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.

The Road to Santa Fe–and Taos

santa-fe-trail-map-1826-cropped-small

In February 1825, the United States Congress appropriated $25,000 to mark and survey a road between Missouri and Santa Fe. The survey was intended to formalize the informal trail that had been in use since at least 1821. In what would eventually become Colfax County, the “mountain branch” of the Trail crossed Raton Pass and moved directly south through what are now Cimarron and Rayado en route to Santa Fe. However, the Congressional Survey party took what was known as the Cimarron Cut Off, which swung south from the Arkansas River in what is now southwest Kansas to angle southwest until it connected with the mountain branch near Rayado.

At this point, travelers to Taos could decide whether to swing down through Santa Fe and then north or to cut west across the mountains. Taos was an important destination for those Trail travelers who were dealing in beaver fur or looking to outfit men engaged in fur trapping. Travelers headed there could take two different routes, depending on their mode of transportation. If their goods could be packed onto mules, they could follow a well-established mule track across the Cimarron range into the southern part of the Moreno Valley and then over Apache Pass to Valle Escondido. Just north of Valle Escondido, they would hit the San Fernando River, which would lead them into the Taos Valley. But if they needed to get wagons across and into Taos, they would have to find another route, such as the one Santa Fe Road Commissioner George C. Sibley followed. This route swung into the mountains south of Rayado and then north to Taos, where he completed the Santa Fe Road survey maps in late 1825.

Sources: Brown, J. C, and George Champlin Sibley. [Santa Fe route]. 1825. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/98687168/&gt;.

Schmidt, Steve. Presentation to Santa Fe Trail Association, Cimarron, NM. June 2015.

 

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