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NEW MEXICO

A General History Of New Mexico

A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE TAOS / SANTA FE AREA OF NEW MEXICO

Old Adobe Ruins in the Rio Chama Valley near Abiquiu
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The Spaniards in New Mexico were now becoming very suspicious of the increasing numbers of American traders. In 1810, Joseph McLanahan, Reuben Smith, and James Patterson were arrested and ended up spending two years in a Chihuahuan jail after arriving in Santa Fe with trade goods from Missouri. In 1812, the same thing happened to Robert McKnight, James Baird, Benjamin Shreve, Michael McDonough, and Samuel Chambers. In 1814, mountain man Joseph Philibert was jailed in Santa Fe for trespassing on Spanish territory. Two years later, Auguste Pierre Chouteau and Jules DeMun were arrested, losing all their goods and furs in the bargain. But then, in 1821, the Mexican Revolution changed everything - Americans were now welcome in New Mexico! That same year, three different parties arrived in Santa Fe from the Missouri territory. The William Becknell party arrived in Santa Fe first followed by the John McKnight/Thomas James expedition. The McKnight/James party had a two-fold mission involving trade in New Mexico and a search for kin in Old Mexico. (John McKnight was searching for his brother Robert who had been jailed by Spanish authorities nine years before. The brothers were reunited in 1822, but the following year John McKnight was killed by Comanches near the North Fork of the Canadian River.) Jacob Fowler and Hugh Glenn were on a trading and trapping expedition. Fowler waited near present-day Pueblo, Colorado while Glenn journeyed to Santa Fe to get permission to trap the San Juan Mountains. In 1822, William Becknell made his second trip to Santa Fe. Later that year, James Baird and Samuel Chambers left St. Louis for Taos, arriving early in 1823. In 1824, Alexander LeGrand led the largest expedition of the year (83 persons) from the Missouri settlements to Santa Fe. Accompanying LeGrand on this expedition were Meredith M. Marmaduke (future governor of Missouri), Augustus Storrs, and Thomas L. (Pegleg) Smith. It was during this same period that mountain men and fur-trappers based in the Taos Valley began to make their forays into the Southern Rockies in search of beaver. Some of the first mountain men to utilize the Taos area included Ewing Young, William Wolfskill, Antoine Leroux, William Huddart, Etienne Provost, and Antoine Robidoux. The following year, a surveying expedition bound for Santa Fe and led by Benjamin Reeves, Pierre Menard, Thomas Mather, and George C. Sibley set out from Missouri. Members of this expedition included Benjamin Majors (father of Alexander Majors), Benjamin Jones (ex-Astorian), Joseph R. Walker (soon to become one of the most famous of the mountain men), and William S. (Old Bill) Williams (already a seasoned mountain man who was reputed to have first entered the Rockies back in 1807). In October, 1825, Sylvester and James Ohio Pattie made a brief appearance in Taos during their journey southwest.

Rio Grande Rift
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By 1826, American traders and trappers were coming in droves to New Mexico. It was during this year that Christopher (Kit) Carson made his first trip to the Southwest in the company of traders from Missouri. (Carson soon learned the tricks of the trapping trade from men like Mathew Kinkead, Ewing Young, Thomas Fitzpatrick, and John Gantt). In 1827, Sylvester Pratte (son of Bernard Pratte) led a fur-trapping expedition from Taos into the Colorado Rockies. This expedition included Milton Sublette, Thomas L. Smith, "Old Bill" Williams, and Ceran St. Vrain. In North Park, Sylvester Pratte (heir to the Bernard Pratte/Pierre Chouteau fur-trading firm of St. Louis) was bitten by a rabid dog. His passing was slow and horrible. After Pratte's death, Ceran St. Vrain was appointed to lead the expedition but while the trappers lingered in North Park, another mishap occurred. Thomas L. (Pegleg) Smith lost his leg as the result of an arrow wound. Undaunted, Tom Smith simply carved himself a wooden peg-leg and eventually made his way back to Taos!

In 1828, the Mexican government effectually curtailed the use of Taos as a base for the Southern Rocky Mountain fur trade. American fur companies could no longer obtain licenses to operate in Mexican territory. In this same year, travelers on the Santa Fe Trail began to encounter unsettling signs of hostile Indians. For several years now, a new and ferocious tribe of Indians had been making their presence felt in New Mexico. The Cheyenne (accompanied by the Arapahos) raided incessantly, terrorizing the eastern pueblos and eventually forcing the abandonment of Pecos Pueblo in 1828. By 1838, the last survivors of Pecos had disappeared. (Many of them ended up in Jemez Pueblo, west of the Rio Grande.) In August, 1828, a caravan of traders (which included Meredith M. Marmaduke and Milton Sublette) was attacked by an unknown party of Indians near Upper Cimarron Springs on the Santa Fe Trail. The attacking Indians were probably hostile Comanches or Cheyennes, but when the traders encountered a

