The Year of the Little Doves

Folks in Socorro County called 1862 the “year of the little doves,” but they weren’t talking about birds. They were speaking of locusts. That Spring, an unusually heavy snow pack in the northern mountains that spring caused major floods along the Rio Grande. In Socorro County, the river was more than a mile wide in places. Newly planted corn and wheat fields, peach orchards and vineyards were inundated, and many acequias were destroyed.

Then the “little doves” arrived. By the time the locusts had left, the County was stripped clean and its inhabitants were close to starvation.

Relief was slow in coming, because the Territory was caught up in pushing back the Navajo depredations that had followed hard on the heels of the Confederate invasion. There were also concerns that the Confederates would try again.

May 28 blog illustration
Source: Santa Fe Gazette, May 2, 1863

But help did eventually arrive. In early May, the Santa Fe Gazette printed a plea for help and donations began to pour in. They came from as far north as Arroyo Seco and as far east as Maxwell’s Ranch on the Cimarron. Leading citizens in Taos, Arroyo Seco, Placitas, Cordova, and Espanola contributed $356.  Antonio Baca and Francisco Aragon of Arroyo Seco, Francisco Sanchez of Placitas, Pascuel Martinez of Ranchita, Jose Dolores Tafolla of Cordova, Pedro Antonio Vigil of Cordilleras, and Juan Antonio Espinosa and Juan Suaso of San Francisco del Rancho donated 141 fanegas of wheat between them, and Taos’ Fr. Gabriel Ussel raised $82 from his parishioners.

So, while the locusts had destroyed their crops in 1862, “little doves” of help came to Socorro’s rescue in 1863. It was a long time to wait, but help did eventually arrive.

 

Source: Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers & Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.   Pages 215-221

Fur Catch Causes Nothing But Trouble

Ewing Young had thirteen 90-pound packs of beaver fur in his possession in early May 1827, and he wasn’t interested in having them confiscated. According to the rumors, outgoing Governor Narbona was cracking down on trappers without the proper permissions and incoming Governor Manuel Armijo was likely to be even stricter than Narbona.

So Young did the only sensible thing an American trapper could do. He hid his furs at the Pena Blanca home of his associate Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca.

But he had neglected to realize that some of the men with him might have different ideas about the most sensible approach to government mandates. A member of his trapping party, Ignacio Sandoval, told officials in Santa Fe what Young was up to.

From that point on, things took a turn for the worse. Governor Narbona ordered soldiers to Pena Blanca to confiscate the furs and, in the process, Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca was killed. Then Manuel Armijo became governor on May 20 and signed an order for Young’s arrest for illegal trapping. Young seems to have talked his way out of that predicament and instead got permission to clean the confiscated furs. He and the Santa Fe alcalde were in front of the governor’s long adobe palace, shaking out and inventorying the furs, when another member of Young’s trapping party appeared on the scene. Milton Sublette grabbed a bundle of pelts and made off with them.

When Sublette and the furs disappeared, the governor blamed Ewing Young. He called Young to the palace and threatened him with jail. Young turned on his heel and walked out of Armijo’s office, but he wasn’t free for long. And when the soldiers did catch up with him, he was thrown in the calaboza, where he languished until he became ill and was finally released.

May 15 blog illustration.Armijo, Manuel.illustrated history of nm
Source: Illustrated History of New Mexico,
Reed

But he didn’t get his furs back. Many of them had been badly damaged by rain leaking through the roof of the building where they were stored, so they were sold for about two-thirds what they would have brought in good condition. The total was still a decent amount, about $3500. But it’s not clear who received the resulting funds. After all, the plews were government-confiscated property.

Sources: Carl P. Russell, Firearms, Traps, and Tools of the Mountain Men, Skyhorse Publishing, 2010; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

JUST A MAN

“I seen him! I seen him!” The boy stopped, breathless, just inside the kitchen door.

“You mean you saw him.” His mother shook her head at him as she lifted the lid from the Dutch oven in the fireplace to check the biscuits. She smiled. “Who did you see?”

“Kit Carson! He was on the other side of the street, going into the Governor’s house.”

She nodded. “I heard this morning that he was back. What is he like?”

His shoulders sagged. “He didn’t look anything like the pictures in the book Grandpa gave me when we left Kansas City.”

“That was just a story,” she pointed out. She turned to stir the great pot of venison stew.

“I know,” he said. “But he wasn’t what I expected at all. He’s just a man.”

