Turmoil on the Rio Grande: History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865

Turmoil on the Rio Grande: History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865

Turmoil on the Rio Grande: History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865

Turmoil on the Rio Grande: History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865

Synopsis

The mid-nineteenth century was a tumultuous yet formative time for the Mesilla Valley, home to present-day Las Cruces, New Mexico. With the coming of the U.S. Army to Mexican territory in 1846, the region became the site of a continent-shaping power struggle between two rival nations.
When Mexican governor Manuel Armijo unexpectedly fled Santa Fe, he left the New Mexico territory undefended, and it fell to forces under Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny in a bloodless occupation. In the ensuing two decades, the southern portion of New Mexico's Rio Grande Valley played a prominent role in the conflict that overtook the infant American territory.
In Turmoil on the Rio Grande, William S. Kiser has mined primary archives and secondary materials alike to tell the story of those rough-and-tumble years and to highlight the effect the region had in the developing U.S. empire of the West. Kiser carefully limns in the culture into which the U.S. soldiers inserted themselves before going on to describe the armed forces that arrived and the actions in which they were involved. From the thirty-minute Battle of Brazito--in which the greenhorn recruits of the 1st Regiment of Missouri Volunteers, led by Col. Alexander Doniphan, vanquished Mexican troops through superior technology--to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the international boundary disputes, and the Confederate victory at Fort Fillmore, Kiser deftly describes the actions that made the Mesilla Valley important in American history.

Excerpt

Modern visitors to the Mesilla Valley will encounter an area of bustling farming communities, the heart of which is the city of Las Cruces with a population approaching ninety thousand. the region is defined by its arid desert climate and basin-and-range topography, the presence of the Rio Grande providing the lifeblood of the area’s agricultural prosperity. Large retirement communities abound on the eastern and western sides of the valley, and New Mexico State University serves as an academic anchor for the region. the small town of Mesilla, with a population scarcely exceeding three thousand, is today a popular tourist attraction, an excellent place to immerse oneself in New Mexico culture. Yet the Mesilla Valley region of southern New Mexico has not always been this way. the mid-nineteenth century was a tumultuous yet formative time; much of what one sees today was made possible by the events of 1846–65.

The coming of the U.S. Army in 1846 and their subsequent occupation of the province brought about the final chapter in New Mexico’s history as a Hispanic entity. the decade of the 1840s had been a troubled time for relations between the United States and the Republic of Mexico, a nation that only recently had obtained its independence from Spain. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico climaxed following the U.S. annexation of Texas in 1845. On May 13, 1846, President James K. Polk encouraged Congress to declare war on Mexico, an action that proved highly controversial.

On June 22, 1846, a force of 1,586 soldiers led by a widely respected army officer, Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, took up the line of march for New Mexico. At Bent’s Fort, Kearny issued his first of many public proclamations: “The undersigned enters New Mexico with a large military force, for the purpose of seeking union and ameliorating the condition of its inhabitants. This he does under instructions from his government, and with the assurance that he will be amply sustained in the accomplishment of this object. It is enjoined on the citizens of New Mexico to remain quietly at their homes, and pursue their peaceful avocations … all who take up arms . . .

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