May 2014

The Battle at Santa Cruz de la Cañada and the Siege at Taos Pueblo


Camilla Trujillo



The following is a true story. It really happened. I think it is important to retell it now, so that we can understand the source of a wounding that occurred in the Española Valley in the 1800s.


Part 1


In 1789, when Washington was our country’s first president, the Valley, which would not become “Española” for another 100 years and was still known as the Parish of Santa Cruz, was approaching its 200th year of European colonization. By then, the “European” had given way to “New Mexican,” and the Valley was experiencing what archaeologist Herbert Dick deduced was a century of peaceful development and co-existence. At that time, we were relatively isolated; Spain still occupied Mexico, seeking gold and silver. Santa Cruz de la Cañada had neither of these. We were, however, rich in other resources.


The Tewas were Valley dwellers before the entrance of the Spanish in 1598 and were excellent hunters. Their knowledge of the mountains surrounding Santa Cruz was vital to the survival of the Españioles, who had traveled the 1,500 miles of the Camino Real to arrive at the northern-most reaches of New Spain. The Spanish, either exiled from Spain or perhaps taking advantage of Spain’s recruitment of those willing to stake a claim in the valley that would become Santa Cruz de la Cañada Parish, brought survival skills as well. Fruit trees, sheep and cattle, wheat and the knowledge to bring it full circle to yeasted loaves baked in an adobe horno; and above all, the hydrogeologic knowledge to move a seemingly small amount of irrigation water, flowing down the Río Santa Cruz, over 5,000 acres of farmland, much of which is still in use today. The ability to improve water usage was a standard for the Spanish Arabs who ruled in Spain for 700 years.


In 1803, Manifest Destiny was popularized by Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. Even though we know that the Spanish Franciscans of the time had schools throughout the various missions of Santa Cruz de la Cañada, the current events of the day were, no doubt, slow in arriving to the Valley, which was still a part of Spain, and existed, as it still does, on the far reaches of the “carretera” known as the Camino Real. By 1820, several events had been put in motion by the American government. The 1804 expedition of Lewis and Clark provided a map of the Pacific shore and the location of California Spanish missions. In 1805, Zebulon Pike, working for the U.S. Army, traversed New Mexico in the company of a Spanish military guard. He was guided to Chihuahua, where he spent several weeks in the company of a cartographer, until he was escorted safely back to the Louisiana border. Pike’s route followed that of the Santa Fe Trail, which would open in 1820, the same year as the Mexican independence from Spain and the destabilization of Spanish currency, mostly silver and gold.


I think about my ancestors in Santa Cruz at the time. Industriously focused on food production and the seasonal observances of the parish, they had little money. Everyday items like cloth or metal blades were acquired from the Camino Real caravans arriving from the south or manufactured locally. Independent and resourceful, they did not pay taxes. When Santana, the new president of Mexico, sent Albino Pérez as New Mexico’s governor in 1836, the Santa Cruz parishioners, including those from San Ildefonso Pueblo, rejected him, as if they had a choice, and elected their own governor, a Taos “cibolero” by the name of José Angel Gonzales. Pérez was killed in Santa Fe while attempting to escape New Mexico. His death instantly polarized the Norteños from Río Arriba and the Río Abajo profiteers, many of whom were Americans who had illegally taken up residence in New Mexico, and who traded goods along the Santa Fe Trail. It is not clear who murdered Pérez.


Part 2


Querencia: 1. A place in which we know exactly who we are; 2. The place from which we speak our deepest beliefs; 3. In Spain, the place in the bull ring where the bull regroups before making his final lunge.


The historic record indicates that, from 1836-1847, Río Arriba was essentially ignored by the Mexican government. Their appointed governor, Manuel Armijo, cunningly learned the identities of the village leaders of the 1836 Rebellion. Those he could catch were executed on the spot. With American businessmen supporting him, Armijo focused his resources on the Santa Fe Trail, which was used for commercial travel between Missouri, Bents Fort, Santa Fe and Parral, Mexico. In his capacity as governor, Armijo was signing off on huge parcels of land that were Spanish/Mexican ejidos. These communal land grants, used for firewood gathering, cattle grazing and sheep herding, were held by the citizens of Río Arriba, and spread as far north into what is now southern Colorado. These lands were designated for public, not private, use.


