A TRAGEDY AT THE PALACE

By Marc Simmons

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The date Sept. 6, 1844, was one that Santa Fe residents would long remember. On that day a bloody battle with the Ute Indians occurred on the Plaza, and New Mexico's Gov. Mariano Martinez narrowly escaped assassination.

Martinez had been in office only a few months, having been sent from Mexico City by the central government. The 36-year-old governor was something of an aristocrat, his parents being immigrants from Spain. Arriving in this provincial capital, he went straight to work putting local affairs in order. He introduced civil and military reforms and even embarked on a municipal beautification program, planting trees and construct-ing the first public park, La Alameda, where the National Cemetery is today. His attractive wife, Dona Teresita, undertook significant works of charity, providing food and clothing for the poor.

On the afternoon of Sept. 5, a delegation of six Ute chiefs with an escort of 108 warriors arrived in the capital. They were in an ugly mood, claiming that settlers on the Chama frontier had recently attacked their villages. They were demanding compensation for damages they said were done by the Chama settlers.

Such a large force of armed Indians in their midst caused much uneasiness among the Santa Fe folk. Officials informed the chiefs that the governor would receive them in the Palace on the following morning. All night the Indians stayed up holding a dance. A resident long afterward would say: "They kept the people in constant alarm with their warlike songs and continual clamor until dawn."

Martinez had sent over a generous supply of mutton, bread and tobacco that was all consumed quickly. But it seemed not to have improved the disposition of the painted visitors. Shortly after sunup the chiefs and several warriors headed for the Palace. Under the portal they exchanged angry words with the guards, and as an act of disdain they tossed into the street some gifts given them earlier by Martinez.

An official report says the delegation now was invited into the governor's office for a conference, but the citizens swore that the Utes forced their way in. Martinez received the unruly band and tried to calm them. The excited chiefs began to insult him and make huge demands. These he rejected. Then the head chief approached and began to pound him on the chest.

The governor shoved him away, and all the Indians suddenly produced tomahawks from under their blankets. When they charged him, Martinez used his office chair in self-defense and began to yell at the top of his lungs. His wife, Dona Teresita, heard the commotion and rushed into the room carrying her husband's sword. After she tossed it to him, he was able to beat back the assailants until his orderlies arrived.

Some of the Utes broke through the shuttered window, providing them an avenue of escape. Once in the Plaza they uttered piercing war whoops that summoned the warriors still camped in the vacant lot. By now, though, a squadron of Vera Cruz dragoons stationed adjacent to the Palace were streaming out of their barracks to join the fray. The historic Santa Fe Plaza suddenly became a furious battleground.

Martinez later wrote: "Various citizens joined the guards and commenced a fight which ended in eight deaths, in spite of everything I could do to stop this tragedy."

The Utes fled down San Francisco Street and out of the city, with 50 soldiers dragging a cannon in full pursuit. It was several days before Santa Feans calmed down enough to remove the bodies that lay scattered downtown. Everyone, it seems, had his own story to tell about the startling episode.

A war with the Utes followed, but the brunt of it fell on the exposed settlers in the Chama Valley, the very people who had started the trouble in the first place. Gov. Martinez was recalled from office in March 1845. He died on Dec. 18, 1854, at Saltillo, Mexico, where he was serving as the governor of Coahuila.

See Marc Simmons's "Massacre on the Lordsburg Road: A Tragedy of the Apache Wars" (Texas A&M University Press.) Amazon.com

 

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