Copyright ©2012 by Quinn Kayser-Cochran.
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A Look Inside Glorieta
“I pray to heaven we have a war… the sooner the better.”
—John Baylor, Texas legislator and Indian agent, in correspondence, 1856
This story is based on true events.
In July 1861, during the first year of the American Civil War, firebrand Indian fighter John R. Baylor led a small party of Texans north into New Mexico Territory. Near the town of Mesilla, they routed a larger but poorly-led Federal force based at Ft. Fillmore. Following this lopsided victory, Baylor declared himself governor of the Confederate Territory of Arizona—an empire encompassing nearly everything between Texas and California.
With a Confederate foothold in the Southwest thus established, former U.S. Army officer Henry Hopkins Sibley made his way to Richmond, Virginia, where he met with Confederate president Jefferson Davis and laid out plans for a full-fledged invasion of the North American West. Sibley proposed to raise a brigade in Texas, march up the Rio Grande, and capture Santa Fe. From there he would attack Colorado Territory and seize its mines. If successful, Sibley explained, the entire Southwest—eventually even Mexico—would fall to the South. The Confederacy would have ample gold and silver for its Treasury, and Pacific ports would enable the South to bypass the Union’s Atlantic blockade. Surely these developments would hasten diplomatic recognition and badly-needed assistance from the great European powers. Davis had been told—likely by the man himself—that Sibley, a West Point graduate and career soldier, well knew the region. Further, his plan held the potential for huge gains at little risk to the Confederacy. On these exigencies, Davis commissioned Sibley a brigadier general and bid him return to Texas with orders to guide the brigade “according to circumstance and your own good judgment.”
In late October, 1861, the newly christened Army of New Mexico stepped off from San Antonio, Texas, with nearly four-thousand men and fifteen artillery pieces. Five hundred miles later, on December 17, they reached Franklin, Texas. After waiting for unusually severe winter weather to break, Sibley’s brigade crossed into southern New Mexico on January 3, 1862.
In war-rooms and parlors back East, scant attention was paid to these or any other events west of the Mississippi River. Few outside the West were ever aware of the brutal conflict that erupted along the Frontier, or that for several months in 1862, an enormous swath of the continent—and perhaps, had fate ordained, even the fate of a nation—hung in the balance.
Glorieta Pass, New Mexico Territory, March 28, 1862
Crawling slowly along the arroyo’s sandy floor, Jacob’s progress was slow. Though protruding roots tore his sleeves and scratched his face, the young captain was grateful for the furrow’s protection, certain that battalions of engineers with picks and shovels couldn’t have built a better concealment. Only inches above his head, bullets and shell fragments practically filled the air, yet none had come too close for comfort; so long as he and his fellows stayed within the arroyo, they would be safe.
Moving fitfully, Jacob tried hard not to jostle his men, hunched over rifle breeches or busy tamping loads into their muskets. He shook hands or exchanged nods with friends and to all and sundry relayed the orders that had come down from headquarters. Some of the boys had screwed their eyes shut and their prayerful hands were trembling; others looked wild-eyed and furious, their whole bodies tensed like springs. He could not guess how he looked to them. By the time he reached the trunk of an enormous pine tree, toppled across the gulch like a bridge, he was drenched in sweat and caked with dust. He dropped to his stomach, closed his eyes, and tried to fix the hillside’s features in his mind: some seventy yards away he’d seen blue-coated figures crouched behind a low stone wall, but just how many he couldn’t tell; twenty yards farther was a green wall of trees and a second stone wall. Lord, there may be hundreds up there and we will be exposed every step of the way.
