(Continued from last week)
American Civil War
Between 1850 and 1861, the lower portion of the New Mexico Territory was largely neglected by the federal government and the territorial government in Santa Fe. As a result of this neglect, and with the expectation that the people living in this area would receive better treatment from the government in rebellion, Confederate sympathies were strong. Seeking to capitalize on these sympathies, rebel forces seized Mesilla and captured federal troops stationed there. Early in 1862, the Confederacy established the Confederate Arizona Territory, which included the southern portions of present-day New Mexico and Arizona. Mesilla, situated 45 miles west of El Paso, Texas, became the Confederate Territorial capital. What the Confederates wanted was access to gold and silver mines in California and Colorado and access to seaports in Southern California.
Opposing military forces were commanded by Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, CSA and Colonel Edward Canby, USA. In February 1862, Sibley managed to push Canby back into Fort Craig at the Battle of Valverde, but in doing so failed to secure Canby’s surrender. Sibley then by-passed Fort Craig and occupied Santa Fe on 10 March. While Sibley established his headquarters at Albuquerque, Canby held fast at Fort Craig awaiting reinforcements.
Realizing the value of Glorieta Pass, General Sibley directed Major Charles L. Pyron and 300 Texans to conduct a reconnaissance and, if possible, seize the western side of the pass in order to keep it out of Union hands. Sibley followed up by dispatching six companies under Colonel Tom Green to block the eastern end of the pass.
The Battle of Glorieta Pass was joined on 26 March. At that time, Major Pyron commanded the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles, four companies of the 5th Texas, nine companies of the 4th Texas, five companies of the 7th Texas, and five field cannon. Opposing Pyron was Colonel John P. Slough, USA who commanded the 1st Colorado Infantry and elements of the 1st and 3rd US Cavalry Regiments, five companies of the 5th US Infantry, two independent companies, and a handful of New Mexico militia augmented by two artillery batteries.
Union forces overwhelmed Pyron’s picket of fifty men on the western edge of the pass and quickly advanced on the rebel main body. Well-aimed artillery forced the Yankees back. Major John M. Chivington, USA was able to flank Pyron’s force, delivering devastating fire into the Confederate force and Pyron was forced to withdraw. Fighting stopped on 27 March while both sides waited for reinforcements.
By the next day, the Confederate force has grown to 1,100 men and five cannon. Lieutenant Colonel William Read Scurry assumed overall command. Thinking that the Union forces would launch another assault, and assuming that Colonel Green would soon arrive at the Union rear, Scurry ordered a static defense. Colonel Slough also received reinforcements, bringing his strength to around 1,300 men.
Union and Confederate forces clashed at Apache Canyon and the trail near Pigeon’s Ranch. By 3:00 pm, it looked as if the rebel forces were winning the battle since union troops were forced to withdraw to Kozlowski’s Ranch, where they established a defensive perimeter. Next to arrive on the scene was Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Chaves, commanding the 2nd New Mexico Infantry and volunteer militia. Chaves’ scouts had located the rebel supply train at Johnson’s Ranch and urged a union assault which ultimately destroyed 80 supply wagons, ran off 500 horses, and took a number of rebel quartermasters as prisoners. Scurry, no longer able to sustain his assault, was forced to withdraw. Glorieta Pass was transformed from a likely Confederate victory into a resounding defeat. The battle became the turning point of the war for control of the New Mexico Territory. In terms of casualties, both sides experienced around 50 killed, with 80 wounded, although the rebel forces gave up a larger number of prisoners.
In the final analysis, a Confederate stronghold in the American southwest was impractical from a purely logistical point of view, but notwithstanding Scurry’s withdrawal, the Union directed the California Column eastward through New Mexico in the summer of 1862 and these additional forces would have jeopardized any rebel presence in the southern territory.
Post War Violence
What we know for certain about the impact of the American Civil War is that it set the United States (and its people) on a new course. Post-war reconstruction created confusion among ordinary people both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Always present in these early post-war days was the Northern middle-class philosophy that a little humiliation was good for the southern soul. Politically, there were two forces at work in the post-war period: Republican moderates (conservatives) and Republican Radicals. The former championed for an easy transition back to union; the latter, under the leadership of Thaddeus Stevens, demanded such extraordinary punishments that it led General Nathan Bedford Forrest to participate in the creation of the Klu Klux Klan.
Reconstruction accomplished these five things: (1) It dismantled American democracy and abolished governments within the southern states; (2) It divided the American south into five military districts, over which Union military officers had absolute authority. (3) It required southern states to rewrite their constitutions to reflect Negro suffrage; (4) it ordered southern states to establish new elections that included the Negro vote; and (5) It ordered southern states to approve the Fourteenth Amendment, which then as well as now was clearly in violation of the U. S. Constitution. Nevertheless, the demand was upheld by the pro-North Supreme Court of the United Stats.
