BEFORE proceeding to the graver matters to be presented in the succeeding chapters, a few words to those who are curious about the history of the Santa Fe trade intervening between the conclusion of my personal narrative and the closing of the trade by the Mexican government, in 1843, may not be amiss.
The Santa Fe trade, though more or less fluctuating from its origin, continued to pre- sent an average increase and growth down to the year 1831. During the same period, the prices of goods continued to go down in even a more rapid ratio. Since 1831, the rates of
sales have continued steadily to fall, to the latest period of the trade, although there has been no average increase in the number of adventurers, or amount of merchandise.*
From 1831 to the present date, prices have scarcely averaged, for medium calicoes, thirty-seven cents, and for plain domestic cottons thirty-one cents per yard. Taking assortments round, 100 per cent upon United States costs were generally considered excellent sales: many stocks have been sold at a still lower rate. The average prices of Chihuahua are equally low, yet a brisker demand has rendered this the most agreeable and profitable branch of the trade.
The first attempt to introduce American goods into the more southern markets of Mexico from Santa Fe, was made in the year 1824. The amounts were very small, however, till towards the year 1831. For a few of the first years, the traders were in the habit of conveying small lots to Sonora and California; but this branch of the trade has, I believe, latterly ceased altogether. Yet the amounts transferred to Chihuahua have generally increased; so that for the last few years, that trade has consumed very nearly half of the entire imports by the Missouri Caravans.
The entire consumption of foreign goods in the department of Chihuahua, has been estimated by intelligent Mexican merchants, at from two to three millions annually; the first cost of which might be set down at nearly one half. Of this amount the Santa Fe trade, as will be seen from the accompanying table, has not furnished a tenth part; the balance being introduced through other ports, viz.: Matamoros, whence Chihuahua has received nearly half its supplies — Vera Cruz via the city of Mexico, whence considerable amounts have been brought to this department — Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico, and Mazatlan on the Pacific, via Durango, whence the imports have been of some importance — while nearly all the west of the department, and especially the heavy consumption of the mining town of Jesus-Maria, receives most of its supplies from the port of Guaymas on the Gulf of
California; whence, indeed, several stocks of goods have been introduced as far as the city of Chihuahua itself. In 1840, a large amount of merchandise was transported directly from the Red River frontier of Arkansas to Chihuahua; but no other expedition has ever been made in that direction.*
By far the greatest portion of the introductions through the sea-ports just alluded to, have been made by British merchants. It is chiefly the preference given to American manufactures, which has enabled the merchandise of the Santa Fe adventurers to compete in the Southern markets, with goods introduced through the sea-ports, which have had the
benefit of the draw-back. In this last respect our traders have labored under a very unjust burden.
It is difficult to conceive any equitable reason why merchants conveying their goods across the Prairies in wagons, should not be as much entitled to the protection of the Government, as those who transport them in vessels across the ocean. This assistance might have enabled our merchants to monopolize the rich trade of Chihuahua; and they would, no doubt, have obtained a share of that of the still richer departments of Durango and Zacatecas, as well as some portion of the Sonora and California trade. Then rating that of Chihuahua at two millions, half that of Durango at the same, and a million from Zacatecas, Sonora, etc., it would ascend to the clever amount of some five millions of dollars per annum.
In point of revenue, the Santa Fe trade has been of but little importance to the government of Mexico. Though the amount of duties collected annually at this port has usually been fifty to eighty thousand dollars, yet nearly one-half has been embezzled by the officers of the customs, leaving an average net revenue of perhaps less than forty thousand dollars per annum.
It is not an unimportant fact to be known, that, since the year 1831, few or none of the difficulties and dangers which once environed the Santa Fe adventurer have been encountered. No traders have been killed by the
savages on the regular route, and but few animals stolen from the caravans. On the whole, the rates of insurance upon adventures in this trade should hardly be as high as upon marine adventures between New York and Liverpool. While I declare, however, the serious dangers and troubles to have been in general so slight, I ought not to suppress at least an outline of the difficulties that occurred on the Prairies in 1843, which were attended with very serious consequences.
