The Sand Creek Massacre

SandCreekThe sky was gray, the air brittle, and a sparkling layer of frost spread over the brown plain grass around Sand Creek on the dawn of November 29, 1864. To the Cheyenne, the time of year was known as Hikomini, the Month of the Freezing Moon. The women had just begun stirring in their teepees, preparing to make their way to the half-frozen creek to draw water.

Gazing unsuspected meanwhile at the dozing encampment of 500-some Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians was U.S. Army Colonel John M. Chivington. Hunkered behind him and awaiting Chivington’s orders were 700 members of the Colorado Territorial militia, along with a small detachment of First New Mexico Volunteers.

sand creekFrom inside the Indian camp, families bolted awake, alerted to what sounded like thousands of stampeding buffalo. Chivington and his men had just scattered the entire herd of Indian ponies.

“Off with your coats men,” Chivington ordered as below the Indian camp now swarmed like a boot-mashed anthill. “You can fight better without them. Take no prisoners.”

What happened next was a disaster of military control, and an atrocity on human life.

While Black Kettle waved an American flag above his head and called for his people to remain calm, that the soldiers meant no harm, Chivington and his men surrounded the village and opened fire. Colorado’s Third Cavalry, known also as the “Hundred Dazers” for their 100-day voluntary enlistment time, unleashed weeks of aimless drilling and anti-Indian rhetoric in a barrage of wild rifle shots – directly through the ranks of the First Colorado. Resembling less an army and more a mob, soldiers fired indiscriminately at braves, women, children, and in some cases even at one another. Chief White Antelope ran weaponless towards one line of soldiers, stopped, crossed his arms, and chanted his death song:

Chief White Antelope
Chief White Antelope

Nothing lives long,                                                                             Except the earth and the mountains.

He fell wearing a peace medal given him by President Lincoln, betrayed for the last time.

When the battle was through and nearly 160 men, women, and children lay fallen, the real carnage began. The following descriptions are from real testimonies given by soldiers and witnesses in the hearings that were to follow:

There was one little child, probably three years old, just big enough to walk through the sand. The Indians had gone ahead, and this little child was behind following after them. The little fellow was perfectly naked, traveling on the sand. I saw one man get off his horse, at a distance of about 75 yards, and draw up his rifle and fire – he missed. Another man came up and said, ‘Let me try the son of a bitch; I can hit him.’ He got down off his horse, kneeled down and fired at the little child, but he missed him. A third man came up and made a similar remark, and the little fellow dropped.

I saw five squaws under a bank for shelter. When the troops came up to them they ran out and showed their persons to let the soldiers know they were squaws and begged for mercy, but the soldiers shot them all.

sand creekI saw one squaw lying on the bank whose leg had been broken by a shell; a soldier came up to her with a drawn saber; she raised her arm to protect herself, when he struck, breaking her arm; she rolled over and raised her other arm, when he struck, breaking it, and then left her without killing her.

 One old squaw wandered sightless through the carnage. Her entire scalp had been taken, and the skin of her forehead fell down over her eyes to blind her.

Several troopers got into a quarrel over who should have the honor of scalping one body. The issue could not be decided; so all took scalps from the same carcass.

A group of soldiers paused amid the firing to take turns profaning the body of a comely young squaw, very dead.

Indians’ fingers were hacked away to get their rings as souvenirs. One soldier trotted about with a heart impaled on a stick. Others carried off the genitals of braves. Someone had the notion that it would be artistic work to slice away the breasts of the Indian women. One breast was worn as a cap, another was seen stretched over the bow of a saddle.

On December 22nd, after a few weeks of searching halfheartedly for more Indians now scattered along the frozen prairie, Chivington and his Hundred Dazers (now aptly renamed the Bloody Third) returned to a hero’s welcome in Denver. Hoisting a live bald eagle laced to a stick, Chivington paraded before cheering throngs along the sidewalks. In the nights to follow, men would drink and boast of their deeds at Sand Creek, and steadily the whole truth would emerge.

Denver, 1859
Denver, 1859

Colorado’s tensions with the Indians of the eastern plains started with the discovery of gold in the Rocky Mountains and the consequent rush to settle the territory. With the 1851signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty, the U.S. granted a vast expanse of land to the Cheyenne and Arapaho stretching between the North Platte River and the Arkansas, and eastward from the Rocky Mountains to western Kansas.

