On the morning of Jan. 19, 1847, an angry group of Mexican loyalists and pueblo Indians began a rampage that led to the deaths of several American officials and traders, all of whom were seen as invaders of sovereign territory by the locals.
Map illustration by Chipper Thompson
The revolt (or insurrection, depending on which side you ask) brought a harsh reprisal from the U.S. Army, which killed hundreds of insurgents and destroyed a church at Taos Pueblo using the full force of its artillery. Once the smoke cleared, dozens of so-called rebels were jailed, and many were convicted in hastily organized courts and hanged.
Today, most of the major sites of this revolt are within just a few blocks of Taos Plaza. Here’s a quick walking tour of the downtown sites that bore witness to one of the defining events in Taos long and often bloody history.
Gov. Bent House Museum, 117 Bent Street
This historic adobe was where Gov. Charles Bent, the American-appointed territorial governor, hid with his wife and family while the mob outside called for his head. The attackers finally got hold of Bent, sticking him full of arrows and scalping him. Bent’s family and the wife of Kit Carson managed to escape through a hole they hastily dug in an adobe wall. Visitors to the museum can see the approximate location of the hole, which was re-dug by the owners.
One writer who interviewed eyewitnesses days after the events wrote this: “The district attorney, Liel, was scalped alive and dragged through the streets, his relentless persecutors pricking him with lances. After hours of acute suffering, he was thrown to one side in the inclement weather. He entreated, implored them earnestly to kill him — to end his misery. A compassionate Mexican at last closed the tragic scene by shooting him. Stephen Lee, brother to the general, was killed on his own housetop.”
Padre Martínez House, 110 Padre Martínez Lane
The well-known priest Padre Antonio José Martínez tried to play the role of arbiter in the uneasy aftermath of the insurrection. He urged the rebels not to incite violence, which he knew would only bring a harsh response from the Americans. While the attackers were being tried by United States officials, Martínez asked for leniency. The padre’s home was used to quarter American soldiers sent to quell the insurrectionists. It was also the scene of the trials — deemed by many historians to be biased against the Indians and Mexicans — that ended in death sentences for all accused.
“When the concluding words ‘muerto, muerto, muerto’ (‘dead, dead, dead’) were pronounced by Judge Beaubien in his solemn and impressive manner, the painful stillness that reigned in the courtroom and the subdued grief manifested by a few bystanders were noticed not without an inward sympathy,” wrote a young mountain man who witnessed part of the trials. “The poor wretches sat with immovable features; but I fancied that under the assumed looks of apathetic indifference could be read the deepest anguish.”
On Feb. 7, Pablo Montoya, a Taos Pueblo Indian accused of being one of the instigators of the violence, was the first to be hung at Taos Plaza because of his involvement in the insurrection. Over the next three months, 11 Mexicans and five Indians would meet their maker by the hangman’s noose. Contemporary accounts describe a very public and emotional scene during the hangings. The ropes were tied to a tree branch and the men were stood atop a cart, which was slowly pulled out from under the condemned by a team of mules.
One witness gave a graphic account: “Bidding each other ‘adios,’ with a hope of meeting in Heaven, at word from the sheriff the mules were started, and the wagon drawn from under the tree. No fall was given, and their feet remained on the board till the ropes drew taut. The bodies swayed back and forth, and, coming in contact with each other, convulsive shudders shook their frames; the muscles, contracting, would relax, and again contract, and the bodies writhed most horribly. While thus swinging, the hands of two came together, which they held with a firm grasp till the muscles loosened in death.”
“You should have seen the poor wives of the Indians hung — heard their moans and observed their despair,” wrote another writer, an American solider, in his memoirs.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 205 Don Fernando Street
While the bodies of the hanged Indians were taken back to Taos Pueblo to be laid to rest, the burial records for seven of these men show that they were buried in graveyard plot 6 of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church just west of the plaza. That church was torn down in 1911 and the location of plot 6 is unknown. Local historians believe the grave sites of these men were long ago paved over by one of the many parking lots surrounding the building.
Kit Carson Cemetery, in Kit Carson Memorial Park at the end of Dragoon Lane off Kit Carson Road
Several Americans killed during the revolt are buried in this cemetery, including eight mountain men attacked at a distillery north of Taos. A plaque in the cemetery identifies many of those killed in the events of 1847, honoring them for their bravery in the face of their attackers. Padre Martínez’ grave is also in this cemetery.
By J.R. Logan