History of the War with Mexico - H. O. Ladd

Doniphan's Expedition to the Navajos

Reinforcements at Santa Fe—Price in command—Kearney's departure—A winter campaign—Crossing the Sierra Madre—Excelsior—Indian council—Speech of Sarcilla Largo—Indian logic—The treaty—Zuni and its buildings—The ancient city—Tokens of wealth.

The Army of the West was now to be divided. The plan of the campaign was formed in accordance with original instructions. Colonel Doniphan, in command of all the forces in New Mexico, was to proceed southward into Chihuahua and Mexico, General Kearney with an inadequate force was to march westward to the shores of the Pacific and occupy California, while Colonel Price, with troops not yet arrived, was to hold the capital and keep in subjection the neighboring pueblos.

The forces in command of Colonel Sterling Price, who had recently resigned his seat in Congress as a member from Missouri to enter the war, was made up of one Missouri regiment of cavalry, one mounted extra battalion, and one battalion of Mormon infantry. He had about twelve hundred men besides several pieces of artillery, and, like General Kearney's division, they had marched in detachments over the plains. The Mormon battalion, five hundred strong, were collected at Fort Leavenworth and entered the service of the United States, with the condition that they should march to the Pacific, two thousand miles distant, and after a service of one year should then be paid, discharged, and allowed to settle in the country after being joined by their families. No incidents worthy of note befell this second army which crossed the plains in Kearney's route. Colonel Price arrived in Santa Fe, after a march of fifty-three days, on the 28th of September, and his troops continued to arrive in detachments for several days. Kearney had set out on his expedition to the Pacific on the 25th of September. The Mormon detachment, therefore, passed south of Santa Fe to join Kearney's column.

These reinforcements swelled the number of troops in New Mexico to thirty-five hundred men. Santa Fe was crowded with a motley throng of soldiers, visitors, traders, mountaineers, Mexicans, and Indians. Its population at this time was estimated at fourteen thousand people. The troops were encamped on the bare ground, the weather was rainy and cold, and great discomfort and sickness prevailed. Several companies were sent to a grazing encampment on the mountains which divided the Pecos and the Del Norte, fifty miles from Santa Fe, beside a beautiful lake, where the rich grama grass and abundance of water soon recruited the animals. Other detachments were sent southward to Abiquiu and Ceboletta, and the Santa Clara springs.

On the 11th of October a dispatch from General Kearney, one hundred and fifty miles west of Santa Fe, reported that information had reached him by the noted Kit Carson, one of General Fremont's men, that Commander Stockton, with five men-of-war of the Pacific Squadron, had taken possession of California, and that General Fremont had occupied Monterey, the capital of California, of which territory he had been appointed temporary governor.

Preparations for Colonel Doniphan's march to Chihuahua were in active progress, when he was ordered by General Kearney to invade forthwith the rich country of the Navajo Indians on the western and northern borders of New Mexico, and punish them for recent depredations on the frontier settlements of the territory, where they had driven away ten thousand cattle, killed seven or eight men, and taken many women and children as captives. This command was immediately obeyed, for winter was approaching, and the Navajo region was mountainous. Summoning the companies at Abiquiu and Ceboletta to proceed at once into this country by different routes, Colonel Doniphan, with the troops at the grazing encampment on the Pecos, set out from Santa Fe October 26th, leaving Colonel Price in command at the capital.

The service now demanded of these troops was exceedingly arduous. They had received neither pay nor needful clothing. The route was unapproachable for artillery. It was rocky and mountainous. The country at this season was hard to forage on account of snow, and they were obliged to pursue powerful Indian tribes among gorges and fastnesses of the towering peaks of the Sierra Madre range, to which the Indians were accustomed as to their native hills. Added to these hardships and perils in store for these hardy troops was the disappointment of their long-anticipated march to warmer regions, where they expected the honor and excitements of a campaign with General Wool, and of the subjugation of the rich country of Chihuahua in conjunction with the Army of the Centre.

The route chosen for the Navajo expedition led through the valley of the Rio Grande, by the villages of Albuquerque and Socorro. The weather was severe. There was but little forage and scarcely any fuel. The soldiers were obliged to ford rivers, dragging their teams through the icy water, and had only the scanty fuel of tufts of coarse grass with which to dry themselves after such exposures. Many were overcome by such hardships, fell sick, lost the use of their limbs, and died. Some were sent back to the towns, while the hardier ones, led on by their undaunted colonel, pushed forward to new perils from the rigors of the mountains.

Doniphan's March.


