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Thomas F. Bowler

Born: 1826 1826 - Died: 10-15-1871 10-15-1871

Thomas F. Bowler

By Rick Hendricks, Ph.D.

Born in Virginia about 1826, Thomas F. Bowler was living in Santa Fe in mid-December 1850 when the United States Federal Census was enumerated.[1] At the time of the census, Bowler was described as a clerk living in the same household as the merchants James Josiah Webb and William Sluman Messervy (who did business together as the firm of Messervy and Webb), and another clerk named José Herrera. Although he first appears in the historical record as an employee of Messervy and Webb, Bowler is best known as proprietor of the one of the storied establishments in Santa Fe.

The southeast corner of the Santa Fe plaza has long been the site of a hostelry for travelers (perhaps since the days of the Spaniards) and at the time the terminus of the Santa Fe Trail.  In 1807 Zebulon Pike noted a thriving inn in Santa Fe. After the United States’ occupation of New Mexico in 1846, off-duty soldiers spent time at a private residence that was leased as a hotel, which they referred to as the Santa Fe House.[2]  A hotel known as the United States Hotel operated at that location. The establishment reopened after renovation and expansion of the premises in June 1847.[3] The property subsequently changed hands several times, but Thomas F. Bowler and Reuben Frank Green almost certainly operated it for some of these owners before purchasing it outright for themselves, and they might be responsible for renaming it the Exchange Hotel. William S. Messervy purchased the property on 1 April 1854 from Charles Blummer, but he did not remain in New Mexico and returned to his native Massachusetts. [4] Messervy rented the hotel to Bowler or $100 a month.[5]

Around 1854, Bowler married María Refugia de Altagracia Newman, the daughter of José Rafael Newman and Maria Altagracia Esquibel, in Santa Fe. Together they had six children: Eliza Refugio, Ellen Grayson, and George W. , Harriet Lee, Albert Gillis, and Robert Heazlet Bowler.[6]  As was their mother, Eliza and Ellen were born in New Mexico. On 22 December 1856, Thomas and Refugia purchased from Donanciano Vigil and his wife, Refugio Sánchez, a lot and house that would come to be known as Bowler’s Garden.[7]

Messervy and his wife, Lucy Jane, were living in Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts when they sold the Exchange Hotel to Bowler for $5,000 on 5 November 1857.[8] Messervy had dictated the terms of the sale in a letter to John M. Kingsbury of the firm of Webb and Kingsbury in early September 1857. He agreed to sell the Exchange because of his regard for Bowler and “his kindness to my sisters and his faithfulness to me.”[9] Frank Green wrote to James Josiah Webb in May 1858 and related that he and Bowler had added a fine dining room and cellar to the Exchange Hotel.[10] The new dining room accommodated seventy-five at a sitting, and business was so good that some lodgers had to wait for a second sitting.[11] Lacking experienced staff, Green traveled to Chihuahua and returned with two expert bartenders, a half a dozen waiters, and a Mexican band.[12] The Exchange Hotel was also the scene of other types of entertainment. On the occasion of a rainy and stormy night a group that styled itself the “Santa Fe Ethiopian Minstrels” (formerly the New York Ethiopian Minstrels) performed to a packed house.[13] One of their numbers was a new song, “Bowler and Green,” performed for the first time by a Mr. Thompson to loud applause.

Kingsbury reported to Webb in January 1859 that Bowler had sold his and Frank Green’s interest in the Exchange Hotel to Leonard J. Rose, a native of Iowa, for $5,000 down to be followed by a series of additional partial payments.[14] Rose was to take over ownership in March 1859, but Bowler was to retain possession of the property and rent it to Rose at $100 a month for three years with an option for an additional five years. Bowler was to keep Bowler’s Garden for the use of the mail service.

As stipulated in the agreement his agreement with Bowler, Rose took over the Exchange Hotel in March.[15] Thomas and Refugia mortgaged the hotel, which they referred to as “the Fonda or American Exchange,” and other property in Santa Fe on 5 June 1859 to Simeon Hart of El Paso.[16] Whether this was done with the knowledge of Rose is unclear. Also included were the stations and stock belonging to the El Paso and Santa Fe mail line. By the terms of the mortgage, the Bowlers gave Hart a deed in trust for Hart’s wife, Jesusita, in exchange for $11,800, which was to be repaid on 25 June 1860 in El Paso. If the mortgage was not paid, Hart would sell the property. The Bowlers were late in meeting the mortgage but paid it off in full in September 1860. At the time Bowler was considering heading to Washington, D. C., to see to his claim relating to the mail service between Santa Fe and El Paso.[17]

By June 1860 Bowler had also secured appointment to sutlerships at three military camps: Pawnee Fork on the Arkansas River, Fort Butler, and Fort Fauntleroy at Bear Springs in Navajo country.[18] This activity was the cause of much consternation for his creditors, Webb and Kingsbury, who believed he was getting involved in too many activities that would end up losing money.