Copyright © 2013 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Spring Equals Trappers in Taos

It happened every spring in the early 1800s: Taos was invaded by trappers, either future or current. It made law enforcement rather complicated

In 1817, Jules DeMun didn’t even make it to Taos before he was headed off by a contingent of Spanish soldiers, who had been sent out in response to rumors in Taos that DeMun and his partner Pierre Chouteau had 20,000 Americans camped on the Purgatoire River, set to invade New Mexico. Even though the rumors weren’t true, DeMun and Chouteau were ordered to return to St. Louis. Somehow, they talked the soldiers into allowing them to travel north before heading east, ostensibly to avoid the Pawnee. Of course, they didn’t head directly to St. Louis. They trapped, supposedly outside of the boundaries of New Spain.

When news of Mexico’s independence from Spain reached the United States in 1821, things only got worse. Trappers and merchants could now enter New Mexico legally, but they still had trouble following Mexico’s rules. Up to this point, the Sangre de Cristo mountains had provided a protective barrier between Taos and incursions from the eastern plains. But they didn’t stop the Americans. In fact, the mountains were a great place to cache furs before smuggling them east to Missouri without paying export taxes. And Taos was still the favorite way to enter, especially if you were doing something slightly illegal. There were just so many ways to get there from the Santa Fe trail, which paralleled the mountains between it and Taos.

March 8 Illustration.Dick Wootton.Twitchell vol 2 source
“Uncle Dick” Wootton, Source: Leading Facts of New Mexico History, R.E. Twitchell

It got so bad that Mexico Customs Officer Juan Bautista Vigil y Alarid had to deputize Rafael Luna as Taos’ border guard. Even that wasn’t enough. Eventually, Alarid authorized Luna and Taos Alcalde Severino Martinez to use the militia to intercept the Americans.

Calling out the militia seems like overkill until you realize how valuable the furs in question were. In 1837, “Uncle Dick” Wootton brought furs worth $25,000 into Taos. And that’s just what he was willing to pay the tax on. The trappers had incentive to skirt the law. And the Mexican authorities had incentive to try to keep them from doing so.

And so each spring the dance began again….

Sources: Den Galbraith, Turbulent Taos, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1983; Leroy R. Hafen, Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State UP, Logan, 1997; Joy L. Poole, editor, Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico, U of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2015; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, U of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1971.

Kit Carson and Friends invest in Coyote Creek Copper Mine

On this day, Sunday, January 21, 1866, Kit Carson and nine other men filed a Kit Carson Mining Company claim for El Coyote Copper Mine near the town of Coyote on Coyote Creek, Mora County.  Carson’s partners were Colfax County sheriff Andrew J. Calhoun, H.J. Farnsworth, Charles McClure, J.C. Collier, Vicente Romero, George W. Ashenfelter, M. Calhoun, E.A. DeBreuils, and T.J. Donahue. The paperwork was witnessed by a John Gibbs and a John Moore, who may have been the sutler at Fort Union.

Carson had just turned 57 and was in poor health. The El Coyote mining claim may have been part of an attempt to provide for his family after his inevitable demise. The copper claim wasn’t his first venture into mining. He and Ceran St. Vrain had also invested in Arroyo Hondo mining claims near Taos as part of the 100 or more claims registered there by 1865.

Carson.Simmons.3 Wives

Source: Kit Carson and his three wives, Marc Simmons 2003

Unfortunately, the Arroyo Honda ore was low grade and unevenly distributed and that mining boom seems to have gone bust fairly quickly. It’s unknown whether any ore was ever actually extracted from the El Coyote Copper Mine, so Carson’s investment there may have been even less successful than those  in Arroyo Hondo and therefore of little benefit to his family. At any rate, he likely didn’t see much benefit from any of his mining ventures: he was dead by the end of May 1868.

Sources: Source: July 9, 2015 email from Mitch Barker, NPS archivist for Ft. Union; Harriett Frieberger, Lucien Maxwell: Villain or Visionary, Sunstone Press, 1999; J. Rush Pierce, Red River City: A history of Northern New Mexico 1800-2000, JRP Publications, 2008; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, 2015.

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.

Taos Gets New Mexico’s First Press

When New Mexico’s first printing press arrived in Taos in late November 1835, its new owner Padre Antonio José Martinez didn’t waste any time putting it to work. On Friday, November 27, he announced that the press was be available to residents to use to publish “literary contributions.”

Antonio_José_Martínez
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez circa 1848

The press and its printer, Jesús María Baca of Durango, Mexico, had arrived in Santa Fe in 1832, brought there by Don Antonio Barreriro, a barrister and governmental deputy from Mexico City, apparently at the behest of nuevomexico Legislature’s Secretary, Don Ramón Abreu.