It was an expedition as arduous and exacting of courage and persistency as Hannibal's crossing the Apennines. It was now the 2nd of November, which is often the coldest month of the year in New Mexico. Colonel Doniphan had arrived at Cervarro, having detached from his command three hundred men to protect a train of merchants and baggage wagons from a body of seven hundred Mexicans near Valverde, who were falsely reported as advancing to attack them. Valverde had been chosen for the headquarters of the commissary and quarter-master departments of Colonel Doniphan's troops for their march into Chihuahua. Doniphan had pushed on to Cervarro near the river Puerco with a part of his staff to meet the command of Colonel Jackson, which left Santa Fe on the 18th of September. In four days they had marched over one hundred miles to the rich pueblo of Laguna, containing two thousand inhabitants, where they were kindly received and fed, and arrived at Ceboletta on the 3oth of September.

Having been instructed to make a triple league of peace between the Navajos, Mexicans, and Pueblos, Colonel Jackson endeavored to accomplish this through Sandoval, a noted chief of one of the Navajo cantons. He acted as guide to Captain Reid, who was sent with only thirty men and three pack-mules carrying provisions, into the heart of the Navajo country. In a march of five days they passed over a route of appalling difficulties, through mountain gorges and fissures, up precipitous spurs, over ridges, and along paths threading precipitous ledges, where a single misstep would cause a fall of hundreds of feet below, and deliberately throwing themselves into the power of a marauding tribe of Indians, they at length came to an assemblage of five hundred of these savages. Instead of appearing suspicious, they entered with great zest into their dances and games, mingling and feasting with them in the most friendly way. One day's march from here into the heart of the mountains brought them to the chief, Narbona, seventy years old, and other elders of the tribe. These seemed anxious to obtain peace for their nation, and promised to send men to Santa Fe to make the desired treaty of friendship. After an absence of twenty days on their perilous adventure, they safely returned to Ceboletta on the loth of November.

Another detachment of troops had also been ordered into the Navajo country under Major Gilpin. These pursuing a different route started on the 22nd of October. They followed the river Chama to its sources, and crossed the mountains which separated the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Incredible difficulties were surmounted by these men, whose achievements in passing the Cordilleras, as they were then called, which were higher than the Alps and covered with winters' snows, are worthy of the fame of Bonaparte's veterans. Having arrived at the San Juan, and travelled down its banks for forty miles, they found plenty of forage and Indians with numerous herds of horses, sheep, and other animals. They then traversed plains covered with gypsum, destitute of wood and water that could be used for drink. From these they ascended the Tunicha Mountains, so high that their summits could be seen at a distance of seventy-five miles from the San Juan. In climbing these, the men toiled over huge blocks of granite, waded into deep snows, drove their animals along precipices from which they sometimes fell and were lost, or perished on the trail from excessive cold.

"The fierce winds," says one of these veterans, "whistled along the ragged granite hills and peaks. The prospect was horrid. Half of the animals had given out and were abandoned. Thus were these men situated, half of them on foot, carrying their arms, stinted in provisions, destitute of shoes and clothing, and their way barricaded by eternal rocks and snow. Sometimes after lying down at night, wrapped in their blankets and the skins of wild beasts, before morning they would be completely enveloped in a new fall of snow, and would rise at day-dawn with benumbed limbs and bristling icicles frozen to their hair and long whiskers. They persevered. This night's encampment was on the bare summit of the Tunicha Mountains, where there was neither comfort for the men nor food nor water for the horses. The desolateness of the place was dreadful. The descent on the 16th was even more terrible than the ascent had been on the previous day."

On the 19th of November, Major Gilpin, leaving Captain Waldo with a part of his command, effected a junction with Colonel Doniphan at Bear Spring, where he had arrived by a similar passage of the colossal peaks of the Sierra Madre with Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson's command of one hundred and fifty men.

A council of five hundred Navajos and one hundred and eighty Americans now began on the 21st of November, at Bear Spring. Colonel Doniphan explained, through an interpreter, the intentions and wishes of his government. A young but bold chief, Sarcilla Largo, spoke for the Navajos. Captain Waldo arrived on the 22nd to increase the assemblage. Colonel Doniphan, again in the council, promised the protection of the United States to the Navajos, his government claiming now the whole country by right of conquest. He demanded of them a lasting peace between themselves, the Americans, and the New Mexicans. If this was refused, he was instructed to prosecute war against them.

The same young chief replied again as follows:

"Americans, you have a strange cause of war against the Navajos. We have waged war against the New Mexicans for several years. We have plundered their villages and killed many of their people, and made many prisoners. We had just cause for all this.

"You have lately commenced a war against the same people. You are powerful. You have great guns and many brave soldiers. You have therefore conquered them, the very thing we have been attempting to do for many years. You now turn upon us for attempting to do what you have done yourselves. We cannot see why you have cause of quarrel with us for fighting the New Mexicans on the West, while you do the same thing in the East. Look how matters stand. This is our war. We have more right to complain of you for interfering in our war than you have to quarrel with us for continuing a war we had begun long before you got here. If you will act justly, you will allow us to settle our own differences."