Jacob opened his eyes and rolled onto his back. The air was heavy with the smell of burning sagebrush; overhead, streamers of smoke raced east beneath a restless sky. That’s pretty, he thought, though this notion was as weightless as its subject and he shook his head to clear it. Sixty, seventy yards to cover—then we’ll regroup and do it again. At least he hoped he would have that chance—Dear Lord, please let me live, but if f this is the end, please take me quickly. Please. Amen. He wondered whether these tension-filled moments his last, or perhaps a prelude to immortality. Might a victory here tip the entire war in their favor? He claimed no special ability to discern Divine Will but did not think it impossible. Then he tried to picture Adria but quickly stopped, afraid that conjuring her memory in such a wretched setting might somehow degrade it. Stop. Touching the brim of his hat for luck, he pushed these camp-thoughts aside—Concentrate. Those blue-coated figures waiting across the meadow were all that mattered. Soon he and his fellows would leave the safety of the arroyo; soon he would have to lead them. Pebbles and dirt spilled onto his shoulder and he brushed them away. Please, don’t bury us yet. He believed he was ready. He hoped so. Had to be. His heart was beating so fast that his whole body ached. God, forgive us for what we are about to do, he prayed. Forgive me for the things I have already done. Somewhere to his left someone whistled. Was that Adair? He looked up and saw that it was. God, save me. Jacob pulled his hat on tight and whistled back. Time.
Lo que no se puede remediar, hay que aguantar
(What cannot be remedied must be endured)
Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, November 17, 1861
Adria Magdelena Carrizo settled onto a bench and watched the moon rise through the leafless branches of a cherry tree. Harvest moon, bright and full. She sighed. Several times a year her father held parties to curry favor with his business associates and the city’s social elites—two groups for which she did not necessarily care. Though many guests had already departed, enough remained that the sounds of conversation and laughter still carried outside through the open windows. Adria found these events boring; rather, she loved the outdoors and its sweet, earthy smells: lathered horses, sage, and piñon—its piney scent quite heavy that evening. Wood-smoke, too, for it reminded her of wet spring Sundays when her mother was still alive and they’d stood near the kitchen fire making biscochitos: flour, salt, saleratus, lard, sugar, anise seeds, brandy, cinnamon. Manuela, the head cook, had walked on eggshells during these intrusions, for doñas such as Irinea Carrizo rarely ventured into kitchens except to accuse the servants of incompetence or theft—although nothing untoward had ever happened. Those hours had all been peaceful: the matron of the house had quietly baked cookies while her adoring little girl clung to her skirts, helping in a child’s unhelpful way.
Now almost seventeen, Adria was a lively and intelligent young woman who’d grown to resent the rigid circumscription of her world. With her mother gone, it was reasonable to expect that she would look after the welfare of her father’s many employees in the same way that the other patrones’ wives did, but he controlled the family’s finances so jealously that she was unable to effect any social or charitable acts. All that remained for her to do was to sew, play cards, and endure perfunctory visits with her peers—distractions for which her patience had worn thin. As a younger girl—and with her mother’s approval—she’d enjoyed freedoms that astonished her acquaintances: swimming in the frigid rio, gathering pine-nuts in the surrounding hills, riding horseback all across their rancho. Since her mother’s death, however, these and other liberties had vanished, leaving Adria more housebound than the servants and filled to distraction with unformed yearning.
“Ria?” a woman’s voice called from behind.
Adria chose not to reply—not out of wickedness but merely for something to do—something unscheduled, unexpected. Except that having routinized rebellion, these little fits of obstinacy were expected. She didn’t mean to anger anyone, but sometimes she just couldn’t help herself. She longed for something—anything—new. She kept her eyes fixed on the moon, nearly ascended into the clouds but still bright enough to throw shadows beneath the trees that bordered the shallow river.
“Girl,” the woman called again, “do you hear me?”
Wistfully, she recalled other things about her mother: how she’d loved a particular portrait of Adria at age five, believing that it captured the numinous light in her little girl’s eyes, and how she’d insisted that it be hung in the sala where the greatest number of guests might see it; her voice and how she loved to sing quietly as she sewed; and how, despite her husband’s trenchant disapproval, she’d deposed her mother-in-law’s santos from their nichos throughout the house and replaced them with images of Saint Ferdinand III of Castille—patron saint of prisoners and parents.
“Ria, it’s getting cold,” said her old chaperona, drawing closer. “You’ll catch your death!”
“Benéfica,” Adria whispered, “do you feel it?” With a rustling of blue taffeta, she rose from the bench and approached a set of French doors that opened onto the patio.
“The chill?” The woman pulled a richly embroidered silk shawl over the girl’s shoulders. “Sí, niña—in my bones, I feel it.”
