Stephen Watts Kearny, the Capture of Santa Fe and the Taos Revolt

United States - Scott #944 (1946)
United States – Scott #944 (1946)

On August 18, 1846, United States Army General Stephen W. Kearny and his troops took possession of Santa Fe — the capital of the Mexican Province of Nuevo México — graciously if sadly welcomed by acting governor Juan Bautista Vigil y Alarid. This Capture of Santa Fe is also known as the Battle of Santa Fe or the Battle of Cañoncito, despite no shots having been fired. Many sources state that Kearny entered Santa Fe on August 15 but this was the date that his Army of the West marched unopposed into Las Vegas (about 65 miles, 105 km, further east from the capital). From the roof of one of the buildings which lined the Las Vegas plaza, K’earny announced to the assembled crowd, “I have come amongst you by orders of my government, to take possession of your country and extend over it the laws of the United States…”

Santa Fe de Nuevo México (Santa Fe [Holy Faith] of New Mexico in English, shortened as Nuevo México or Nuevo Méjico) was established as a province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, created by Philip II of Spain and officially settled during the 1598 expedition by Juan de Oñate. He established the colonial settlement San Juan de los Caballeros near Ohkay Oweenge Pueblo, which served as the capitol from 1598 until 1610, The expedition had been authorized by Philip II to survey the region. Alhough the Spanish believed that cities of gold such as the ones of the Aztecs, whom they had previously conquered, lay to the north in the unexplored territory, the major goal was to spread Catholicism. Oñate was unable to find any riches, however.

Map of the United States and Mexico, published in 1847
Map of the United States and Mexico, published in 1847

Oñate served as the first governor of the Nuevo México Province from 1598 to 1610. He had hoped to make it a separate viceroyalty from New Spain in an original agreement made in 1595, but the terms failed when the Viceroy changed hands in 1596. After a two-year delay and lengthy vetting by the new viceroy, Oñate was finally allowed to cross the Rio Grande River into modern day Texas and New Mexico.  As governor, he mingled with the Pueblo people and was responsible for the establishment of Spanish rule in the area.

From 1610 onward,  the capital was the ancient town of La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís (The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi”, modern-day Santa Fe) in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, circa 1846-1847
Santa Fe, New Mexico, circa 1846-1847

Most of the Spanish missions in Nuevo México were established during the early 17th century with varying degrees of success and failure, oftentimes building directly atop ancient pueblo ruins, and in the centers of pueblos. Some pueblos were friendly to the foreigners, but after cultural differences and the banishment of local religions tensions against the Spanish rose significantly. After compounding misdeeds and overbearing taxes by the Spanish invaders, the indigenous communities rebelled in what is now referred to as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. This rebellion saw the Spanish expelled from Nuevo México for a period of 12 years and the pueblo people were able to regain lost lands. They returned to battle against the Spanish who sought restoration in 1692 of the conquered holdings. The reoccupation of Santa Fe was accomplished by Diego de Vargas. The province came under the jurisdiction of the Real Audiencia of Guadalajara, with oversight by the Viceroy of New Spain at Mexico City.

In 1777, with the creation of the Comandancia y Capitanía General de las Provincias Internas (Commandancy and Captaincy General of the Internal Provinces), the Nuevo México Province was removed from the oversight of the Viceroy and placed solely in the jurisdiction of the Commandant General of the Provincias Internas. The province remained in Spanish control until Mexico’s declaration of independence in 1821. Under the 1824 Constitution of Mexico, it became the federally administered Territory of New Mexico.

The part of the former province east of the Rio Grande was claimed by the Republic of Texas which won its independence in 1836. This claim was disputed by Mexico. In 1841, the Texans sent the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, ostensibly for trade but with hopes of occupying the claimed area, but the expedition was captured by Mexican troops. The expedition was unofficially initiated by the then President of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar, in an attempt to gain control over the lucrative Santa Fe Trail and further develop the trade links between Texas and New Mexico. The initiative was a major component of Lamar’s ambitious plan to turn the fledgling republic into a continental power, which the President believed had to be achieved as quickly as possible to stave off the growing movement demanding the annexation of Texas to the United States. The United States inherited the unenforced claim to the east bank with the Texas Annexation in 1845.