To this piece of truthful Indian logic Colonel Doniphan replied that as New Mexico was now in full possession of his Government, and the people of New Mexico desired peace, the Indians were now making war upon the United States when they attacked their long-standing foes. This could not be suffered longer, but they might enjoy the privileges of trade with the Americans, and of education in the arts of civilized life, if they would become peaceable citizens.

The Indian chief at last assented to the terms of the treaty, and promised to refrain from future wars upon the people of New Mexico. The treaty was duly signed by Colonels Doniphan and Jackson and Captain Gilpin, and by fourteen Navajo chiefs.

Presents were now given to the chiefs by Colonel Doniphan, in return for which they presented him with a number of the famous Navajo blankets made by this tribe, in token of mutual friendship. Thus those who had been inveterate enemies for an unknown number of years were reconciled, and the powerful Navajos began to cultivate the arts of peace, to which they have been more and more inclined since that time, until now they have so increased in flocks and herds and population as to become the most powerful Indian tribe of the South.

The American troops returned in detachments to the Rio Grande.

The route of Major Gilpin's command, which accompanied Colonel Doniphan and the Navajo chiefs from the council, led to the old town of Zuni, where they arrived in two days' march from Ojo Oso. Zuni was a populous city in the time of Coronado's invasion of New Mexico in 1540, and still preserved the Aztec structures and plans of buildings. It had a population of six thousand, clothed in woollen blankets of their own manufacture, and supporting themselves by agriculture. They found this tribe honest, hospitable, and intelligent. They supplied the soldiers with various provisions and fruits, and showed much favor to the Americans. Their hatred to the Navajos manifested itself so strongly that Colonel Doniphan insisted on a treaty of peace with them, which after a long debate over their grievances was entered into, and thus two more tribes were reconciled.

The appearance of Zuni is thus described by Colonel Doniphan:

"It is divided into four solid squares, having but two streets, crossing its centre at right angles. AZ! the buildings are two stories high, composed of sun-dried brick. The first story presents a solid wall to the street, and is so constructed that each house joins, until one fourth of the city may be said to be one building. The second stories rise from the vast, solid structure, so as to designate each house, leaving room to walk upon the roof of the first story between each building. The inhabitants of Zuni enter the second story of their building by ladders, which they draw up at night as a defence against any enemy that might be prowling about. No doubt we have here a race living as did that people when Cortez entered Mexico. The country around the city of Zuni is cultivated with a great deal of care, and affords food, not only for the inhabitants, but for large flocks of cattle and sheep."

After leaving Zuni on the 27th of November, Colonel Doniphan, in his march to Laguna near the head-waters of the Piscao, found the ruins of another ancient city more curious than the inhabited town of Zuni. It was built entirely of stone, and was from Indian account two hundred years old. It had been deserted more than one hundred years. The marks of earthquakes and the products of volcanic eruptions surrounded the ruins.

"The figure of the city," says the narrator of Doniphan's expedition, "was that of an exact square, set north and south, so that its four sides corresponded with the four cardinal points, being encircled with a double wall of stone fourteen feet apart. These walls were three stories high; two entire stories being above ground, and the other partly above and partly below the surface. The space between these walls was divided into rooms of convenient size (about fourteen feet square), all opening into the interior. The remainder of the city, though much in ruins, appeared to have been built on streets running parallel to these walls. In the centre was a large square or plaza, which from its appearance might have been used for military parade grounds, and for corralling stock in the night-time. In these rooms large quantities of red cedar, which had been cut of convenient length for fire-places, were discovered in a state of entire preservation, having been stored up for use more than a century. Colonel Doniphan and suite cooked their suppers and made their camp-fires with some of it and then travelled on."

To accomplish this expedition into the heart of this strange country was one of the greatest achievements of American soldiers. The cavalry, under command of Major Gilpin, from the time of leaving Santa Fe till they reached the rendezvous of Colonel Doniphan's command at Valverde, marched seven hundred and fifty miles in midwinter, over the highest mountain-ranges on the continent and into the country of the strongest Indian tribe west of the Rocky Mountains, who claimed a territory equal to that of Missouri, and could raise at any time fifteen hundred warriors from their population of ten thousand. Only two men died on the march from the hardships to which they were exposed, though one hundred and fifty horses and mules were lost.

All along their march the soldiers perceived the indications of the vast mineral wealth of New Mexico and Arizona. Gold, silver, lead, and copper ores were constantly cropping out on the mountain-sides, giving evidence of the future wealth of this territory when the white man should have possession.