Taos Rebellion Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

While the United States and Mexico were still engaged in war, Mexican and Indian residents of New Mexico organized the first open revolt against a U.S. occupation force. The insurgents managed to disrupt the new American regime but their revolt was quickly suppressed, and New Mexico was afterward subjected to four years of military rule.

Summary of Event

During the twenty years prior to the outbreak of the Mexican War of 1846-1848, the northern borderland region of Mexico—which would soon become part of the United States—underwent profound changes. A breakdown in relations with Native Americans New Mexico;Native Americans , particularly the Apaches Apaches and the Comanches, Comanches resulted in such a large increase in Native Frontier, American;and Native Americans[Native Americans] American raids that whole sections of the frontier were depopulated of settlers. Unable to institute effective pacification measures, the national government in Mexico City largely abdicated responsibility for frontier defense to the northern Mexican states and territories, a task that few local governments had the resources to implement or maintain. Taos Rebellion (1847) New Mexico;Taos Rebellion Mexico;and United States[United States] Kearny, Stephen Watts Bent, Charles [kw]Taos Rebellion (Jan. 19-Feb. 3, 1847) [kw]Rebellion, Taos (Jan. 19-Feb. 3, 1847) Taos Rebellion (1847) New Mexico;Taos Rebellion Mexico;and United States[United States] Kearny, Stephen Watts Bent, Charles [g]United States;Jan. 19-Feb. 3, 1847: Taos Rebellion[2500] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Jan. 19-Feb. 3, 1847: Taos Rebellion[2500] Price, Sterling Vigil, Donaciano Tomasito

Meanwhile, U.S. influence in the borderlands was growing. In the province of New Mexico, for example, the opening of the Santa Fe Trail Santa Fe Trail in 1821 increasingly drew north-central Mexico into the economic sphere of the United States. In Mexican Texas, Texas;immigration large-scale U.S. immigration led that area to declare its independence from Mexico in 1835-1836. Texas Revolution (1835-1836) When the United States annexed Texas;annexation by United States Texas in 1845, precipitating the crisis that would lead to war with Mexico, the northern borderlands frontier of Mexico seemed acutely vulnerable to a U.S. takeover.

After the Mexican War started in May, 1846, U.S. colonel Stephen W. Kearny recruited the so-called Army of the West among enthusiastic frontier Frontier, American;and manifest destiny[Manifest destiny] supporters of manifest destiny Manifest destiny;and Mexico[Mexico] and Missouri merchants eager to expand their Mexican markets. Following the Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe Trail Kearny and sixteen hundred troops set out first for Bent’s Fort, a trading establishment just north of the Arkansas River, then the United States-Mexico border Borders, U.S.;with Mexico[Mexico] . The traders Charles and William Bent, with their partner Ceran St. Vrain, had established the post in 1833. From it, they had quickly monopolized the fur and American Indian trades of the southern Rockies and Great Plains. They also had expanded into the Santa Fe trade, operating a mercantile outlet in Taos, New Mexico, where Charles Bent had taken up residence after marrying into a prominent New Mexican family.

From Bent’s Fort, Kearny’s forces left for New Mexico, preceded by James Wiley Magoffin Magoffin, James Wiley , a Santa Fe trader acting as President James Polk’s emissary. After arriving in Santa Fe, Magoffin secretly met with New Mexico governor Manuel Armijo Armijo, Manuel and convinced him that resistance to U.S. occupation was futile. After making a show of defending his province, Armijo fled south, allowing U.S. troops to occupy New Mexico. On August 18, 1846, Kearny’s forces entered Santa Fe Santa Fe, New Mexico;U.S. occupation of , the capital.

After taking possession of Santa Fe, Kearny quickly reassured New Mexico’s sixty thousand inhabitants that U.S. rule would not threaten their persons or possessions. The Kearny Code, in conjunction with the U.S. Constitution, codified these promises and provided a legal framework for the conquered province. Kearny established a new civil government, naming Charles Bent as governor and Donaciano Vigil Vigil, Donaciano of Santa Fe as secretary, or lieutenant governor. Shortly thereafter, Kearny left for California to continue the conquest of northern Mexico. Colonel Sterling Price Price, Sterling , newly arrived from Missouri with additional troops to garrison the province, then took military command.

Kearny’s governmental appointments excluded many New Mexico ricos—members of the upper classes—who had formerly controlled the province. Several of his appointees, many of whom had traded for years in New Mexico, held land grants or interests in land grants that had been issued earlier by former governor Armijo. Their new positions of authority gave them the opportunity to expand their New Mexico holdings at the expense of the ricos, or so many ricos believed. Rumors began circulating throughout the province that the U.S. occupiers wished to register land titles, in preparation for the seizure of the ricos’ property, and to exact heavy taxes. As a territory of Mexico, New Mexico had previously been exempt from paying national taxes. Moreover, Taos Indians believed that Charles Bent also wished to acquire lands of the Pueblo de Taos.

In the midst of all this uncertainty, Tomás Ortiz Ortiz, Tomás , Diego Archuleta Archuleta, Diego (formerly Armijo’s second-in-command), and possibly Padre Antonio José Martínez Martínez, Antonio José of Taos, along with other prominent native New Mexicans, began to conspire against U.S. rule, planning an uprising. When Lieutenant Governor Vigil Vigil, Donaciano learned of the conspiracy, he quickly suppressed it. Meanwhile, however, news of the planned insurrection was sweeping through towns and communities in northern New Mexico.