In 1858 Bowler and Green had won the contract to deliver the mail from Santa Fe to El Paso. The contract called for semimonthly service, but Green anticipated that the frequency would soon increase to once a week. On Saturday, 10 July 1858, Bowler inaugurated mail and stagecoach service from Santa Fe to El Paso.[19]  Meanwhile The Santa Fe Weekly Gazette incorrectly announced that the mail would depart the following day under a contract with Messrs. Bowers & Co.[20] The first coach departed at 8 a. m. with Joseph W. Corkins, conductor, carrying as passengers Elias Brevoort and a Mr. Godfrey.  Years later Brevoort penned an influential work entitled New Mexico, Her Natural Resources and Attractions: Being a Collection of Facts, Mainly Concerning Her Geography, Climate, Population, Schools, Mines and Minerals, Agricultural and Pastoral Capacities, Prospective Railroads, Public Lands, and Spanish and Mexican Land Grants  (Santa Fe: E. Brevoort, 1874). Mr. Godfrey was probably Frederick C. Godfroy who was Indian Agent at Fort Stanton from 1876 to1879.[21] The fare for passage to El Paso when the service began was $30, which Brevoort and Godfrey paid in full to Bowler before departure.

Bowler’s last run on the Santa Fe—El Paso line departed Santa Fe for points south en route to El Paso on 27 August 1860. This final run ended in disaster. Three days after leaving Santa Fe, when the stage was eighteen miles from Paraje on the public road in Socorro County, Navajos attacked.[22] They took or destroyed eight mules and their gear, a rifle, a shotgun, two pistols, a coach, a saddle, a bit, a musket, provisions, and money. The items taken had been in the charge of William Devers when Navajos killed him and the driver, Francisco Montoya . On 3 September the firm of Elsberg and Amberg had taken over the service of the stage line, which Bowler sold the firm for $15,000.[23]

In addition the Santa Fe-El Paso mail run, Bowler and Green also pursued another mail delivery contract. On 21 May 1858 the United States Post Office Department entered into a contract with Bowler to carry the mail from Neosho, Missouri, to Albuquerque for the sum of $17,000 per year for a period of four years.[24] The service was to begin on 1 October or 1 November. R. Frank Green accompanied the first mail run, which arrived in Neosho on 15 October 1858 and was duly noted in an extra edition of the Herald.[25] The editors also sent best wishes to the people and press of Albuquerque. The very next day the coaches began their return trip to New Mexico. They crossed into the territory stopping first at Antón Chico then on to Albuquerque. From there they continued on to Santa Fe where they arrived on Sunday, 2 January 1859.

Besides the accompanying baggage wagons, there were four of decidedly the finest passenger coaches we have ever seen in the Territory, each bearing prominently on the side in gold letters the words “T. F. Bowler, U. S. Mail,” with their respective names lettered behind.

Once the service began Bowler continued faithfully and promptly delivering the mail between Neosho and Albuquerque until 15 August 1859.[26] On 17 May, however, the Post Office Department had informed him that his contract would be annulled on 1 July 1859 because Congress had failed to appropriate funds to continue the mail service. Bowler petitioned Congress for redress to compensate him for damages and losses in the amount of $81,807. After consideration by the Committee of Post Offices and Post Roads, the committee determined that Bowler was entitled to $32,844.33 and recommended payment. The committee further recommended that he be granted preemption rights to 640 acres of land. Unfortunately for Bowler, the favorable committee report was reversed in January 1873.[27]

Late in 1860 or early in 1861, Bowler mortgaged the Exchange and Bowler’s Garden to Joe Mercure for $5,000.[28] Out of the mail contracting business and with money to pay pressing bills and for travel, Bowler headed east to the other end of the Santa Fe Trail and established his family in Kansas City, Missouri, presumably with his mother who lived there.[29] There, on 24 May 1861, Refugia Bowler executed a power of attorney naming William A. Street of Santa Fe to act on her behalf to sell her dower right in the Exchange Hotel and in a house and lot known as Bowler’s Garden, which was occupied at the time by R. Frank Green.[30] Thomas and Refugio were back in Santa Fe on 27 June 1861 when they sold Bowler’s Garden to Charles L. Thayer for $3,500.[31] They also sold the Exchange Hotel, receiving $6,700 from Charles G. Parker for the property.[32] Back again in Missouri again, Bowler purchased a tract of land in Hubbard’s Addition of Kansas City on 17 May 1862.[33] He sold the same tract to future Mesilla Valley pioneer Thomas Casad in late April 1864 for the sum of $3,000. The deed of sale indicated that Bowler was acting as trustee of his children and heirs, Eliza, Ellen, and George.

Sometime after selling out in Kansas City, Bowler and his family relocated to Montana. Bowler was a member of the unofficial 1866 constitutional convention of Montana as a representative of Jefferson County.[34] The most important town in Jefferson County was Boulder. It was founded in the 1860s as a stagecoach stop on the line between Virginia City, the original capital of Montana, and Fort Benton, which may explain Bowler’s presence in the territory. His son, Albert, was born in Montana in about 1864, and another son, Robert, was born there around 1866.

