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.
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.
There Will Be Consequences is now available at Bookshop.org, so you can buy it from an independent bookstore without leaving the comfort of your home! Personally, my favorite store to order from is Collected Works here in Santa Fe. If you don’t already have a favorite Bookshop.org store, please give them a try or order from them directly
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 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… ”
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.”
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.”
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. 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,” 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” 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” 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. 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.
 “Incidents of Travel in New Mexico,” G. Douglas Brewerton, Harper’s Weekly Magazine, Vol. XLVII, April 1854, p. 588.
One of the most frustrating moments in researching historical fiction is when you realize the historical record doesn’t provide any clues about why a particular event occurred. While I was researching my forthcoming novel There Will Be Consequences, the incident I struggled most with in this way was the August 10, 1837 death of former New Mexico governor Santiago Abreú and his aide Diego Saenz.
The historical sources focus in rather gruesome detail on the men’s capture by indigenous rebel warriors, Abreú’s overnight confinement in the stocks at Santo Domingo Pueblo and subsequent dismemberment, and both men’s death. However, these sources provide no explanation for these killings other than one obscure reference to Abreú’s support for a New Mexico militia ten years before. The clear subtext of the reports is that the people of Santo Domingo were irrational, barbarous, and treacherous savages who had no real reason to treat Abreú and Saenz the way they did.
The thread of Santo Domingo treachery runs through all the published accounts of the 1837 New Mexico revolt, beginning with the battle of La Mesilla on August 8, when the Pueblo’s warriors are said to have switched sides, thus ensuring the defeat of the government forces. The theme continues in the accounts of Governor Pérez’s August 9 death—Santo Domingo men are said to have used his severed head as a football—and culminates in Santiago Abreú’s death the next day.
My initial reaction to this trope of treacherous savagery was to suspect that the initial Spanish historians and later American chroniclers had, at the very least, greatly exaggerated the Pueblo’s actions because they wanted to transfer the blame for the bloodier outcomes of the revolt away from the Spanish and mixed race participants.
However, given the unanimity of the accounts about where and how Santiago Abreú died, I thought it possible there could be some truth in them. At the very least, I felt I should explore why he and Diego Saenz were killed. The implication that their deaths were a natural result of the Santo Domingo character and not the consequence of any action of Abreú or Saenz felt racist and lacking in nuance, to say the least.
I began to look further, moving back in time and broadening my scope. In that process, I learned that, aside from long-simmering tensions between the Spanish/Mexican conquerors and New Mexico’s First Peoples, an incident during Abreú’s 1832-33 term as governor could shed light on what happened in 1837.
Abreú’s administration had granted a man named José Francisco Ortiz, or “El Sonoreño,” the right to mine in what is now known as the Ortiz Mountains, east of the pueblo of Santo Domingo. This cluster of peaks includes Mount Chalchihuitl, a location important to the region’s First Nations people as a source of turquoise, the opaque blue-green stone revered for its healing and protective properties.
I imagine this handover to Ortiz as deeply disturbing to the land’s traditional users, especially those who lived as close to it as the residents of Santo Domingo. Ortiz was from Sonora (hence the nickname). Since he hadn’t been born and raised in New Mexico, it’s unlikely he would have understood or felt any empathy with the Pueblos or their concerns.
Also, the historical record indicates Ortiz may not have been the most savory of persons. His first appearance in the archives is as the defendant on a September 1805 charge of vagrancy, theft, and sedition. In June 1820, he was in court again, this time in response to a lawsuit for 11,000 pesos he’d neglected to pay for merchandise received in Chihuahua. And then there’s the report that after Ortiz and two associates were given the mining grant, he convinced New Mexico officials to invoke a seldom-enforced law that forced one of his partners out of the country, leaving more of the operation for himself.
These incidents led me to suspect that Ortiz’s relationship with the traditional users of the mountains he was mining wouldn’t have been a pleasant one. The long-standing conflict between New Mexico’s Spanish and Pueblo peoples, as well as the fact that Ortiz gained the right to mine during Santiago Abreú’s term seemed to provide a plausible rationale for the August 1837 events at Santo Domingo.