It had been reported in Santa Fe as early as November, 1842, that a party of Texans were upon the Prairies, prepared to attack any Mexican traders who should cross the Plains the succeeding spring; and as some Americans were accused of being spies, and in collusion with the Texans, many were ordered to Santa Fe for examination, occasioning a deal of trouble to several innocent persons. Than this, however, but little further attention was paid to the report, many believing it but another of those minors of Texan invasion which had so often spread useless consternation through the country.
So little apprehension appeared to exist, that in February, 1843, Don Antonio Jose Chavez, of New Mexico, left Santa Fe for Independence, with but five servants, two wagons, and fifty-five mules. He had with him some ten or twelve thousand dollars in specie and gold bullion, besides a small lot of furs. As the month of March was extremely inclement, the little party suffered inconceivably
from cold and privations. Most of them were frost-bitten, and all their animals, except five perished from the extreme severity of the season; on which account Chavez was compelled to leave one of his wagons upon the Prairies. He had worried along, however, with his remaining wagon and valuables, till about the tenth of April, when he found himself near the Little Arkansas; at least a hundred miles within the territory of the United States. He was there met by fifteen men from the border of Missouri professing to be Texan troops under the command of one John M'Daniel. This party had been collected, for the most part, on the frontier, by their leader, who was recently from Texas, from which government he professed to hold a captain’s commission. They started no doubt with the intention of joining one Col. Warfield (also said to hold a Texan commission), who had been upon the Plains near the Mountains, with a small party, for several months — with the avowed intention of attacking the Mexican traders.
Upon meeting Chavez, however, the party of M’Daniel at once determined to make sure of the prize he was possessed of rather than take their chances of a similar booty beyond the U. S. boundary. The unfortunate Mexican was therefore taken a few miles south of the road, and his baggage rifled. Seven of the party then left for the settlements with their share of the booty, amounting to some four or five hundred dollars apiece; making the journey on foot, as their horses had taken
a stampede and escaped. The remaining eight, soon after the departure of their comrades, determined to put Chavez to death, — for what cause it would seem difficult to conjecture, as he had been, for two days, their unresisting prisoner. Lots were accordingly cast to determine which four of the party should be the cruel executioners; and their wretched victim was taken off a few rods and shot down in cold blood. After his murder a considerable amount of gold was found about his person, and in his trunk. The body of the unfortunate man, together with his wagon and baggage, was thrown into a neighboring ravine; and a few of the lost animals of the marauders having been found, their booty was packed upon them and borne away to the frontier of Missouri.
Great exertions had been made to intercept this lawless band at the outset; but they escaped the vigilance even of a detachment of dragoons that had followed them over a hundred miles. Yet the honest citizens of the border were too much on the alert to permit them to return to the interior with impunity. However, five of the whole number (including three of the party that killed the man) effected their escape, but the other ten were arrested, committed, and sent to St. Louis for trial before the United States Court. It appears that those who were engaged in the killing of Chavez have since been convicted of murder; and the others, who were only concerned in the robbery, were found guilty
of larceny, and sentenced to fine and imprisonment.
About the first of May of the same year, a company of a hundred and seventy-five men, under one Col. Snively, was organized in the north of Texas, and set out from the settlements for the Santa Fe trace. It was at first reported that they contemplated a descent upon Santa Fe; but their force was evidently too weak to attempt an invasion at that crisis. Their prime object, therefore, seems to have been to attack and make reprisals upon the Mexicans engaged in the Santa Fe trade, who were expected to cross the Prairies during the months of May and June.
After the arrival of the Texans upon the Arkansas, they were joined by Col. Warfield with a few followers. This officer, with about twenty men, had some time previously attacked the village of Mora, on the Mexican frontier, killing five men (as was reported) and driving off a number of horses. They were afterwards followed by a party of Mexicans, however, who stampeded and carried away, not only their own horses, but those of the Texans. Being left afoot, the latter burned their saddles, and walked to Bent’s Fort, where they were disbanded; whence Warfield passed to Snively’s camp, as before mentioned.
