During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) troops and supplies needed to reach California from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, via the uncharted lands that now make up the states of New Mexico and Arizona. An expedition led by General Stephen Watts Kearny explored the territory from Fort Leavenworth to California. Lieutenant William Emory (pictured) led a topographical unit on this expedition to chart the unknown terrain. In addition to his military duties, Emory kept a record of the plants and geographic features he saw and also provided a great deal of information about the residents of the Hispanic southwest and the political situation at that time. The residents of these thinly populated villages and towns clearly hoped that the US Army could provide more protection from Apache raiding than the shaky government down in Mexico City had any intention of providing.
This expedition produced the first reliable map of the Gila River Trail. After the war Emory’s findings were presented to Congress as Notes of a military reconnaissance from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri, to San Diego, in California, including Part of the Arkansas, del Norte and Gila Rivers.
In addition to providing the first documentation of the lands and resources (or lack of) in the region, Emory gives a riveting account of the day-by-day passage of the American army through the supposed “enemy” territory. A pattern soon becomes apparent; there are always stories of the Mexican General Armijo waiting at such and such a pass to contest the passage of the Americans. But this threat never materializes as General Armijo retreats from every position.
August 18, 1846
We were this morning 29 miles from Santa Fe. Reliable information, from several sources, had reached camp yesterday and the day before, that dissensions had arisen in Armijo’s camp, which had dispersed his army, and that he had fled to the south, carrying all his artillery and 100 dragoons with him. Not a hostile rifle or arrow was now between the army and Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, and the general determined to make the march in one day, and raise the United States flag over the palace before sundown. New horses or mules were ordered for the artillery, and everything was braced up for a forced march. The distance was not great, but the road bad, and the horses on their last legs.
Many of the common people demonstrated neutrality at the least and friendship toward the Americans at the best. Emory explains this by showing that the governor had never done anything to protect the people from attacks by the hostile Indians who preyed on their cattle and crops. In fact, the Mexicans were not allowed to have firearms and were prevented from doing anything to protect themselves in these attacks.
September 30, 1846
Feeling no desire to go over the same ground twice, I struck off on the table lands to the west, and found them a succession of rolling sand hills, with Obione canescens, Franseria acanthocarpa, yerba del sapa of the Mexicans, and occasionally, at very long intervals, with scrub cedar, about as high as the boot-top.
I saw here the hiding places of the Navajoes, who, when few in numbers, wait for the night to descend upon the valley and carry off the fruit, sheep, women, and children of the Mexicans. When in numbers, they come in daytime and levy their dues. Their retreats and caverns are at a distance to the west, in high and inaccessible mountains, where troops of the United States will find great difficulty in overtaking and subduing them, but where the Mexicans have never thought of penetrating. The Navajoes may be termed the lords of New Mexico. Few in number, disdaining the cultivation of the soil, and even the rearing of cattle, they draw all their supplies from the valley of the Del Norte.
As we marched down the river to meet Ugarte and Armijo, the Navajoes attacked the settlements three miles in our rear, killed one man, crippled another, and carried off a large supply of sheep and cattle. Today we have a report, which appears well authenticated, that the Mexicans taking courage at the expectations of protection from the United States, had the temerity to resist a levy, and the consequence was, the loss of six men killed and two wounded.They are prudent in their depredations, never taking so much from one man as to ruin him. Armijo never permitted the inhabitants to war upon these thieves. The power he had of letting these people loose on the New Mexicans was the great secret of his arbitrary sway over a people who hated and despised him. Any offender against Armijo was pretty sure to have a visit from the Navajoes.
A few days later, there was another attack:
October 4, 1846
Arrived at the town of Pulvidera, which we found, as its name implies, covered with dust, we received full accounts of the attack made on the town by the Apaches the day before. The dragoons arrived too late to render assistance.
About one hundred Indians, well mounted, charged upon the town and drove off all the horses and cattle of the place. The terrified inhabitants fled to their mud houses, which they barricaded. The people of Lamitas, a town two miles below, came to the rescue, and seized upon the pass between the Sierra Pulvidera and Sierra Socoro. The Indians seeing their retreat with the cattle and goats cut off, fell to work like savages as they were, killing as many of these as they could, and scampered off over the mountains and cliffs with the horses and mules, which they could more easily secure.
This same band entered the settlements some miles above when we were marching on Santa Fe, and when Armijo had called all the men of the country to its defence. In this foray, besides horses, they carried off fifteen or sixteen of the prettiest women.
Women, when captured, are taken as wives by those who capture them, but they are treated by the Indian wives of the capturers as slaves, and made to carry wood and water; if they chance to be pretty, or receive too much attention from their lords and masters, they are, in the absence of the latter, unmercifully beaten and otherwise maltreated. The most unfortunate thing which can befall a captive woman is to be claimed by two persons. In this case, she is either shot or delivered up for indiscriminate violence.
These banditti will not long revel in scenes of plunder and violence. Yesterday Colonel Doniphan’s regiment was directed to march into their country and destroy it. One of their principal settlements, and farming establishments, is said to be nearly due west from here, about two days’ march; the road leading through the formidable pass above noted.
