Friday, November 10, 2017

The Taos Revolt, 1847

In August of 1846, the New Mexico territory was under Mexican rule when it was surrendered over to American military forces under General Stephen Watts Kearny.

Today, General Kearny is remembered for his commitment to duty and significant contributions during the Mexican-American War. General Stephen  Kearny should not be confused with his nephew Philip Kearny who was a Union General during the Civil War.

His nephew Major General Philip Kearny is probably best known for his action during the Battle of Williamsburg during the Civil War. At Williamsburg, before leading his men into battle, he yelled, "I'm a one-armed Jersey son-of-a-gun, follow me!" Then General Kearny led the charge with his sword in his hand, with his reins in his teeth. He is noted for urging his men forward, saying, "Don't worry, men, they'll all be firing at me!" 

The other thing about Major General Philip Kearny that's very memorable is the way he died. On September 1st, 1862, during the Battle of Chantilly, General Kearny is said to have decided to investigate what was believed to be a gap in the Union lines. Though he was warned by a subordinate of the risk that he'd be taking, he responded, "The Rebel bullet that can kill me has not yet been molded." 

Well that was fine until he came into contact with a large body of Confederate soldiers who may have molded that minie ball that morning. When the Confederates figured out that they captured a Union  General, they demanded that he surrender. Instead of surrendering, he turned his horse toward his lines and tried to escape. General Kearny had an interesting way of riding a horse, it was more like a jockey with his butt in the air. So yes, some Confederate soldiers must have thought it funny to shoot a Yankee General in the butt. Records say that minie ball entered one butt cheek and came out his shoulder. It killed him instantly. 

As for his uncle, General Stephen Watts Kearny received the surrender of the New Mexico territory by Mexican Viceroy Manuel Armijo at the Battle of Santa Fe. Believe it or not, it wasn't much of a battle. In fact it's said to have taken place without a single shot being fired. 

It's true. the Battle of Santa Fe took place near Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was the capital of the Mexican Province of New Mexico. The "battle" lasted from August 8th through the 15th, 1846. No shots, none at all, were fired during the capturing of Santa Fe.

Before getting to New Mexico, General Stephen W. Kearny's orders were to secure the New Mexico territory and Alta California (Northern California). To do that, he moved his 1,700 man Army of the West southwest from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and into New Mexico. 

On August 9th in Santa Fe, Governor Manuel Armijo set up a defensive position in Apache Canyon which is about 10 miles southeast of Santa Fe. But on August 14th, before Kearny's Army ever arrived, the Mexican governor Armijo decided not to fight. General Kearny and his men arrived on August 15th and entered Santa Fe. He then claimed the New Mexico Territory for the United States. All without a single shot being fired. 

As military governor of the territory, Kearny establish offices including appointing the first American New Mexico territorial governor there. So when General Kearny left Santa Fe with his forces headed to take California from Mexico and wrap up the Mexican-American War, he left Colonel Sterling Price in command of U.S. forces in New Mexico and Charles Bent in charge as the first American New Mexico territorial governor.

Many New Mexicans were not happy about Armijo's surrender. There were even rumors that he had been bribed by Americans before Kearny's Army ever came near Santa Fe. And really, it wasn't long after the surrender that many New Mexicans resented the treatment they were receiving by the American troops. 

While the American troops certainly threw insults at the local residents, how they were being treated by American troops was just salt in a bigger wound. Fact is, they were really angry over fears that the titles to their lands, all of course issued by the Mexican government, would not be recognized by the United States government. Some of those titles were Spanish land grants, some were handed down over generations. The idea that they could lose their lands to Americans was a smoldering powder keg when General Kearny departed for California. 

Soon, the New Mexicans plotted a what was called a "Christmas" uprising. Of course that was put to a halt when the American authorities there discovered the planned revolt. And though that was the case, that didn't stop the conspirators from planning their uprising for a later date. In the meanwhile, the New Mexican residents of Santa Fe prepared by enlisting the help of Pueblo Indians who also wanted the Americans out.

It was pre-dawn on the morning of January 19th, 1847, when the killings started. It was then that the attacks began in what would become known as the "Taos Revolt" in present-day Taos, New Mexico. The attackers were led by a murderous psychopath, a Pueblo Indian by the name of Tomas Romero, who was also known as Tomasito (Little Thomas). The other leader was a Hispanic New Mexican by the name of Pablo Montoya. They attacked, killed, and mutilated their victims.