The Texans now advanced along the Santa Fe road, beyond the sand hills south of the Arkansas, when they discovered that a party of Mexicans had passed towards the river. They soon came upon them, and a skirmish ensuing, eighteen Mexicans were killed, and as many wounded, five of whom afterwards died. The Texans suffered no injury, though the Mexicans were a hundred in number. The rest were all taken prisoners except two, who escaped and bore the news to Gen. Armijo, encamped with a large force at the Cold Spring, 140 miles beyond. As soon as the General received notice of the defeat of his vanguard, he broke up his camp most precipitately, and retreated to Santa Fe. A gentleman of the caravan which passed shortly afterward, informed me that spurs, lareats and other scraps of equipage, were found scattered in every direction about Armijo’s camp — left by his troops in the hurly-burly of their precipitate retreat.
Keeping beyond the territory of the United States, the right of the Texans to harass the commerce of Mexicans will hardly be denied, as they were at open war: yet another consideration, it would seem, should have restrained them from aggressions in that quarter. They could not have been ignorant that but a portion of the traders were Mexicans — that many American citizens were connected in the same caravans. The Texans assert, it is true, that the lives and property of Americans were to be respected, provided they abandoned the Mexicans. But did they reflect upon the baseness of the terms they were imposing? What American, worthy of the name, to save his own interests, or even his life, could deliver up his travelling compa-
nions to be sacrificed? Then, after having abandoned the Mexicans, or betrayed them to their enemy — for such an act would have been accounted treachery — where would they have gone? They could not then have continued on into Mexico; and to have returned to the United States with their merchandise, would have been the ruin of most of them.
The inhuman outrages suffered by those who were captured in New Mexico in 1841, among whom were many of the present party, have been pleaded in justification of this second Texan expedition. When we take their grievances into consideration, we must admit that they palliate, and indeed justify almost any species of revenge consistent with the laws of Nature and of nations : yet whether, under the existing circumstances, this invasion of the Prairies was proper or otherwise, I will leave for others to determine, as there seems to be a difference of opinion on the subject. The following considerations, however, will go to demonstrate the unpropitious consequences which are apt to result from a system of indiscriminate revenge.
The unfortunate Chavez (whose murder, I suppose, was perpetrated under pretext of the cruelties suffered by the Texans, in the name of whom the party of M’Daniel was organized) was of the most wealthy and influential family of New Mexico; and one that was anything but friendly to the ruling governor, Gen. Armijo. Don Mariano Chavez, a brother to the deceased, is a gentleman of very amia-
ble character, such as is rarely to be met with in that unfortunate land. It is asserted that he furnished a considerable quantity of provisions, blankets, etc., to Col. Cooke’s division of Texan prisoners. Senora Chavez (the wife of Don Mariano), as is told, crossed the river from the village of Padillas, the place of their residence, and administered comforts to the unfortunate band of Texans. Though the murder of young Chavez was evidently not sanctioned by the Texans generally, it will, notwithstanding, have greatly embittered this powerful family against them — a family whose liberal principles could not otherwise have been very unfavorable to Texas.*
The attack upon the village of Mora, though of less important results, was nevertheless an unpropitiatory movement. The inhabitants of that place are generally very simple and innocent rancheros and hunters, and, being separated by the snowy mountains from the principal settlements of New Mexico, their hearts seem ever to have been inclined to the Texans. In fact, the village having been founded by some American denizens, the Mexican inhabitants appear in some degree to have imitated their character.
The defeat of Armijo’s vanguard was attended by still more disastrous consequences, both to the American and Texan interest. That division was composed of the militia of
the North — from about Taos — many of them Taos Pueblos. These people had not only remained embittered against Gov. Armijo since the revolution of 1837, but had always been notably in favor of Texas. So loth were they to fight the Texans, that, as I have been assured, the governor found it necessary to bind a number of them upon their horses, to prevent their escape, till he got them fairly upon the Prairies. And yet the poor fellows were compelled to suffer the vengeance which was due to their guilty general!
When the news of their defeat reached Taos, the friends and relatives of the slain — the whole population indeed, were incensed beyond measure; and two or three naturalized foreigners who were supposed to favor the cause of Texas, and who were in good standing before, were now compelled to flee for their lives; leaving their houses and property a prey to the incensed rabble. Such appears to have been the reaction of public sentiment resulting from the catastrophe upon the Prairies!
