Northern New Mexico's Community Network

A History of Taos
United States Sovereignty in Taos

The Taos Revolt of 1847
Indian Raids, Land Disputes, and Outlaws
The Civil War in Taos
The Taos Art Colony
Post-War Taos

The Taos Revolt of 1847

War with Mexico in 1846 hastened the dominance of the Anglo-American influence. General Stephen Kearny marched to Santa Fe in 1846 without firing a single shot.

However, there was resistance to the newcomers. After a "foiled plot" in Santa Fe in December of 1846, the Taos Rebellion broke out on January 19, 1847. Governor Bent and others who were considered to be sympathetic to American occupation were murdered. The revolt spread to Turley's mill near Arroyo Hondo where Simeon Turley and several other Americans were killed. Padre Martinez provided sanctuary for several Americans who sought refuge at his house. When news of the revolt reached Santa Fe, Col. Sterling Price led a retaliatory force toward Taos. He defeated some of the rebels at Santa Cruz de la Cañada and then at Embudo, 23 miles south of Taos. Price then marched on to Taos. The final and decisive battle took place at the Taos Pueblo Church where the insurgents were fortified. The bombardment that followed killed at least 150 and destroyed the church, although its ruins still remain. Whether the insurgents were Indians or Spanish or both is one of the questions regarding the rebellion which have never been answered.

In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican American war and ceding today's Southwest to the United States. All non-Indian inhabitants of the area who did not leave within one year became U.S. citizens. With the discovery of gold in California in 1849 an "avalanche of humanity" poured into the Southwest, making Manifest Destiny a reality in Taos. As with Indian land claims, the Hispanic loss of land has been disputed by land grant activists. In addition, many small communities in northern New Mexico shared common pasture land. These communal lands were lost to the U.S. government, through court judgements to land schemers; and sometimes because individual members of the community wanted a private parcel, thus forcing the division of communal property into individual ownership.

Indian Raids, Land Disputes and Outlaws

In the mid to late 1800s, lawlessness and anarchy dominated New Mexcio. Typified by the expression "the wild west," this included infamous gunslingers such as Billy the Kid, range wars between sheepherders and cattlemen, highwaymen threatening travel, and an aborted invasion of New Mexico by Texas. The whole of New Mexico had been subject to raids by Navajos and Apaches who resisted the settlement of Spanish and Anglo farmers and ranchers, and who had raided the Pueblos for centuries. Spanish colonial troops and Mexican troops had failed repeatedly in their efforts to maintain the peace, and peace treaties failed as well; in part because the Navajo were not organized around a central chief who was able to speak for, or control, the entire tribe. Injustices prevailed on both sides, yet the area could not be considered safe with the continuing raids. It fell upon the U.S. Cavalry to subdue the remaining bands of Apaches and Navajos who had splintered from their tribe. The once proud warriors of the southwest were finally pacified, and the southwest became suitable for continued expansion by Anglo and Spanish settlers.

The issue of encroachment is still alive today as the Hopi tribe of Arizona has disputed Navajo claims to territory surrounding the Hopi reservation, and Indians of many tribes claim lands taken from them as a result of Spanish and Anglo settlement. In fact, Taos Pueblo still owns the right of way to the streets of the town of Taos.

The Civil War in Taos

The U.S. Flag has flown on the Taos Plaza since 1846, but in 1861 "southern sympathizers" kept tearing it down. Captain Smith Simpson with help from Kit Carson, Ceran St. Vrain and others took it upon themselves to guard the flag around the clock. Congress subsequently granted permission to fly the Taos plaza flag 24 hours a day to commemorate the event.

Taos proved its loyalty to the United States and helped the Union cause during the Civil War by providing volunteers to the regiment of New Mexico Volunteers commanded by Kit Carson. The volunteers participated in the defense of New Mexico when the territory was invaded by the Confederacy in January, 1862. The Union victory at the Battle of Glorieta Pass is considered the "Gettysburg of the West". It was the turning point of Civil War hostilities in New Mexico.

Shortly after the civil war, gold was discovered in the mountains above Taos, and mining has played a role in the Taos economy since the 1870s, although the snowy "white gold" of Taos Ski Valley has had a greater economic impact.

The Taos Art Colony

Artists were drawn to the valley beginning in the late 1800s, in part because it had remained isolated. This influx of newcomers into Taos was made up of artists such as Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips who arrived in 1898 and helped establish an art colony in Taos. They were studying painting in Paris when Joseph Sharp advised them to "Paint the west before it is gone". Their arrival was in part accidental. They were on a sketching trip to Mexico from Colorado, when a wheel broke on their lightweight surrey and Blumenschein carried it on a horse to the nearest village for repair. That village was Taos. When he saw Taos, Blumenschein knew that he had found his home. The Taos Artists were a colorful group who enlivened Taos with yet another "passive invasion". Their art captured a way of life that was quickly disappearing, and their paintings are now highly valued for their artistic quality, and their documentary testament to the old days of Taos. The Ernest Blumenschein Home has been preserved as a historic site and example of the blend of European culture with the southwest which the artists embodied. Taos evolved into a thriving world-renowned art colony due to its mix of beauty, mountain light, culture and tradition.

