Wounds That Have Not Healed: Taos Revolt of 1847 and Kit Carson Park
The recent controversy over the renaming of Kit Carson Park to Red Willow Park has a backstory that predates the presence of American settlers and goes to the heart of the reconciliation aspect of the name change. Namely that Hispanic and Native residents of this territory resisted and revolted against the thievery and corruption of the newly appointed governing powers that were imposed by the United States military after the Mexican-American War.
Nuevo Mexico (the northern remote tip of New Spain that reached Colorado) was a long way from Mexico City and there was no gold and silver to speak of, so the Nortenos went about their business for generations with little oversight from Spanish colonial officials. After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Spanish regained control of the territory and applied lessons learned from the Revolt, but the Pueblos would continue to chafe under colonial and religious laws. Generations of these relationships created the basis for the New Mexico culture that exists today — until the Americans showed up on the scene during their Manifest Destiny campaigns that brought in so-called Spanish and Mexican territories from Florida to California under American rule. There continues to be an American amnesia that pervades everything historical, as if nothing and no one existed before 1492 or 1776 or 1847 or 1900 and the beginnings of the American Empire.
A knife case made from buffalo also shows Phillip’s skill at beadwork and painting.
The Pueblos had accepted Spanish rule to form an uneasy alliance against raiding tribes like the Kiowa and Comanche from the east and the Navajo and Apache from the west. There are still names to areas where tribes would come to set up camp and send in delegates to initiate trading between themselves and the Pueblos and Spanish. Natives say that Pecos Pueblo was a major trade center and was destroyed so that the Spanish could set up Santa Fe as the new trade center. Taos Pueblo, because of its location, was always a trading center along the Rocky Mountains far away enough from the Spanish power centers to develop itself culturally.
Relations among the Pueblos and Spanish created communities of Genizaro, mixed Native and European families not accepted into either society, who created their own communities between the two cultures to take on much of the work that supported the vital trade economy of the territory. In 1820 Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the Santa Fe Trail opened, and American traders set up shop “illegally,” as permission to enter the territory had to come from Mexico City, 1600 miles away.
Pastel portrait of Manuel Armijo by Alfred S. Waugh, ca. 1840. Source: Wikimedia commons.
Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the new president of Mexico, appointed Albino Perez as the governor to New Mexico in 1836, and he was instantly caught in a revolt as the Nortenos rejected him and elected a Taos cibolero (hunter) Jose Angel Gonzales as their governor. Perez was killed in Santa Fe before he could flee back to Mexico City. No one took credit for the murder as two sides emerged, the local Nortenos and Natives on one side and the new American traders and profiteers and their allies on the other. Some of these locals were Ricos, rich businessmen who worked the inside angles between the locals and the Americans. Mexico City appointed a new governor, Manuel Armijo. Armijo set about learning the identities of the 1836 Rebellion leaders — and then executing them, starting with Jose Gonzales. American businessmen were supportive of Armijo because he was eliminating their competition, even though he represented the Mexican government. Armijo cunningly arranged deals with these businessmen, signing off on huge parcels of land that were Spanish/Mexican communal land grants known as ejidos. These had been set aside for the citizens for firewood, cattle grazing and sheep herding, they were for public and not private use. In the ten years Armijo held this office, all these ejidos disappeared from the New Mexico citizens and into the hands of the American businessmen. Along the Santa Fe Trail was Bent’s Fort, run by fur trader Charles Bent, his brother William, family friend Ceran St.Vrain, and cronies Charles Beaubien and Stephen Lee, who all ran this huge trading enterprise. Governor Armijo would sign away millions of acres to himself and these men.