It is not surprising, then, that General Armijo did not feel confidence enough in his own subjects to venture into battle against the Americans. General Kearny spoke to the citizens of each town he entered and promised them safety under the American flag. The photo of General Kearny that can be found in the National Archives shows him to be an impressive figure. One can imagine that his words were taken seriously as he stood on the roof of one of the adobe houses and addressed the people of each village that his troops passed through. Rather than setting up an American official over the village the people were allowed to keep their own alcalde (mayor) if he was willing to take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. Emory gives a vivid description of the event, which took place at Vegas and was repeated at San Miguel the following day and, indeed, in almost every town they passed through on the way to California.
August 15, 1846
At eight, precisely, the general was in the public square, where he was met by the alcalde and the people, many of whom were mounted; for these people seem to live on horseback.
The general pointed to the top of one of their houses, which are built of one story, and suggested to the alcalde that he would go to that place, he and his staff would follow, and from that point, where all could hear and see, he would speak to them; which he did, as follows:
“Mr. Alcalde, and people of New Mexico: I have come amongst you by the orders of my government, to take possession of your country, and extend over it the laws of the United States. We consider it, and have done so for some time, a part of the territory of the United States. We come amongst you as friends–not as enemies; as protectors–not as conquerors. We come among you for you benefit–not for your injury.
“Henceforth, I absolve you from all allegiance to the Mexican government, and from all obedience to General Armijo. He is no longer your governor; (great sensation.) I am your governor. I shall not expect you to take up arms and follow me, to fight your own people, who may oppose me; but I now tell you, that those who remain peacably at home, attending to their crops, and their herds, shall be protected by me, in their property, their persons, and their religion; and not a pepper, not an onion, shall be disturbed or taken by my troops, without pay, or by the consent of the owner. But listen! he who promises to be quiet, and is found in arms against me, I will hang!
“From the Mexican government you have never received protection. The Apaches and the Navajoes come down from the mountains and carry off you sheep, and even your women, whenever they please. My government will correct all this. It will keep off the Indians, protect you in your persons and property; and, I repeat again, will protect you in your religion. I know you are all great Catholics; that some of your priests have told you all sorts of stories–that we should ill-treat your women, and brand them on the cheek as you do your mules on the hip. It is all false. My government respects your religion as much as the Protestant religion, and allows each man to worship his Creator as his heart tells him is best. Its laws protect the Catholic church as well as the Protestant; the weak as well as the strong; the poor as well as the rich. I am not a Catholic myself–I was not brought up in that faith; but, at least one-third of my army are Catholics, and I respect a good Catholic as much as a good Protestant.
“There goes my army–you see but a small portion of it; there are many more behind–resistance is useless.
“Mr. Alcalde, and you two captains of militia, the laws of my country require that all men who hold office under it shall take the oath of allegiance. I do not wish, for the present, until affairs are more settled, to disturb your form of government. If you are prepared to take oaths of allegiance, I shall continue you in office, and support your authority.”
This was a bitter pill; but it was swallowed by the discontented captain, with downcast eyes. The general remarked to him, in hearing of all of the people: “Captain, look me in the face, while you repeat the oath of office.” The hint was understood–the oath taken, and the alcalde and the two captains pronounced to be continued in office. The people were enjoined to obey the alcalde, etc., etc., etc. The citizens grinned and exchanged looks of satisfaction, but seemed not to have the boldness to express what they evidently felt–that their burdens, if not relieved were, at least, shifted to some ungalled part of the body.
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Several years later Emory was called on again to help settle Mexican / American border issues. Some inadvertent topographical errors had been incorporated into the Gadsden Purchase treaty, and this caused the U.S./Mexican border to remain a subject of dispute for a number of years. During these years, Emory and his team not only surveyed the boundary but collected a wealth of geological, zoological and botanical information, in the great tradition of Lewis and Clark. Between 1856 and 1859 this information was published as the three-volume Report of the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, finalizing the last unresolved bounday of the United States.
Altshuler, Constance Wynn. Chains of Command, Arizona and the Army, 1856-1875. Tucson, The Arizona Historical Society, 1981.
Bufkin, Don and Henry P. Walker. Historical Atlas of Arizona. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.
Editors of Time-Life Books. The Old West: The Trailblazers. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1973.
Emory, W. H. Notes of a military reconnaissance, from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri, to San Diego, in California, including of Part the Arkansas, del Norte and Gila Rivers. Download the free Notes of a military reconnaissance e-book now. If you do not have the Microsoft e-book reader, you may download it free on the Microsoft website.
Emory, W. H. et al. Report of the United States and Mexico Boundary Survey, Three volumes. (1856, 1859) This is a rare and collectible book. Some reprints have been made. If you are lucky enough to live near a really good university or research library, you may be able to find a copy there.
Harris, Benjamin Butler, The Gila Trail: The Texas Argonauts and the California Gold Rush. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.
Norris, L. David, James C. Milligan and Odie B. Faulk. William H. Emory: Soldier-Scientist. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998.
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ended the Mexican War
Utley, Robert M. A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997.