In 1861 however, following the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush and the subsequent formation of the Colorado Territory, members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, lead by Chief Black Kettle, ceded most of that land in the Treaty of Fort Wise for a much smaller tract near Sand Creek.

Chief Black Kettle
Chief Black Kettle

Naturally, Black Kettle and the signers of the Fort Wise Treaty could not speak for all Cheyenne and Arapaho. Enraged by increased white settlement into their ancestral lands and suspicious, for good reason, of any new treaties, many renegade bands, particularly the famed Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, fought back by stealing livestock, raiding remote homesteads, and, in a few isolated incidents, killing or taking prisoner Anglo settlers.

In Denver meanwhile, residents needed little help in cultivating wariness towards their Indian neighbors. Nonetheless, a select few prominent citizens took it upon themselves to fan the flames of prejudice. William Byers, who in 1859 carted a printing press from Omaha to Denver, used his Rocky Mountain News to stir public angst by publishing anti-Indian editorials almost daily. John Evans, second governor of Colorado and also its Superintendent of Indian Affairs, refused to negotiate with Indians or believe in any gestures of peace. Instead, Evans beseeched Washington for permission to raise a temporary force of volunteer Indian fighters – the Hundred Dazers.

John Chivington
John Chivington

But no one man was keener to stoke anti-Indian fervor than Colonel John Chivington. After finding quick fame and glory by leading the First Colorado Infantry to a brilliant, pivotal defeat over the Texans at the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico in 1862, Chivington had since watched his star fall. In that same year, Chivington suffered public ridicule for his supposed involvement in the staged escape and execution of the Confederate bandit Jim Reynolds. His reputation tainted, Chivington lost his 1862 bid for the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the early 1860s, both Chivington and Evans held high political aspirations. While Chivington sought the congress, Evans eyed the senate – a post he could not achieve as long as Colorado remained a territory. The two joined together as vocal proponents for statehood, and, along with the PR assistance of their friend Byers, promulgated the region’s Indian problem as cause for greater government.

dnchiefsTheir trouble, however, was that the Indians were becoming less troublesome. On September 28, 1864 a delegation of Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs under the escort of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Wynkoop paid a surprise visit to Governor Evans, Colonel Chivington, and other territorial leaders in Denver. In his famed eloquence, Black Kettle implored Evans:

                                                                                                                                                          We have come with our eyes shut, following [Wynkoop’s] handful of men, like coming through the fire. All we ask is that we may have peace with the whites. We want to hold you by the hand. You are our father. We have been traveling through a cloud. The sky has been dark ever since the war began. These braves who are with me are all willing to do what I say. We want to take good tidings home to our people, that they may sleep in peace.

Evans, who agreed to meet with the delegation reluctantly, answered back:

Governor John Evans
Governor John Evans

My proposition to the friendly Indians has gone out. I shall be glad to have them all come in under it. I have no new propositions to make. Another reason that I am not in a condition to make a treaty is that war is begun, and the power to make a treaty of peace has passed from me to the great war chief. My advise to you is to turn on the side for the government, and who by your acts that friendly disposition you profess to me.

When the chiefs asked what Evans meant by turning to the side of the government, Evans suggested only that, “Whatever peace you make must be with the soldiers and not me.”

After recent successful parleys with more amicable officers like Wynkoop, the chiefs believed that such peace was achievable. When the meeting had ended, both sides embraced and shook hands, and Wynkoop escorted the band back to Fort Lyon.

Edward Wynkoop
Edward Wynkoop

On November 5th, Wynkoop was relieved of his command at Fort Lyon for rumors that he was supplying the Indians camped outside with rations. His successor, Major Scott Anthony, directed Black Kettle and the other Cheyenne and Arapaho families to move their camp forty miles away long the banks of Sand Creek, where, Anthony assured them, they would be safe.

The very next day, Anthony wrote in a letter to his immediate commander, General Samuel Curtis, that the Indians “pretend that they want peace, and I think they do now, as they cannot fight during the winter, except when a small band of them can find an unprotected train or frontier settlement. I do not think it is policy to make peace with them now…”

Two weeks later, Anthony wrote a second letter to Curtis, this one describing the need to conquer all Indians in the region, as well as how easy it could be done. He mentioned one band in particular, currently camped along Sand Creek.

Just a few short days later, Chivington had his men assembled and on the march.

