Taos, New Mexico – Art, Architecture & History

After the Spanish Reconquest of 1692, Taos Pueblo continued armed resistance against the Spanish until 1696, when Governor Diego de Vargas defeated the Indians at Taos Canyon. He soon persuaded the Taos Pueblo Indians to drop their arms and come back out of the mountains.

In 1723, the Spanish government forbade trade with the French, and limited trade with the Plains Tribes only to Taos and Pecos, thereby giving rise to the annual summer trade fairs at those locations where  ComancheKiowa and others came in great numbers to trade captives for horses, grain and trade goods from Chihuahua.

In 1776, at the time of the American Declaration of Independence, there were an estimated 67 families with 306 Spaniards in the Taos Valley. At that time, the Ranchos de Taos area was the most populous. That same year the first Spanish church was built in Ranchos de Taos. A few years earlier, the first church in the area was being built in 1772. The Franciscans supervised the construction of the historic San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church that was finally completed in 1816.

During the 1770s, Taos was repeatedly raided by Comanche who lived on the plains of what is now eastern Colorado. Juan Bautista de Anza, governor of the Province of New Mexico, led a successful punitive expedition in 1779 against the Comanche.

San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico still serves a congregation today.

San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico still
serves a congregation today.

The erection of the church at Fernando de Taos was begun in 1796, but it was not completed until 1806. The ancient church at the Pueblo, which was ruined during the Taos Revolt in 1847, was at one time the headquarters of the Roman Catholic diocese. Spanish/native relations within the pueblo became amicable for a brief period as both groups found a common enemy in the invading Ute and Comanche tribes, but resistance to Catholicism and Spanish culture was still strong. Even so, Spanish religious ideals and agricultural practices subtly worked their way into the Taos community, largely starting during this time of increased cooperation between the two cultural groups.

Between 1796 and 1797 the Don Fernando de Taos Land Grant gave land to 63 Spanish families in the Taos valley and a more formal settlement was established to the northeast of Ranchos de Taos, with a fortified plaza and adobe buildings, surrounded by residential areas. Homes were built in large quadrangles that offered a fortress-like structure. Hostile raiding Indians from outside the Taos area were thwarted in their attempts to enter the village. Sentries stationed at the corners of the fortified village kept vigil day and night. A huge gate offered the only means of entry and exit to the Plaza. The enclosure served as a refuge for livestock at night, and merchants used the area to display their wares during trade fairs.

Kit Carson House in Taos, New Mexico

Kit Carson House in Taos, New Mexico

Taos was, for many years following the American occupation, the chief political storm-center of the Territory. The presence there of such men as Charles Bent, the first Governor; Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson, the famous scout and guide; Colonel Ceran St. Vrain, the well known merchant; “Don Carlos” Beaubien, one of the original proprietors of the notorious Maxwell Land Grant and the first Chief Justice of New Mexico; Father Martinez, a demagogue, traitor, conspirator against peace and as great a rascal as ever, who remained un-hanged in New Mexico, whether viewed from a political or moral standpoint — such individuals as these gave the community a position in Territorial affairs equal to that of Santa Fe, the capital.

Kit Carson

Kit Carson

Along with these famous names, there were dozens of other French, American, and Canadian trappers operating in Taos County. A brisk fur trade began, bringing yet another element — the mountain men — to the Taos trade fair. By that time, the Taos Valley was well populated with livestock, agriculture, and people who supplied Mexico with inexpensive goods. Goods also came into Taos, such as the first printing press west of the Mississippi River in 1834, to print books for the co-educational school, which was founded by Padre Antonio Jose Martinez. In 1835, the padre began printing the first newspaper, El Crepusculo, which was the predecessor to The Taos News.  In 1840, some 20,000 Rio Grande wool blankets were exported south to Mexico.

In 1842 Padre Martínez, after giving him instruction, baptized Kit Carson as a Catholic so he could become engaged to marry Josefa Jaramillo. The following year, Kit and Josefa married and Kit purchased a house from the Jaramillo family as a wedding present for his new bride. The house built in 1825, served as the Carson’s’ home until 1868, and today is the Kit Carson Home and Museum. Three years later, in 1846, Colonel Stephen W. Kearney with his “Army of the West” occupied New Mexico for the United States and Charles Bent of Taos was appointed as the first American Governor. That same year, business remains brisk in Taos as 1.7 million dollars in beaver and other furs were traded through Taos.

Among the Americans and other foreigners who became the pioneer white settlers of Taos and the valley nearby, aside from those above mentioned, were Theodore Mignault,  manager of Bent & St. Vrain’s store, and afterward a partner of Marceline St. Vrain, a nephew of the Colonel; Henry Green, a West Point graduate and former officer in the regular army; Jesse Turley, a Missourian, who established a trading post there; James Herbert Quinn, who organized several scouting parties in times of trouble; Theodore Weedon (or Wheaton) a lawyer who came from Missouri in 1846; Charles Hardt, who also migrated from that state in 1846, who owned a ranch near town; “Squire” Hardt, who was engaged in the overland trade for several years; Webster, a merchant and miller, who became very wealthy; the three Buedners — Solomon, Samson and Joseph —  who had a general merchandise business; Frederick Mueller, who married a daughter of Charles H. Beaubien, and “Uncle Dick” Wootton.

New Mexico formally became a territory of the United States in 1847 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. However, many of the native Mexicans and Indians were not happy with this event. The Mexicans in the Taos area resented the newcomers and enlisted the Taos Indians to aid them in an insurrection. Mexican Pablo Montoya and Tomasito, a leader of the Taos Pueblo Indians led a force of Mexicans and Indians who did not want to become a part of the United States. Charles Bent, the new American governor who was headquartered at Taos, was killed and scalped in January, 1847 along with many other American officials and residents. The rebels then marched on Santa Fe, but the response of the American Army was immediate. A force of more than 300 soldiers from Santa Fe and Albuquerque quickly rode to Taos and after battles in Santa Cruz and Embudo, the rebels were soundly defeated. The remainder of the Mexicans and Indians took refuge in the San Geromino Mission Church. The American troops bombarded the church, killing or capturing the insurrectionists and destroying the physical structure. Around 1850, an entirely new mission church was constructed near the west gate of the pueblo wall.

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