Time Before Now, January 1862 – The troubled presidency of Abraham Lincoln had already begun with the shelling of Fort Sumter. The soon-to-be legendary Pony Express had ceased operation before the New Year and the nation’s iconic inventor of the “six shooter,” Samuel Colt, died ten days into 1862. While Americans went to war, French blacksmith Pierre Michaux, is credited with advancing both transportation and recreation. Adding pedals to a draisine, or dandy horse used by railroads, became popular as a bicycle.
January 18, 1862
On this day, Arizona became a Confederate State, the most western territory ever claimed by the South.
Carved out of the southern half of present-day Arizona and New Mexico, as early as 1858 the Territorial Legislature sought to bifurcate the area, citing geographic barriers, making it difficult to govern. In addition, the lawmakers wanted the entire Native American population moved from the south to the northern portion.
Perhaps hoping the thorny issue would go away, after two years the Federal government had not acted on their petition. Tired of waiting, the legislators then called their own convention in Tuscon, organizing the new territory on their own. A representative was sent to Congress and Lewis Owings, (left) a former Texan born in Tennessee, was elected Territorial Governor. The 44-year-old Owings set up shop in Mesilla, serving as the de facto chief executive in the absence of a response from Washington.
The idea of another pro-slavery territory was unpopular with abolitionists. Their fears were apparently not unfounded. A majority of residents had commerical and family ties to the South and were already feeling neglected by the U.S. Government over lack of mail service with the cancellation of the Butterfield stage line. With the start of the Civil War, many believed there were insufficient Federal troops to protect them from increasing confrontations with Apaches over encroachment. Owings established three units of the Arizona Rangers in response.
New Mexico’s Melilla Valley, mid-1850s
In March of 1861, the citizens of Mesilla called a seccession convention, drawing up an ordinance of succession. Owings remained as the provisional governor. Siezing an opening, however, a battalion of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles under Col. John R. Baylor, crossed into New Mexico. After several skirmishes, Baylor defeated the Union defenders. Setting up headquarters in Mesilla, Baylor’s next move was to declare himself governor.
Born in Kentucky, Baylor (right) had been a Texas state legislator and was a favorite nephew of Robert E. B. Baylor, a district judge and co-founder of Baylor University. While living in Texas, Col. Baylor had edited a newspaper called The White Man. It was no surprise that he soon had issues with Robert P. Kelly, editor of the Mesilla Times over critcal articles. The dispute ended in a physical confrontation that left Kelly so badly injured that he died several days later.
Not to worry, Baylor’s Attorney General, Marcus H. MacWillie, (left) pardoned him. Baylor returned the favor, engineering MacWillie’s election to the First Confederate State Congress.
Confederate forces under Baylor continued to defeat Union installations along the Rio Grande but his military victories and his governorship were both shortlived. Barely a year later, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ousted him as governor and revoked his commission after hearing news of Baylor’s order of genicide.
“Use all means to persuade the Apaches or any tribe to come in for the purpose of making peace, and when you get them together kill all the grown Indians and take the children prisoners and sell them to defray the expense of killing the adult Indians. … Leave nothing undone to insure success, and have a sufficient number of men around to allow no Indian to escape.”
Thankfully, there is no evidence the order was ever implimented.
Despite his history of violence, Baylor went on to be elected to the Second Confederate State Congress in 1863 and eventually regained his military commission. Unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Texas, however, he retired to a southwest Texas ranch near Uvelde.
By the 1880s, he was in trouble once again. Accused of first degree murder, killing a fellow rancher over a cattle dispute, Baylor claimed self defense and was acquitted. He died February 6, 1894, at the age of 71 and is buried at Episcopal Church of the Ascension Cemetery Montell, Texas.
Arizona and New Mexico finally achieved statehood in 1912, the last two in the Continental U.S. But Arizona’s Confederate past created conflict into the 21st century. As late as a 2017, a report in the Arizona Republic listed a number of Confederate monuments still existed. Perhaps the most notable was the monument to Confederate soldiers in Wesley Bolin Park, directly across the street from the Arizona Statehouse. It was removed in June, 2020. Showing visible damage, (right) the state cited the need for repairs but did not return it. Construct-ed in 1961 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, it was inscribed, “A nation that forgets its past has no future.”
A granite marker along Highway U.S. 60 near Apache Junction proclaiming the road Jefferson Davis Highway, was also removed in 2020. Originally on U.S. 70 near Duncan, Jefferson Davis Highway no longers exists.
“Times change,” an official from Arizona’s Historical Society said about the removals. “We probably put our name on a few things we shouldn’t have.”
Historic Mesilla, N.M, 45 miles north of El Paso, Texas, features a number of historic sites. The Mesilla Plaza has been on the National Register of Historic Place since 1961. The plaza is home to a number of architectually important examples of territorial architecture comprising Mesilla’s National Historic District.
In addition there are walking tours, tours of the Basilica of San Albino and the Gadsten Purchase Museum, open by appointment only. Visiting hours for the Basilica are 1 to 3 daily, except Sunday. English masses are held 5:30 Saturday and at 8 on Sunday morning. Spanish masses are held weekdays at 7 in the morning and Sunday morning at 11. For more information go to oldmesilla.org.
© Text Only – 2021 – Headin’ West LLC – All photos – public domain or fair use.
*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable. When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.