The glory of Chivington and the Bloody Third was short lived in Denver following the massacre. After reports of the depredations committed against non-hostile Indians reached the ears of lawmakers in the east, multiple formal inquiries into the matter were held in Washington and Denver. Although neither was officially charged with any crime, both Chivington and Evans were forced to resign from their respective offices. Any further dreams of the congress or senate were forever dashed, like many things more, at Sand Creek.

Sand Creek National Historic Site
Sand Creek National Historic Site

Sources used:

MonthoftheFreezingMoon

The Origin of the Texas Rangers: A Review of Robert M. Utley’s “Lone Star Justice”

Robert M. Utley’s Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers is a thorough yet readably non-didactic history of the early Texas Rangers. Beginning with their inception shortly after Mexican Independence and spanning to 1910 and the reorganization of the Rangers into the unit of state lawmen recognizable today, Utley, in this first of two volumes on the subject, presents both a story of a vast and tumultuous frontier desperate for order, as well as a close study of the nature of the men that brought it. It confronts the two dichotomized perceptions of these men – one mythically heroic the other disdainfully condemning – and then presents an engaging narrative that gives credence to both.

Coahuila y Tejas flag

In the few years following Independence, Mexico’s northern province of Coahuila y Tejas was a sparse land largely uninhabited save for raiding bands of Comanches, Apaches, Cherokees, Kiowas, and Kickapoos. Envisioning a buffer between these marauders as well as added economic revenue, Mexico granted Stephen F. Austin and three hundred-some Anglo-American migrants large tracts of land to settle. For this buffer to work (and it never really did) Mexico granted Austin civil and military powers over his fellow settlers. With the memory of a temporary and short-lived mounted militia that preceded it, plus what would appear to be inspiration from the English colonial units that “ranged” the eastern wilderness before America’s own revolution, Austin implemented a system of citizen soldiery in which landowners served for a time based on acreage owned. It marked the beginning of the Ranger tradition, and its primary purpose of protecting Anglo settlers from Indians became a hard-fought struggle that would last for more than sixty years. It was not until July of 1835 however that the Ranger corps would finally sanction by law its first Ranger captain, Captain Robert M. Coleman, and, in effect, officially “fix the origins of the Texas Rangers to a time and a person” (Utley, 19).

Jack Hayes

With Texan Independence came tension with the country it broke from. Even after Santa Anna’s defeat and Texas’ declaration of sovereignty, Mexico was rue to recognize Texas as independent, let alone its boundary claims to the Rio Grande, and in the years leading up to the Mexican-American War the Rangers found yet another steady foe in their neighbors to the south. The character of the unit evolved, and under the notable leaderships of men like Jack Hayes, who introduced to his Rangers the now-synonymous Colt revolver, the Rangers became a roaming force of predominately young, healthy, bold, adventurous, and short-fused marksmen. They scrapped opposing Mexicans with the same vehement non-discretion that they did hostile Indians, and even after annexing themselves to the U.S. and joining forces in the War, the Rangers maintained a style of fighting all their own.

Over the next sixty-two years the Texas Rangers were ever-changing and oftentimes struggled to secure an identity. As the state budget webbed and waxed so fluctuated the number of Rangers employed. Following the Mexican-American War the unit gained national notoriety and at the turn of the century was finding itself widely romanticized through comic books, ballads, dime novels, and even feature films. By 1881 the Indians were nearly whipped and Mexico had let go its lost daughter, focusing increasingly inward on domestic problems. These respites in violence gradually allowed the Rangers to become less a militia and transform into the well-oiled, model division of state lawmen they are today. But despite these numerous successes, the Rangers simultaneously suffered many embarrassing incidents that would over time accumulate and tarnish its legend. Various accounts emerged of unprovoked, racially-charged attacks on Indian tribes. Mexican prisoners, under the dubious pretext of trying to escape, were killed or brutalized. Atrocious lapses in judgments, such as the killing of Sam Bass or the political skirmish that, with the help of the Rangers, escalated into the El Paso Salt War, were widely printed. These incidents and others became fodder for a strong anti-Ranger sentiment referred to by Utley as “revisionist.”

Utley’s objective then – to recount a heavily-researched and accurate first history of the Texas Rangers – is also his thesis; that the Rangers were not always men of “sterling character” and neither were they uniformly deplorable. Rather, “the historical reality lies somewhere between the extremes” (Utley, xiii).