Some sources claim that Tomas Romero was in command. In fact, he was known to call himself "the alcalde." As for Pablo Montoya, some sources say that he was commanding the rebels during the Taos Revolt. Believe it or not, he was known to call himself "the Santa Ana of the North." Yes, big egos indeed. 

On January 14th, 1847, newly appointed Governor Bent traveled to his home in Taos without a military escort since he didn't expect what would take place.

A few days later, on the morning of January 20th, Romano and Montoya led a group of Hispanic New Mexicans and Pueblo Indians to the home of Governor Charles Bent. Bent was no stranger to that area. In fact, he had been a fur trader with his younger brother William, and a partner Ceran St. Vrain right there since 1828. His office may have been in Santa Fe, but he and his family maintained a residence that also acted as a trading post in Taos.

Once there, the attackers broke down the door. Once inside they shot and killed Bent and his brother-in-law Pablo Jaramillo, newly appointed Taos Sheriff Stephen Lee, Judge Cornelio Vigil, circuit attorney J.W. Leal, and nineteen-year-old Narciso Beaubien. All were scalped while still alive.

A number of sources report that Tomas Romero scalped Bent right in front of his family while the Governor lay dying. But there are other sources that say Bent's wife Ignacia and their children, as well as the wives and children of their friends Kit Carson and Thomas Boggs escaped while the Pueblo Indians were busy killing and mutilating the men. The escaped by digging through the adobe walls of their house to escape into the house next door. As they were making their escape, Ignacia and the others could hear the screams of the men as they were being scalped alive.

Scalping is defined as "the act of cutting or tearing a part of the human scalp, with hair attached, from the head of an enemy as a trophy." While there is a myth that has been promoted that Native American tribes learned scalping from Europeans, that is not the truth at all. In fact, historian Mark van de Logt has written, "Although military historians tend to reserve the concept of 'total war' for conflicts between modern industrial nations, the term nevertheless most closely approaches the state of affairs between the Pawnees, the Sioux, and the Cheyennes. Noncombatants were legitimate targets. Indeed, the taking of a scalp of a woman or child was considered honorable because it signified that the scalp taker had dared to enter the very heart of the enemy's territory."

Many Native American tribes routinely scalped their enemies long before Europeans ever stepped foot on North American soil. In fact, some theorize that Native Americans may have brought the practice of scalping, like their knowledge of building tepees, with them when they arrived in North American after leaving Siberia thousands of years ago. 

To prove that tribes scalped and mutilated their enemies long before the arrival of Europeans, all we have to do is look at the approximately 500 or so bodies at The Crow Creek Massacre site. Of those found there near Chamberlain, South Dakota, it is believed that 90 percent of the skulls there clearly show evidence of scalpings and other mutilation. That sad event took place around 1325. Yes, long before Columbus found the Bahamas.  

As for Tomas Romero, just scalping a dying man wasn't enough. Romero is said to have leaned over Governor Bent as he was taking his last breath and "raked a bowstring over his scalp, pulling away his gray hair in a glistening sheath." It is said that it "cut as cleanly with the tight cord as it would have with a knife". 

Romero was a killer beyond words as he led his band to repeat his grizzly act several times over. All of the  victims were the newly appointed American officials, as well as anyone who was seen as being a part of the U.S. territorial government. All were tortured alive before being killed. All were the targets of what became known as "insurrectionists" during the "Taos Revolt". 

Colonel Price would later write, "It appeared to be the object of the insurrectionists to put to death every man who had accepted office under the American government."

On the second day of the revolt, January 20th, about 500 Hispanic New Mexicans and Pueblo Indians attacked Simeon Turley's mill in Arroyo Hondo which is about 12 miles from Taos. Before the attack started, Charles Autobees, who was an employee at the mill, saw the attackers coming. It's said that he jumped on a horse and rode to Santa Fe for help. One of the defenders left to defend the mill was his younger half-brother Tom Tobin.

During the fight the ensued, there were 8 Americans, all mountain men and trappers there to defend against the attack. By the end of the first day, only two of the Americans survived. They were mountain men John David Albert and Tom Tobin. Actually, the attack had turned into a siege and the mountain men were hanging on as long as they could. But as night fell, the men knew that those alive were either going to die there or leave then to tell others what took place.