On January 14, 1847, Governor Bent left for Taos (also called Don Fernando de Taos, to differentiate it from the pueblo of same name, only two miles north of the village), ignoring warnings from Vigil that such a journey might be dangerous in the volatile climate following the suppression of the conspiracy. Bent felt reasonably secure, not only because he had long resided in Taos but also because news of U.S. military victories over Mexican troops to the south, in Chihuahua, seemed to preclude the possibility of Mexican aid reaching New Mexico from that quarter.

On January 19, 1847, however, Taos Indians, led by Tomasito Tomasito , joined the insurrectionists in the village who were led by Pablo Montoya Montoya, Pablo . Together, they destroyed the homes of American settlers and attacked the residence of Charles Bent. Bent himself was killed and scalped, as were other Americans and Mexican supporters of the new regime. The insurrectionists then burned a nearby distillery at Arroyo Hondo, also operated by a U.S. citizen. Similar uprisings occurred at other northern communities, most notably at Mora, where seven more U.S. settlers, many of them Santa Fe traders, were killed.

When news of these events reached Santa Fe Santa Fe, New Mexico;U.S. occupation of , Colonel Price Price, Sterling immediately set out for Taos with 480 men and four artillery pieces, while Vigil Vigil, Donaciano took over as provisional governor and issued a proclamation denouncing the rebels. Numbering almost two thousand, the insurgents met Price’s forces on January 29, 1847, at the village of Cañada, twenty-five miles north of Santa Fe. The U.S. settlers drove the rebels toward the Pueblo de Taos, where they made their stand in the fortress-like church. On February 3, 1847, the battle resumed. Turning their artillery on the church, the U.S. forces breached the walls, forcing the insurgents out. After more fighting, the Taos Indians and their Hispanic allies eventually surrendered. The insurgents suffered losses of 150 persons. U.S. losses were seven killed and forty-seven wounded.

While Tomasito Tomasito was in custody awaiting trial, he was shot and killed by a U.S. soldier who believed he had been responsible for Bent’s murder. Pablo Montoya Montoya, Pablo and fourteen other insurgents were tried by court-martial and sentenced to death. The New Mexico civil court indicted other conspirators, who were subsequently tried for treason Treason;and Taos Rebellion[Taos Rebellion] against the United States and executed.

U.S. president James K. Polk and Secretary of War William L. Marcy Marcy, William L. later pointed out that the Mexican conspirators could not actually have been guilty of treason against the United States, as the United States and Mexico were still at war at the time of the Taos Rebellion. Nevertheless, they supported the measures taken to end the uprising and the executions of its principal leaders. Diego Archuleta fled New Mexico before he could be apprehended but later returned, took the oath of allegiance to the United States, and became active in territorial politics. Padre Martínez, against whom nothing was ever proven definitely, also escaped indictment and continued his leadership role in northern New Mexico until his death in 1867.


Although peace returned to New Mexico after the uprising, four years of military rule followed. In 1850, the Territory of New Mexico was finally established. Although Anglo-Americans tended to dominate federally appointed positions, the New Mexico ricos established firm control over the legislative assembly, largely securing their place in the new order. Other native New Mexicans, however, lost their lands to unscrupulous Anglo-American lawyers who used their knowledge of U.S. law and their political connections to undermine land guarantees given in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War. The Taos Indians lost much of their former territory during the period of U.S. rule over New Mexico.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crutchfield, James Andrew. Tragedy at Taos: The Revolt of 1847. Plano: Republic of Texas Press, 1995. First comprehensive narrative of the events at Taos. Contains valuable appendices concerning the participants, a chronology of events, casualty figures, and other items of interest.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dary, David. The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore. Reprint. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Well-written history of the Santa Fe Trail, the main path by which Americans entered New Mexico in the years leading up the Mexican War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keleher, William A. Turmoil in New Mexico, 1846-1868. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Rydal Press, 1952. Details the events leading up to the U.S. invasion of New Mexico and the subsequent occupation of the province.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mahin, Dean B. Olive Branch and Sword: The United States and Mexico, 1845-1848. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997. Diplomatic history of the Mexican War, focusing on the policies of the Polk administration and the negotiations of American diplomat Nicholas Trist.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Simmons, Marc. New Mexico: An Interpretive History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988. Chapter 4 covers the events of the occupation of New Mexico and briefly discusses the Taos Rebellion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Twitchell, Ralph Emerson. The History of the Military Occupation of the Territory of New Mexico from 1846 to 1851 by the Government of the United States. 1909. Reprint. Chicago: Rio Grande Press, 1963. Quotes extensively from government documents; provides biographical sketches of the principal participants.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weber, David J. The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982. A comprehensive overview of the Mexican borderlands before the Mexican War. Discusses the economic impact of the Santa Fe Trade, American Indian relations, the church, society, and culture.

Mexican War of Independence

Santa Fe Trail Opens

Texas Revolution

Frémont Explores the American West

United States Occupies California and the Southwest

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Ends Mexican War

California’s Bloody Island Massacre

Texas’s Cart War

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Kit Carson; John C. Frémont; James K. Polk. Taos Rebellion (1847) New Mexico;Taos Rebellion Mexico;and United States[United States] Kearny, Stephen Watts Bent, Charles

Categories: History