In writing Lone Star Justice, Utley drew upon nearly four-hundred books, articles, and government documents from institutions across the West. This exhaustive research amounts to a history meticulously supported (as evidenced by the thorough chapter notes) and objective since Utley does not hesitate to include the Rangers’ less proud moments along with those admirable. Thus, by the end of his book Utley has both dispelled the mythically-impeccable image of the Texas Ranger as well as challenged the blanketing defamations posed by revisionists. It is tempting to search Utley’s words for hints of bias, he being an Anglo Texan and well-written author of Texas history, but the effort turns up fruitless. There are too many acknowledgements of the things regrettable in the Rangers’ past to call Utley subjective or romantic, too many allowances that yes, the revisionists have some ground to stand on.

Still, Lone Star Justice does not reduce the legend of the Texas Rangers. Conversely, the book bolsters it. Through well-supported facts working into a well-presented narrative, Utley explains how what began as a small-yet-resilient band of citizen soldiers matured into an agency of law enforcement that would inspire the justice systems of nearly every state in the Union. We discover that the history of the Rangers is in many ways the history of Texas – even, to some extent, America. They contained real-life heroes in their ranks as well as a few villains. Ultimately, the Rangers brought law and order to an enormous stretch of land where such things once seemed impossible. And perhaps that is what’s so remarkable; that they did it despite being only human.

Utley, Robert. Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 2003.

Charles “Don Carlos” Beaubien: Trader, Judge, Pioneer

On October 22, 1800, Alexis Hypolite Beaubien was born to two wealthy landowners in Nicolet Quebec. After spending his teen years in the seminary, Alexis followed in family footsteps, and his mother’s wishes, to become an ordained priest.1 A year later, Alexis left the priesthood and Canada for good, traveling southwest to join a fated clan of French fur traders in St. Louis and with them venture into the uninhabited and unfriendly mountains of northern New Mexico. Here would begin Beaubien’s legacy. No longer Alexis Hypolite, ordained Canadian with both money and future spread out before him, Beaubien transformed himself into Charles “Don Carlos” Bobian, penniless citizen of the new Republic of Mexico. He had nothing except ambition, and, perhaps, a bit of luck, for before his death in 1864 Beaubien would become a prominent storeowner, father of nine children, a Mexican justice of the peace, an American supreme court justice, and sole titleholder of two sprawling land grants totaling nearly three million acres. He would be called a speculator, a feudal baron, and he would shape the history of New Mexico.

His maiden journey into New Mexico was daunting. Upon stepping foot in the territory, Beaubien and his party of St. Louis Frenchmen, including fellow future pioneers Ceran St. Vrain and Antoine Leroux, were captured by Mexican soldiers and transported to Santa Fe in order to be “killed without delay.”2 Fortunately for them, a well-known Spaniard and Mexican official by the name of Manuel Alvarez took notice of the incident and secured their release. Alvarez even invited them to stay, an invitation accepted gladly.

Apparently, what the arresting soldiers did not know but what Alvarez did, was that New Mexico was actively seeking foreign inhabitants. Just three years before, under Spanish rule, New Mexicans were barred from trading with foreigners. But upon Independence and the Treaty of Cordova, free trade opened between Mexico and the U.S., and both American and French-Canadians migrated into the territory in increasing droves. Initially, eager to boost the population and economy in the barren northern provinces, as well as create a buffer between marauding Indians, the Mexican government welcomed it. Immigration policy would tighten soon enough however following the Texas Rebellion.

During his first four years in Taos Beaubien prospered off of fur trapping alone, honing his skills in New Mexico’s untapped waterways and then selling his pelts at nearby posts. But as more and more foreign settlers filtered into New Mexico, Beaubien found himself increasingly pressured to gain citizenship. For one, trappers, if they intended to remain working in Mexican territory, were eventually required to swear allegiance. On top of that, new regulations enforced higher taxes on foreign traders than on citizens.3 So it was that on September 11, 1827, Beaubien set upon the fastest route to citizenship and married the Mexican national Maria Pabla Lovato.4 The wedding could not have come soon enough, for one month later Maria gave birth to their first child, Narcisso.