Bowler and his family were residing in San Diego when the 1870 census was enumerated there on 2 July.[35] Bowler was described as a farmer with a personal estate valued at $500. Thomas F. Bowler died in San Diego on 15 October 1871.

New Mexico Stephen Benton Elkins introduced legislation in January 1874 for the relief of the Refugio M. Bowler, widow of Thomas F. Bowler, to authorize compensation in the amount of $3,116 for the value items lost in the Navajo raid on the Santa Fe-El Paso stagecoach on 30 August 1860.[36] The act had its first and second readings, was referred to the Commission on Indian Affairs, and ordered printed.



[1] United States Federal Census, City of Santa Fe, Territory of New Mexico, 1850.

[2] Michael Wallis and Jack Parsons, Heaven's Window: A Journey Through Northern New Mexico (Portland, Ore.: Graphic Arts Center Pub, 2001), 35-36.

[3] Robert J. Tórrez,  UFOs Over Galisteo and Other Stories of New Mexico's History (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004), 120..

[4] William S. Messervy to Thomas F. Bowler, Deed, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 5 November 1857, NMSCRA, Santa Fe County Deed Book B, 319-20.

[5] Jane Lenz Elder and David J. Weber, eds., Trading in Santa Fe: John M. Kingsbury’s Correspondence with James Josiah Webb, 1853-1861 (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press/De Goyler Library, 1996), 42 n21.

[6] United States Federal Census, City of San Diego, California, 1970.

[7] Thomas F. and Refugio Bowler to Charles L. Thayer, Deed, Santa Fe, 27 June 1861, NMSCRA, Santa Fe County Deed Book C, 298-99.

[8] William S. Messervy to Thomas F. Bowler, Deed, Santa Fe, 5 November 1857, NMSCRA, Santa Fe County Records, Deed Book B, 319-20.

[9] Elder and Weber, eds., Trading in Santa Fe, 65 n21.

[10] R. Frank Green to James Josiah Webb, Santa Fe, 13 May 1858, NMSRCA, James Josiah Webb Papers (Photocopies).

[11] Elder and Weber, eds., Trading in Santa Fe, 105.

[12] W. H. H. Allison, “Santa Fe in 1846,” in Old Santa Fe: A Magazine of History, Archaeology, Genealogy and Biography. Santa Fe: Old Santa Fe Press, 1913), 401-402.

[13] Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, 26 February 1859.

[14] Elder and Weber, eds., Trading in Santa Fe, 140.

[15] Ibid., 150.

[16] Thomas and Refugia Bowler to Simeon Hart, Deed in Trust, Santa Fe, 5 June 1859, NMSRCA, Bernalillo County Records, Deed Book D, page 1-9.

[17] Elder and Weber, eds., Trading in Santa Fe, 261.

[18] Ibid., 237, 239.

[19] Way Bill Ledger Book of a U. S. Mail Stage Line, NMSCRA; and Tórrez, UFOs Over Galisteo, 101-103.

[20] Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, 10 July 1858.

[21] Lee Scott Theisen and Frank Warner Angel,“Frank Warner Angel's Notes on New Mexico Territory 1878,” Arizona and the West, 18: 4 (winter 1976): 353.

[22] Daily New Mexican, 18 March 1874.

[23] Way Bill Ledger Book of a U. S. Mail Stage Line, NMSCRA; and Elder and Weber, eds., Trading in Santa Fe, 252.

[24] “36th Congress, 1st Session, House of Representatives, Report No. 339,” Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives made During the First Session of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, 1859-’60 (Washington, D. C.: Thomas H. Ford, Printer, 1860), 1-2.

[25] “The Albuquerque and Neosho Mail,” Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, 8 January 1859.

[26]“36th Congress, 1st Session, House of Representatives, Report No. 339.”

[27] Elder and Weber, eds., Trading in Santa Fe, 194 n44.

[28] Ibid., 269.

[29] Ibid., 34 n80.

[30] Refugio Bowler to William A. Street, Kansas City, 24 May 1861, Santa Fe County Deed Book C, 297-98.

[31] Thomas L. and Refugio Bowler to Thayer.

[32] Thomas L. and Refugio Bowler to Charles G. Parker, Deed, Santa Fe, 27 June 1861, Santa Fe County Deed Book C, 299-301.

[33] Thomas F. Bowler to Thomas Casad, Deed, Kansas City, 29 April 1864, Kansas City Genealogical Society microfilm, Deed Book 41: 308-310.

[34] Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana; with its Transactions, Act of Incorporation, Constitution, Ordinances, Officers and Members (Helena: State Publishing Company, State Printers and Binders, 1896), 2: 394.

[35] United States Federal Census, City of San Diego, California, 1870.

[36] Daily New Mexican, 31 January and 18 March 1874.