Albert and Tobin were told to escape since they were the only two left who were still capable of leaving. To cover their escape, the remaining others, all wounded and dying, held off the attackers into the night as Albert and Tobin escaped alive. The two actually escaped that night by going in separate directions to throw off their attackers.

It is said that Albert walked over 160 miles in three days to Pueblo, Colorado. That was through snow and blizzard like conditions with no coat as he was only able to escape with his rifle and shooting bag. He found a trading post and people who took him in. As for Tom Tobin, it's said that he made it the 80 miles to Santa Fe before finding safety. Their determination to stay alive against all odds is what true legends are made of. Today, what happened at that mill is known as the Arroyo Hondo Massacre.

On the same day of the Arroyo Hondo attack, a group of Hispanic New Mexicans and Pueblo Indians scalped and killed 8 American merchants traders who were passing through Mora, New Mexico. The group of eight American merchants were on their way to Missouri. Mora is said to have been little more than a village when the unlucky Americans found themselves in a deathtrap.

While this was going on, U.S. Army Capt. Hendley was informed of the revolt while he was in command of the grazing detachment along the Pecos River. He entered Las Bagas with his 250 men and immediately took possession of the town. He actually declared Martial Law in the town because he saw an angry mob of insurgents gathering.

On January 21st, U.S. Army Col. Price whose headquarters was in Santa Fe led his unit of 300 troops to Taos to put down the rebellion. His unit included 65 volunteers as well as a few Hispanic New Mexicans. On their way, his force engaged and beat back a force of some 1,500 Hispanics and Pueblo Indians at Santa Cruz de la CaƱada and at Embudo Pass. 

In each case, the insurgents retreated. They headed to Taos where they took refuge in a Catholic church because of its thick adobe walls. When the American Army engaged the insurgents at the church, they used a field cannon to breach its walls. They then fired directly into the interior of the church to inflict as many casualties as possible. All toll, Colonel Price's unit is said to have killed about 200 insurgents. His unit pursued the insurgents and were soon fighting at close quarters hand-to-hand combat. In all they captured close to 500 more after the fight. And as for the number of American troops killed, believe it or not only 7 American soldiers were killed in action during that battle.

On January 22nd is when Capt. Hendley learned about what took place in the village of Mora. He was informed that insurgents had a force of about 200 in Mora. So he headed to Mora with 80 troops since he needed to leave the rest behind and maintain things in Las Bagas.

Two days later, on January 24th, Capt. Hendley and his troops arrive in Mora. He finds "a body of Mexicans under arms, prepared to defend the town." Then almost immediately he and his men come under attacked by Mexicans. The shots are coming from windows and loop-holes of the houses, so he deploys his man to go house to house to flush out the attackers. 

During the fighting, he and his men were pursuing the insurgents into an old fort when Capt. Hendley was shot and killed. Because of overwhelming enemy forces laying blistering fire on them, Capt. Hendley's second in command pulled all of the troops back to safety to regroup.
The second battle in the village of Mora took place on February 1st when Capt. Morin and his men returned and destroyed the village. Capt. Morin with a force of 200 troops returned to Mora armed with two howitzers. 

Capt. Morin setup his two howitzers and soon began an artillery barrage on the make-shift fort that was constructed by the Hispanics and Indians. After the barrage, Capt. Morin attacked with the full force of his unit. 

In no time most of the New Mexicans gave up and ran. As they were searching for more insurgents, small skirmished took place as the American troops pushed out what remaining insurgents there were.  Soon the remaining insurgents were either captured or had fled into the mountains. 

Observing that the instigators were getting away, Capt. Morin then directed a small portion of his troops to pursue the fleeing Hispanics. And knowing that Mora was being used as base of operations, he ordered his troops to completely destroy Mora. So with that, Capt. Morin's troops, those who were not tasked with chasing down the insurgents, actually set fire and burned the village's surrounding crops. After the crops, the village of Mora was burned down as well. As for the villagers, they left and fled to the mountains. Those residents would later return to Mora and rebuilt their village.

Some say that Capt. Morin was seeking revenge for the killing of Capt. Hendley and the others just a week earlier. Some say he was making sure there was no food or safe haven for the insurgents to come back to. 

