The San Luis Valley, a turbulent Mexican territory, & the Republic of Texas
The territorial governor in Santa Fe from the 1830s, Manuel Armijo, was concerned about increased activity by extranjeros (foreign Anglos) in the country compromising the northern reaches of the Mexican territory. These new citizens of Mexico with different customs were suspected of disloyalty to the government.
The areas of concern went from Santa Fe in the south to the San Luis Valley in the north. Mexico discouraged trade with the Americans to the north or the fledgling Republic of Texas to the east. To further complicate the situation few “modern” trade goods came up the Chihuahua Trail from the south while merchants from St. Louis brought many enticing items for trade over the Santa Fe Trail to the north. It was illegal for citizens of Mexico to trade with the Americans. Residents of the prosperous communities on the northern reaches of the Mexican empire coveted the news and goods brought from the north and east. The abundance of these Mexican territories and lack of much competition made the merchants of St. Louis and New Orleans eager to do business in these areas.
Many extranjeros were attracted to the rich opportunities the northern Mexican territories offered. These included mountain men like Kit Carson and George Bent and French traders like Rubidoux brothers, Carlos Beaubien and the St. Vrain brothers. Some of these entrepreneurs were given charters from the Mexican government to establish trading posts/forts along the fringes of the northern territories. Many of these traders learned Spanish, became Catholic and married into local families. Some became citizens of Mexico and held public office.
These immigrants were always viewed with some suspicion. Taos’s infamous Padre Martinez of Arroyo Hondo complained about the norteaños americanos expansion in a letter to Mexican President Santa Ana written in 1834.
Politicians in Mexico City saw these trading posts established on the northern fringes of their empire as an important security measure. With encouragement from the government more people began to settle in Mexico’s northern and western territories. Towns like La Jara, Conejos, and Antonito were part of this expansion of Mexican settlement. Their goal was to retain and possibly expand the empire in North America.
In Texas on the eastern end of Mexico’s North American frontier, displeasure with government policies around commerce caused a split from the Mexican government in the 1830s. The Texas Rebellion began with the Battle of Gonzales in October 1835 and ended with the Battle of San Jacinto April 21, 1836. The famous siege of the Alamo near San Antonio, TX was a rallying spark. “Remember the Alamo” was a call to arms for this revolution culminating in the creation of the Republic of Texas.
This complete split from Mexico was the result of long standing suspicion and distrust between the government in Mexico and Anglo settlers. It was felt that the US was sending settlers to “cause trouble” in the hope of acquiring the territory through revolution or purchase. The Treaty of Velasco which ended the revolt pushed Mexican territory to the Rio Grande.
By the 1840s, due in no small degree to the expansionist dreams of the Republic of Texas, all Anglos were viewed with increasing suspicion in the northern territories. Governor Armijo in Santa Fe ordered all foreigners be closely watched.
The Texans were between a rock and a hard place in this period. Neither the United States (the only country to officially recognize Texas as a nation) nor the Mexican government were taking the new Republic of Texas very seriously. The Texans were broke, desperate and alone.
When Mirabeau Lamar succeeded Sam Huston as Governor of Texas in 1841, the fledgling republic adopted the American philosophy of “manifest destiny”. Texas now claimed the boundary of their new country was by rights the Rio Grande. This put the rich trading centers of Santa Fe and Taos into Texan territory. In fact, the Texans claimed territory stretching clear up to present day Wyoming as their own.
In 1840 Texas sent an American spy, William Dryden, into the northern territories of Mexico to ascertain what popular feeling was toward the Texans taking over government from Mexico. In Ranchos de Taos, NM two local Anglo businessmen, a miller and a distiller by trade, who were married into local Taoseño families, were implicated for conspiring with Dryden. As ill will against them grew, the two men, fearing for their families, gathered together a group of twenty Anglos and other New Mexicans and immigrated to California. While still part of Mexico, California was less suspicious of extranjeros.
Governor Armijo in Santa Fe ordered a close watch on all foreigners and sent soldiers to the east in response to the rumors of invasion. Despite this outcome, Dryden returned to the financially strapped Governor Lamar in Austin and told him that citizen of northern Mexico would in fact love invasion and were eager to become part of Texas. If not an out-and-out lie, this report was certainly an exaggeration of the true situation.
This was enough evidence, however, for the desperately broke Lamar to publicly declare all territories east of the Rio Grande a part of Texas, and to state that these areas should be taken by force. An enthusiastic but ill prepared invasion force of 300, including the latest in military innovation, a Howitzer, left Austin for what they hoped would be victory in the claimed territory. Unfortunately, they had no real idea what the country between Austin and Santa Fe was like. Ignorance of the dry lands to the west and poor scouting soon left the Texans eating their animals, desperate for water and wandering lost on the llano. According to contemporary accounts, the Texan troops wandered over horrible routes through unknown country, worn out and half starved.
On September 16, 1841 Governor Armijo left Santa Fe for San Miguel de Bado with his troops to repel the Texas invasion. In just a few days, ninety-six starving Texans surrendered to Armijo’s troops and were force marched to Las Vegas, NM. Once there the governor distributed the personal property confiscated from the Texans. A fiesta on the main plaza in Las Vegas displayed the prisoners to cheering crowds. In a large public bonfire Armijo burned the Texas Proclamation of Invasion.
Hilario Gonsales, a Justice of the Peace in Las Vegas at the time, wrote the following account of the victory over Texas: “On the twenty third day of the month of September 1841, I ordered a fire of resinous firewood in the middle of the main plaza. The Lord General and Chief surrounded by his troops, threw the constitution and laws of the so-called Republic of Texas into the brightly burning fire. And condemning also into the same flames, proclamations, invitations and other subversive papers which were brought from Texas by the so-called commissioners of the government of adventurers and assasins and thieves. A general discharge of firearms, a reveille of drums, trumpets, and flutes which caused vivas and applause from the many onlookers.”
New Mexican troops captured the remainder of the invasion force which surrendered October 5, 1841 near Conchas Dam. A victory celebration took place in Santa Fe .This included a newly written play call The Texans. The captured invaders were marched to Mexico City where they arrived in 1842. They were imprisoned in Mexico until President Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana released them on his saint’s day June 13, 1842. New Mexican forces repelled smaller incursions from Texas in 1842 and 1843. The ridiculous invasion of 1841 only increased the distrust of extranjeros among the Spanish-speaking inhabitants of the northern Mexican empire. After the Mexican American War the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1847) made the territories of Mexico in North America part of the United States.
Texas became part of United States in 1845 under President Polk. The conflict between slave and free states in the US prior to the Civil War made statehood aspirations difficult to achieve. In 1845 the Texas President Anson Jones stood on the steps of the capitol in Austin and hauled down the lone star flag proclaiming, “The Republic of Texas is no more.”