More to Explore
Letter from Soldier in Stephen Watts Kearny’s Army
Rio Vigela, 30 miles south of Santa Fe
August 22d 1846
My Dearest Wife,
You will see by the date of this letter that we have at length arrived at the long sought for place, Santa Fe. On the 18th Gen. Kearny took formal possession of the capitol of the province without having fired a single gun. On the next morning I with half of my company was sent to this place on detached service. Our march after the date of my last letter to you was the same unvaried monotony until within five days travel of Santa Fe. When the whole company was thrown into a state of excitement by the arrival of a mail bag and letter from Gov. Armijo, in the letter the Gov. informed Gen. K. “that he had advanced as far into the Mexican territory as he could with safety. And that he called upon him to retreat immediately – but if he did not that he would meet him at the Vigela stream about 20 miles off and give him battle.” To this Gen. K. made a characteristic reply that he would meet Gov. A. at the [?]. You can well imagine the excitement created in camp by this interchange of civilities; every one expected a fight certain. And sure enough the next day the enemy advanced to within three miles of our encampment determined to oppose our passage through the narrow gap in the mountains.
In 1846 the United States claimed as its territory the land between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, by virtue of prior claim by the newly-annexed Republic of Texas. By the same token, so too did it maintain that the annexation of Texas gave the U.S. title to what is now the eastern half of present-day New Mexico. Near the end of July they reached Bent's Fort, a private, fortified trading post located in present-day southern Colorado. There, on July 31st, Kearney issued a proclamation, in advance of entering New Mexico, in which he announced he was at the head of a large military force which intended to occupy that department for the purpose of "seeking union with and ameliorating the condition of its inhabitants." The Mexican governor of New Mexico, General Manuel Armijo, learning that Kearney was on the march and of his pronouncement at Bent's Fort, responded on August 8th by issuing his own proclamation at Santa Fé, in which he declared he was "willing to sacrifice his life and all his interests in the defense of his country." Hoping to take New Mexico without shedding blood, Kearney sent out from Bent's Fort, ahead of his main force, James W. Magoffin, a veteran Santa Fé trader. He was accompanied by Lt. Philip St. George Cooke and a small dragoon escort. At Santa Fé Cooke was received publicly by Armijo, who later that night met secretly with both Cooke and Magoffin. During this meeting, Cooke later wrote, he was made to understand Governor Armijo's "disinclination to actual resistance." Whether or not this means Armijo was bribed, as some historians have maintained, is uncertain. However, by the time Kearney's forces reached the mountain pass near Santa Fé, where a New Mexican force, said to have numbered 4,000 men was supposed to have assembled to resist the American advance, Armijo's army had disappeared - along with the governor himself. On August 18, 1846, the "Army of the West" was able to ride unopposed into Santa Fé and take possession of the capital without firing a shot. Kearney's first official act, after headquartering himself in the old Spanish governor's palace recently vacated by Armijo, was to issue a proclamation declaring that New Mexico was now part of the United States. A few days later he issued orders for the building of an adobe-brick fortress, to be constructed on a hill overlooking the town. Completed about a month later, it was called Fort Marcy in honor of the U.S. Secretary of the War.