On Saturday, February 24, 1821, halfway between Mexico City and Acapulco, General Agustin de Iturbide published the Plan of Iguala and effectively established Mexico’s independence from Spain and set the stage for American conquest of New Mexico, California, and the land in between.
The plan of Iguala maintained the Catholic Church as the official religion of Mexico, created an independent limited monarchy, and established equal rights for Spaniards and creoles. The new government also reversed the Spanish policy which forbade foreign merchants to enter New Mexico, thus opening the door for William Becknell and his mule train of goods as well as the many trappers and traders who would follow him down the Santa Fe Trail.
However, the new relationship with the United States was fraught with complications. Within a few years, Mexican officials realized that the Americans were taking every opportunity to keep from paying customs duties on the goods they brought into and the furs they took out of nuevomexico. Although officials tried various measures to control the Americans, nothing was really effective. The American trappers and traders continued to be a thorn in the side of the Mexican government. In fact, it could be argued that the Americans that the Mexicans allowed in after 1821 would turn out to be a major factor in the lack of resistance to the American invasion in 1846, 25 years later.
Sources: Paul Horgan, Great River,The Rio Grande in North American History, Wesleyan Univeristy Press, Middletown, CT, 1984; : Ralph E. Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. II, The Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, 1912; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, David J. Weber, U of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1970.
In January 1826, Santiago Abreú, New Mexico’s representative in Mexico City, sent a letter to the government officials in Santa Fe. In it, he cautioned them to be wary of the Americans in the province, especially those who wanted to settle, buy land, and marry without first obtaining the appropriate citizenship papers. In addition, the letter asked officials to record the activities of all non-Mexicans in New Mexico. This governmental policy of monitoring the Americans continued into the next decade, including after Abreú himself was appointed Governor in 1831. His duties included enforcing the laws that governed the americanos’ activities, including the regulations related to trapping and trading.
Ironically, Governor Abreú was the father of Jesús Abreú, the man who would become Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell’s brother-in-law and fellow heir (through their wives) of a substantial portion of the Beaubien-Miranda land grant east of Taos. Although Canadian-born Carlos Beaubien, Jesus Abreú’s and Lucien Maxwell’s respective wives, had become a naturalized Mexican citizen prior to the grant’s being made, there is no record that Lucien Maxwell, ultimate owner of most of the land, was ever a naturalized Mexican citizen. However, by the time Beaubien died in 1864, Maxwell’s citizen was a moot point. The thing Santiago Abreú had feared, that the Americans would eventually take over, had occurred 18 years before and many of his countrymen were in eminent danger of losing their patrimony to the men who were flooding in from the eastern States.
Sources: J. Rush Pierce, Red River City: A history of Northern New Mexico 1800-2000, JRP Publications, 2008; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, UNM Press, 2008; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, 2015; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, U of Oklahoma, 1971; Stephen Zimmer, ed., For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, 1999.
“Disaster seems as inevitable as clouds piling over those mountains and more rain with them,” she said drily. She jerked her chin toward the western horizon, where gray-lined white clouds towered above the rocky peaks.
“Rain isn’t necessarily a disaster,” he said mildly. “It’s water for the crops and cattle, recharge for the well.”
“I haven’t been out of this cabin for the last ten days,” she complained. “By the time I’m done with the morning chores, it’s raining again. You’re out and about, tending the cattle, seeing to the crops. I’m in the house getting the children decent and cleaning up after them.”
“The rain means you don’t have to haul water to the garden,” he pointed out. “The clouds are bringing it to you.”
She took a deep breath, as if gearing up for an argument, then let it out, letting the anger go with it. “I’m just feeling so cooped up,” she said. “I feel like a winter-bound chicken in the hen house.”
“Well, we could eat you and take you out of your misery,” he teased.
She laughed and shook her head. “I’ll certainly be glad when the monsoon season is over with.” She looked up at him, over her shoulder. “We will get a respite from this before winter sets in, won’t we?”
He chuckled, drew her to him, and silently watched the clouds moving his way.
On Saturday December 7, 1878 the first Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) railway engine crossed from Colorado into New Mexico Territory and the New Mexico and Southern Pacific, an ATSF subsidiary began building south toward Santa Fe.
It had been a race right to the finish, the ATSF barely making reaching the New Mexico Territory border from Kansas before the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached it from Denver.
