1-29 The Taos Rebellion
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- New Mexico currently is in the middle of the 160th anniversary of the short-lived Taos Rebellion of 1847. It bears some consideration.
Ten years ago, I wrote a column criticizing the New Mexico historian and state museum officials for ignoring the 150th anniversary of New Mexico becoming part of the United States in the summer of 1846. How could anyone be so unappreciative of being an American?
In response, I heard from friends in the New Mexico Historical Society that no one in its ranks had wanted to write a paper in commemoration of the event. The strong implication was that maybe I should study my history a little more fully that what I had learned in school.
I've done that, and although it didn't take me 10 years to get a clearer picture, I never got around to putting it in words. This seems to be an appropriate time for more than one reason.
The decision to make war on Mexico was part of America's belief that our Manifest Destiny was to spread democracy throughout the continent and to remake the world in our image.
The expectation was that citizens in New Mexico and elsewhere would welcome liberation from the corrupt Mexican regime.
It didn't seem to occur to anyone that while New Mexicans might have little love for their former masters in Mexico City, they just might not be overjoyed at being conquered and occupied by a foreign power.
I had learned in school that Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny had benevolently written a new code of laws to govern us. I didn't learn until later that international law called for him to continue the existing local government under military supervision.
Instead Kearny replaced Gov. Manuel Armijo and his administration with Gov. William Bent and a group of Anglos and a few Mexican traders who had grown rich from business over the Santa Fe Trail.
To most New Mexicans, this new government was alien and unwelcome.
Soon after, Kearny and his troops departed New Mexico to conquer California and Chihuahua, leaving a scattering of garrisons manned by volunteer troops that showed visible bigotry toward Mexicans and little discipline.
By December 1846, an insurgency plot was coming together. On January 19, the uprising erupted at Bent's home in Taos, where the governor and some relatives and supporters were massacred. Rebel ranks grew to several hundred.
The garrisons scattered around the state were brought in to quell the insurgency in a series of bloody skirmishes, culminating with the bombardment and assault on the church at Pueblo de Taos February 3-4.
As the war moved farther south and west, U.S. troops continued to take land, move on, and become surprised again that anyone would react negatively to U.S. invasion and occupation. Californians nearly drove U.S. forces out of their province before losing to a counterattack. Guerilla warfare erupted throughout Mexico.
As the war continued, disgust with the whole business grew throughout the United States. By the end, the war was regarded in this country as illegitimate, started under false pretenses and pursued incompetently. In his annual message to Congress in 1846, President James Polk accused war critics of "giving aid and comfort to the enemy."
So now I understand a little more about why there were no commemorations in 1996 of New Mexico becoming part of the United States. There is no doubt that almost all New Mexicans are grateful to be citizens of the United States. It's just that getting there was a little problematic.
And it's also evident that there isn't much new under the sun. Not much should be a surprise to those who study their history well. And it doesn't seem that our nation's leaders have done that.
But there is hope. As Winston Churchill says, "America always does the right thing -- after exhausting all alternatives."
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org