Taos County, New Mexico
Priscilla Shannon Gutiérrez
Of the dozens of French trappers and traders who made their way to Taos in the early to middle half of the nineteenth century, none had as great an impact on the history and development of the town as Carlos Hipolite Beaubien. During the four decades Beaubien called Taos home, he managed to use his education and know-how to become one of its wealthiest and most influential citizens and public servants. Not surprisingly, Beaubien was friend and confidant to many of the Southwest's most famous mountain men and traders, including the Bent brothers, Lucien Maxwell, Richens “Dick” Wootton, Kit Carson, Gervais Nolan, and the Robidoux brothers.
Born Alexis Hipolite Beaubien in Saint-Jean Baptiste de Nicolet, Quebec, Canada, in October, 1800, he was named after his uncle, Alexis Durocher, a priest who presided over the child's baptism. Perhaps it was the influence of his uncle that convinced the young Beaubien to enter the seminary around 1812. He remained there for eight years perfecting his French and Latin, while studying the classics and advanced theology. In later years, his education at the seminary set him apart from many of his contemporaries in Taos, and most likely gave him an edge as a businessman.
For reasons unknown, in 1821, Beaubien decided to leave the seminary and set out on his own. Assuming the name Charles, he made his way into the United States, eventually arriving in the St. Louis area. At Kaskaskia, 50 miles south of St. Louis, Beaubien made the acquaintance of the various French-Canadian families residing there including the Choteau's and the Menard's, both well-educated, and considered founding families of the town. For a short time, Beaubien found work as a clerk for Auguste Choteau in his St. Louis store before heading west. Coincidentally, his future son-in-law, Lucien Maxwell, was grandson to Auguste Pierre Choteau and Pierre Menard, both of whom operated lucrative trading businesses with the Indians. Most likely Beaubien also made the acquaintance of Silas Bent's family, including his sons, Charles and William, who would soon make a name for themselves in the Santa Fe trade and create a sprawling empire.
Sometime that year, Beaubien joined a trapping party headed west that included LeDoux, Bijeau, Duchesne, and Gremer. The group of 15 or so trappers made their way south along the Rockies from the Missouri River. At some point, Mexican officials encountered the group and brought them back to Taos. Perhaps while there, news of Mexican Independence, and its accompanying permission to trade with Americans arrived because the group apparently was released as there is no record of them being sent to Mexico City. In the spring of 1824, Beaubien again entered Indian territory along with Antoine Robidoux, after receiving a permit to trap from Superintendent of Indian Affairs William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) in December of the previous year.
While trappers continued to make their way to the Colorado and Green rivers, word got around of the wealth of the Mexican beaver trade. Augustus Storrs, in an 1824 letter to Senator Thomas Hart Benton, stated that he had brought in over $10,000 of beaver pelt from a recent trade caravan. Taos' location provided a convenient gateway to the southern Rocky Mountains. At that time, beaver could still be found within a reasonable distance from Taos as the rivers had not yet been trapped out, and the town offered a place to get supplies, as well as a welcomed respite from the hard life of trapping. Especially prized, after long months of solitude and deprivation, was the warm hospitality of the Mexican women, whose dark beauty trappers found difficult to ignore. Also welcomed was the local whiskey known as aguardiente or Taos lightning that provided a warmth of its own. While some wintered over in Taos, many trappers set out during the later winter months to lay traps because the frigid weather produced prime beaver pelts, heavy with fur.
During this time, Beaubien made the acquaintance of Ceran St. Vrain, who himself was trapping, not yet having made the shift to merchant that would come the following decade. However, by 1824, St. Vrain had already made Taos his home, was learning the Spanish language, and had married the first of his four wives - a Mexican woman by the name of María Dolores Paula Luna. While both appear to have made Taos their home base, they continued to trap and joined Baptiste Lacroix on several forays into the mountains during the 1820's, and Beaubien joined Sylvestre Pratte on an expedition in January, 1827.
In 1826, Beaubien received an early guía, number 23, from the Mexican Government to travel to Chihuahua as a trader. He hauled 2,000 yards of fabric, 5 dozen mirrors, umbrellas, ribbons, 100 pairs of shoes, buttons, combs, and beads on his caravan. The venture must have proved profitable as it would appear that at this point Beaubien, never a real outdoor enthusiast, was beginning to consider himself more of a merchant than trapper.