No American troops were killed or wounded during the second battle at Mora. But that wasn't the same for the Mexican and Indian insurgents, they had several of their people killed and wounded. And besides the dead and wounded, seventeen of them were captured and held as prisoners.  

The very next day after what took place in Mora, American officials ordered the execution of some of the prisoners in the plaza in Taos in what was called a "drumhead court-martial." A "drumhead court-martial" is a court-martial that's held in the field. It is arranged quickly in an effort to hear urgent charges of offences committed on the battlefield, in action, and in clear violation of the rules of war. The term is said to have originated when a drumhead was used as an improvised table. Some say the the term comes from using a drumhead as an altar or as a gathering point for issuing orders. One of those who was hanged that day was Pablo Montoya who referred to himself as "the Santa Ana of the North." 

After that, Col. Price arranged for a military court to try the remaining prisoners under civil law in Taos. Imagine this if you would, Col. Price appoints Joab Houghton, who was a close friend of Charles Bent, and Charles H. Beaubien, who was the father of 19 year old Narcisse Beaubien who was killed and scalped when it all started at the Governor's home. Houghton and Beaubien are the judges who will render a penalty if the jury says they are guilty. 

George Bent, the late Governor’ brother, was elected jury foreman. And the jury itself consisted of several friends of the Bent family, as well as Lucien Maxwell who was a brother-in-law of young Narcisse Beaubien.

 Col. Price justified his selection by saying that both men had previously been appointed as judges to the New Mexico Territory Superior Court by the late Governor Bent in August of the previous year.

The court was in session for fifteen days. The jury was out for an hour or so when they returned with a verdicts. They found 15 men guilty of murder and treason, and the judges sentenced them to hang. And on April 9th, American troops carry out the sentence by hanging six of the convicted insurgents in the Taos plaza. Two weeks later, American troops hang five more prisoners guilty of murder. All toll, American troops at least 28 insurgents convicted of murder or treason. 

As for the revolt in New Mexico, it's said that it didn't end with Taos. In fact, New Mexican insurgents fought against American troops three more times over the next few months. It was only after American forces dominated in the field that New Mexicans and Pueblo Indians decided to end their revolt.

As for Tomas Romero? He was turned over to the American troops as part of a surrender arrangement following a battle. The Pueblo Indians agreed to turn him over, and he was jailed in Taos. Then on February 8th, an American soldier, Private John Fitzgerald of Cook County, Illinois, entered the jail. He pulled out his pistol and shot Romero dead.

Private John Fitzgerald was arrested and locked up in what was described as "a windowless room." During the night, he was given fire wood to keep a fire going. He got so much fire wood that he was able to pile it so that he could get through the ceiling and escape.

Believe it or not, Fitzgerald is said to have returned to barracks and his unit. Once there, he got supplies and then headed north until he got to Colorado. There he supposedly met up with Ceran St. Vrain and Lewis Garrard. After that, he simply disappears.

The U.S. Army did issue Private Fitzgerald a Dishonorable Discharge, though that really didn't matter since no one ever saw him again. As for bringing him in for murdering the butcher Tomas Romero? All in all, no attempt was ever made to find him nor bring him in for what he did.

It's just my opinion, but I'm thinking that they never went after him simply because they wanted to do it themselves and Fitzgerald simply beat them to it. Besides, how can anyone in good conscience try a a man for killing someone who really deserved killing?

That's how I see it.

Tom Correa


  1. A good piece. Padre Martinezis hard to pin down as to his role in the revolt. It is possible that his silence gave his support without being openly involved. He certainly would have agrred with the revolutionarie, ad was openly opposed to Gov.Bent. There was a great leadership quality about Pare Martinez, but was coupled with his ambition which led him into schism with the Catholic Church and at odds with Archbishop Lamy.

  2. That man you just mentioned, Tom Tobin, was none other than famous frontiersman and bounty hunter Thomas Tate Tobin, who would go on to track down The Bloody Espinosas. I plan on making a movie about him called, "The Huntsman". It will focus on Tobin's career as a bounty hunter and the trailer will open like this. "There's only two ways I bring in my bounties. Alive or dead. And if I can't bring you in alive, I'll take you in dead." Wish me luck.


Thank you for your comment.