Home > History, Native Americans, the Southwest, War > There Will Be No Blood

There Will Be No Blood

Faithful readers know that it doesn’t take much to set the History Nerd into a tizzy. Just a few words can do it, as this post on the Civil War shows. This week, it was the simple phrase “bloodless conquest.” A circular from the History Book Club (the HN has been a faithful member for decades) used that phrase while promoting a new book on Stephen Kearny’s trek into California during the Mexican War. Along the way to what would become the Golden State, Kearny traveled through New Mexico, taking control of the territory for the United States. That’s where the offending phrase came in.

The sanctuary that wasn't.

The ordeal here in the Land of Enchantment, HBC’s blurb claimed, was a “bloodless conquest.” Hmm, I thought, what about the remains of that church at Taos Pueblo I’ve written about before? Didn’t the cannon fire that reduced it to rubble spill some blood too?

I suppose the copy meant bloodless in the sense of no large-scale clash of armies, and that was certainly true. When the Mexican War began, the governor of New Mexico was Manuel Armijo, a local wealthy landowner. He asked Mexico for more troops and began to muster a volunteer force. About 1,700 U.S. soldiers under Kearny were soon on their way from Kansas to New Mexico, and they knew who the enemy’s leader was. As they marched the Americans sang a little tune with words penned by one of their own: “Oh, what a joy to fight the dons, and wallop fat Armijo! So clear the way to Santa Fe! With that we all agree, O!”

Kearny’s men reached New Mexico in August. Armijo never received the promised reinforcements (unlike in 1841, when the Mexican government sent aid to thwart a planned attack by Texans intent on seizing New Mexico for themselves—perhaps one reason among many why Texans are still somewhat scorned here today?), and he knew his local volunteers were no match for the Americans. Also influencing him were several Americans who acted as emissaries for the U.S. government. The story goes, among Anglo sources at least, that Armijo was persuaded to abandon any thought of resistance, with some greenbacks making the decision a little easier for the guv to make. The state historian here disputes that Armijo took a bribe. In any event, the governor left Santa Fe for Chihuahua and Kearny took control unopposed. It was, as New Mexican historian Marc Simmons notes, the first time U.S. troops had conquered a foreign capital. Manifest Destiny, indeed!

Some New Mexicans welcomed the commander and his troops. After all, they were American immigrants who had settled there years before. But the Spanish and Indian populations were not as thrilled. Wealthy landowners in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, fearing the inevitable Anglo land grab, began organizing a rebellion by the end of 1846. Details of the plan leaked out and the leaders were arrested. But to the north in Taos, new leaders emerged, determined to fight for their land (proving once again that one man’s freedom fighters are another’s insurgents—or, in the language of the day, “insurrectionists”).

Fort Burgwin, named for one of the American soldiers killed in Taos.

The Taos Rebellion started with the killing of the American governor, Charles Bent, in January 1847. Also killed in the first blows of the rebellion were several dozen other Americans there and in other northern towns. The Niles Register, a prominent newspaper of the day, relayed news of the deaths, noting also that “their families [were] despoiled.”

U.S. forces moved north from Santa Fe to squash the revolt, and they found the New Mexicans in the church at the Taos pueblo. Not recognizing the hiding place as a sanctuary, the Americans opened fire. Cannon shot and flame destroyed most of the church; the ruins of it are still standing next to the pueblo’s cemetery. The better-armed Americans then killed about 150 Indians and New Mexicans. Fighting also took place in Mora. The residents there fled before the invaders destroyed all the buildings and set fire to crops. Soon after, most of the rebel leaders were captured and tried for treason, an oddity given, in the words of our state historian, “the illogic and in fact illegality of convicting citizens of another nation of ‘treason.’” But invading armies are not always known for their logic or legality, eh? In any event, the convicted were executed.

And the amazing thing about these several weeks of conflict and killing? It was all bloodless.

The HBC wording that incited this rant just goes to show that you can’t always believe marketing copy (as if anyone needed the History Nerd to affirm that…).  And it seems like another example, intentional or not, of how some people tend to whitewash certain aspects of our history. But here in New Mexico, some folks don’t forget.

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  1. September 19, 2014 at 12:50 am

    Thank you for setting the record clear that the U.S. invasion was not a bloodless conquest. I have an ancestor from the Rio Arriba who was hung “as a traitor” against the U.S. during this invasion. I like to think that he was rebelling against the invasion, but there is always the possibility that he was one of the hundreds hung as so called traitor who were really were more of any example of what would happen to people who fought against the invasion.

    • mburgan
      September 19, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      Nancy–thanks for reading and for writing, and I’m sorry to hear about your ancestor. Yes, I think too many people try to whitewash or rationalize the injustices and needless violence this country has–and sometimes still does–carry out. I wish I had more time to write about topics like this. Thanks again for reading.

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