“No.” Adria pulled the garment tight while the old woman helped smooth her long, dark hair. She turned her wide eyes back to watch the last of the moon’s bright arc disappear into the pewtery gloom. “Not that. A sound, a smell on the wind—I cannot say, exactly. Something huge—terrible, perhaps, but I believe it will be different than anything that has come before.” Different, she thought, from the way things are now.
Adria stared into the darkness while the chaperona studied her profile. Though they spent much of each day together, just then it startled Benéfica to realize how much Adria had grown to resemble her mother. Sounded like her, certainly, both in timbre and the words she chose, and anyone could see that she chafed, as her mother had, against limited expectations. But going against tradition had intensified—not remediated—Irinea’s restlessness, and Benéfica worried that soon Adria would find the same insurmountable obstacles in her own path. For though the world might change, it would not, could not do so overnight, no matter how badly bright young women wished it might.
At least not before now. Rumors that a Confederate army would overrun New Mexico were everywhere being whispered—Adria knew this, certainly. Perhaps this was the cause of her restlessness. Surely that was all. Sensing that they’d been away too long, Benéfica placed a hand on the young woman’s shoulder and guided her indoors. “Carrida, nothing good arrives on the cold wind. Now, hurry, please—the guests are all waiting and your father’s in an ill humor.”
Denver City, Colorado Territory, January 5, 1861
The letter, from a former parishioner at the Wyandotte Indian Mission in Kansas, confirmed the news that his older brother, Lewis, had been killed in battle in Missouri. A big clash, evidently: 16,000 combatants, half on each side, a few miles south of Springfield.
Seated at his desk, John Chivington let this news sink in. Papers spread before him included a third draft of the sermon he’d been writing for an upcoming service; small invoices addressed to the Rocky Mountain District of the Methodist Episcopal Church; a day-old copy of the Rocky Mountain News. His wife and young son laughed at some private joke in the next room.
Thinking that he should relay this news to his mother, Chivington opened an inkwell and stared at a blank sheet of paper, but nothing appropriate came to mind. Neither rage nor sorrow—nothing. Just as well, he thought. Lewis had sided with the Confederacy—with slavery—and the Lord had rendered the only possible verdict. Weighed in the balance and found wanting—where was the sense in mourning?
He glanced out the window where, despite a stiff wind, the spindly little trees he’d planted the previous spring refused to shed their last yellow leaves. A wood-seller’s wagon turned onto the street in front of their home. For the next several minutes Chivington stared blankly at the wind-whipped trees, thinking vaguely about an event from his Ohio childhood and about the recent troubles in Missouri and Kansas—troubles he’d witnessed first-hand.
From the other room, the sound of his boy’s laughter brought him back into himself, and he rose from the desk with the letter and envelope in-hand. He crossed the room to a woodstove, opened the grate and threw the papers inside.
Then he went out a side-door and hailed the wood-seller.
Pigeon’s Ranch, New Mexico Territory, March 28, 1862
Tappan saw the young private coming, knotted his brow, and wondered why he was away from his company. “You—get back! Get back in your line!” he shouted even before Neil Wilson arrived, panting and breathless from his run.
“Permission t’retreat, Sir!” Taking a gulp from his canteen, he’d looked Tappan in the eye and pointed east. “We are flanked—overrun! The Texans—”
“No.” Tappan pointed north. “You and MacInnes must stay where you are! Don’t move until I hear from Colonel Slough.”
“Colonel’s gone, Sir!” Verging on panic, Wilson didn’t care that he’d sprayed Tappan with spit. “Ranch is overtaken and Slough’s flown east—if ye haven’t heard from him, ye won’t now!” As an afterthought, he turned and looked west. “Where’s Major Chivington?”
“On his way,” Tappan snapped, “any moment.” Then he noticed that the artillery had gone silent—for the first time since breakfast, he could hear magpies calling harshly from the treetops. He glanced toward the setting sun, downhill through gold-shrouded trees and noticed that the trail swarmed with men. What’s he seen? He grabbed Wilson by the elbow, shouted for his adjutant to follow, and ran north.