Administrative map of Mexico, 1835-1846
Administrative map of Mexico, 1835-1846

In 1844, James K. Polk was elected President of the United States on an expansionist platform which sought to extend the boundaries of the United States to the Pacific coast. After Congress voted to annex Texas in July 1845, John Slidell was sent to Mexico with instructions to offer thirty five million dollars in exchange for nearly half of Mexico’s territory. The Mexicans declined Slidell’s offer, but the rebuff only temporarily stymied the advance of Manifest Destiny. Polk ordered the American army to march to Texas and “defend the Rio Grande.” In early 1846, the Americans built a fort north of the Rio Grande crossing at Matamoros, and waited for the Mexicans to respond.

They did not have to wait long. In late April, 1846, elements of the American and Mexican armies engaged in several skirmishes, and some American soldiers were killed. When news of the clashes reached Washington, President Polk could now claim American blood had been spilled on American soil by a foreign aggressor. On May 13, 1846, Congress declared that “by the act of the Republic of Mexico, a state of war exists with that government and the United States.”

Colonel Stephen W. Kearny initially commanded some 1,700 regular army and volunteer soldiers mustering at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Kearny was promoted to brigadier general, and he designated the force the Army of the West and advanced on the Santa Fe trail by the end of June 1846. His orders were to secure the New Mexico territory and Alta California. Other American forces followed including Colonel Sterling Price and the Second Missouri Mounted Volunteer Regiment and the famous Mormon Battalion, the only religious unit in American military history. Months later the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry and some regular army units arrived by ship in California.

Stephen Watts Kearny, born in Newark, New Jersey on August 30, 1794, was quite familiar with the American West by the time he departed for New Mexico in June 1846. He began his military career in 1812, joining the New York Militia soon after he left school and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the War of 1812 in the 13th Infantry Regiment. After the war, he chose to remain in the U.S. Army. Kearny was promoted to captain on April 1, 1813; brevet major in 1823; major, 1829; and lieutenant colonel, 1833. He was assigned to the western frontier under command of General Henry Atkinson, and in 1819 he was a member of the expedition to explore the Yellowstone River in present-day Montana and Wyoming. The Yellowstone Expedition of 1819 journeyed only as far as present-day Nebraska, where it established Cantonment Missouri, later renamed Fort Atkinson. Kearny was also on the 1825 expedition that reached the mouth of the Yellowstone River. During his travels, he kept extensive journals, including his interactions with Native Americans.

Brigadier-General Stephen W. Kearny (1794-1848) Engraved by T. B. Welch, expressly for Graham's Magazine, July 1849. Peter A. Juley & Son, photographers. Published in: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.
Brigadier-General Stephen W. Kearny (1794-1848) Engraved by T. B. Welch, expressly for Graham’s Magazine, July 1849. Peter A. Juley & Son, photographers. Published in: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.

In 1826, Kearny was appointed as the first commander of the new Jefferson Barracks in Missouri south of St. Louis. While stationed there, he was often invited to the nearby city, the center of fur trade, economics and politics of the region. By way of Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr., he was invited as a guest of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

In 1833, Kearny was appointed second in command of the newly organized 1st Dragoon Regiment. The U.S. Cavalry eventually grew out of this regiment, which was re-designated the 1st United States Cavalry in 1861, earning Kearny his nickname as the “father of the United States Cavalry”. The regiment was stationed at Fort Leavenworth in present-day Kansas, and Kearny was promoted to the rank of colonel in command of the regiment in 1836. In 1842, Kearny was appointed as commander of the Armu’s Third Military Department at Fort Leavenworth, charged with protecting the frontier and preserving peace among the tribes of Native Americans on the Great Plains.

By the early 1840s, when emigrants began traveling along the Oregon Trail, Kearny often ordered his men to escort the travelers across the plains to avoid attack by the Native Americans. The practice of the military’s escorting settlers’ wagon trains would become official government policy in succeeding decades. To protect the travelers, Kearny established a new post along Table Creek near present-day Nebraska City, Nebraska. The outpost was named Fort Kearny. However, the Army realized the site was not well-chosen, and the post was moved to the present location on the Platte River in central Nebraska.

Kearny conducted an expedition himself in 1845. With five companies of dragoons he traveled over the Oregon Trail from Fort Leavenworth to Wyoming, holding a council with the Sioux near Fort Laramie to convince them not to attack the emigrant wagon trains. He then returned to Fort Leavenworth by a southern route to Bent’s Fort and the Arkansas River, meeting with the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Kearny’s expedition added to the Army’s knowledge of the terrain and the routes west, and a new map, improving on the efforts of John C. Fremont, was made by Lieutenant William Franklin under Kearny’s direction.

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in May 1846, Kearny, now familiar with the routes across the Plains was a logical choice to become commander of the Army of the West. He was promoted to brigadier-general and given the task of leading United States forces to New Mexico and California. Organized in May and June 1846, the Army of the West consisted of two batteries of artillery, three squadrons of dragoons, one regiment of cavalry, and two companies of infantry, totaling approximately 1750 men. Kearny left Fort Leavenworth with a force of about 2,500 men on June 30, 1846. The troops consisted of 1600 men in the volunteer First and Second Regiments of Fort Leavenworth, Missouri Mounted Cavalry regiment under Alexander Doniphan; an artillery and infantry battalion; 300 of Kearny’s 1st U.S. Dragoons (light cavalry) and about 500 members of the Mormon Battalion. They marched over the Santa Fe Trail to the Arkansas River near Bent’s Fort.

At Bent’s Fort on August 2, General Kearny sent Captain Philip St. George Cooke ahead to New Mexico with a flag of truce, hoping to negotiate a peaceful surrender of the territory. Cooke first arrived in the town of Las Vegas in the northeastern portion of the territory. He was hospitably received by the alcalde, Juan de Dios Maes.

In Santa Fe, Governor Manuel Armijo wanted to avoid battle, but Catholic priests, Diego Archuleta (the young regular-army commander), and the young militia officers Manuel Chaves and Miguel Pino forced him to muster a defense. On August 9, Armijo set up a position in Apache Canyon, a narrow pass about 10 miles (16 km) southeast of the city.

Colonel Alexander William Doniphan's map of Santa Fe, published in Doniphan's Expedition by J.T. Hughes (Cincinnati, OH, 1847), p. 37
Colonel Alexander William Doniphan’s map of Santa Fe, published in Doniphan’s Expedition by J.T. Hughes (Cincinnati, OH, 1847), p. 37

Captain Cooke went on to Santa Fe, arriving on August 12. Cooke and his party met with Governor Armijo, presenting him with a letter from Kearny which asked for his surrender. Armijo declined to surrender, stating that he would oppose the invasion. Later he sent an emissary to Kearny delivering the same message. Armijo issued a call to arms which brought an enthusiastic but completely untrained crowd of New Mexicans to Santa Fe to volunteer for the defense of the territory.

In the meantime, however, Captain Cooke, United States consul Manuel Alvarez, and merchants James Magoffin and Henry Connelly all met with Armijo to urge him not to fight. It has been said by American writers, in their negative depictions of Armijo, that Magoffin on behalf of the United States government bribed him not to fight, but there is no concrete evidence for this accusation. Rather, Armijo’s reluctance to oppose Kearny was most likely based upon the hard facts of the situation: the strength of the United States forces and the comparative weakness and inexperience of the volunteers under his command. As Lieutenant Emory characterized Armijo’s response: “He has seen what they [his people] are blind to; the hopelessness of resistance.”

On August 14, before the Army of the West was even in view, Governor Armijo decided not to fight. When Pino, Chaves, and some of the militiamen insisted on fighting, Armijo ordered the cannon pointed at them. On August 16, he arrived at Apache Canyon and sent the volunteer defenders home. Armijo with 75 dragoons then fled to Chihuahua.

“Conquest of New Mexico”, an engraving of General Kearney proclaiming New Mexico part of the United States, Plaza, Las Vegas, New Mexico, 15 August 1846. Engraving made in 1882.

Kearny and his troops advanced from Bent’s Fort arriving in Las Vegas on August 15 where he met no opposition. Alcalde Maes assembled the citizens in the plaza and Kearny informed them that they were no longer under Mexican sovereignty and that he had replaced Armijo as their governor. He pledged to respect their Catholic religion. Then Kearny continued westward, passing through Tecolote and San Miguel del Bado where he gave the same speech.

Inaccurate drawing of Stephen Kearny and the Army of the West at Santa Fe, New Mexico, on August 18, 1846. Drawn by Kenneth Chap in January 1909.
Inaccurate drawing of Stephen Kearny and the Army of the West at Santa Fe, New Mexico, on August 18, 1846. Drawn by Kenneth Chap in January 1909. Used by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in 1946 as the basis for Scott #944.

On August 18, General Kearny and his troops took possession of Santa Fe without a battle, graciously if sadly welcomed by acting governor Juan Bautista Vigil y Alarid. In front of the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, the General again told the assembled citizens they were no longer under Mexican rule. Vigil y Alarid spoke in response, noting that questions of national sovereignty were to be decided by the cabinets in Mexico City and Washington, not by the local people, but went on to say: “Don’t be surprised that among us there has been no love or manifestation of joy and enthusiasm in seeing this city occupied by your military forces. For us the power of the Mexican republic is dead. No matter what her condition, she was our mother. What child will not shed abundant tears at the tomb of his parents?”

On August 22, Kearny issued his first proclamation as military governor   in which he spoke of the military power of his forces, stating that “he has more troops than is necessary to put down any opposition that can possibly be brought before him, and therefore that it would be but folly or madness for any dissatisfied or discontented persons to think of resisting him.” And he ordered those who had taken up arms against the United States troops to return home “or else they will be considered enemies and traitors, subjecting their persons to punishment and their property to seizure and confiscation.” He assured the populace that the Catholic Church and its property would not be disturbed nor would their right to worship be hindered, and they would be protected against their enemies, “the Eutaws [Utes], the Navajos and others.” He ended by proudly noting that he had taken possession of the territory “without firing a gun, or spilling a single drop of blood.”

On September 22, Kearny established a joint civil and military government, appointing Charles Bent, a prominent Santa Fe Trail trader living in Taos, New Mexico as acting civil governor. He divided his forces into four commands: one, under Colonel Sterling Price, appointed military governor, was to occupy and maintain order in New Mexico with his approximately 800 men; a second group under Colonel Alexander William Doniphan, with a little over 800 men was ordered to capture El Paso, in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico and then join up with General John E. Wool; the third command of about 300 dragoons mounted on mules, he led under his command to California along the Gila River trail. The Mormon Battalion, mostly marching on foot under Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, was directed to follow Kearny with wagons to blaze a new southern wagon route to California.

Also on September 22, 1846, Kearny promulgated the first set of laws for New Mexico under United States sovereignty. The “Kearny Code” was actually compiled by Colonel A. W. Doniphan and was based on both the laws of the United States and Mexico. It became the basis for law in New Mexico and was in use until 1885.

Map of the Mexican-American War, 1946-1848
Map of the Mexican-American War, 1946-1848

Three days later, Stephen Watts Kearny with 300 of his troops departed from Santa Fe for California, leaving Colonel Doniphan in charge until the arrival of Colonel Sterling Price and his troops. At the town of Socorro, Kearny met Kit Carson who incorrectly informed him that California had already surrendered to John C. Fremont and Commodore Robert Stockton, so he left 200 of his troops in New Mexico and enlisted Carson to guide him to southern California. Meanwhile with Price’s arrival, Doniphan and his men then marched south to do battle in Chihuahua. In early December, Kearny reached California, and on December 6 he and his men engaged Mexican forces led by Andrés Pico in the battle of San Pascual. Underestimating Pico’s lancers, the Americans were routed with 22 men killed and were forced to retreat to nearby ridge to wait re-enforcements from Stockton. Kearny himself received two wounds in the battle. The combined forces of Kearny and Stockton went on to take San Diego and Los Angeles.

Colonel Sterling Price was left in command of U.S. troops in New Mexico. The forces left behind in the territory were still regarded as part of Army of the West. Many New Mexicans were unreconciled to Armijo’s surrender; they also resented their treatment by U.S. soldiers, which Governor Bent described:

As other occupation troops have done at other times and places have done, they undertook to act like conquerors.”

Governor Bent implored Price’s superior, Colonel Alexander Doniphan, “to interpose your authority to compel the soldiers to respect the rights of the inhabitants. These outrages are becoming so frequent that I apprehend serious consequences must result sooner or later if measures are not taken to prevent them.”

An issue more significant than the galling daily insults was that many New Mexican citizens feared that their land titles, issued by the Mexican government, would not be recognized by the United States. They worried that American sympathizers would prosper at their expense. Following Kearny’s departure, dissenters in Santa Fe plotted a Christmas uprising. When the plans were discovered by the U.S. authorities, the dissenters postponed the uprising. They attracted numerous Native American allies, including Puebloan peoples, who also wanted to push the Americans from the territory.

The Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, an 1893 illustration.
The Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, an 1893 illustration.

On the morning of January 19, 1847, the insurrectionists began the revolt in Don Fernando de Taos, present-day Taos, New Mexico, and nearby Taos Pueblo. They were led by Pablo Montoya, a Hispano, and Tomás Romero, a Taos Puebloan also known as Tomasito (Little Thomas).

Romero led a Native American force to the house of Governor Charles Bent, where they broke down the door, shot Bent with arrows, and scalped him in front of his family. After they moved on, Bent was still alive. With his wife Ignacia and children, and the wives of friends Kit Carson and Thomas Boggs, the group escaped by digging through the adobe walls of their house into the one next door. When the insurgents discovered the party, they killed Bent, but left the women and children unharmed.

The rebel force killed and scalped several other government officials, along with others seen as related to the new U.S. territorial government. Among those killed were Stephen Lee, acting county sheriff; Cornelio Vigil, prefect and probate judge; and J.W. Leal, circuit attorney. “It appeared,” wrote Colonel Price, “to be the object of the insurrectionists to put to death every… who had accepted office under the American government.”

On January 20, a large armed force of approximately 500 Hispanos and Puebloans attacked and laid siege to Simeon Turley’s mill in Arroyo Hondo, several miles outside of Taos. Charles Autobees, an employee at the mill, saw the men coming. He rode to Santa Fe for help from the occupying U.S. forces. Eight to ten mountain men were left at the mill for defense. After a day-long battle, only two of the mountain men, John David Albert and William LeBlanc, survived. Both escaped separately on foot during the night. The same day, Hispano insurgents killed seven or eight American traders who were passing through the village of Mora on their way to Missouri. At most, 16 Americans were killed in both actions on January 20.

Map of the Battle of Cañada, fought in Santa Cruz, New Mexico, on January 24, 1847.
Map of the Battle of Cañada, fought in Santa Cruz, New Mexico, on January 24, 1847.

The U.S. military moved quickly to quash the revolt; Colonel Price led more than 300 troops from Santa Fe to Taos, together with 65 volunteers, including a few New Mexicans, organized by Ceran St. Vrain, the business partner of the brothers William and Charles Bent. Along the way, the combined forces beat back a force of some 1,500 Hispanos and Puebloans at the Battles of Cañada and Embudo Pass. On January 24, Price met the large insurgent force on the heights along the road to Santa Cruz de la Cañada and three strong houses at the base of the hill. Price placed his artillery on the left to fire on the houses and bluff, placed his dismounted men such that they were protected by the stream bluff, and sent Captain St. Vrain to protect his wagon train a mile to the rear until it joined him. Price ordered Captain Agney to dislodge the rebels occupying the house opposite his right flank, followed by a charge up the hill, They took possession of the houses enclosed by a strong corral. Price reported, “In a few minutes my troops had dislodged the enemy at all points, and they were flying in every direction.

Battle of Embudo Pass, drawn by US Army Corps of Engineers artist JG Bruff in 1847 and obtained from the Library of Congress
Battle of Embudo Pass, drawn by US Army Corps of Engineers artist JG Bruff in 1847 and obtained from the Library of Congress
Site of the Battle of Embudo Pass in New Mexico, January 1847. Photo taken on March 22, 2010.
Site of the Battle of Embudo Pass in New Mexico, January 1847. Photo taken on March 22, 2010.

Following the Battle of Cañada, Sterling Price advanced up the Rio del Norte (Rio Grande) on January 27 to Luceros where he was joined by several companies of dragoons and volunteers, bringing Price’s force to 479 men. On January 29,, Price marched to La Joya, where sixty to eighty insurgents were posted on either side of the canyon. Finding the road by Embudo impractical for artillery or wagons, Price detached three companies amounting to 180 men. The insurgents were discovered at El Embudo, near present-day Dixon, New Mexico, in the thick brush on each side of the road where the gorge becomes constricted. Sterling Price’s official report of the battle describes it as follows:

The rapid slopes of the mountains rendered the enemy’s position very strong, and its strength was increased by the dense masses of cedar and large fragments of rock which everywhere offered shelter. The action was commenced by Capt. St. Vrain, who, dismounting his men, ascended the mountain on the left doing much execution. Flanking parties were thrown out on either side, commanded respectively by Lieut. White, 2d regiment Missouri mounted volunteers, and by Lieutenants Mellvaine and Taylor, 1st dragoons. These parties ascended the hill rapidly, and the enemy soon began to retire in the direction of Embudo, bounding along the steep and rugged sides of the mountains with a speed that defied pursuit. The firing at the pass of Embudo had been heard at La Joya, [now called “Velarde”] and Captain Slack, with twenty-five mounted men had been immediately dispatched thither. He now arrived, and rendered excellent service by relieving Lieutenant White whose men were much fatigued. Lieutenants Mellvaine and Taylor were also recalled; and Lieutenant Ingalls was directed to lead a flanking party on the right slope, while Captain Slack performed the same duty on the left. The enemy having by this time retreated beyond our reach, Captain Burgwin marched through the defile and debouched into the open valley in which Embudo is situated, recalled the flanking parties, and entered that town without opposition, several persons meeting him with a white flag.

Crosses, or Descansos, marking the 1847 Battle of Embudo. Photo taken on February 11, 2006.
Crosses, or Descansos, marking the 1847 Battle of Embudo. Photo taken on February 11, 2006.

Local tradition states that a series of crosses were chipped into several large rocks marking the spots where defenders were killed. These can still be seen today.

The insurgents retreated to Taos Pueblo, where they took refuge in the thick-walled adobe church. On February 1, Price’s force of 478 men reached the summit of Taos Mountain, covered in two feet of snow, and on February 2,, Rio Chiquito, the entrance to Taos Valley. On February 3,, Price marched through Don Fernando de Taos and then found the rebels had strongly fortified Pueblo de Taos.

The Battle of Taos in 1847, during the Mexican-American War, depicting the death of Captain John H.K. Burgwin during the siege of Taos Pueblo.
The Battle of Taos in 1847, during the Mexican-American War, depicting the death of Captain John H.K. Burgwin during the siege of Taos Pueblo.

Price ordered Lieutenant Dyer to set up an artillery battery, consisting of a 6-pounder and the howitzers, 250 yards from the western flank of the church and began firing at 2 PM, continuing for two and a half hours before retiring to Don Fernando for the evening. Early on February 4, Price placed Captain Burgwin’s 1st Dragoon Regiment, and Major Clarke’s light artillery, in the same position he had the battery the evening before, Captain St. Vrain’s and Captain Slack’s mounted men were placed to prevent escape towards the mountains or Don Fernando, and the remaining men were placed 300 yards from the northern wall along with Lt. Dyer’s artillery battery. This placed the front and eastern flank of the church in a crossfire.

The batteries started firing at 9 AM, which failed to breach the church walls, so by 11 AM, Price ordered a storming of the church. Captain Burgwin and Captain McMillin charged the western flank of the church, while Captain Agney, Lieutenant Boon, and Captain. Barber the northern wall. The roof of the church was set fire, but Burgwin was mortally wounded while moving through the corral at the front of the church. A hole was cut in the western wall which permitted shells to be thrown in by hand, while the 6-pounder was placed so it could fire grape-shot into the town. By 3 PM, the 6-pounder was placed sixty yards from the church and widened the hole after ten rounds, after which it was placed ten yards away and fired three rounds of grape into the church. This allowed Dyer, Wilson and Taylor to take possession of the church, followed by the rebels abandoning the western part of the town.

Many casualties were inflicted by directing cannon fire into the church with about 150 rebels killed.  They captured 400 more men after close hand-to-hand fighting. Seven U.S. troops died in the battle. Two of the accused rebellion leaders, Pablo Montoya and Tomás Romero, were captured in the fighting. Romero was shot by Private Fitzgerald in the guard room at Don Fernando before being brought to trial. Montoya was convicted of treason and hanged at Don Fernando on February 7. Later trials resulted in 14 additional public hangings.

A separate force of U.S. troops campaigned against the rebels in Mora. The First Battle of Mora on January 24, under Captain Israel R. Hendley, ended in a New Mexican strategic victory and Hendley’s death. The Americans returned in force for revenge a week later. Under Captain Jesse I. Morin, and with artillery, they razed the town to the ground on February 1 in the Second Battle of Mora.

On May 26, 1847, a detachment of U.S. troops traveling through northern New Mexico along the Canadian River were attacked by a combined force of Mexican militia with their Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche what came to be known as the Red River Affair or the  Battle of Red River Canyon. The Mexicans and natives were repulsed but soon regrouped and assaulted the American position. The Americans slowly made an organized retreat, the withdrawal being covered by a Lieutenant Elliot and his Laclede rangers. At sunrise, the Americans reformed and reentered the canyon, where they discovered that the Mexicans and natives had retreated just before their arrival.

The United States Army leaving Las Vegas, New Mexico in April, 1847, after capturing the city. Illustration from the book
The United States Army leaving Las Vegas, New Mexico in April, 1847, after capturing the city. Illustration from the book “The History of the Military Occupation of New Mexico”, 1909.

Another battle occurred in Las Vegas on July 6 when, after only fifteen minutes of fighting, New Mexican rebels began a retreat into the surrounding terrain of Las Vegas. A total of about fifty New Mexicans were captured during the battle. Ten others were killed and according to United States Army reports, others were wounded. No Americans were killed in the battle, although a few had slight wounds.

The Cienega affair, or the Battle of Cienega Creek, was the last engagement of the Taos Revolt during the Mexican-American War. On July 9, 1847, a detachment of thirty-one men, belonging to Captain Morin’s company of U.S. infantry were stationed close to Cienega Creek about eighteen miles from Taos. On this early morning, the U.S. troops were attacked by two hundred New Mexican militia and their Pueblo allies. The ensuing battle resulted in an American retreat to the banks of Cienega Creek. They were able to hold their position until Captain Shepherd’s company arrived, “vanquishing the enemy”.

A combined force of about 600 men consisting of Kearny’s dragoons, Stockton’s marines and sailors, and two companies of Frémont’s California Battalion had regained control of Los Angeles on January 10, 1847. The Californio forces in California capitulated on January 13 to Lieutenant Colonel John C. Frémont and his California Battalion. The Treaty of Cahuenga ended the fighting of the Mexican–American War in Alta California on that date. Kearny and Stockton decided to accept the liberal terms offered by Frémont to terminate hostilities, despite Andrés Pico’s breaking his earlier, solemn pledge that he would not fight U.S. forces.

A painting of the U.S. Cavalry and infantry in the 1840s during the Mexican-American War. Artist: H. Charles McBarron, Jr
A painting of the U.S. Cavalry and infantry in the 1840s during the Mexican-American War. Artist: H. Charles McBarron, Jr

As the ranking Army officer, Kearny claimed command of California at the end of hostilities despite the fact that California was brought under U.S. control by Commodore Stockton’s Pacific Squadron’s forces. This began an unfortunate rivalry with Stockton, whose rank was equivalent to a rear admiral (lower half) today. Stockton and Kearny had the same equivalent rank (one star) and unfortunately the War Department had not worked out a protocol for who would be in charge. Stockton seized on the treaty of capitulation and appointed Frémont military governor of California.

With reinforcements in hand, Kearny assumed command anyway and appointed his own territorial military governor. He ordered Frémont to resign and accompany him back to Fort Leavenworth. On Kearny and Frémont’s trip back east on the California Trail, accompanied by some members of the Mormon Battalion who had re-enlisted, they found and buried some of the Donner Party’s remains on their trip over the Sierra Nevadas. Once at Fort Leavenworth, Frémont was restricted to barracks and ordered court-martialed for insubordination and willfully disregarding an order. A court martial convicted Frémont and ordered that he receive a dishonorable discharge, but President James K. Polk quickly commuted Frémont’s sentence due to services he had rendered over his career. Frémont resigned his commission in disgust and settled in California. In 1847, Frémont purchased the Rancho Las Mariposas, a large land grant in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Yosemite, which proved to be rich in gold. He was later elected one of the first U.S. senators from California and was the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party in 1856.

Kearny remained military governor of California until May 31, when he set out overland across the California Trail to Washington, D.C. and was welcomed as a hero. He was appointed governor of Veracruz, and later of Mexico City. He also received a brevet promotion to major general in September 1848, over the heated opposition of Frémont’s father-in-law, Senator Thomas Hart Benton.

After contracting yellow fever in Veracruz, Kearny had to return to St. Louis. He died there on October 31, 1848, at the age of 54. He was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, now a National Historic Landmark in St. Louis.

United States - Scott #944 (1946) first day cover
United States – Scott #944 (1946) first day cover

Scott #944, a 3-cent brown violet stamp issued on October 16, 1946, commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Kearny expedition in New Mexico. The stamp depicts the U.S. flag’s initial raising at the historic Governors Palace, while Kearny and his men look on. This image is adapted from a sketch made by Midwest transplant Kenneth Chap who had arrived in Las Vegas in 1899 in hopes that the mountain air would help with his chronic lung problems. In January 1909, Chap was asked to contribute illustrations for a book called  The Military Occupation of New Mexico, 1846. Due to time constrictions, Chap was unable to properly research the locations he was asked to portray and said in a 1937 interview that his rendering of the portal of the Governors Palace was particularly unfortunate because no study of early New Mexico architecture was then available to serve him as a guide.

In 1946, engravers for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing could discover only one image of General Kearny on the Santa Fe Plaza — the one created by Chapman back in 1909. Authentic or not, that’s what they used as the basis for the stamp. The stamp was printed using the Rotary press with a total of 114,684,450 copies issued, perforated 11 x 10½. In the run-up to the first day ceremonies held on October 16, an estimated 400,000 orders for first day covers were received.  A high postal official from Washington on hand stated that the Kearny stamp in his judgment was “one of the most beautiful and appropriate that could be issued.” The ceremony included a  speech by U.S. Senator Dennis Chбvez and a brass band.

Flag of the United States (July 4, 1846 to July 3, 1847) - 28 stars
Flag of the United States (July 4, 1846 to July 3, 1847) – 28 stars
Flag of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Flag of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail

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