January 19

This Day in History

Old West

Jan 19, 1847:

Mexican rebels kill Charles Bent

Angered by the abusive behavior of American soldiers occupying the city, Mexicans in Taos strike back by murdering the American-born New Mexican governor Charles Bent.

The eldest of four brothers who all became prominent frontiersmen, Charles Bent began his involvement with the Wild West in 1822, when he left Virginia at the age of 23 to become a trader for the Missouri Fur Company. When that company was destroyed by cutthroat competition from John Jacob Astor's powerful American Fur Company, Bent became a trader on the Santa Fe Trail. Building outlets in the Mexican cities of Santa Fe and New Mexico, and an Indian trading post on the Arkansas River called Bent's Fort (in modern-day Colorado), Bent and his business partners eventually created the largest mercantile firm in the Southwest.

Bent's financial, political, and personal interests increasingly began to center on Taos, New Mexico. In the 1830s, he moved there and married Maria Ignacia Jaramillo, a wealthy widow from a prominent Mexican family. Bent's new wife and his considerable wealth helped him win acceptance among the Mexican political elites, and he became a close associate of the New Mexican governor, Manuel Armijo. However, when war between Mexico and the U.S. broke out in 1846, Bent revealed his true colors by welcoming General Stephen Kearney's largely bloodless conquest of New Mexico with open arms. Kearney awarded Bent by appointing him to the governorship.

Kearney and most of his soldiers then moved on to take California, leaving the new governor to fend for himself, and Bent soon discovered that his behavior had earned him many enemies in Taos. Many of the Mexican families naturally resented the American conquest of their home, and the Taos Indians had long disliked Bent because of his trade relations with their northern enemies. The small force of American soldiers left behind to maintain order exacerbated the bad feelings by treating the Mexicans with undisguised contempt.

On January 19, 1847, the people of Taos struck back. A violent mob attacked a Taos home that Bent was visiting, murdered his guards, and then killed and scalped Bent. Dragging Bent's mangled body through the streets of Taos, the mob called for a full-scale rebellion against the American occupation, and by the end of the evening, 15 other Americans had been killed. Those who survived fled to Santa Fe to sound the alarm. Within two weeks, the American Colonel Sterling Price had quelled the rebellion and executed the supposed ringleaders. With the end of the Mexican War in 1848, New Mexico and all the rest of Mexico's old northern frontier became the American Southwest.

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