“The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”
— Woodrow T. Wilson
Much like President Bush’s “mission accomplished” statement, Gen. Kearny announced that the only resistance to the invasion of New Mexico was the mud on his wagon wheels. Both statements were made way too premature.
Kearney failed to do his research on the inhabitants of Northern New Mexico. Had he done his homework, he would have learned how resilient, self-sustaining, proud, cunning, and fearless Norteños were.
The settlements in northern New Mexico were the farthest outpost during both the Spanish and Mexican period. They had no support, military or otherwise. They had to either evolve with the characteristics described above, or perish.
They were cunning enough not to face the U.S. Army and their superior weapons head on. Besides, Kearney had left Mexicano local government intact and promised that not an onion would be disturbed. But Kearny left to California within a month of arriving. By late October 1846, an inexperienced volunteer named Col. Sterling Price had taken command of New Mexico.
Col. Price commanded 14 companies of 2nd Missouri Volunteer Regiment. These soldiers were not disciplined, nor did they seem to have any respect for the people, property or the culture.
By January 1847, rebels of Taos, Rio Arriba, Mora, and San Miguel counties prepared to revolt against the occupation. It is important to note that the pueblo natives of El Norte joined with the Mestizo and Spanish against occupation. This revolt ended with the death of New Mexico’s first governor, Charles Bent.
Price took 479 soldiers and advanced weaponry to fight and loot their way to Taos. He was able to put down the resistance by Feb. 5, 1847. Capt. Jesse Morin punished Mora by leveling every building, killing all the livestock, and burning all the crops. The only resistance group left was from San Miguel County, led by Manuel Cortes.
There were never any more calculated uprisings against occupation in El Norte. However, Los Norteños did not lie down and allow themselves to be pushed around.
On June 26, 1847, Capt. Thomas Horine lost some horses. The following morning, a well-armed Lt. Brown, privates Mc Lanahan and Quisenberry, along with an unnamed Mexican guide headed south into the lower Gallinas Canyon in search of the livestock.
They arrived at Los Valles de San Agustín, near modern-day Romeroville. Lt. Brown and his group spent the night at the home of Alcalde Santiago Martin. This was proper because the U.S. Army was supposed to recognize all local government officials.
The following day, on June 28, Lt. Brown set out with his group. To the Alcalde’s surprise, Lt. Brown began to drive off livestock belonging to community members of Los Valles. Alcalde Martin ordered a posse to stop the theft.
Lt. Brown conceded that all the livestock was not U.S. property. A dispute began over the ownership of one particular mule that belonged to the Alcalde. Lt. Brown fired the first shot, killing one vecino. The Alcalde and his posse had only one flint lock pistol accompanied with bows and arrows.
When the dust settled, 10 vecinos lay dead, Alcalde Martin, his sons and other vecinos were still standing. However, Lt. Brown and his party were killed. This was a clear case of justifiable homicide at the very least. When Lt. Brown and company failed to return to base, an all-out search was activated.
Several inhabitants were taken into custody. They were tortured, whipped and threatened with hanging. One Mexicano eventually gave information on the demise of Lt. Brown and his party.
On July 6, Edmonson opened up on the village of Los Valles with cannons and a 12-pound mountain Howitzer, killing men, women and children. Every building was leveled, including the mill of Alcalde Martin. All food was destroyed and all remaining structures were burned to the ground. Fifty prisoners were taken to Santa Fe. Seven were eventually charged with murder.
Price insisted on a military tribunal even though murder was a civilian crime. The vecinos were given military representation (defense attorney). This representative wrote in his diary that their conviction was a foregone conclusion.
All judicial participants were members of the military. No one spoke Spanish, nor was there an interpreter. All these procedures were a direct violation of Kearny’s Code (Bill of Rights). Six of the seven were found guilty of murder, Tomás Duran, Jorge Rodrigues, Manuel Saens, and brothers Pedro, Carpio, and Leonicio Martinez. Manuel Alvarado was acquitted and ordered released.
On Monday morning August 3, 1847, the six vecinos were hanged in Santa Fe at the palace of the governors, much like the hangings of resistors in Taos and Mora. These incidents are a perfect example of “The Peoples History of El Norte,” and must be recognized, recorded and remembered.
Rock Ulibarri is a local resident and educator. He may be reached at 505-440-9776.