The Civil War ennobled no one, except perhaps Abraham Lincoln. What it did do was bring inevitable changes to American society. The South was utterly destroyed, of course, while the North gained in wealth, population, and power. War manufacturing exploded industrial production, made agriculture productive, and drew to the United States an unprecedented number of immigrants, who quite rapidly replaced the numbers of Union war dead.
Until 1861, the Industrial north had been held in check by the agricultural south. With this check removed, the industrial states consolidated their gains. Political power moved steadily toward the federal capital; economic power was centralized in New York through wartime congressional acts. Businesses and enterprises were rapidly formed that soon transcended the economic power of state governments. Old America, with large farming accomplished on a small scale, its tiny mercantile and professional elite was submerged by a flood of money and roaring steam. The new industrialists needed but a few things from government: money obtained from the people to finance the railroads; tariffs to protect investments; centralized control of money, continued immigration to hold native workers in check, and a hard-money policy.
Millions of northern workers suffered from the effects of this new political-industrial-financial machine. In many respects, people living in the North suffered far worse than those in the South because they had more to lose. Hard money policy destroyed small farmers by depressing the debtor class, but it did stabilize northern industrialists.
This disparate distribution of wealth and opportunity led northern cities toward conditions found in London in the early 1800s. People lived in squalor; jobs went to immigrants, who would work for less money; unemployed men turned to alcoholism and crime. In the North, an unprincipled, amoral ruling class had the same effect on civil war veterans as did the radicals who controlled the South: people were shoved out of their homes and communities and sent packing into the western wilderness. Angry dispirited men from north and south made their way to the American west. Some of these men were extraordinarily dangerous; some of these plagued the good citizens of New Mexico.
The list of old west desperadoes is long, and many of these men came from post-war northern states. John Hicks Adams, from Illinois; Charlie Anderson, from Indiana; Billy Wilson, from Ohio; Sam Bass, from Indiana; Tulsa Jack Blake, from Kansas; Curly Bill Brocius, from Indiana; Butch Cassidy (Robert L. Parker), from Utah; and Long Hair Jim Courtright, from Illinois —to name a few. In New Mexico today lay the remains of Thomas E. Ketchum, known as Black Jack and his brother Sam —both from Texas. Sam was shot and killed by New Mexico lawmen; Black Jack surrendered and was hanged [Note 6].
A frequent reader recently observed that the line between the good and bad in the American southwest was often blurred. It’s true. Some of these gunmen worked both sides of the law. In Frisco (now Reserve), New Mexico, a group of Texas cowboys had been maliciously attacking Mexican communities. In one incident, they castrated a local resident for no other reason than he was a “Mexican.” Local Hispanics lived in a state of perpetual fear.
Now enters Elfego Baca (1865-1945), who was variously a gunman, sheriff, US Marshal, lawyer, and politician. Baca was born in Socorro, New Mexico. At the age of 19, Elfego became the sheriff of Socorro [Note 7].
In 1884, Baca arrested a drunk cowboy named Charlie McCarty in Middle San Francisco (called Frisco) and took him to jail for disorderly behavior. In an attempt to spring their friend, the cowboys assaulted the jail. Gunfire followed threats and Baca returned fire. One of his bullets killed the horse of John Slaughter’s foreman. The horse fell on the cowboy and killed him. Another cowboy was shot in the knee, but Baca kept his prisoner.
While the cowboy assault was taking place, Justice of the Peace Ted White ordered Baca to release McCarty. When Baca refused, White deputized a local rancher by the name of Bert Hearne and ordered him to go to the jail, release McCarty, and arrest Baca for murder.
Deputy Hearne duly presented himself at the jail house and ordered Baca to surrender. Baca refused. Hearne broke down the door and shots were exchanged [Note 8]. Hearne, shot in the stomach, soon died, and the standoff with the cowboys continued.
Baca soon found himself resisting between 50-60 armed and highly agitated cowhands. Later evidence suggested that the cowboys fired 4,000 rounds into the jail house. If true, then Baca was a fortunate man because none of the bullets found their mark. Conversely, Baca’s bullets did find twelve cowboys, four of whom were killed with eight more wounded. After about 36 hours, the battle ended when a local lady persuaded Baca to surrender. Ultimately, Baca was acquitted of murder when he submitted as evidence the door to the jail, which had 400 bullet holes.