Depiction of Battle of Taos, showing the death of Capt. John Burgwin, then serving under Col. Sterling Price. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
In September 1846, U.S. Army General Stephen Kearny stopped long enough on his way to California to appoint Charles Bent the governor of this new American territory. All the ill will would boil over as resistance to the Americans resulted in a revolt on Jan 19, 1847, as men from Taos and Santa Cruz executed Gov. Bent and many of his business associates. Within days, American mountain men and traders under a Missouri slave-owner and future Confederate officer, Col. Sterling Price, gathered a volunteer army of riflemen on horses and with howitzer cannons defeated the rebels at Pojoaque and Santa Cruz and then on to destroy much of Mora and lay siege to Taos Pueblo, where San Geronimo church and the records it held were destroyed. Rebel leader Pablo Montoya was hanged in the Taos Plaza and Tomas Romero of Taos Pueblo was murdered in his jail cell. From April to May, courts made up of Bent’s allies rounded up the remaining rebel leaders and hung them in the Taos Plaza on charges of treason and murder. Col. Price conducted brutal raids looking for rebels, and held summary executions of young and old males. Accounts tell of “treasonous Mexicans” being executed and hanged publically. The Taos Pueblo women had to carry their dead husbands’ bodies the few miles back to the Pueblo. This historical trauma still reverberates in the hearts of these New Mexican families. This is where today’s Peace and Reconciliation aspect starts to gain meaning and we finally get to Kit Carson and the Navajo.
As far as we know, Carson had nothing to do with all that back story. He was a mountain man and fur trader, and he had two Indian wives and children with them. Then he married Josefa Jaramillo of a prominent Taos family to start a business and settle down. He reportedly had good relations with local Native tribes, speaking a few Indian languages but never learning to write. He was a scout for the Union forces during the Civil War and was at the Battle of Glorieta N.M. Reluctant to go back to war, he was forcibly reminded by the U.S. Army that he was still an active Colonel. Carson took on the job, thinking he could bring in the 8,000 Navajos with less violence than the Army. The Navajos still bitterly recall Carson’s burning of their beloved peach trees in Canyon de Chelly during a type of scorched earth campaign to break down the Navajo will to resist. Hundreds died on the Long Walk to Ft Sumner and then hundreds more died in exile at the Bosque Redondo.
Navajo survivors of the long walk to Fort Sumner, which began in 1864. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
Part of the controversy is that people who think of untainted romantic notions of Kit Carson and other American heroes and myths myth don’t even know the names and stories of all these dead men who were killed when America’s Manifest Destiny came to the New Mexico. When the territories of New Mexico and Arizona finally had a large enough Anglo-Christian population, they were allowed statehood. What I’ve learned from the locals is this: Nortenos say they resisted the Spanish and the Mexicans and then came the Americans. And the Natives pretended to follow Spanish rule, then the Spanish pretended to follow American rule, so now no one really knows who’s in charge and the myth of Tri-Culturalism was born to explain it all to the just-moved-here-from-back-east types.
It’s very easy to think that this place only existed after William Bonney, aka Billy The Kid (born in New York City), got involved with the Lincoln County War, the crooked Santa Fe Ring cut its deals and then Hollywood came to make movies. And guess what, there’s a new casting call looking for Native actors in a period piece about Mountain Men, called “The Revenant” starring Leonardo DeCaprio. Oh, that’s So New Mexico.
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez ( a major figure in New Mexico history, who is also buried in the park) was said by some (including Kit Carson) to orchestrate The Taos Revolt and the execution of Governor Bent and his associates in 1847. Martinez witnessed the bad behavior of the Americans against his Spanish parishioners and the Native peoples and knew there would be trouble ahead. Local Native lore says that the Spanish settlers dressed up “as Indians” during the uprising when they attacked Governor Bent.
Padre Antonio Jose Martinez memorial in Kit Carson Park. Source: Wikimedia commons.
Padre Martinez had tried to drum up resistance to the Americans and hounded Nuevo Mexico Governor Manuel Armijo into defending Santa Fe against the American Army under General Stephen Kearney in 1846. Armijo was going to surrender the capital — perhaps he thought his illegal actions in selling the land grants to the American businessmen would allow him some maneuvering room — but he ended up fleeing in the night to Mexico City. It was called The Battle of Santa Fe (or Canoncito) and no shots were fired. Gen. Kearney appointed Charles Bent as territorial governor, then left for California which was the richer prize. A few months later, the Taos Revolt occurred. These are issues still being debated as the Town of Taos tries to resolve the Kit Carson Park controversy.
Santa Fe NM