Courtroom Lynching in Taos

In 1867, the village of Don Fernando de Taos started its new year with a lynching. By Wednesday, January 2, the citizens of Taos had had enough of the antics of  Thomas Means. The man had been on yet another drunken binge. During this one, he’d bounced around the plaza threatening people with a knife and pistol. When he finally went home, he took out his frustrations on his wife, nearly killing her in the process. That was when the authorities stepped in and arrested him.

Means was incarcerated in the local jail but there was apparently some concern that he wouldn’t get the justice he deserved:  New Mexico juries were known for being reluctant to judge defendants guilty of death.  To solve this problem, a group of citizens mob stormed the jail and removed Means from his guards’ protection. But they didn’t take him very far. 1867 must have started out cold, because the impromptu extra-legal jury decided to hang Means in the room next door to the jail: the courtroom where he would have been tried if they’d been a little more patient. The vigilantes dragged him into the space reserved for justice and hanged him from one of the vigas there. Although a judge may not have thought so, the men who dealt with Means clearly thought that justice was a good use for the room in question.

Source:  Robert J. Torrez, Myth of the Hanging Tree, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2008.

Padre Martinez’ Ministry Begins

On Saturday, December 22, 1821 Antonio José Martinez of Taos was ordained in Durango, Mexico as a deacon in the Catholic church. He was 28 years old. Martinez had arrived at Durango’s Tridentine Seminary four years earlier just after his 25th birthday. He came to the ministry late, following the death of his wife in childbirth. The ceremony on December 22, 1821 marked the beginning of the end of Martinez’ life at the Seminary. A year later, he would be an ordained priest  and on his way by to New Mexico, where he would eventually become pastor in exclusive charge at Taos.

Antonio_José_Martínez
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez

Besides his priestly duties, Padre Martinez would be a force to be reckoned with in New Mexico cultural and political affairs, both before and after the 1846 American takeover. Before the war, he was consul for expatriate Americans in New Mexico, he founded a school in Taos and also installed a printing press in Taos for literary publications as well as church forms , and he served as one of seven deputies to New Mexico’s Departmental Assembly. After the American invasion,  the Padre served as president of both New Mexico’s 1848 and 1849 state constitutional conventions and of the 1851 New Mexican Legislative Assembly.

To describe Antonio José Martinez as a busy man seems like an understatement.  One wonders whether he had any idea  on that long ago day in late 1821 just how much he would accomplish for New Mexico and for Taos before he died almost 50 years later at the age of 75.

Sources: Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, the story of Padre Martinez of Taos, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1981; Thomas C. Donnelly, The Government of New Mexico, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1953; Richard W. Etulain, New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Stories, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2002; Dan Galbraith, Turbulent Taos, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1983; Pedro Sanchez, Recollections of the Life of the Priest Don Antonio José Martínez, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 2006.