The race began on October 30, 1868, when the ATSF railroad began laying track in Topeka, Kansas. The rail line headed west from there, following the already-established Santa Fe Trail to Raton Pass. Once into New Mexico, the track extended south to Las Vegas, then west through the Glorieta Pass. West of the pass, it moved away from the Trail and headed south to Albuquerque, which it reached in 1880. At Lamy, source of the limestone for Santa Fe’s Catholic cathedral, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific built a spur line north to Santa Fe, thus ensuring a connection to the Territorial capital.
With the railway came connections south and west, as well as east. The New Mexico and Southern Pacific line reached Albuquerque on April 5, 1880, then pushed south and west. It arrived in El Paso, TX in 1881, where it would connect to the Southern Pacific, which moved steadily west toward Arizona, reaching that boundary in late July 1881. In 1882, this southern route line would extend link Texas and California, forming, with the New Mexico and Southern Pacific’s routes in the rest of New Mexico, a network of rail throughout the Territory.
Fred Harvey was already providing food and lodging for ATSF’s passengers by the time ATSF tracks reached New Mexico, but the Territory was critical to the full development of his Harvey House concept. In 1883 the male waiters at Harvey’s Raton establishment became so unruly that he fired all of them and hired young women instead. The waitress experiment was so successful that Harvey got rid of the male waiters in all of his rail establishments and replaced them with young women, the iconic waitresses who would become known as the Harvey Girls. So, not only did rail come to New Mexico in early December 1878, but New Mexico would give rail the Harvey Girl, that image of feminine efficiency that has clung ever since to the legend of Fred Harvey and his railroad restaurant/hotels.
Sources: Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate, Roadside History of New Mexico, Mountain Press, Missoula, 1989; Richard W. Etulain, Beyond the Missouri, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2006; Corina A. Santisteven and Julia Moore, Eds., Taos, A topical history, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2013; Marta Weigle, editor, Telling New Mexico, a new history, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2009; Victor Westphall, The Public Domainin New Mexico, 1854-1881,UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1965.
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.”
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.
On the night of Saturday, October 30, 1875 New Mexico Territory rancher William Low joined Mexican-born Cruz Vega beside a campfire about a mile and a half north of Cimarron. Low had hired Vega to watch his cornfields that Halloween weekend. But when a group of masked men led by Methodist missionary Oscar P. McMains showed up that night, Low wasn’t surprised. Reverend McMains had asked him to hire Vega to watch that particular cornfield. He wanted him within easy reach of the Poñil River stage road and the telegraph line that ran it.
McMains and his men had a sinister use for those telegraph poles. They suspected Vega of murdering McMain’s fellow missionary, the Reverend Franklin J. Tolby the month before, and they intended to extract a confession from him.
According to William Low, “One of them says, halloo boys, and he walked up toward Cruz with a lariat and put it around his neck, and says, come on, and they took him into the road and we along with him. We went up I judge about 500 yards among the timber, along the telegraph line: there was a party of men. It was pretty dark. These four or five men took him to a telegraph pole of their own accord: none of the parties said a word . . . One of the four or five men climbed the telegraph pole and put the rope over the wire and they raised him up, on their own accord, and after a few seconds let him down again.” After Vega recovered enough to talk, McMains interrogated him.
This process was repeated until McMains got all the information he was looking for. Then the Reverend returned to the Poñil River ranch where he and Low were staying the night and left Vega to the mercy of the now-drunken mob. McMains said later that he thought they were too drunk to do Vega any real damage. But shortly after McMains reached the ranch house, he and Low heard gunshots. “My God!” McMains exclaimed. “I fear these are the shots that kill Cruz Vega.”
And he was right. Vega’s body was found the next morning near the base of the telegraph pole. A clump of hair from his bashed-in head lay nearby and rope burns circled his neck.
Ironically, the information McMains gathered that night acquitted Vega of Tolby’s murder. Although Vega admitted that he’d witnessed the killing, he identified Manual Cardenas of Elizabethtown as the shooter. So the murderer was still at large. The saga of Reverend Tolby’s murder wasn’t quite over, and more deaths would ensue before it was. . . . Stay tuned.
Sources: Las Vegas Gazette, Nov. 14, 1875. Las Vegas Gazette, August 25, 1877.
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.
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).