Alhough we don’t hear much about Santa Cruz during the decade 1837–1847, we assume that everyone was usually busy with food production. After Armijo killed the Río Arriba governor, José Angel Gonzales, in the Santa Cruz Plaza in 1836, not much more is heard from him. In 1967, the office of New Mexico State Senior Archivist Dr. Myra Ellen Jenkins noted that during that decade, Mexican Gov. Armijo was busy signing off on illegal land grants that he and his cronies—Ceran St. Vrain, Charles Bent, Stephen Lee and Charles Beaubien—were lifting from Spanish/Mexican ejidos, community land grants north of Taos. These ejidos, millions of acres, were important stretches of natural prairie that were still supporting vast buffalo herds in 1847. The ciboleros, renowned in Taos, hunted to provide meat and hides for their community, as well as buffalo robes that were traded at Bent’s Fort. Original papers confirming the ejidos during the Mexican era were lost by 1842.


Part 3


Thomas Jefferson, 1793: “Peace with all Nations, and the right that gives us with respect to all Nations, are our object.”


Thomas Jefferson, 1803: “Some men look at Constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched.”


Charles Bent was a fur trapper in the Taos area in 1828. Along with his brother, William, and friend, Ceran St. Vrain, they ran one of the largest trading organizations in the West. Located along the Santa Fe Trail, Bent’s Fort turned over large amounts of goods, including beaver pelts from New Mexico and hard liquor from his friend Stephen Lee’s distillery, just north of Taos Pueblo. On a map, Bent’s Fort is located within the 4-million-acre Cornelio Vigil/St. Vrain Land Grant, approved by Armijo in 1843. This land grant bordered the Maxwell Grant—co-owned by Armijo with Bent and Beaubien—which was next to the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant, awarded to Stephen Lee. In September 1846, Bent was appointed military governor of New Mexico by Kearny, who had arrived in Las Vegas with the American Army on the Feast of the Assumption, one month earlier. Kearny remained in Santa Fe briefly, en route to take California; Bent remained in Taos.


Resisting American occupation, an angry crowd of men from Taos and Santa Cruz proceeded to execute Bent. That same cold day, Jan. 19, 1847, Stephen Lee, Cornelio Vigil, Narciso Beaubien, Pablo Jaramillo and attorney J.W. Leal were also executed. The angry crowd continued north to Arroyo Hondo, where Simeon Turley, of Turley’s mill and distillery, and seven workers, were executed and the mill set afire.


Part 4


Justice! Out upon the word, when its distorted meaning is the warrant for murdering those who defend to the last their country and their homes.”

Hector Louis Garrard, a 17-year-old trapper, who witnessed American retribution upon the Río Arriba resistors in 1847


It happened fast. Within days, a Confederate slave-owner by the name of Sterling Price, who had made a career in Missouri politics, had mustered an army of 280 mounted riflemen, carrying state-of-the-art weapons, which included four 4-lb. Howitzer cannons and one “6-pounder,” referring to the weight of the cannon balls.

On Jan. 24, Price defeated the rebel army at Pojoaque and Santa Cruz, leaving many dead, including Jesús Tafoya. Pablo Montoya, who was 19 when he supported Santa Cruz against Armijo, escaped to Taos. With fresh horses and additional Mountain Man militia provided by St. Vrain, Price traveled to Mora, where he addressed St. Vrain’s complaints of “belligerent locals.” St. Vrain and Bent had maintained another business enterprise: providing beef, wheat and fresh horses—all produced in the Mora Valley—to the American military. Price, descending upon Mora, leveled homes and destroyed the Catholic church, where local records were stored. Returning to Taos, Price dropped into Embudo Canyon, where he routed the resistors, chasing them north to Taos. On Feb. 3, Price attacked Taos Pueblo, where the resistors had hidden inside the adobe church. Incredibly, Price positioned the cannons and blasted open the church. The young trapper, Garrard, who was camped near Picurís, reported hearing the cannon blasts.


As people escaped the church, they were shot. Pablo Montoya, 31, a husband and father, was captured on Feb. 5 and immediately hanged in the Taos Plaza. Tomás Romero, a leader from Taos Pueblo, was captured and shot dead in his jail cell on Feb. 8, by John Fitzgerald. A court made up of Bent’s friends and allies found the remaining rebel leaders guilty of treason and murder. Beginning on April 9, the first six men found guilty were hanged to death in the Taos Plaza. The remaining hangings took place throughout the months of April and May.


Lewis Garrard remained in the area until May, then left for Fort Mann, Kan.  Garrard was followed by St. Vrain and Fitzgerald; he joined a wagon train bound for the States.


Following the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848, and the Gadsden Purchase in 1850, New Mexico became a territory of the United States.




Camilla Trujillo is from the Española Valley. She is a potter, herb-crafter, and author of the book, Española. She sells Tonita’s Best Balms at Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. She is working on her next book, Before Española: The Villages of the Valley.





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