Impacts of the Taos Revolt of 1847 are still felt.
Through generations since the Taos Revolt, it is difficult to comprehend the terror and trauma inflicted by this event on families that had long lived on this land, Hispanic and Native American. A gnawing silence pervades any family stories about this historic time of violence, revenge, brutal seizures and unrestrained executions in the name of patriotic U.S.A. retribution. I will not recite any historical data but, rather, only present a voice of personal perspective. Over the years, I have listened to and collected family stories that have inspired work and personal expression. But, when recently asked to write a family perspective on the Taos Revolt, I have confronted silence. Perplexed, I try to look at the larger picture.
The Chicano movement threw a big wrench into the tradition of not making waves. Through the movement, I recognized the broader spectrum of heritage. Horizons opened up perspectives on cultural history, raising questions. Still, it was clear that many Taoseño elders were initially offended by the grito “¡Qué Viva La Raza!” “Chicano” was disdained, equated with ignorance and poverty. There was vergüenza, or imposed shame, to confront. That was where I first noticed the perspectives of “proper” history that created separation. Whether it was created by pride of family traditions or of distinct Norteño identification, there was a scar that marked a clear separation of what could be shared and what could not. Today, the early, ardent passion of the Chicano movement, as well as the search for historical truth, has become modified and more intellectual but remains a major turning point that opened many windows of thought.
Where are the pieces that I would pick up to find some kind of family story about the Taos Revolt? My family, who lived just west of Taos Plaza, with close physical proximity to all that happened, surely felt the impact. Taos was the center of the revolt. But there were never any personal stories talked out. There were questions and stories not appropriate to discuss, and any specifics on the Taos Revolt were not brought to light. Over time, there are varied references about these historical events that clinch my visceral response.
I remember hearing about the men from Taos Pueblo who were executed along with other “Mexicans” on the plaza. But, it was the story of the wives of these Pueblo men who were present at the execution that caught my focus. These poor women were forced to “carry on their backs” the dead weight of their husbands’ bodies back those few miles to the pueblo village for proper burial. I cannot imagine what it was like for these women to be in the hostile environment of the Taos Plaza, to witness the pubic execution of their husbands conducted by the brutal and alien presence of the U.S. Military, and to then be forced to carry in a morbid procession the physical dead weight of their loved ones all the way back to their community. Why didn’t anyone come forward to help these women? Clearly, this was a message of intimidation sent to locals, men, women and families, by the powers that be. The magnitude of the search and seizures conducted under the command of Col. Sterling Price was horrific. I was shocked to learn of the number of male members of isolated family villages executed by the U.S. Military, as sanctioned by their kangaroo courts set up immediately after the Taos Revolt and subsequent battles.
The breakdown of the fragile integrity of our families and communal way of life was augmented shortly after, as New Mexico became a territory of the United States of America. As a people, I don’t believe we have ever really recovered. Life was never easy for the inhabitants of this region. The English language prevails, so that many of our descendants and families do not speak Spanish comfortably any more.
Why was there never any story-talk about this within my family when there were many other stories? Modern access to media and communications allows us to be aware of current genocides and violent land and culture takeovers. We can view and speak out to the powers that be without the threat of death, torture, or the execution of loved ones. I believe the shock from the swift violence and the killings of many members of our communities left communities in fear and with a helpless sense of separation, away from public civility with the realities of the prevalent brutal scourge. In the aftermath, all that was left was to pick up the pieces and continue on for the safety of the family and the future of the children.
Non-action, which may seem now as insensitive, without compassion, was part of survival that inevitably led to the hard silence and the schisms within our community history that have not been able to heal. It was not safe to act or speak out and draw attention to oneself. The concept of vergüenza was a motive of survival during violent times. Our ancestors invested into this community and did what they needed to do to survive and also to keep the families in safety. But this withdrawal into a safer shell also covered up many vital testimonies within the family walls, repressing the internal truth of our community at the hands of the intruding U.S. government officials.
Sadly, there are no direct family oral history accounts for me to reflect on. But, with my community, my family and friends, we can ask questions to put official historical data that does exist into some perspective that points to the poison that this bloody appropriation of New Mexico left behind in its wake. In doing that, we can add to the healing process that has been long overdue.
Juanita Jaramillo Lavadie, of Taos, New Mexico, is an artist (weaver, intaglio graphics and painting), writer, classroom teacher of children (Taos Pueblo, Albuquerque near the South Valley, Taos County private school, charter and public schools). She is a member of the Taos Valley Acequia Association and the New Mexico Acequia Association, Aztec Danzante and an avid outdoor enthusiast.