Manuel Armijo

It was around this time that Beaubien opened his own trading post and further “Mexicanized” himself by taking on the title Don Carlos Bobian. The mercantile rapidly flourished, and along with it so too did Beaubien’s prominence in New Mexico’s burgeoning gentry. He became close friends with such influential figures as Governor Manuel Armijo, Charles Bent, Manuel Alvarez, and Kit Carson. With the help of these connections he gained the position of elector for two counties in 1832, only to be declared in 1834 first alcalde of Taos.5 He continued his education, becoming fluent over time in French, English, Spanish, German, and even some Navajo and Pueblo Indian.6 By the mid-1840s Beaubien had opened a second mercantile and he and his family lived in a thirty-eight bedroom home where Mrs. Beaubien, dressed in the finest east-coast fashions, presided over a dining room that seated one hundred people.7

Guadalupe Miranda

If mercantiles were where Beaubien first earned his money, land is where he began his empire. Despite the Law of 1830 (passed after the growing troubles in Texas) stating that no land could be claimed by a person born outside of Mexico if the desired land bordered the United States, New Mexico’s Governor Amijo nonetheless showed little discrimination when it came to dolling out grants.8 Because New Mexico at the time remained very much populated by hostile Indians, Armijo usually asked only that applicants be married to a Mexican woman and that they petition jointly with a Mexican-born resident.9 With this in mind, on January 8, 1841, Beaubien, along with Mexican native Guadalupe Miranda, applied for a land grant in northern New Mexico stretching over almost two million acres.10 In their petition, the two applicants emphasized their education and business acumen, asserting that such privately held land would utilize the nation’s natural resources, create jobs, and boost a stalled economy. “This is the age of progress,” the petition read, “and the March of the Intellect, and they are so rapid we may expect at a day not so far distant that they will even reach us.”11 Not only that, but by putting citizens to work clearing forests, irrigating water, and building homes on the grant, crimes would be reduced: “Idleness, the mother of vice, is the cause of the increase in crimes, which are daily being committed… homes are overrun with thieves and murderers, who by this means alone desire to procure their substance.”12 With such persuasiveness, what was Governor Armijo to do but approve the grant, especially when the two men sweetened the deal by agreeing to “silently” deed one quarter of the plot to Armijo, plus another quarter to their mutual and similarly influential friend Charles Bent.13 The grant would become known as the Beaubien-Miranda Grant.

Only three years after securing his first two million acres, Beaubien, always the entrepreneur, would figure out a way to finagle yet another million. Because Mexican law permitted individuals to apply for only one grant, when Beaubien nonetheless applied for yet a second grant, he did so this time under the names of his son Narcisso and his close fur-trading friend and future Taos sheriff Stephen Luis Lee.14 The application was for an expanse of land directly adjacent the Beaubien-Miranda – the two grants split down the middle by the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in present-day southern Colorado. The grant was approved, and with Narcisso in St. Louis attending college and Lee hundreds of miles south focusing on his trading business, Beaubien was left to manage the new Sangre de Cristo Land Grant alone.

Stephen Watts Kearny

That same year, 1844, Beaubien was appointed justice of the peace of the Rio Colorado region north of Taos.15 Two years later, Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny and his Army of the West would arrive, and Beaubien would receive his most powerful political boost yet. After declaring the territory for the United States, Kearney would attach a letter to the Adjutant General along with his Code of Laws. The letter read in part:

“Being duly authorized by the president of the United States of America, I hereby make the following appointments for the government of New Mexico, a territory of the United States. The officers thus appointed will be obeyed and respected accordingly: Charles Bent to be governor… Joab Houghton, Antonio Jose Otero, Charles Beaubien, to be judges of the superior court.”16

It remains unclear what prompted Kearney’s appointment of Beaubien to the Supreme Court (he was also named district court judge for New Mexico’s northern district) as Beaubien possessed no formal training or experience in law. Most likely what inspired the decision was Beaubien’s connections in the territory, his education (which, while not in law, was still more than most), and because he presented himself to Kearney as a United States sympathizer. Whether Beaubien, in protecting his interests, embraced occupation only once Kearney arrived is unknown, however chances are the businessman had become disillusioned in the years leading to the war as Mexico had raised its taxes on foreign merchants.

At the turn of the new year, 1847, three white Mexican citizens presided over Taos, New Mexico in shared representation of American interest. They were Charles Bent, governor, Stephen Lee, sheriff, and Charles Beaubien, supreme court justice. Even Beaubien’s son Narcisso, fresh out of college, was back home and eager to begin help managing his grant.

