Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821. This brought to a close three
centuries of Spanish rule in the North American continent, and made New Mexico a
part of the Mexican Republic. This change of governments, however, had little initial
effect on New Mexico. The most notable change came with the termination of Spanish
policies which restricted contact and trade with foreigners. Under Mexican rule,
this protectionist policy was replaced with one which encouraged open trade with
the outside, especially with the Americanos from an emerging United States of America.
Mexico's independence ushered in a new era of commerce along the Santa Fe Trail
which changed forever the course of New Mexico's history.
The Santa Fe Trail, which winds its way between Missouri and Santa Fe, became
an important commercial route to the West. Santa Fe developed into a bustling trade
center from which caravans continued on to northern Mexico along the Camino Real,
or to California along the Old Spanish Trail. During this period, "mountain
men," fur traders and merchants of various nationalities came to New Mexico,
many of whom married into Mexican families and became influential in local politics
and commerce. The growing pains of the young Mexican nation, however, did not allow
much attention or many resources to be allocated to this distant province. Isolated,
generally ignored by the central government, and continually harassed by hostile
lndian tribes, New Mexico became increasingly vulnerable to external influence and
The most notable event of this period occurred in 1836, when the Mexican Republic
dispatched Albino Perez to New Mexico to assume the governorship and implement a
new government. Perez' administration met immediate opposition. Since 1821, most
of New Mexico's governors had been native New Mexicans, and the new governor was
considered an outsider. Worst of all, Perez replaced many local officials, and instituted
plans for new taxes.
On August I, 1837, a group in northern New Mexico issued a proclamation denouncing
the new administration. This protest quickly escalated into a full scale revolt
which Governor Perez attempted to suppress with a small and badly equipped militia
company. Perez' force was overwhelmed by the rebels near Black Mesa, south of present-day
Española. Perez was later captured and beheaded. Despite this victory, the
rebels did not succeed in their efforts to establish a new government. The influential
merchants and rancheros of the rio abajo did not lend their support to the revolt,
and when a squadron of Dragoons from Mexico arrived at Santa Fe in January 1838,
the short lived Revolt of 1837 came to a bloody end.
A quarter century of Mexican rule in New Mexico ended in 1846. On May 13, 1846,
the United States Congress declared war with Mexico, and three months later, General
Stephen Watts Kearny and his Army of the West marched along the Santa Fe Trail into
New Mexico's undefended northern frontier. Governor Manuel Armijo declared his intention
to confront the American army at Apache Canyon, east of the capital, but, in a series
of secret meetings with representatives of the American government, Armijo was persuaded
not to resist Kearny's forces and instead fled south to El Paso. General Kearny
entered Santa Fe on August 18, 1846, and took possession of New Mexico without firing
a shot. It was a bloodless conquest, accomplished through diplomacy and guile, much
as Diego de Vargas had done during the reconquista of 1692.
On September 22, 1846, General Kearny instituted the Kearny Code, a new set
of laws under which New Mexico was to be governed. To administer these new laws,
General Kearny appointed Charles Bent as the first civil governor of New Mexico,
Donaciano Vigil as Territorial Secretary, and numerous other officials.
For the next several months, while war raged in Mexico, all seemed quiet
in New Mexico.
But the quiet was deceptive. While the Americans organized a new government
in the ancient Spanish capital, plans were being hatched to rid New Mexico of its
latest conquerors. Rumors of an impending uprising reached Santa Fe in late December,
1846, and several suspected leaders were arrested. But these actions did not quell
the mounting unrest, and on January 19, 1847, Charles Bent, the recently appointed
governor, along with several other local officials, were killed at Taos. The northern
New Mexico insurrection known as "The Revolt of 1847," had begun.
The revolt quickly spread, but the American army responded decisively. Following
a series of battles at Santa Cruz de La Cañada and Embudo in late January,
the New Mexicans retreated and set up a defensive position centered around the church
of San Jeronimo at Taos Pueblo. After a furious two day battle which began on February
3, 1847, the insurrection was broken and many prisoners taken. A series of tragic
trials followed at which a number of the survivors were tried for murder and treason.
During the following weeks, nearly two dozen New Mexicans were hanged.