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A General History Of New Mexico


Old Adobe Ruins in the Rio Chama Valley near Abiquiu
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In 1854, a war party of Utes and Jicarilla Apaches raided the Pueblo and Hardscrabble settlements on the Arkansas River. The following year, a military expedition commanded by Colonel Thomas Fauntleroy left Fort Union in pursuit of the raiders. (The expedition was soon joined by a group of New Mexico volunteers led by Ceran St. Vrain and Kit Carson.) The hostiles were driven from the area, suffering many casualties in the process. Four years later, in 1858, the entire eastern frontier of New Mexico erupted in violence. Hostile Comanche and Kiowa Indians raided incessantly, destroying ranches and haciendas throughout northeastern New Mexico. In 1861, Lieutenant Colonel George B. Crittenden (commander at Fort Union) struck back - destroying a large Comanche camp. But greater events were unfolding that year - events that took precedence over the Indian problem - the Civil War! Many of the troops stationed in New Mexico were withdrawn back east. And then suddenly, the Civil War came to New Mexico in the form of a Confederate army of Texans commanded by Henry H. Sibley. The Confederates were, at first, quite successful - capturing one detachment of Union Soldiers near Las Cruces and defeating another at Valverde. The victory at Valverde was due largely to the actions of one of the best Confederate commanders - Thomas Jefferson Green. (It was at Valverde that Kit Carson was brevetted brigadier general by the Union commander for his distinguished service.) The triumphant Confederate army then marched north, occupying Albuquerque and Santa Fe. 1861 was a year of Confederate victories in New Mexico, but the following spring, Sibley's march to Fort Union was stopped at Glorieta Pass. After heavy fighting, the Confederate army routed the Union forces, but was forced to retreat after a detachment of Union soldiers led by John Chivington (future perpetrator of the Sand Creek massacre), destroyed their supply train. The Confederate army was eventually forced to withdraw from New Mexico. (Recently, the Confederate dead from the Battle of La Glorieta Pass were discovered - interestingly, they were identified by the upside-down belt buckles they were wearing. Confederates turned their U. S. belt buckles upside-down since they were not issued C.S.A. belt buckles this early in the war!)

With the Confederate threat ended, the military in New Mexico turned its attention to the Navaho Indians. In 1863, General James H. Carleton dispatched a military expedition led by Kit Carson westward into Navaho country. Carson defeated the Navahos by 1864, ruthlessly destroying their crops and orchards in the process. In that same year, the Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes went on the warpath. Carleton again called upon the services of Kit Carson, sending him out onto the plains with 335 soldiers, 75 scouts, and two mountain howitzers. At Adobe Walls (in present Hutchinson County, Texas) the expedition encountered over 1000 hostile warriors and was forced to retreat. Indeed, if it weren’t for Carson’s uncanny wilderness skills and the presence of the two howitzers, the expedition would have been wiped out. The war on the southern Plains dragged on for three more years. Finally, in 1867, the Medicine Lodge Treaty was signed. Later that year, on November 22, Carson was mustered out of the Army. Six months later, Kit Carson, Mountain Man extraordinaire, died of a lung aneurysm caused from a fall while hunting in the San Juan Mountains back in 1860.

The Kwahadi Comanches (led by Quanah Parker) with allied Cheyennes and Kiowas refused to recognize the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1864 and continued to raid the eastern frontier of New Mexico. Finally, in the Red River War of 1874-1875, the hostile bands were decisively defeated and forced onto their reservations. For the Indians, their traditional way of life was ended forever. Destruction of the great southern buffalo herd hastened the process. In January of 1879, the Comanches organized one last full-scale buffalo hunt in an attempt to savor a final taste of the old way of life. The Indians were unable to find any game - the buffalo had disappeared from the plains.

The 1880's witnessed the close of the frontier for most of the American West. By the turn of the century, the modern age had come to the land of the pueblos, the land called by Antonio de Espejo in 1583 "Nueva Mexico" - New Mexico.

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