On January 18, 1847, Beaubien was called to the town of Los Luceros where he held regular court for Rio Arriba County.17 Early the next morning, likely as Beaubien was still in bed, a mob of drunk and enraged Mexicans and Pueblo Indians swarmed Taos. They surrounded the home of Governor Bent, broke down the door, shot the governor with arrows and then scalped him before his wife and children with a taught bowstring. Next they killed Sheriff Lee as he hid atop his roof. Young Narcisso meanwhile cowered next to a friend below a wagon. When spotted by an Indian servant, the servant yelled, “Kill the young ones and they will never be men to trouble us!”18 The insurgents lanced the two boys unrecognizable. By the time he returned home more than two weeks later, Beaubien found his son murdered, his house plundered, and the surviving women and children of his family traumatized.

Ceran St. Vrain

A militia of mountain men, led by Ceran St. Vrain, departed to locate and capture the scattered insurgents.19 Because the massacre had taken place inside Beaubien’s jurisdiction, it fell on the judge to try all those brought back. Beaubien, despite no doubt being aware of his deep conflict of interest, accepted the responsibility whole-heartedly. He impaneled a jury consisting almost entirely of family members of the victims (one of them being Narcisso’s brother in-law, Lucien B. Maxwell), and on April 5, 1847, court was in session.

The first to be tried for murder was a Mexican named Jose Manuel Garcia. The jury promptly found him guilty and Beaubien sentenced Garcia to “hang from the neck until dead, dead, dead.”20 Such would be a similar sentence over the next few weeks. In fact, Beaubien handed down so many death penalties that on April 12 Taos curate Jose Martinez wrote to Manuel Alvarez in Santa Fe:

“The Judge of Crimes, Don Carlos Beaubien, and his associates are endeavoring to kill all the people of Taos… on the first day they sentenced six and these were hanged the third, the second day nine were sentenced to death but their execution has been delayed until the arrival of reinforcements asked for by the people…”21

Fate had delivered to Beaubien a cruel, ironic hand. His son and long-time friends Bent and Lee had been brutally murdered. His partner Guadalupe Miranda, sensing trouble, had fled back to his home city of El Paso del Norte shortly before the Revolt. And former Mexican governor of the territory and Beaubien-supporter Manuel Armijo had retreated to Mexico City upon word of Kearney’s approach. The judge had lost a son and four close friends, and in the process he had become sole inheritor of three million acres of land.

Lucien Maxwell

But before he could dive headlong into the management of those acres, Beaubien still had three years left in his term as judge as per Kearney’s appointment. Beaubien thus turned to his son-in-law Lucien Maxwell for help, and in 1848, as the war wound to an end and as Maxwell marched deep into the Beaubien-Miranda Grant to establish a settlement along the Rayado River, Beaubien prepared to stretch his political clout to its limit.

He began by lobbying acting civil governor Donaciano Vigil in the governor’s appointments of the multiple political positions left opened after the Revolt. Beaubien made the case for Pascual Martinez, the brother of the priest that had married Charles and Maria, prefect, fellow trader Juan Martinez to the post of Taos alcalde, and friend Andrew Metcalf as sheriff.22 Ultimately, Beaubien succeeded in persuading Vigil in agreeing to all but Metcalf.

Then came the question hanging over every New Mexican’s mind following America’s victory in the war: State or Territory? It was an issue in which Beaubien was deeply invested, both personally and morally. Personally, perhaps selfishly, he knew there was much he stood to lose should New Mexico gain statehood as his political appointments would likely become divested and his landholdings would potentially come into question. Morally, Beaubien was a staunch abolitionist and like many New Mexicans feared slavery spreading into the area (ironically, these abolitionists seemed to overlook the abundance of Indian slavery within the territory). On October 10, 1848, a convention was held in Santa Fe with officials from around the territory set to debate the issue.23 Beaubien was elected one of thirteen northern delegates, and by its conclusion the convention drafted a petition to Congress reading in part, “We do not desire to have domestic slavery within our borders; and until the time shall arrive for admission into the Union of States, we desire to be protected by Congress against the introduction of slaves into the Territory.”24

James S. Calhoun

Over the next two years, two factions would emerge in New Mexico, those for statehood and those against. In 1849, Beaubien traveled to nearby Indian pueblos pressured natives to vote against pro-statehood delegates. When Indian Agent James S. Calhoun caught wind of Beaubien’s lobbying and complained in a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Beaubien denied his doings but nevertheless stated that he would “in the future act with President Taylor’s real friends.”25 President Taylor, a supporter of statehood, urged Calhoun the same. In 1850 however, Beaubien’s faction prevailed and Congress decreed that New Mexico remain a Territory.

In 1851 Beaubien retired from public office and began focusing on the settlement of his two land grants. With villages like Rayado, Cimarron, Costilla, and San Luis growing steadily on the two grants, Beaubien, with the help of Maxwell, issued rules to the settlements that included the barring of fighting within the presence of families and the regular collection of a chapel fund.26

By the mid 1850s Beaubien’s health was in decline. In 1858 Maxwell would purchase all of Beaubien’s interest in the Beaubien-Miranda Grant and the grant would from then on become known as the Maxwell Grant.27 In 1862 Beaubien began talks with former Colorado Territory governor William Gilpin on the sale of the Sangre de Cristo Grant. The deal would be finalized in March of 1864 by Beaubien’s family following the Don’s death that month.28

His detractors declared him an opportunist, a self-serving and malleable foreigner who came to New Mexico seeking only wealth. There was credence to the thought, but only to the extent that any foreigner who entered this desolate and hostile territory did so for some form of personal gain. But at the same time, whether consciously or not, through his quest for prosperity in New Mexico Beaubien would help tame the wild Indian frontier with the establishment of his settlements, as well as raise the quality of life for citizens by ushering in an economy. If Beaubien entered the west an opportunist, he left it a pioneer.

Sources

John W. Grassham. Charles H. Beaubien, 1800-1864. M.A. thesis, New Mexico State University, 1983.

  1. Joseph Elzer Bellemore, Historie de Nicolet 1669-1924 (Quebec: Arthabaska, 1924), pp. 71-82.
  2. Joseph Tasse, The Canadians of the West (Montreal: 1878), p. 187.
  3. David Lavender, Bent’s Fort  (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972) p. 427.
  4. Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Marriage-Taos, 1827, State Records Center and Archives (hereafter cited SRC&A); Marriage Dispensation (Beaubien), McGarvan Collection, SRC&A
  5. Lawrence Murphy, The Mountain Men of the Fur Trade, ed. Leroy Hafen (Glendale: The Arthur H. Clark Co.), p. 24.
  6. Albert D. Richardson, Beyond the Mississippi, 1857–1867 (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1867), p. 270.
  7. Santa Fe New Mexican, February 6, 1864.
  8. David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846; The American Southwest Under Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), p. 191.
  9. Ibid., p. 181.
  10. Beaubien-Miranda land grant petition, January 8, 1841, Records of the Surveyor General of New Mexico (SGNM), No. 15, SRC&A, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Jim Berry Pearson, The Maxwell Land Grant (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), p. 5.
  14. Beaubien-Lee petition, December 27, 1843, SGNM, No. 52, SRC&A, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  15. Charles Beaubien appointed Justice of the Peace, Document No. 7533, SRC&A.
  16. Kearney Appointments, Governors Papers, SRC&A.
  17. Beaubien to Donaciano Vigil, Taos, New Mexico, February 7, 1847, William Ritch Papers, Huntington Library.
  18. Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West (New York: Doubleday, 2006), p. 219)
  19. Reel 85, Frame 5, Territorial Archives of New Mexico, SRC&A.
  20. Taos County District Court Records, Taos County, Journal, 1847-1851, SRC&A.
  21. Padre Antonio Jose Martinez to Manuel Alvarez, April 12, 1847, Benjamin Read Papers, SRC&A.
  22. Beaubien to Donaciano Vigil, Taos, New Mexico, February 7, 1847, William Ritch Papers, Huntington Library.
  23. William Ritch, The New Mexico Blue Book, 1882, facsimile ed. Territory of New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968), pp. 99-100.
  24. Robert Larson, New Mexico’s Quest for Statehood (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968), p. 15.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Francis T. Cheetham, The Early Settlement of Southern Colorado,” The Colorado Magazine (February 1928).
  27. Jim Berry Pearson, The Maxwell Land Grant (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), p. 34.
  28. Marrian Stoller, “Grants of Desperation, Lands of Speculation: Mexican Period Land Grants in Colorado,” Journal of the West (July 1980