Had the Texans proceeded differently — had they induced the Mexicans to surrender without battle, which they might no doubt easily have accomplished, they could have secured their services, without question, as guides to Gen. Armijo’s camp, and that unmitigated tyrant might himself have fallen into their hands. The difficulty of maintaining order among the Texans was perhaps the cause of many of their unfortunate proceed-
ings. And no information of the caravan having been obtained, a detachment of seventy or eighty men left, to return to Texas.
The traders arrived soon after, escorted by about two hundred U. S. Dragoons under the command of Capt. Cook. Col. Snively with a hundred men being then encamped on the south side of the Arkansas river, some ten to fifteen miles below the point called the ‘Caches,’ he crossed the river and met Capt. Cook, who soon made known his intention of disarming him and his companions, — an intention which he at once proceeded to put into execution. A portion of the Texans, however, deceived the American captain in this wise. Having concealed their own rifles, which were mostly Colt’s repeaters, they delivered to Capt. Cook the worthless fusils they had taken from the Mexicans; so that, when they were afterwards released, they still had their own valuable arms; of which, however, so far as the caravan in question was concerned, they appear to have had no opportunity of availing themselves.
These facts are mentioned merely as they are said to have occurred. Capt. Cook has been much abused by the Texans, and accused of having violated a friendly flag — of having taken Col. Snively prisoner while on a friendly visit. This is denied by Capt. Cook, and by other persons who were in company at the time. But apart from the means employed by the American commander (the propriety or impropriety of which I shall not attempt
to discuss), the act was evidently the salvation of the Santa Fe caravan, of which a considerable portion were Americans. Had he left the Texans with their arms, he would doubtless have been accused by the traders of escorting them to the threshold of danger, and then delivering them over to certain destruction, when he had it in his power to secure their safety.
Capt. Cook with his command soon after returned to the United States,* and with him some forty of the disarmed Texans, many of whom. have been represented as gentlemen worthy of a better destiny. A large portion of the Texans steered directly home from the Arkansas river; while from sixty to seventy men, who elected Warfield their commander, were organized for the pursuit and capture of the caravan, which had already passed on some days in advance towards Santa Fe. They pursued in the wake of the traders, it is said, as far as the Point of Rocks (twenty miles east of the crossing of the Colorado or Canadian), but made no attempt upon them — whence they returned direct to Texas. Thus terminated the ‘Second Texan Santa Fe Expedition,’ as it has been styled; and
though not so disastrous as the first, it turned out about as unprofitable.
Although this expedition was composed wholly of Texans, or persons not claiming to be citizens of the United States, and organized entirely in Texas — and, notwithstanding the active measures adopted by the United States government to defend the caravans, as well of Mexicans as of Americans, against their enemy — Senor Bocanegra, Mexican Minister of Foreign Relations, made a formal demand upon the United States (as will be remembered), for damages resulting from this invasion. In a rejoinder to Gen. Thompson (alluding to Snively’s company), he says, that “Independence, in Missouri, was the starting point of these men.” The preceding narrative will show the error under which the honorable secretary labored.
A portion of the party who killed Chavez was from the frontier of Missouri; but witness the active exertions on the border to ‘bring these depredators to justice — and then let the contrast be noted betwixt this affair and the impunity with which robberies are every day committed throughout Mexico, where well-known highwaymen often run at large, unmolested either by the citizens or by the authorities. What would Senor Bocanegra say if every other government were to demand indemnity for all the robberies committed upon their citizens in Mexico?
But the most unfortunate circumstance attending this invasion of the Prairies—unfortu-
nate at least to the United States and to New Mexico — was the closing of the Northern ports to foreign commerce, which was doubtless, to a great degree, a consequence of the before-mentioned expedition, and which of course terminated the Santa Fe Trade, at least for the present.*
I am of the impression, however, that little apprehension need be entertained, that this decree of Gen. Santa Anna will be permitted much longer to continue, unless our peaceful relations with Mexico should be disturbed; an event, under any circumstances; seriously to be deprecated. With the continuation of peace between us, the Mexicans will certainly be compelled to open their northern frontier ports, to avoid a revolution in New Mexico, with which they are continually threatened while this embargo continues. Should the obnoxious decree be repealed, the Santa Fe Trade will doubtless be prosecuted again with renewed vigor and enterprise.