|Part of the Mexican–American War|
The Siege of Taos, depicting John Burgwin's death. (far right)
|Commanders and leaders|
Ceran St. Vrain
Israel R. Hendley†
Jesse I. Morin
Tomás ("Tomasito") Romero†
|Casualties and losses|
|Civilian Casualties: ~20 killed|
The Taos Revolt was a popular insurrection in January 1847 by Mexicans and Pueblo allies against the United States' occupation of present-day northern New Mexico during the Mexican–American War. In two short campaigns, United States troops and militia crushed the rebellion of the Mexicans and their allies. The rebels regrouped and fought three more engagements, but after being defeated, they abandoned open warfare.
In August 1846, the territory of New Mexico, then under Mexican rule, fell to U.S. forces under Stephen Watts Kearny. Governor Manuel Armijo surrendered at the Battle of Santa Fe without firing a shot. When Kearny departed with his forces for California, he left Colonel Sterling Price in command of U.S. forces in New Mexico. He appointed Charles Bent as New Mexico's first territorial governor.
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." Gov. Bent implored Price's superior, Col. 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 US 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.
On the morning of January 19, 1847, the insurrectionists began the revolt in Don Fernando de Taos, present-day Taos, New Mexico. They were led by Pablo Montoya, a Mexican, and Tomás Romero, a Taos pueblo Native American 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 Indians killed and scalped several other government officials, along with others seen as related to the new US 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...[m]an who had accepted office under the American government."
Arroyo Hondo and Mora massacres
The next day a large armed force of approximately 500 Mexicans and Pueblo 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 US 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 Thomas Tate Tobin, Autobees' half brother, survived. Both escaped separately on foot during the night. The same day Mexican insurgents killed seven American traders who were passing through the village of Mora. At most, 15 Americans were killed in both actions on January 20.
United States' response
The US military moved quickly to quash the revolt; Col. Price led more than 300 U.S. 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 Mexicans and Pueblo at Santa Cruz de la Cañada and Embudo Pass. The insurgents retreated to Taos Pueblo, where they took refuge in the thick-walled adobe church.
During the ensuing battle, the US breached a wall of the church and directed cannon fire into the interior, inflicting many casualties and killing about 150 rebels. They captured 400 more men after close hand-to-hand fighting. Only seven Americans died in the battle.
A separate force of US troops under captains Israel R. Hendley and Jesse I. Morin campaigned against the rebels in Mora. The First Battle of Mora ended in a New Mexican strategic victory. The Americans attacked again in the Second Battle of Mora and won, which ended their operations against Mora.
The next day, US officials ordered the execution of some of the captives in the plaza in a "drumhead court-martial", including the leader "Montojo" Pablo Montoya. Price then set up a military court in Taos to try more of the captured insurgents under civil law. He appointed as judges Joab Houghton, a close friend of Charles Bent; and Charles H. Beaubien, the father of Narcisse Beaubien, who had been killed on January 19. Both men had previously been appointed as judges to the New Mexico Territory Superior Court by the late Gov. Bent in August of the previous year. George Bent, Charles’ brother, was elected foreman of the jury. The jury included Lucien Maxwell, a brother-in-law of Beaubien; and several friends of the Bents. Ceran St. Vrain served as court interpreter. Since the Anglo community in Taos was small, and several men had been killed by the rebels, the jury pool was extremely limited. The court was in session for fifteen days. The jury found 15 men guilty of murder and treason (under the new US rule), and the judges sentenced them to death.
An eyewitness, Lewis Hector Garrard, described the trial and events:
It certainly did appear to be a great assumption of the part of the Americans to conquer a country and then arraign the revolting inhabitants for treason. American judges sat on the bench, New Mexicans and Americans filled the jury box, and an American soldiery guarded the halls. Verily, a strange mixture of violence and justice-a strange middle ground between martial and common law. After an absence of a few minutes the jury returned with a verdict, "Guilty in the first degree". Five for murder, one for treason. Treason, indeed! What did the poor devil know about his new allegiance? ... I left the room, sick at heart. Justice! Out upon the word when its distorted meaning is a warrant for murdering those who defended to the last their country and their homes.
On April 9, the US forces hanged six of the convicted insurgents in the Taos plaza; all but one were convicted of murder, and he of treason. This was the first execution by hanging in the Taos valley. Two weeks later, the US forces executed five more. In all, the US hanged at least 28 men in Taos in response to the revolt. A year later, the United States Secretary of War reviewed the case. He said that the one man hanged for treason, Pablo Salazar, might have been wrongfully convicted. The Supreme Court of the United States agreed. All other convictions were affirmed.
The revolt did not end after the Siege of Taos. New Mexican rebels engaged US forces three more times in the following months. The actions are known as the Battle of Red River Canyon, the Battle of Las Vegas, and the Battle of Cienega Creek. After the US forces won each battle, the New Mexicans and Native Americans ended open warfare.
- Lavender, David. Bent's Fort, Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1954, p. 273
- , Garrard, Lewis H., Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail; or Prairie Travel and Scalp Dances, with a Look at Los Rancheros from Muleback and the Rocky Mountain Camp-fire, 1850, pp. 214-215; reprint, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1955
- Lavender, Bent's Fort, p. 264
- Garrard, Lewis H., Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail, pp. 197-198
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- Niles' National Register, NNR 72.038, March 20, 1847, available at 
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- Twitchell, Ralph Emerson, The History of the Military Occupation of the Territory of New Mexico from 1846 to 1851, Denver, Colorado: The Smith-Brooks Company Publishers, 1909
- A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, the University of Texas at Arlington