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Turmoil on the Rio Grande

History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865

William S. Kiser

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

List of Maps

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xv

I remember conceiving the idea for this book during my sophomore year as an undergraduate at New Mexico State University. I undertook the task of research, working in Zuhl Library every morning before going to classes and staring into microfilm machines until...

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pp. 1-10

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...

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Doniphan at Brazito

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pp. 11-32

Among the troops who marched across the Santa Fe Trail and assisted in the conquest of New Mexico was an outfit of greenhorn volunteers from the State of Missouri. Mustered into active service on June 6, 1846, this body of troops came to be known as the 1st Regiment...

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The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

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pp. 33-46

Colonel Doniphan’s victory at Brazito and subsequent march through northern Mexico to the Gulf represents only a small component of the war with Mexico. Nevertheless, as stated, it was an important...

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The International Boundary Surveys

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pp. 47-70

For centuries New Mexico had been under the autocratic rule of the Spanish Crown and then for a brief quarter century spanning the years 1821 to 1846 under the rule of the Republic of Mexico. During that time there had been little need for exact political boundaries to be...

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Enter James Gadsden

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pp. 71-96

The boundary commissions of both the United States and Mexico had proven to be a dismal failure at best. Aft er more than two years of continuous work in the field, the problem still had not been satisfactorily concluded. It had become clear that this particular method of...

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Fort Fillmore and the Apaches

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pp. 97-132

Throughout the entirety of the period covered in this account, 1846-65, the people of the Mesilla Valley were continuously subjected to Apache raiding. Such had been the case for centuries, beginning with the initial settlement of the area by the Spaniards at Paso del Norte in the...

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Separatist Movements in Mesilla

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pp. 133-142

No sooner had Mesilla become a part of the United States than the residents there began taking strides toward change. That they were American citizens could no longer be debated; however, the territory within the United States to which they would belong was an altogether...

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Mesilla: Capital of the Arizona Territory

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pp. 143-150

The latter months of 1860 were a trying time for the United States. The North and South still clung together, but only by a thread. The presidential election of 1860 featured Abraham Lincoln as the Northern antislavery candidate and John C. Breckenridge and Stephen A. Douglas...

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The Confederate Invasion

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pp. 151-174

Following the Mexican War the United States possessed a standing army of about 10,000 men; a decade and a half later, just before the Civil War broke out, that number had increased only slightly to 16,000. Of those 16,000 troops, a considerable percentage of them,...

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The Confederate Territory of Arizona

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pp. 175-188

With the garrison of Federal troops at Fort Fillmore no longer an imminent threat, Lieutenant Colonel Baylor turned his attentions elsewhere. Much work remained to be done; indeed, the Confederate commander had only taken the first small step toward...

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Martial Law in the Mesilla Valley

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pp. 189-210

While Baylor, Sibley, and others busied themselves with the plotted Southern takeover of New Mexico, Union troops did not remain dormant in other quarters within the territory. As the Confederate invasion gradually unfolded, the Union army made preparations to resist...

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pp. 211-214

Located in the southernmost portion of New Mexico and only a short distance from the Mexican border, the Mesilla Valley has always been defined by cultural aspects. This was evident in the earliest settlements, where disputes over land and cultural misunderstandings became...


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pp. 215-258


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pp. 259-268


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pp. 269-284

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446853
E-ISBN-10: 1603446850
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442961
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442960

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 16 photos. 10 maps. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2011