On Thursday, September 16, 1875, 142 years ago today, the body of Methodist missionary Franklin J. Tolby was found lying beside the Cimarron Canyon road near the mouth of Clear Creek, shot in the back. He’d been there two days, killed while returning from church services at Elizabethtown. His horse was tethered nearby and none of Tolby’s goods were missing. It was clearly a case of assassination and many people believed they knew why he was killed. But who did it and who’d ordered the killing? Those were the burning questions that some people believe were never answered.
Tolby had begun preaching vehemently against the Maxwell Land Grant & Railway Company almost as soon as he’d arrived in Colfax County in early 1874. The Company had bought the Beaubien-Miranda Grant from Lucien B. Maxwell and his wife four years before. The fact that the Grant boundaries were disputed wasn’t going to stop them from maximizing their profits from every bit of its roughly 1.9 million acres. They would use whatever means necessary to keep anyone they deemed a squatter off the Grant, even people the Maxwells had work/share agreements with prior to the sale.
The 33 year old Reverend Tolby preached that the farmers and ranchers were more in the right than the Grant people. After all, the U.S. Department of the Interior had ordered the grant land to be treated as public, which made it available to homesteaders.
In addition, Tolby advocated that part of the grant be set aside a reservation for the bands of Utes and Arapahoes who traditionally hunted there. And he said so quite strongly.
Tolby became increasingly annoying to the Company, whose board of directors included Dr. Robert Longwill (Colfax County Probate Judge), Stephen B. Elkins (New Mexico Territorial delegate to Congress), and Thomas B. Catron (U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Territory), all members of the Santa Fe Ring and working hard to extract as much money as possible from the Territory in general and the former Maxwell Grant in particular.
Any of these men and their associates, including Cimarron Attorney Melvin W. Mills and its part-time Justice of the Peace (who was Mills’ office clerk) had reason to wish Tolby dead. After all, the Reverend was interfering with their business interests! But consensus among the anti-Grant folks in the County was that none of the Ring men were likely to dirty their hands with the actual deed itself. In fact, many suspected substitute mail carrier Cruz Vega of killing Tolby. After all, Vega’s Tuesday, September 14 mail route took him through the Cimarron Canyon, but he hadn’t reported seeing a body. This seemed mighty suspicious. Clearly, he knew something.
But Vega spoke only Spanish, which was a problem for the primarily English-speaking men who suspected him. They couldn’t find out what he knew. And they weren’t getting much help from the County’s Spanish-speaking population.
But there was another stubborn Methodist minister in Cimarron, and this one would prove to be even more tenacious than his predecessor. Rev. Tolby’s assistant Rev. Oscar P. McMains was now in charge, and he was hell bent on finding out what Vega knew. It would take six weeks before that confrontation occurred, and when it did it would create even more havoc. Stay tuned . . .
Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, UNM Press, 2014; Moreno Valley Writers Guild, Lure, Lore and Legends of the Moreno Valley, Columbine Books 1997; Chuck Parsons, Clay Allison, Portrait of a Shootist, Pioneer Book Publishers, 1983; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Stephen Zimmer, Sunstone Press, 1999.
“Did you know the Maxwell Land Grant Company is evicting people who’ve been farming here for decades?” the Reverend Franklin Tolby demanded.
At the other end of the small pine table, Mary Tolby moved a raised biscuit from the chipped ceramic platter to her plate. “That’s terrible,” she said. “These biscuits are quite good this time. I think I’ve finally gotten used to that stove. Ruthie, eat your peas or there’ll be no dessert.”
Her husband picked absently at his food. “It’s a moral outrage,” he said. “They have no right.”
Mary looked anxiously at his pale face. Since they’d arrived in Cimarron, Franklin had been on horseback constantly, west to Elizabethtown, south to Fort Union and beyond, yet his cheeks showed no evidence of windburn or sun.
“I’ve made strawberry pie for desert,” she said. “An Indian girl came by selling berries. They’re very sweet. The result should be quite tasty.”
Franklin’s eyes focused on her for a split second, then his head snapped up, as if he were listening to something outside the house. “And the Indians,” he said. “With this much land, there’s room for them also.” He paused for a long moment, fork in the air, then said, “Excuse me,” dropped his frayed linen napkin onto the table, and hurried from the room. She heard him scrabbling through the papers on his desk as he prepared to write down whatever had just come to him.
Mary sighed and reached to cover the food on his half-empty plate with a clean napkin. “Ruthie, eat your peas,” she said absently.