As they passed other companies, their captains begged for instruction, but Tappan could only shout at them to remain where they were. “I’ll return! Stay in your lines—stay where you are!”
They crossed the logging road that Claflin had used to bring his small howitzers forward and saw another set of tracks signifying that these had been withdrawn. All along this track were gunners’ accoutrements: fuse punches, a leather water bucket, a tompion, fuse gimlets, a broken limber chest—evidently dropped in great haste. Shaken to pieces, Tappan ran faster, over the rocks and fallen timber that carpeted the ridge’s crest, fearful that they’d already been trapped, desperate to learn the truth.
“See?” Wilson practically sobbed, and Tappan began to run faster.
In the gloom ahead, sounds betrayed where Peter’s company had taken up a skirmish line behind another low rock wall. Most were busy with their makings; a few muskets crackled and flared. On the hill’s crest, Tappan finally saw what’d happened—saw hordes of Texans preparing to charge the hill. He shouted for the Pinebark Independents to fall back. Then he and his adjutant ran south again to rally other companies for similar actions. “Trail gets cut,” Tappan cried, “head for the flats above! We’ll re-form there and move east together!”
Hay fired his musket once and though he’d hardly bothered to aim, he struck a Texan support in the hip and knocked him down. “Pete!” he shouted, “they’ll kill us!”
“Go, man! Go!” Peter looked over the hotel yard and saw that the Texans had unlimbered two howitzers and were working to elevate the barrels. Not eager to face artillery at less than sixty yards, he shouted again before others had even reached their intended positions: “No, don’t stop! Christ, they’re upon us! Through t’the ditch!”
“Where away?” someone shouted, and Peter gestured wildly in reply.
“Uptail, now! Now! Fall back, boys—back!” Peter glanced over his shoulder just as one of the howitzers flashed and threw a case-round into the trees ahead of their retreat. The Coloradans flung themselves to the dirt seconds before the shell detonated; all of them felt its heat wash over them and heard the heavy summer hail of leads balls striking the dirt. Two of these struck Neil Wilson: one passed through his right hand, breaking bones as it went, and though another struck his skull and knocked him unconscious, it did not penetrate. The others scrambled to their feet and crested the ridge before the second gun was fired. “To the ditch!” Peter barked. “All together! Dogs and devils are upon us!”
… More in Glorieta
North of the Village of Las Trampas, New Mexico Territory, April 9, 1862
Adria pinched her horse’s nostrils to keep it from nickering to the others on the road below. She leaned against the trunk of a huge ponderosa and wished for more cover—wished that locals hadn’t logged the hillside so heavily. Now there was nowhere to run, no way to hide; she would be safe only if she held still and the two men there did not look up.
Her horse stepped on a branch and one of the men’s mounts looked toward the sound. Its rider, too, looked up, swept the woods with his eyes and lit on the incongruity of Adria’s profile against a deep green backdrop. Quickly, he reined in and whistled to the other rider.
Adria stepped uphill of the big tree and pressed her back against the bark. My God, why? Why did they follow? Since daybreak she’d been aware that men were behind her. When first she’d glimpsed them, they’d been almost five miles back but within an hour they’d gained on her despite the fact that she’d pressed her animal as hard as she’d dared. Now they’d caught her on a hillside a few miles south of the small village of Las Trampas. She did not recognize the Indian who’d whistled, but she’d known that the other rider was Felix even before he’d turned uphill to look.
“Adria!” he called. “Come on, no one’s gonna hurt you!” He dismounted and threw his animal’s reins over a tree branch. The Indian rode ahead toward the mouth of the ravine that Adria herself had followed uphill.
“Leave me alone!” she shouted. She checked the shotgun to see that both barrels were loaded and dug in a saddlebag for the revolver only to find that it was too deeply buried for quick retrieval. She glanced around the tree, saw that Felix had left his rifle tied to his saddle, and prayed that he wasn’t carrying a pistol.
“Adria, this is silly,” he yelled as he walked straight uphill, straight toward her. He grabbed a branch to pull himself up a particularly steep stretch and his boots scrambled to find purchase in the deep carpet of pine needles. “Your father’s worried about you—I’m worried, too. You didn’t have to run.” He stepped sideways in pursuit of a better view, unable to see anything more than Adria’s left leg and shoulder behind the tree.