Likely, Charles' shift toward the life of a merchant and businessman was influenced by his earlier education at the seminary and the opportunity to put it to good use. His falling in love with Taos resident, Pabla Lovato, also likely influenced the decision to maintain a more permanent residence in town. In 1827, Beaubien petitioned the local Mexican Government for permission to become a resident of Taos. His petition was approved and later in the year, on December 11, 1827, Beaubien wed Pabla, with none other than Padre Antonio José Martínez presiding over the ceremony. In hopes of delaying the marriage of extranjero Beaubien, Padre Martínez had forced the couple to get permission from the bishop in Durango. After several months of waiting, the approval came through and the marriage proceeded in spite of Martínez's opposition.
Six weeks later, their first child, José Narciso was born. The following year, on August 3rd, a second child, María Luisa Antonia, was born.
Later, María would become St. Vrain's second common-law wife for a short time. We do not know if María died an early death or if she parted ways with St. Vrain. Our only account of her comes from Lewis Garrard who considered her a dark-eyed, languid beauty.
On June 25, 1829, along with Gervais Nolan, John Roland, Antoine Robidoux and his brother Louis; Beaubien became a Mexican citizen and adopted the Spanish spelling of his first name. Thereafter he was known as Carlos Beaubien. In the years to come, Nolan would remain one of Beaubien's closest friends, in spite of the fact that he was an illiterate trapper. That same year, Beaubien's third child, María de la Luz, was born on June 24th.
Beaubien's influence in affairs in northern Mexico increased during the following years and his merchandise store on the south side of the plaza did a solid business. Known for his ability to judge pelts, he often bought and sold furs for his friends in the Santa Fe trade including St. Vrain, the Bent brothers, and Stephen Louis Lee. Carlos also began to assume prominence in political affairs, becoming the first elector for two Taos precincts in 1832, and First Alcalde of Taos in 1834, much to the chagrin of Padre Martínez, a staunch Mexican patriot.
Indeed, in subsequent years, in spite of having presided over his marriage, the Padre directed much of his anger and anti-foreigner diatribes toward Carlos and his friend, Charles Bent – now also a resident who handled the business end of the Bent - St. Vrain operations in Taos and Santa Fe. Bent was romantically involved with the prominent widow, Ignacia Jaramillo, who soon became his common-law wife. Through his alliance with Ignacia, Bent later became brother-in-law to Kit Carson when he married Ignacia's sister Josepha in 1844. Padre Martínez, suspicious of all foreigners, considered both Beaubien and Bent opportunists who would hand over Mexico to foreigners at the drop of a hat. Time would show that the Padre's suspicions were not without merit.
During this decade, the Beaubien family continued to increase in size. Leonora was born on March 27, 1833; and another daughter Teodora was born on January 20, 1835; but died shortly after birth from unknown causes. Yet another daughter, Juana, was born on July 6, 1838. The family moved to larger quarters south of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on present-day Ledoux Street to accommodate the growing family. Prior to being named Ledoux, the street was known as Camino de Beaubien. Old Sanborn Insurance maps still carry the name, even though the spelling was anglicized into Bovien. Other spellings of the name include Bobian.
Manuel Armijo, Governor of the territory at the time, appeared to play both sides of the proverbial fence. In 1840, he issued an edict that all native-born citizens were exempt from paying taxes on their storehouses and shops, putting the complete burden of taxes on all naturalized citizens. It was a way to continue receiving revenue on goods, and made himself look simpático to the nativist minded residents. Naturally, the edict infuriated Bent, Lee, Beaubien and others who saw it as a direct affront to their commercial interests.
Curiously, around the same time, Armijo didn't have a problem approving the petition of Beaubien and Provincial Secretary of State Guadalupe Miranda. Armijo knew how to operate under the table and perhaps for a sum of money, agreed the large tract of land east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was theirs. The Old Taos Trail marked the western boundary of the tract; Raton Pass marked the eastern boundary, and Sibley's gap approximated the southern boundary of the tract. Thus, the beginnings of the vast Beaubien-Miranda-Maxwell Grant was put into motion.
Beaubien's family continued to expand. Not only did he and Pabla welcome a second son, Juan Lucas, born on July 6, 1840; they welcomed another daughter on May 17, 1842, named Teodora after the first infant who had died; and yet another, Petra, arrived on June 29, 1844. The Beaubien clan also added a son-in-law, Lucien Maxwell, when he took María de la Luz's hand in marriage at the tender age of 14, as was the custom at the time. Maxwell was employed as a freighter for the Bent brothers, and worked as a scout during John C. Fremont's first expedition west. No doubt Beaubien's familiarity with the Menard and Choteau families influenced his acceptance of Maxwell as a son-in-law. He knew Lucien came from good French stock.
During the years 1843 – 1846, Carlos expanded his successful mercantile business, often procuring his wares through Choteau's store in St. