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A History of Taos
19th Century and the Mexican Period

The late autumn of Spanish rule in Taos had arrived by the turn of the nineteenth century, but Spanish sovereignty would officially continue until 1821. The increasing presence of Anglo-American traders and the goods available from America intensified the ongoing need for supplies which had never been available or affordable from Spanish Mexico. This stimulated Mexican independence from Spain, which was achieved in 1821, closing the chapter of Spanish sovereignty which lasted well over two centuries.

The change from Spanish to Mexican sovereignty in 1821 was so passive that it occurred virtually unnoticed in New Mexico; however a number of events and circumstances occurred after 1821 which dramatically changed the course of events in New Mexico.

Some Spaniards left the area after Mexican Independence, and the Franciscan priests had already begun leaving by the 1790s. Secular priests took their place, but they were few in number. This created a vacuum which was filled by the Society of the Hermanos Penitentes. The Penitentes assisted with Christian services including performing burial ceremonies. They are credited with preserving Catholicism and performing many important community functions in the absence of priests. With the departure of the Spaniards, the Spanish presence in patrolling the area was also gone, and was not replaced by the Mexican Officials. In addition, American traders were no longer outlawed, but were welcomed by the new Mexican government, hungry for the tariffs their merchandise would bring. The economy of New Mexico grew from the small flame of the Trade Fairs in Taos to the prairie fire of the Santa Fe Trail.

Mountain Men and the Fur Trade

Mountain Men and the Fur Trade
Kit Carson
The Santa Fe Trail
Padre Martinez

Mountain men began arriving in Taos by 1750, and with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 the Mountain Man period began in earnest. The tall beaver skin hats which were fashionable in the Eastern United States made beaver pelts profitable, and the early trickle of traders and trappers into the Spanish territory from the East became a floodtide as they pushed their way westward. These trappers were eccentric men of all cultural backgrounds and educational levels. The mountain men introduced the more sophisticated muzzleloading rifies, such as the long rifie popularized by Daniel Boone and the famous Hawken rifle. Oftentimes the mountain men lived closely with the Indians. They learned from the Indians and adopted their dress and ability to live off of the land.

Taos became a base of operation and a refuge for these predominantly French-Canadian and American trappers and traders, and the Taos Trade Fair became even more popular as a result of their presence.

The mountain trappers would trade their pelts for supplies, and then would celebrate by courting the Taos women, gambling, and drinking whiskey which was known as "aguardiente". "Taos Lightning" as it was also known, was brewed at Simeon Turley's mill north of Taos on the Kiowa Trail. Oftentimes the trappers would spend the winter in Taos before beginning their trapping again in the spring.

The fur trade declined in the 1830s as the beaver became scarce, and beaver skin hats gave way to silk hats. As a result the mountain men turned to other pursuits, but many of them remained in New Mexico and helped provide a welcome nucleus if not a ""fifth column" for the United States' occupation in 1846. The mountain man's legacy is legendary in Taos, as their descendants blended well into the environs of Taos, and names such as Lavadie, LeDoux, and Jeantette are living testimony to this.

Kit Carson

Christopher ""Kit" Carson was the most famous of the mountain men in Taos. He arrived in Taos in 1826. Carson was first married to an Arapaho woman named Waa-nibe. He later married a Taoseña, Josefa Jaramillo, and fathered eight children. He achieved fame as John C. Fremont's guide to California, and as such may be regarded as a link in the connection of the continent from coast to coast. A man of his time, he is sometimes remembered as an Indian fighter, however he also fought for the Indian's rights as the Jicarilla Apache Indian Agent. He spoke several Indian languages; and of Carson his friend Tom Boggs once said, "He never cussed more'n was necessary." He is remembered as a soft-spoken man of honor whose house was always open to anyone in need. He died of an aneurism in 1868, a month after Josefa died of complications resulting from childbirth. His home is preserved as a museum on Kit Carson Road in Taos.

The Santa Fe Trail

The Spanish stranglehold on Nuevo Mexico was broken with the onset of Mexican Independence in 1821. The wealth of goods available from the United States which had only trickled into New Mexico before Mexican independence turned into a flood of relatively inexpensive supplies.

William Becknell is considered to be the "Father of the Santa Fe Trail". Once he learned of Mexican Independence he started out from Franklin, Missouri and arrived in Santa Fe in November 1821. He traded his goods and made enormous profits, and this prompted others to accept the official invitation of the governor of New Mexico. Even though windfall profits were present for only a few years, the trail was the "nineteenth century international highway" linking the United States with Mexico until the railroad came in 1879.

The Santa Fe Trail originated in Missouri and passed through Kansas, then either into Colorado over the mountain branch or over the Cimarron cutoff in northeastern New Mexico. The Cimarron cutoff became the major route because it was shorter and not mountainous. The trail led to Santa Fe where customs officals were eagerly waiting to collect a customs tax. For some, the journey would continue to Mexico City on the Camino Real. The trails and wagon paths which led to Taos maintained Taos's status as a crossroads, but the mountain passes to the north and east, and the rugged terrain of the Rio Grande gorge discouraged increased trade and contact. Taos was bypassed by both the Santa Fe Trail and the railroad, although a branch of the trail from Bent's Fort in Colorado to Taos was well traversed. Generally speaking, Taos did not benefit from the economic revolution that occurred in other parts of New Mexico. Consequently, for better or for worse, Taos remained somewhat isolated. The impact of the Santa Fe Trail on New Mexico had both immediate and long-range significance, and the economic conquest of New Mexico by the United States was well under way.

Padre Martinez

1826 marked the year when Kit Carson arrived in Taos, and when Padre Antonio José Martinez returned to Taos to become parish priest. Padre Martinez' father, Severino Martinez, had moved his family from Abiquiu to Taos earlier in the 1800s and construction of the Martinez Hacienda had begun around 1804. Indian raids were still common, and the Hacienda was constructed as a fortress. The Martinez Hacienda is now a museum and national historic landmark, and one of the few Spanish Colonial sites open to the public.

Padre Martinez' accomplishments in Taos were many He founded a co-educational school which was the first of its kind in New Mexico. He was also the owner of the first printing press west of the Mississippi River, brought by Josiah Gregg across the Santa Fe Trail. In the 1830s Martinez printed textbooks for his school, religious materials, political documents and the first newspaper in the area, "El Crepusculo de Libertad" (the Dawn of Liberty), founded in 1834. The energetic Padre of Taos also found time to serve in the Mexican and New Mexico Territorial legislative bodies, and was a consistent advocate of lower taxes for New Mexicans. A man of the people, he opposed mandatory tithing and the imposition of charges for the sacraments. His liberal, populist views placed him at odds with the newly appointed French Bishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy. In 1862 Martinez was advised by Lamy that he had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, although if Lamy did excommunicate him it was only recorded at the village church of Arroyo Hondo near Taos, and he did not notify his superiors of the action. With the support of the people, Padre Martinez ignored the censure and continued to officiate, first as parish priest and later as a protestant minister, until he died July 28, 1867. He was buried by his Penitente brothers according to the wishes spelled out in his will. The actual location of his burial site is uncertain, but a commemorative headstone for Padre Martinez can be found at Kit Carson Park in Taos, close to Kit Carson's grave.

Continue to next section of A History of Taos.

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