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

The Conspiracy and Revolt in New Mexico

Mexican treachery—The plot revealed—Treasonable plottings renewed—Court records—Assassination of Governor Bent and His party—Fighting at Canada—The siege of the Pueblo of Taos—The surrender of the insurgents—Devastation of Moro Valley—Death of Captain Hendley—Sentence of Trujillo.

The departure of General Kearney on his westward expedition to California gave to the unwilling subjects of the United States in New Mexico the hope of a successful rebellion. The peaceful demeanor of the Mexicans well concealed the conspiracy that was forming for the overthrow of the new government at Santa Fe. The different departments of the territorial government were being organized under Mr. Charles Bent, of San Fernando de Taos, as governor, while Colonel Sterling Price held command of the American troops at Santa Fe. The hatred and envy of many Mexican citizens was he natural consequence of the changes which were made. They, however, feigned a cordial assent to the new order of things, and with treacherous purpose encouraged the apparently kind intercourse of the people with the officers and soldiers.

Colonel Price had in his command nearly two thousand troops stationed at different points in the territory. They were mostly volunteers, and unaccustomed to the restraints of a severe military regime. Those who were left in Santa Fe soon lost nearly all the discipline they manifested at first by the dissipation which their surroundings in Santa Fe greatly favored. Amid gayety and excesses they were jealously watched. The old officials under Armijo plotted, in nightly gatherings within thick adobe walls, for the reinstatement of the Mexican authorities. On the 19th of December, 1846; while Colonel Doniphan was triumphantly marching through Central Mexico, they had matured their plans for revolt so far as to nominate from among themselves Don Tomas Ortiz for governor, and Don Diego Archuleta as commander of their forces. The ringing of the church bells at Santa Fe on Christmas eve was the appointed signal of instant revolt all over the province, as soon as their signal fires and swift runners could communicate the tidings of successful uprising at the capital.

A Mexican woman revealed the plot to Colonel Price; the leaders and many others were arrested, and the conspiracy was apparently crushed. Governor Bent by a proclamation sought to dissuade the people from being again misled by crafty leaders and the priests who were in sympathy with the rebellion; but these still continued to plot against the government.

According to the court record in an old territorial document in the library of Santa Fe, the following appeal was sent out to the officials under the Mexican authority by Don Antonio Maria Trujillo, a native of Santa Fe and inspector of arms, who was afterward condemned to death and received his sentence from Judge Houghton:

"To the Defenders of their Country:

"With the end to shake off the yoke imposed upon us by a foreign government, and as you are inspector-general, appointed by the legitimate commander for the supreme government of Mexico, which we proclaim in favor of, the moment that you receive this communication you will place in readiness all the companies under your command, keeping them ready for the 22nd day of the present month, so that the forces may be on the day mentioned at that point. Take the precaution to observe if the forces of the enemy advance any toward those points, and if it should so happen, appoint a courier and despatch him immediately, so that exertions may be doubled. Understand that there must not be resistance or delay in giving the answer to the bearer of this official document.

January 20th, 1847.

Trujillo immediately carried out these orders, and acted with great energy in executing the plans of the conspirators. He issued a document, of which the following translation is given, upon the strength of which he was subsequently arrested and tried for treason to the United States:

"By the order of the Inspector of Arms, Don Antonio Maria Trujillo, I hereunto send you this order, that the moment this comes to hand you will raise all of the forces, together with all the inhabitants that are able to bear arms, connecting them also with persons in San Juan Caballeros, by the morning of the 22nd day of the present month, and not later than eight o'clock in the morning. We have declared war with the Americans, and it is now time that we take our arms in our hands in defence of our prostrate country, that we may try if possible to regain the liberty of our unhappy country. You will be held responsible if you fail in the execution of the above order.


This official order was sent with the previous one from Tafolla to the persons to whom it was addressed.

On the 14th of January, 1847, Governor Bent and six other officials of the territorial government in company with him were murdered by Mexicans and Pueblo Indians while on their way to Taos. On the same day seven Americans were cruelly slain at Arroyo Hondo, four others at Moro, and two at Rio Colorado. Letters were also intercepted calling upon the inhabitants of northern New Mexico to exterminate all Americans and those Mexicans who had joined friendship with them. The leaders of this movement, Tafolla, Chavez, and Montoya, designed to attack Santa Fe with forces which should be gathered as they approached the city.

By the 23rd of January they had increased to two thousand, and were discovered by the American troops, who had been led out to meet them, occupying high grounds near Canada, a small town on a little stream emptying into the Rio Grande. Colonel Price had but three hundred and fifty-three men and four howitzers. From two o'clock in the afternoon till sunset he fought the Mexicans, driving them from the hills above the stream and routing them at all points.