“I won’t go back, Felix—I will not go.”
Felix stopped, the fronts of his feet balanced on a narrow rock ledge, his heels out over the short drop. “Why not? What do you have against me?”
“Nothing—leave me alone!” Adria’s horse stamped nervously and pulled against its reins, anxious to get free.
He glanced toward the ravine into which his partner had disappeared and then back uphill. “Why are you doing this?” he said. “Mira, another storm’s coming—we must get off this mountain. The don wants you home—I want you home. Girl, why won’t you listen?”
Adria, too, glanced over at the ravine and guessed that by then the Indian had attained the same elevation as she, though he was nowhere to be seen. She choked back a mouthful of bile and took a huge breath to steady her nerves. Her heart beat so rapidly that it hurt. “Leave me alone, Felix. Leave me alone or—”
“Or what? Girl, you don’t have a say!” He took another step uphill and stood on a massive tree stump. “Hey, Tipo,” he shouted, “bring your rope!”
Adria hugged the shotgun tightly to her chest, her palms slippery with sweat. Her horse whinnied and the Indian’s animal answered, uphill and to her right. She listened for signs that Felix was moving. Hearing none, again she scanned the ridgeline. Where had the other man gone?
Felix yawned. He stepped down from the stump and walked sideways across the hill until he stood directly below Adria and the tree. “You don’t like me, do you, amor?”
She could just see him out of the corner of her eye and judged that he was about forty feet away. Slowly she lifted the shotgun in parallel with her body so that when the need came she could aim it quickly. There! She saw a flicker of movement in the woods above but realized it was only the ears of the Indian’s horse—she could not find Billy himself. A small rock skittered downhill on her left. She glanced that direction, several degrees from where she’d spotted the horse but still there was no sign. God, please, show me where he is.
… More in Glorieta
Spring Canyon, New Mexico Territory, April 29, 1862
They followed a faint trail eastward and just after sunset found themselves on a low hill above a tiny settlement. Jacob counted twenty-one adobe houses among numerous smaller sheds and barns, many surrounded by coyote fences. A donkey brayed on the village’s far side. Corn and bean fields had been scratched into the pinkish soil, as well as what appeared to be squash or melon patches, though these had only just sprouted. No one was about and except for the smoke rising above the chimneys, the place looked deserted. A large herd of sheep was penned behind the nearest farmstead. However, a dog barked from somewhere in that direction, and since the pen was judged too near the house, the Texans decided instead to pilfer a chicken or grain from one of the outlying sheds. Volunteering, Spence and Birch unshouldered their muskets and started down.
“Just enough for tonight,” Jacob whispered. “Don’t get greedy.”
The others carried Kirby farther up the trail. A light appeared in one of the distant houses, and though Jacob and Goodman held their breath, eventually they decided that there was no cause for alarm. Still, looking about, Jacob had an uneasy feeling that the darkness was no longer their friend.
Spence pointed to a likely-looking corncrib. Birch tried the door, found it locked, and reached between one of the slats to try and work it loose. Then he flinched and ground his molars together to keep from crying out. “Jesus, no,” Birch hissed, “I’m stuck!” Frustrated by a raccoon’s persistent raids, the granary’s owner had driven sharpened nails at forty-five degrees to the lath surrounding the latch: anyone or anything that reached inside would’ve been caught. When he attempted to loosen the rigid wooden strips, it only made things worse and he stopped before the nails bit deeper into his hand. He motioned for help and Spence reluctantly abandoned his lookout.
“Quiet,” Spence growled, “let me see.” He tried to lift the boards without piercing his own fingers, but the broken bone in his own hand weakened him and the wood wouldn’t give. First the dog in the sheep’s’ pen began to bark, and then other joined in.
“C’mon,” Birch pleaded, “hurry!”
“Trying, goddamit—shut up!” Spence strained mightily, stabbing his own fingers in the process, but the harder he pulled the deeper the opposing nails dug into the back of Birch’s hand.
“God, you’re killing me,” Birch moaned, but Spence kept at it until he managed to lift one nail free from his comrade’s palm.
