Santa Fe Expedition 

 

This expedition to Santa Fe by way of the plains and deserts of Texas and New Mexico, at that time wholly unsettled as to Texas, and only scattered ranches, mostly Mexicans, in New Mexico, was so very perilous and uncertain undertaking, to say the least of it, and was almost certain to fail and bring untold suffering and death to many brave men who blindly went into it. It was not a lawless venture for spoil, as some would seem to think, of restless men band together for plunder. On the contrary, the expedition had the sanction of President Lamar and some of the best men in Texas accompanied it. Further more, the President had recommended an appropriation by Congress to pay the expenses of the expedition, but that body failed to do so. The object was said to be one of a peaceful and commercial feature, to open up a trade with the people of New Mexico, and to extend the jurisdiction of Texas over Santa Fe and so much of New Mexico as lay east of the Rio Grande River. This was a part of Texas as defined by the law of 1836. New Mexico, in her isolation, was largely independent of Mexico, and was ruled with despotic severity by a few families who furnished the governors and consumed the substance of the people. A few Americans who resided in that country had visited President Lamar in the spring of 1840 and urged a measure of this kind, and said it would be hailed by the mass of the people as a. great deliverance from severe thralldom. Although Congress had failed to provide for the expedition the President had become so imbued with the idea that he resolved to undertake its execution upon his own responsibility. Early in the spring of 1841 he began the preparations. Commercial men were invited to join with stocks of goods, and. a sufficient number of troops were raised to act as an escort and to protect the party from Indians, who for hundreds of miles roamed over the plains at will. Circulars and proclamations were printed in Spanish, assuring the people that the expedition was peaceful, and the only wish entertained was to open up peaceful trade relations and give the people of New Mexico a chance to live under the liberal laws of Texas. To distribute these circulars three peace commissioners were appointed to accompany the expedition. They were Jose Antonio Navarro, a native of San Antonio, and a true, good man, Colonel William G. Cooke, a man of courage and experience, and, Dr. Richard F. Brenham, a gallant gentleman born on the soil of Kentucky. George Van Ness was secretary, and among others was Geo. W. Kendall, editor of the New Orleans Picayune, who happened to be in Austin at the time, and went along for a pleasure trip. He afterwards published a history of the trip in book form.

The expedition left Brushy Creek (where they organized), fifteen miles north of Austin, on the 21st day of June 1841. The commander was Gen. Hugh McLeod, and the number of soldiers was 270, not counting merchants, commissioners, pleasure seekers, etc. The captains were Matthew Caldwell, Houghton and William P. Lewis. The intention was to employ Lipan Indians as guides, but failed to get them. For a long distance, however, everything was lovely, water, grass, and game were in abundance, and they continually feasted on the juicy steaks of buffalo, deer and antelope. All this changed when the heads of the Texas rivers were reached at the foot of the great plains. Without guides to lead a direct course and find the water holes they soon became lost in the great track-less,, grass-covered waste, almost waterless, and destitute of anything to east except highland terrapins, snakes, lizards and other villainous looking things, all of which, however, were greedily devoured when found by the perishing men. They also had to fight Indians and lost several men in this way, besides some of their horses and oxen, the latter drawing the merchant's wagons. Without going in to all the details of what they did suffer and encounter, will say that on the 11th day of August they thought themselves to be within about 80 miles of San Maguel, a frontier village on the Pecos River, east of Santa Fe. For the want of guides they had traveled 300 miles further than was necessary. Three men, Howland, Baker and Rosenberg, were now sent ahead to San Maguel in search of provisions and to ascertain in what spirit they mould be received by the Mexicans. The main body followed wearily on over a broken country until the 10th of September, devouring," says the historian, Kendall, "every tortoise, snail, or creeping thing. Almost everything had been abandoned, the oxen pulling the wagons had been eaten and the goods and wagons left to rot on the desert. Now, after another month of toiling and starving from the 11th of August to the 10th of September, the advance met some Mexicans, who gave them some provisions, and informed them that they were still seventy miles from San Maguel; but at a small place called Anton Chico and much nearer they could get some mutton from flocks there. Some of these Mexicans returned to those in the rear to guide them by a shorter route. The advance continued on to the Galinas River and there procured some sheep, "sand a scene of feasting ensued which beggars description," says Kendall.

On the next morning the advance sent forward Captain Lewis, who understood Spanish, with Geo. Van Ness, Howard, Fitzgerald and Kendall. They bore a letter to the alcalde, informing him of the approach of the party, and that it was a commercial enterprise, peaceful in character, and the mission of the men sent forward was to buy provisions for the main party. They also carried numerous copies of President Lamar's proclamations declaring the object of the movement, and that if the inhabitants of New Mexico did not desire peaceably to come under the flag of Texas the expedition would immediately return. Lewis and his party left the Galinas for San Maguel on the 14th of September. The shepherds, at the Galinas River, had informed the Texans that the country vas in arms against them, and that Howland, Baker and Rosenberg had been seized and imprisoned at Santa Fe.

There is something strange connected with this sad history here. This startling intelligence was not sent back to the main body. Howland did get out of prison and attempted to escape so as to convey the news to General McLeod, but was recaptured, and for this effort to save his countrymen was shot in San Maguel by order of Governor Armijo of New Mexico. Howland was one of the Americans who resided in Santa, Fe and had visited Texas and urged the expedition on President Lamar, and by the act in which he lost his life proved himself true to the Texans.

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