restricted access 9. “Malicious Interference was the Cause”: The Scapegoating of Captain E. Wayne Eaton
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157 9 DOI: 10.5876/9781607322375.c09 “Malicious Interference was the Cause” The Scapegoating of Captain E. Wayne Eaton The next victim of the Espinosas wasn’t a miner or a sawmill owner or a mail-station operator. Nor was he a mule rancher on his way home from testifying in court. He was a soldier. Though he wasn’t a fatality , he did receive a severe wound—not a physical one but an injury to his good name, and because he was an officer in the volunteer service of the United States Army, such a wound could have spelled the end of his military career and dealt a ruinous blow to his life in the postwar world. He was Captain Ethan Wayne Eaton, commander of Fort Garland. On Thursday, April 9, 1863, one day after the Espinosas murdered Jacob Binkley and Abram Shoup near the Kenosha House in South Park, sixteen hundred miles to the east in a War Department Building in Washington City a clerk in the Adjutant General’s Office drew up a document, General Order No. 163, dishonorably discharging Eaton from the Army of the United States.1 The dismissal was a conspicuous blot on an otherwise unblemished record both military and private. Eaton had been mustered into the army of the United States on May 29, 1861, as captain of the Second Reg­ iment, New Mexico Volunteers, an infantry unit he had raised at Albuquerque and Santa Fe.2 He commanded several battalions at Fort Craig and was subsequently assigned command of that post and later of “malicious interference was the cause” 158 the garrison at Albuquerque. He saw action at Peralta and Los Pinos and at a skirmish at Albuquerque during the Texan invasion of New Mexico in the winter of 1861–62. In the summer of the latter year, when the volunteer service was reorganized, he became captain of Company D, First New Mexico Volunteers. Eaton’s actions were performed under the eye of Colonel E.R.S. Canby, then commander of the Department of New Mexico,3 and were favorably noticed by the colonel.4 In the summer of 1862 Eaton and his company were transferred to Fort Garland, which had been under the command of Major A. H. Mayer since July 20.5 The company itself seems to have arrived before Eaton, on July 30, temporarily commanded by Second Lieutenant Nicholas Hodt.6 As New Mexicans, they do not seem to have been regarded as a welcome addition to the garrison. Mayer, a Colorado officer, observed them with a jaundiced eye, noting “Captain Eaton’s Company are nearly in rags, and are suffering from lack of blankets and shoes.”7 Even before their arrival, the new post commander had noted dismissively in Garland’s letter book, “I understand most of the men comprising Captain Eaton’s Co are by nature very proficient in the art of making adobes”8 —there were additional barracks to be built and evidently Mayer appeared to see the new troops not as soldiers but as common laborers. Eaton and his second in command, First Lieutenant John Lewis, reported for duty on August 10. The very next day Mayer saw fit to seek permission from Headquarters, Department of New Mexico, to rid himself of Eaton and of Eaton’s New Mexicans, using as his excuse that “in case of trouble with the people[,] the Mexican soldiers will be more of detriment than good.”9 Eaton was not a man to lie quiescent under such treatment, nor was he inclined to tolerate slights against his men. On August 18 he wrote a blistering letter to Headquarters complaining of discrimination against his New Mexican troops “by the officers of this post,” obviously including Mayer.10 The letter had to be endorsed by Mayer, who must have resented this criticism by his newly arrived and very outspoken subordinate. Headquarters took no action on Mayer’s request for Eaton’s transfer. On November 30 Eaton again wrote Headquarters, asking payment for twenty-five of his men who had been on detached service when the paymaster visited Fort Garland, noting that the men had been “in the service of the United States fifteen months and have not rec’d a cent of pay and most of them have families that are in absolute want.”11 Eaton’s defense of his troops was typical of his affinity for New Mexicans “malicious interference was the cause” 159 and their culture, a sensitivity most white...


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Subject Headings

  • Espinosa, Felipe Nerio, -1863.
  • Espinosa, José Vivián, -1863.
  • Vincente, José, -1863.
  • Serial murders -- Colorado -- History -- 19th century.
  • Murder -- Colorado -- History -- 19th century.
  • Serial murderers -- Colorado -- History -- 19th century.
  • Murderers -- Colorado -- History -- 19th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Colorado.
  • Colorado -- History, Local -- 19th century.
  • Colorado -- Race relations.
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