The enemy fled in the direction of Taos. Colonel Price pursued them on the 27th of January, and again encountered them strongly posted near Embudo. Six or seven hundred Mexicans held the mountain slopes overhanging each side of the road, where a narrow gorge, protected by brushwood and detached rocks, made the passage thus defended impassable. With four hundred and seventy-nine men, Colonel Price again boldly attacked them in this formidable position, his men climbing the precipitous hills and driving the enemy before them, up the slope, and over the top, hotly pursuing them for two hours. The town of Embudo surrendered to the Americans, who resumed march over the Taos mountain, where they trampled down snow two feet deep to make a road for the artillery and supply wagons. The enemy were not found again till they reached the Indian village Pueblo de Taos. Here they had occupied the large church, two large structures, seven or eight stories high, and projecting buildings flanking these, all constructed with thick adobe walls and held by six or seven hundred Mexicans and Indians.

The Americans, with their two howitzers and one six-pounder gun, battered these walls for two hours and a half on the evening of February 3rd, and for the same time the next morning, without effecting any breach. The troops were then ordered to storm the church, the walls of which, under a brisk fire from the defenders inside, were attacked with axes and the roof set on fire. A small hole was at last made through these walls, the six-pounder gun pushed to within ten feet of this breach, and shell and three rounds of grape-shot hurled with terrible effect on the helpless wretches within the church. Then the assailants leaped through the broken walls, and also charging upon it in front, had the Mexicans and Indians entirely in their power. As soon as possible the slaughter was stayed, the troops were quartered in the abandoned house, and early the next morning the old men and women came, with a priest, bringing their children and altar images to the victorious Americans, and implored of them mercy. They were promised safety and peace, if they would deliver up Tomas, the leader, who had been engaged in the murder of Governor Bent and his party.

One hundred and fifty Mexicans and Indians were killed in this attack upon Pueblo de Taos. They had lost fifty-six killed and one hundred and five wounded in the two previous engagements at Canada and Embudo. Sixty-three Americans were killed and wounded in this first expedition to subdue the rebellion. The insurrection was also subdued in the Moro valley by the prompt and vigorous action of Captain Hendley, who was in command of a grazing detachment of troops on the Pecos. He collected the forces in his vicinity, and on the loth of January took possession of Las Vegas, where insurgents were assembling. Having dispersed these and strongly garrisoned the place, he marched to Moro, where they had a force of two hundred men, protected by adobe houses and an old fort, to which they fled after a short skirmish, on the 24th. Here for a while they offered successful resistance to the Americans, firing upon them from the windows and loopholes of their buildings. They were vigorously attacked, however, and pursued into the houses, where the Americans pierced the insurgents with bayonets and shot them down in close combat, till they had killed twenty-five Mexicans and taken seventeen prisoners. Captain Hendley was fatally shot while forcing his way, with a few men, into one of the houses near the fort. Having no artillery to reduce this fort, the Americans retired, but on the 1st of February Hendley's death was avenged by the destruction of the village of Moro by troops under Captain Merwin.

Thus the revolt in New Mexico was effectually subdued. Of its leaders, Montoya and Chavez were killed at Canada and Taos, Trujillo was hung as a traitor, and Tomas shot in a private quarrel with his guard, while imprisoned at Taos.

The sentence of the court against Trujillo, written in Judge Houghton's handwriting, was filed in the court record March 16th, 1847, attested by James Giddings, clerk, and by John R. Sulles, deputy clerk. Part of it reads as follows:

"Your age and gray hairs have excited the sympathy of both the court and the jury. Yet while each and all were not only willing, but anxious that you should have every advantage placed at your disposal that their highly responsible duty under the law to their country would permit, yet have you been found guilty of the crime alleged to your charge. It would appear that old age has not brought you wisdom, nor purity, nor honesty of heart; while holding out the hand of friendship to those whom circumstances have brought to rule over you, you have nourished bitterness and hatred in your soul. You have been found guilty of seconding the acts of a band of the most traitorous murderers that ever blackened with the recital of their deeds the annals of history.

"Not content with the peace and security in which you lived under the present government, secure in all your personal rights as a citizen, in property, in person, and in your religion, you gave your name and influence to measures intended to effect a universal murder and pillage, the overthrow of the government, and one widespread scene of bloodshed in the land. For such foul crimes an enlightened and liberal jury have been compelled, from the evidence brought before them and by a sense of their stern but unmistakable duty, to find you guilty of treason against the government under which you are a citizen, and there only now remains to the court the painful duty of passing upon you the sentence of the law."

Thirty days were allowed the prisoner before the execution of this sentence on the 115th of April.