- Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865
Through the years, there have been books entitled Sabers on the Rio Grande, Indian Uprising on the Rio Grande, Riders along the Rio Grande, Insurgents on the Rio [End Page 331] Grande, Civil War and Revolution on the Rio Grande, and even Catholics along the Rio Grande. Now we have Turmoil on the Rio Grande. Many of the former do not measure up to the latter, which in many ways is a real jewel. Although a definitive study of the entire history of the Mesilla Valley is still needed, Turmoil on the Rio Grande superbly chronicles the history of the valley during the crucial and eventful years from the beginning of the war with Mexico to the end of the Civil War.
There is drama and great tragedy in the valley in these two decades, and Kiser tells the story with great skill. We read about the indefatigable Missourian, Col. Alexander Doniphan, and the Battle of Brazito. In addition and more importantly, there are the far-reaching Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the boundary surveys of John Russell Bartlett and Pedro García Conde, and the historic 1853 Gadsden Purchase. Kiser also does an excellent job in recalling the construction of Fort Fillmore and the seemingly constant war with the Apache, both east and west of the Rio Grande. Chapters are also devoted to the secession crisis, the creation of the Confederate Territory of Arizona, as well as the occupation of the valley by the grandiose-dreaming and champagne-consuming Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley and his ill-fated Confederate Army of New Mexico. Lastly, there is the arrival of Gen. James H. Carleton's California Column and the federal imposition of martial law in the valley that included the somewhat draconian preparations for a second Confederate invasion.
Kiser has a brisk writing style that makes the book both enjoyable and exciting. Throughout, the reader is aided by twenty-four well-selected photographs, sketches, illustrations, and maps. As is frequently the case with many young scholars, however, Kiser has yet to master a number of the primary sources and frequently uses less reliable and older secondary studies. There is no mention in the footnotes or in the bibliography, for example, of the seminal works of historians such as Martin H. Hall, L. Boyd Finch, and Donald Frazier. Several significant articles and books relative to the history of the valley by the leading scholar of the Civil War in New Mexico, John P. Wilson, are also missing. Consequently, a few minor errors creep into the narrative. For example, Lt. Col. John Robert Baylor commanded the Second Texas Mounted Rifles, not the Seventh Texas Mounted Volunteers. Morgan Wolfe Merrick, a half-literate temporary hospital steward at Fort Fillmore during the early days of the Civil War, was anything but a "Dr." (666). Surprisingly, there is no mention of Colonel Baylor's controversial Corralitos Raid deep into the mountains of Chihuahua in pursuit of the Apache that caused considerable international consternation. Nor is there any mention of the hanging by Confederate zealots of Boyle Crittenden Marshall and the terrorizing of four other alleged Unionists, including Jacob "Jack" Appeloller and John Lemon, at a bosque near Doña Ana in January 1862.
While reading Kiser's well-crafted study, one yearns for more on the role of the hispanos, the majority of the population in the valley, who initially joined the Texans, primarily due to their fear of the Apache, but then turned on the Rebels in a bloody uprising south of Mesilla a year later. Kiser does chronicle with considerable skill the harshness of the Union occupation of the valley and the imposition of martial law by Gen. James H. Carleton and his rough and tough California Column. Carleton and his subordinate in the valley, Col. Joseph R. West, were not only despised by a large swath of...