The avant garde intellectuals and artists who recognized Taos's charm included artist Georgia O'Keeffe, photographers Ansel Adams and Paul Strand, psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and writer D.H. Lawrence, who to one degree or another were a part of the salon society of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Mabel Dodge was a wealthy east-coast socialite who married Tony Luhan, a Taos Pueblo Indian, and built a home known as Las Palomas, a well-known Taos landmark.

This later migration even included trader/merchants from the Middle East known as "Los Arabes" of whom the patriarch of the family was Peter Abdo Sahd who arrived in 1889. Two of his sons also established stores.

Taos has always had its share of colorful characters, some more noble than others. Arthur Manby was one of the less noble variety. He arrived from England in 1892 with the intention of securing as much land as he could, ostensibly for a real estate development and spa based on British formal gardens. Over a period of more than thirty years, through "hook or crook;' he was able to acquire title to nearly all of the Antonio Martinez Land Grant. His mission ended abruptly. As his empire was falling around him, he was discovered beheaded in his home on July 4, 1929. Mystery still surrounds the complete details of this bizarre incident, including whether the body was actually Manby's. Doc Martin, the fabled physician of turn-of-thecentury Taos, lived in what later became the Taos Inn. He was a neighbor to Manby, whose house was next door, where the Taos Art Association Stables Gallery later was located. After the "accident" Doc Martin revealed a little about how Taoseños feel about Taos. An interview about the incident with a New York reporter is said to have transpired thusly: "Who's the police commissioner up there?" inquired the newsman. "There ain't none," replied the doctor. "Then, who's the police chief?" "We haven't got one". "Well, who's in charge up there?" "God's in charge up here", answered Martin. "God's in charge of everything that happens in Taos."

Post-War Taos

External influences continued to force themselves on Taos throughout the twentieth century. Land plots became smaller, in part due to the absence of primogeniture, and agricultural income did not keep pace with economic appetites. Many local families keep a few horses, cattle or sheep, but have had to abandon or minimize their agricultural activities; taking jobs in town or out of the area. The conservative ideals of the American culture of the 1950s conformed closely with the strong traditional values of faith and family in Taos, but by war's end, the decline of a barter economy and the crush of consumerism and materialism affected the simpler life of Taos. It was a time which saw the beginnings of new kinds of stress on many traditions which had survived centuries of change.

Another notable infusion of people into the Taos Valley was the "invasion of the Hippies" in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These young idealists flocked to Taos to build a utopia. Communes such as New Buffalo and Morning Star were shortlived, although some of the inhabitants remained. They too have blended into the community of Taos, and form the nucleus of a New Age community which thrives in Taos.

"Cultural pluralism" is the status quo in Taos, wherein people can retain their cultural heritage and integrity in the process of intercultural borrowing among diverse groups which slowly results in new or blended patterns.

There remains an intangible quality about Taos that is instantly recognizable. Some call it the "Old Taos Mystique:' Many residents believe in the spirit of Taos Mountain, and many trust in the magic of the mountain to safeguard Taos. Taos has been described in a variety of ways. The late Taos Mayor Phil Lovato stated it this way: "Taos is not a city, Taos is not a town, Taos is not even a place. Taos is state of mind and a power center of the universe".

Kit Carson once quipped "no man who has ever seen the women, heard the bells, or smelled the pi– on smoke of Taos will ever want to leave." Author John Nichols who relocated from the Eastern United States to make his home in Taos stated, "It's been a real special place for me largely because it's a microcosm. It's been real easy for me to see infinity in a grain of sand. It never feels like just Taos to me. It feels like some laboratory where the whole universe is on display." Another writer, Frank Waters, wrote "Taos has always possessed the curious magic of seeming to be discovered by every person drawn into its mountain ringed beauty".

Some people describe Taos as being just plain "quaint and backwards". Detractors may criticize Taos because they do not like what they describe as the "awful mud," the "crude mud houses", the traffic congestion or the narrow pot-holed dirt roads. However, defenders of Taos retort that Taos could not be Taos without mud, the precious cream of mother earth, and the beautiful adobe homes; the continuing congestion of motor vehicles on picturesque narrow lanes intended for burros; the diverse people; and the "proud provincialism."

Historically, Taos has tenaciously followed a narrow path, both literally and figuratively. This is what has made Taos different, and allowed it to survive with a certain mystique and in a preserved state of "old worldliness."

Claire Morrill in her book, "A Taos Mosaic", best sums up the story of Taos. "Taos is old and wise and tough and resilient, over more than four centuries it has felt wave after dynamic wave of influence and has absorbed them all into its always outgoing vitality."

Continue to next section of A Brief History of Taos: Suggested Readings.

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