Elfego Baca was subsequently elected as county sheriff. He is one of those lawmen with a mixed reputation. While serving as a US envoy to Mexico during the Mexican Revolution, he was accused of aiding in the escape of General Jose Ines Salazar, but he was acquitted. It was said that Baca drank too much whiskey, talked too much of himself, and had a weakness for wild women. At no time in his long career did he hesitate to shoot people he felt needed shooting. Yet, in serving arrest warrants, Baca never dispatched deputies to make arrests. He instead sent accused persons a letter, which read: “I have a warrant for your arrest. Please come in by (date) and give yourself up. If you don’t, I’ll know you intend to resist arrest and I will feel justified in shooting you on sight when I come for you.” Most of the accused turned themselves in [Note 9].
Andrew L. Roberts (a.k.a. Buckshot Roberts) was another civil war veteran and who was forced to make a living as a buffalo hunter. Some claim that Roberts hunted with the famed Buffalo Bill Cody and that he served as a Texas Ranger under the name Bill Williams. He earned his nickname due to a serious wound inflicted on him by use of a shotgun. The wound restricted the movement of his right arm and this required that he develop a somewhat unorthodox shooting style. Roberts was a man who kept his own council, rarely spoke of his past, and was known as one of those fellows who a prudent man would never intentionally rile.
When the Lincoln County War broke out, Roberts worked for James Dolan and this put him at odds with the so-called Regulators, who aligned themselves with John Tunstall and Alexander McSween. Roberts wanted nothing to do with the Lincoln County War and made plans to sell his ranch and move away. On 4 April 1878, Roberts rode to the local trading place, called Blazer’s Mills, looking for the arrival of his payment for his ranch. Instead of a check, Roberts found the entire Regulator gang eating a meal in an adjacent building.
Frank Coe, a member of the Regulators and a gunman of some repute, approached Roberts and spoke to him about surrendering his weapon to the Regulators —for his own safety. Roberts, believing that he would be assassinated out of hand, refused to give up his weapons. Regulator Dick Brewer sent a few of his men to the trading post to arrest Roberts. Roberts saw the armed men approaching and took up his Winchester repeating rifle. Charlie Bowdre drew his weapon and he and Roberts fired at the same time. Roberts was hit in the stomach, but retreated to the doorway of Blazer’s Mills while firing at the Regulators. His bullets hit John Middleton, Doc Scurlock, William Bonney, and George Coe (Frank’s brother).
Barricading himself inside Blazer’s Mills, Roberts ignored his wound and the Regulator’s gunshots. Since none of the Regulators wanted to approach the trading post, they called out for Roberts to surrender. Roberts declined, and this prompted Dick Brewer to go to the side of the building where he could get a clear shot. Brewer fired into the building but missed Roberts. Roberts returned fire and didn’t miss. Demoralized, the Regulators left town but sent a doctor to see to Roberts, who died the next day. He and Brewer were buried near Blazer’s Mills.
Among the men opposing Roberts that day were Henry McCarty (also known as William Bonney and Billy the Kid), who was also nicked by one of Roberts’ bullets. Charlie Bowdre was later killed by lawman Pat Garrett, who also killed Billy the Kid [Note 10]. Pat Garrett (1850-1908) was a lawman, barman, customs agent, and sheriff/politician. He was killed (possibly motivated by local politics) by Jesse Wayne Brazel, who was acquitted of the murder after a one-day trial.
In researching information for this post, I was amused by the fact that New Mexico historians revel in their outlaw/gunslinging past. It wasn’t that long ago that New Mexicans preferred to string these criminals up. After the outlaw cowboys came the depression-era outlaws, many of whom frequented New Mexico during their crime sprees. I suspect that the differences in the attitudes between the 1870s-1930s and now is the commercial value of long-dead hombres.
- Brands, H. W. Dreams of El Dorado. New York: Hachette Books, 2019
- Sanchez, J. P. New Mexico: A History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013
- Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans. Da Capo Press, 1968, 2000.
6. Ketchum’s execution began as a hanging but ended up as a decapitation.
7. Some academics argue that Baca was a self-appointed sheriff, and this may be a fact. It is also true that something had to be done about these cowboys and apparently, Baca was the man to do it.
8. Deputy Hearne may have been the dumbest lawman in the history of New Mexico.
9. Elfego Baca was the first Hispanic person in popular American culture to earn the status of hero. In the 1950s, Walt Disney Studios released a ten-part television series titled The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca, which starred Robert Loggia in the role of Baca. A feature film entitled Elfego Baca: Six Gun Law was released in 1962.
10. Henry McCarty is buried in a cemetery at Fort Sumner, but the exact site is unknown because a flood moved the gravestones from their original placement.