In New Mexico, Union Troops Have Been Cancelled

By Steve Haner

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, when the wave of historical monuments destruction hit three years ago, it was a memorial to Civil War Union soldiers that was toppled by a mob.

There were Union soldiers out in what was then a sparsely populated territory? Yes, the Civil War reached that far. Santa Fe was briefly occupied by Confederate troops from Texas in 1862, for about a month. A couple of battles (skirmishes by eastern standards) were fought on its territory, the final one just 25 miles from town at Glorietta Pass.

The forces loyal to the Union, including the famous Christopher “Kit” Carson as a leading officer, were commemorated with the standard obelisk in Santa Fe’s beautiful Plaza, near the restored Spanish colonial-era Palace of the Governors. The obelisk was broken and what remains is the ugly box covering the pedestal you see above, an empty stand missing a plaque and a sign providing “context” put up by the city’s Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth (CHART) Commission.

Why was a Union monument vandalized? Because the soldiers were also praised for participating in battles against “savage” local indigenous populations. At the same time, memorials in town to the aforementioned Carson were also removed, along with a statue of the Spanish colonial governor who reconquered the territory after a successful 1680 Indian revolt. That statue was removed from the grounds of the Cathedral of St. Francis.

As you learn at the museum in his former residence in Taos, Carson both befriended and fought with the various tribes of the west through his career. His first wife was Arapaho and his second from the Cheyenne tribe. The new biography Blood and Thunder is now on my reading list.

The parallels and differences between New Mexico and Virginia are fascinating. Santa Fe became the territorial capital in 1610, and the state’s excellent historical museum acknowledges that was three years after the founding of Jamestown (thank you). But Santa Fe has remained the capital and many original structures were preserved, whereas Jamestown disappeared and had to be excavated – the parts not under water.

In New Mexico, the unpleasant history is about the displacement and exploitation of the various tribes. Virginia has a similar history of mistreatment of its tribes, but the use of enslaved African laborers and their continued disenfranchisement and suppression until recent decades has overshadowed that story.

Another striking difference is how modern New Mexico now celebrates that tribal history. Indian art, music and artifacts are everywhere, and one loses count of the number of tribe-affiliated casinos dotting the landscape. Only tribal artisans can sell on the sidewalk beside the Palace of the Governors. Within the museums, the stories of the tribes, the Spanish and then the wave of American immigrants – the good and the bad – are reported dispassionately.  It is history.

Click to expand and you can read the list of extinct tribes.

At the visitor’s desk at the new (1966) New Mexico Capitol Building a few blocks from the old Plaza, we were advised to check out a memorial remembering the various North American indigenous tribes that no longer exist. Plenty of Virginia and North Carolina tribal names are included. Other statues on the property portray the original New Mexicans.

(Side note: That is a fantastic capitol building, round, with both House and Senate chambers set up like semi-circular theaters. The artwork in its hallways rivals any art museum in the world and is certainly the best collection in Santa Fe. They are mainly modern pieces, a stark contrast to the collection of older paintings in our capitol.)

Long before the first Spanish conquistador rode up the Rio Grande into the area, those tribes on the memorial were warring on each other, taking slaves or merely raiding for food or animals. People were driven off the most attractive farmland, and the hilltop or cliffside pueblos were built because those places were defensible. Some of those tribes disappeared before the Europeans arrived, and the diseases spread by European arrival probably did most of the next wave of destruction.

You can find that history in the museums, too. There was no push to remove that memorial to the disappeared tribes because they practiced slavery or engaged in war for economic gain. Nor should there be. But the others removed in Santa Fe remain removed. Some people would have no standards at all except for their double standards.

Our Governor Glenn Youngkin deserves praise for his efforts to find a new home for the Moses Ezekiel statue being removed from Arlington Cemetery. It should stay put but won’t. The most logical new home would be Appomattox, where the reconciliation began, but New Market will do because Ezekiel soldiered there. The people continuing to whine about this outcome for political gain are very disappointing.