“Try and turn your hand now so it don’t get stuck again,” Spence whispered. “Think I can get the others loose if that damned dog don’t first wake the dead.” The barking grew louder, however, and the Texans’ anxiety increased; both nearly shouted when Jacob suddenly appeared. Birch’s hand was re-impaled on the first nail and he bit his other knuckle to keep from screaming.
“What the hell?” Jacob hissed and knelt alongside.
“Coon trap,” Spence whispered. “Help me press down the bottom lath—it has more give.” Jacob set his musket down and tried to help, but it was no use: Birch’s hand was hopelessly pinned. The more they pulled one direction, the tighter the nails bit from the other. “Not many get outta this one,” Spence said, gesturing at numerous animal pelts tacked to the wall above Birch’s head.
“He’s gonna be the first,” Jacob promised. Agonized and bleeding profusely, Birch could only close his eyes and moan.
Spence looked helplessly at Jacob. “What now?”
“I see the nail heads,” Jacob whispered. He peered into the gap and felt carefully along its length. “Think I can pry ’em loose from the other direction. Either of you have a knife?”
Spence said no, and Birch shook his head.
“Then keep quiet—I’ll be back in a moment.”
Although the boys nodded, Birch began to cry. “Sorry, man, I can’t help it.”
“Hold fast,” Jacob said.
“Can’t help it,” Birch repeated. “Can’t believe I’m gonna die here—like this. Go on, boys—this is too much.”
Spence leaned his musket against the shed, settled his back against its wall, and clasped Birch’s free hand. “Tommy,” he whispered, “Look at me—look: no matter what happens, I will not leave you.” Birch nodded and then Spence closed his eyes and began to pray harder than he ever had before.
Jacob picked up his musket, briefly laid his hand on the top of each man’s head, and then ran back uphill as quickly and quietly as he could. He slashed his shins on the sagebrush that overhung the trail—ran until he was breathless and sweat soaked his tattered shirt.
Behind him, the dogs’ howls intensified and then he heard a shotgun’s unmistakable boom. Someone shouted—Birch, Jacob thought—and another weapon discharged. Birch cried out again but this time the sound was cut short and a shocked silence fell over the village.
Jacob’s pulse thundered in his ears. He pivoted and flattened his body against the side of a sod-roofed shed beside the trail. Glancing uphill, he saw Goodman descending cautiously and whispered his name.
“Captain?” Wide-eyed and trembling, Goodman lifted his musket and continued downhill until he was standing within the shed’s moonshadow. “What happened?” he whispered and the fear in his voice so plain that Jacob made an effort to mask his own.
“Get Briggs and head south, fast as you can!” From down in the village came the sound of slammed doors and footfalls. Several voices were shouting at once, angry, frightened, indistinct. Jacob put a hand on Goodman’s shoulder and gripped it tightly. “Hide if you hear anyone coming. All night if you have to—”
“What about you?”
Jacob tamped a cartridge into his musket, tucked the stock beneath his armpit, and wrapped its shoulder-strap around his forearm. “I’ll catch up as soon as I can. Take my canteen.”
“How long do I wait for y’all?”
“Don’t,” Jacob said. Across the field more dogs began to bark and howl and someone shouted something that neither Texan understood. “Fast as you can, get down to the river.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Gonna see if Spence or Birch are still alive. Look, find Briggs and wave a white flag at anyone you see down on the river road—Lord willing, they’ll be Yankees. Promise me you’ll look after Briggs.”“I will.”
“Okay—” Jacob shook Goodman’s hand, “—good luck.” Still crouched, Jacob turned and ran back toward the village. He moved hurriedly between the buildings and ducked around corners. Stopping to listen, he heard nothing, saw nothing. From the sound of it, he guessed that the dogs were moving away, up the creekbed. No voices, no footfalls—no crickets for that matter. Something felt off; the village had gone completely silent. He knelt and glanced quickly to his left. Still nothing. He pulled the musket’s hammer back. A twig cracked on his left and he looked up. At the edge of his vision a shadow shifted. There was a faint whoosh as though a bird had swooped past and then the night exploded.