peaceful group of Pawnees several days later, they shot and killed most of the party. This disgraceful act resulted in a full-scale Indian war between the Pawnees and the whites. Later that fall, John Means was killed and scalped by Comanches near Upper Cimarron Springs after leading his caravan there from Santa Fe. In 1829, a trading party led by Charles Bent encountered hostile Indians from western Kansas all the way to New Mexico. Traveling with Bent's caravan were William Bent, David and William Waldo, Milton E. Bryan, Major Bennet Riley, and a group of mountain men led by Ewing Young. In September, 1829, a Missouri-bound caravan accompanied by Mexican soldiers was attacked by hostile Indians near the Cimarron River. In this engagement, a Pueblo Indian traveling with the caravan gave his life to save that of Colonel Jose Antonio Viscarra, the commander of the Mexican troops. What a change from Otermin's and Vargas' times!

In 1831, a large expedition led by Jedediah Smith, David Jackson, and William Sublette set out from Independence, Missouri bound for Santa Fe. The expedition included Jonathan Trumball Warner, Samuel Parkman, Thomas Fitzpatrick, and two of Jedediah's brothers (Austin and Peter). When the caravan reached the Cimarron "desert", a nearly waterless stretch of the Santa Fe Trail between the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers, Smith and Fitzpatrick were forced to ride ahead in search of water. The pair discovered a dry water hole just north of the Cimarron River. Fitzpatrick returned to the caravan while Smith continued south towards the river. It would be his last quest. He was never seen again. When the expedition reached Santa Fe (on July 4), Austin Smith was able to purchase his brother's rifle and pistols from a group of Mexicans who had obtained them from Comanche Indians near the Cimarron River. From the Mexicans, Austin Smith learned that Jedediah had been surprised near a water hole and lanced to death by a Comanche war party. So passed one of the greatest of the American mountain men.

It was also in 1831 that Josiah Gregg (author of "Commerce of the Plains", 1844) made his first journey west. Later that fall, Charles Bent arrived in Taos with a caravan from Independence, Missouri. He got there just in time to meet his new business partner. The year 1831 would see the start of "one of the most important fur-trading firms in the American West" - that of Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain.

Meanwhile, commercial traffic on the Santa Fe Trail continued unabated until the summer of 1837. It was during this year that the New Mexican tax rebellion occurred, resulting in a decrease in overland trade to New Mexico. Violence was largely confined to the Mexican aristocracy - Governor Albino Perez, Secretary of State Jesus Maria Alarid, and former governor Don Santiago Abreu were all ruthlessly murdered. The rebellion was put down by Manuel Armijo who was soon to become the most infamous of New Mexico's governors. In 1841, New Mexico was threatened by a new enemy from the eastern plains - the Texans. The first expedition of Texans under Brigadier General Hugh McLeod met with disaster on the arid plains of western Texas - the entire force was captured by Armijo's troops and imprisoned in Mexico City. Along the way, the Texans were cruelly treated by their Mexican captors. Captain Damasio Salezar (commander of the Mexican escort) was personally responsible for the deaths of five Texans during the journey south. Salezar severed the ears from each of his victims. Governor Armijo eventually received the grisly trophies, nailing them to the wall of his office in Santa Fe.

But trouble with the Texans was not over. In 1843, travelers on the Santa Fe Trail had to contend with several parties of Texans who were out to intercept and capture any Mexican caravans unlucky enough to encounter them. That spring, a Mexican trader named Antonio Jose Chaves was robbed and killed by a small party of Texans under the command of Captain John McDaniel. (Chavez was carrying over $10,000 in species and gold bullion at the time.) Another group of Texan partisans under Colonel Jacob Snively was lurking on the south side of the Arkansas River near the Cimarron Crossings. It was this group of Texans that ran into Captain Phillip St. George Cooke (Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart's future father-in-law) with three companies of the 1st U.S. Dragoons on the 30th of June. The Texans were disarmed and paroled home. Meanwhile, another group of Texans led by Colonel Charles A. Warfield raided the little town of Mora, killing and wounding more than 30 people. As a result of this action, Governor Armijo closed New Mexico to American traders. (These restrictions were rescinded in 1844 by Santa Anna, the president of Mexico.) By late summer, Captain Cooke was joined by a platoon from A Company, 1st U.S. Dragoons under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Richard S. Ewell (future Civil War commander who served under "Stonewall" Jackson and Turner Ashby in the Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1862). The Dragoons encountered other groups of Texans on the trail (who they disarmed and sent home) and several traders (including Manuel Alvarez, Kit Carson, Dick Owens, and Ceran St. Vrain).

 
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