if he did, they would receive him, and presumably Santiago, well.

So he turned around and headed back, but this time with protection. The rebel-appointed governor, Jose Angel Gonzalez, accompanied him.

Even Gonzales’ presence didn’t smooth the way completely. The rebels had conditions. If Padre Martinez didn’t appear before them and retract his approval of the previous administration, he would still be at risk.

Negotiating with the rebels took time, and Governor Gonzales stayed in Taos several days while they and the Padre reached an agreement: Martinez would disavow his previous allegiances and also promise not to ask for fees for baptisms, marriages, and other church ceremonies.

Then Governor Gonzales headed back to the capital. While he’d been away, the leaders of the counter-revolutionaries had met in Tomé, organized their own men, and issued their own set of ultimatums. Their representatives met Gonzales at the door of the Governor’s palacio and took him into custody. Padre Martinez’ refusal to immediately give in to the Taos rebels’ demands had cost their leader his freedom.

 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.

Book Review: The French in New Mexico

Patorni.The French in NM.Cover
French In America Press, 2020
ISBN: 9780578631158

While it’s fairly common knowledge that people with French surnames trapped and traded in New Mexico during the mountain man era, The French In New Mexico identifies many other French connections in the American Southwest. In fact, Francois-Marie Patorni points out that Franciscan priest Marco de Nice—the man whose report of cities of gold prompted the Spanish incursion into what is today the American Southwest—was French. He may have been in New Spain and subject to the Spanish church there, but he was born in Nice.

This is where The French in New Mexico begins. But it doesn’t end there. Patorni walks his reader through four centuries of New Mexico history, establishing links to France every step of the way.  Patorni covers major figures as well as minor ones and groups his material in easily-accessible headings, by topic (wine growing, the church, merchants, etc.) as well as location (Santa Fe, Mora, the lower Pecos, etc.). This makes the book great for both a comprehensive overview of events in New Mexico from a French perspective as well as for locating material about a particular topic or location.

This book is a fascinating read with a new approach to the history of New Mexico. The information it provides reflects both Patorni’s scholarship and his enthusiasm. This is a well-written, well documented, and unique take on New Mexican history. If you’re interested in New Mexico’s history and/or the contribution of the French people to the American Southwest, I recommend The French In New Mexico.