Will I ever know for sure? I doubt it. In this case, plausibility is all I have to go on. And it makes for some intense scenes in There Will Be Consequences, as the Pueblo warriors demonstrate to the former governor the inevitable consequences of assuming that one can control and divide up a resource that, in truth, belongs to no one.
As the priest at Taos in the 1830s, Padre Antonio José Martínez played a pivotal role in the New Mexico government’s attempt to keep discontent at bay. He was especially active in 1837/38, working against the revolt that is the subject of my forthcoming biographical novel, There Will Be Consequences.
The rebellion centered in Santa Cruz de la Cañada, about fifty miles south of Taos, but after its initial suppression in September 1837, many of the revolutionaries seem to have headed north to Taos.
Antonio José had grown up in the Taos area, the oldest of six children from the wealthy Martín-Santistéban family. The fortress-like home his parents built outside town still stands as a monument to their status. Although he was well educated, his family had apparently not planned for Antonio José to enter the priesthood. He married María de la Luz Martín of Abiquiu in May 1812, in a joint ceremony with her brother José Manuel and Antonio José’s sister Juana María.
However, life didn’t go as planned. María de la Luz died the following year after giving birth to a little girl, also named María de la Luz. This seems to have begun a turning point for Antonio José. Four years later, at age 25, he entered the Tridentine Seminary in Durango, Mexico and began studying for the priesthood.
When he returned to New Mexico in 1823, Antonio José was not only ordained, but he’d also adopted the use of the less-common last name Martínez. After an introductory period serving in temporary positions, he was assigned to the communities in the Taos area.
By 1837, the padre was responsible for more than the religious lives of his parishioners. He was also running a school for local children and a preparatory seminary. At the same time, he served as consul for Americans in New Mexico, operated a printing press that produced literary publications as well as church forms, and was the Taos representative to New Mexico’s Departmental Assembly.
So Antonio José Martínez was a man to be reckoned with, both in his religious and secular roles. From what we know of his later interactions with Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, I think it’s safe to say he was also not someone who bowed easily to the opinions of others. As a rico and a priest, he seems to have been firmly on the side of what he might have called “law and order.” While I was writing There Will Be Consequences,I had great fun imagining his reaction in late 1837 when the rebels at Taos demanded that he quit preaching against the revolt. They also wanted him to stop asking for the customary church burial, baptism, and marriage fees. The evidence indicates that this conversation did not go well.
However, the rebels’ pushback does seem to have slowed Antonio José’s remarks down a little. After all, they were also threatening his younger brother, Subprefect Santiago Martínez.
But Martínez the brother was still padre at Taos. Although the exact sequence of events isn’t clear, we know his actions and language precipitated at least one other confrontation, one so intense that it required the appearance of the local magistrate and other loyalists to keep violence from erupting.
Tensions remained high. By early January 1838, Antonio José sent a letter to interim governor Manuel Armijo warning of the likelihood of another rebel outbreak. In the middle of the month he followed his missive to the capitol.
And stayed there. When Armijo began to prepare to meet the rebels one last time, Martínez volunteered to act as his chaplain. But he didn’t hover in the background. The padre was at the governor’s side during the final battle at Pojoaque Pass on Saturday, January 27. In fact, he reportedly went “heroically about attending to the wounded and consoling the dying with the last rites.”
Antonio José Martínez may have been a man of the cloth, but he was clearly also a man of action. Will we ever know exactly what he was thinking that cold January day? Probably not, but it’s certainly interesting to consider the possibilities.
 Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, pp. 56-57.
If it seems like I’ve been a little disengaged lately, it’s because I’ve been deep in the heart of 1837 New Mexico again, working on another novel about the tax rebellion that occurred here in the winter of 1837/38.
If you’ve read No Secret Too Small, you know I’ve already written a novel about these events. That story was from the point of view of a child whose family drama ultimately took precedence over even a governor’s grisly death.
This new novel, There Will Be Consequences,focuses on the adults who participated on both sides of the 1837/38 rebellion. This book is a departure for me in that it contains only people who actually lived through the events in the story, including Governor Albino Pérez, rebel leader 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. It dives deeply into their responses to events and the rationale for their actions.
I’m excited about this book. Writing “real” characters was a challenge, but invigorating at the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of it! Watch this space for more information and the cover reveal/preorder link on November 10!