Barreriro used the new press to print a short-lived newspaper El Crepúsculo de la Libertad (The Dawn of Liberty), the first newspaper in New Mexico and possibly the first paper published west of the Mississippi. Abreu may have also used it to publish the first book printed in New Mexico, a spelling primer titled Cuaderno de Ortografía.

Following Barreriro’s return to Mexico, Ramón Abreu sold the printing equipment to Padre Martinez, the priest assigned to Taos’ Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel, who moved it to Taos. Once it and its printer were in place, Martinez put them to work, with output ranging from diligencia matrimonials (the standard forms for pre-nuptial investigations) to religious books. And hopefully Taos residents’ “literary contributions,” as well!

Sources: Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, NM 1981; Richard W. Etulain, New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Stories, UNM Press, Albuquerque 2002; Rubén Saláz Márquez, New Mexico A Brief Multi-History, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999.

Serial Killer’s Baby is Christened in Taos

On this day in 1869, (Wednesday, September 29), three month old Samuel Kennedy was christened in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Don Fernando de Taos. He hadn’t been baptized sooner because he’d been born 25 miles east of town, at the foot of Taos Pass (today’s Palo Flechado Pass). It wasn’t a simple matter to get to Taos from what is now the Angel Fire area in those days.

Within a year, Samuel would be dead and his father about to die as a result. His father, Charles Kennedy (sometimes spelled Canady), had spent the last three years murdering and robbing men who visited the Palo Flechado cabin and Samuel’s teenage mother, Maria Gregoria, had kept silent. But in a fit of rage in late September 1870, Charles Kennedy killed his fifteen-month-old son and Samuel’s grieving mother finally took action. She fled twelve miles north to Elizabethtown to report her husband’s nefarious activities.

Samuel christening illustration

Justice was a little confused, but in the end it was served—at the hands of a lynch mob. Legend says Kennedy’s severed head ended up on a pike outside a local restaurant and saloon as a grisly reminder that even on the New Mexico Territory frontier, the death of a child would not go unrevenged.

For a fictional account of the Kennedy story, see my recently-published novel The Pain and The Sorrow (Sunstone Press).

 

Colfax County Serial Killer’s Wife Bears Him a Son

On June 24, 1869 a baby boy was born to Charles and Gregoria Kennedy, presumably at their cabin at the foot of Palo Flechado Pass on the road between Taos and Elizabethtown. Baptized in September that year at Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Taos, he was the only living child of Charles (age 31) and Gregoria (age 17) when the U.S. census taker arrived at the cabin the following summer. Charles Kennedy would become known in New Mexico Territory as the serial killer whose wife turned him in after he killed their child. Following a hung jury in Elizabethtown in Fall 1870, a mob led by Colfax County rancher and gunslinger Clay Allison would spring Kennedy from jail and see that justice was done anyway—at the end of a rope.

June 24 illustration.Christening record
Samuel Kennedy (Canady) Christening Record

Legend has it that Allison then took a butcher knife to Kennedy’s neck, severing his neck and presenting it to hotelkeeper Henri Lambert for display outside his establishment as a warning for all evildoers in Colfax County. It is also said that before he died Kennedy confessed to killing twenty-one men. Without the birth and subsequent death of that little boy, many more men might have died at his father’s hands.

If you’re interested in a fictional account of these events, please consider ordering my novel The Pain and the Sorrow, which will be released by Sunstone Press in early August.

 

Sources: New Mexico, Births and Christenings, 1726-1918; Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Clear Light Publishers, 1988; Southwest Sentinel, Silver City, NM, November 24, 1885.

Moreno Valley’s Serial Killer Gets Married

kennedy-cortez-marriage-record

On Thursday, February 28, 1867, Charles Kennedy married Gregoria Cortes at the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Church in Taos. Gregoria was the fourteen year old daughter of widower José Cortez of La Cordillera del Rancho, about two miles west of Mora. Charles was the 28 year old son of William and Fanny Canady (aka Kennedy) of Tennessee. Gregoria and Charles settled in the Moreno Valley at the foot of Palo Flechado Pass, on the road from Elizabethtown to Taos. There they kept a way station for travelers, and Charles Kennedy became embroiled in a series of lawsuits: one for selling liquor without a license, another for assaulting an Elizabethtown merchant with a deadly weapon, and still another for embezzling an Elizabethtown laborer’s money and goods. Kennedy was suspected of other nefarious activities, but nothing could be proven. Then, one day in the fall of 1870, his then seventeen year old wife appeared in Etown and denounced Kennedy as a serial killer. The subsequent Elizabethtown trial and lynching would make the Santa Fe, Silver City, and Indianapolis newspapers. The Silver City report said Kennedy claimed just prior to his lynching that he’d killed twenty-one men.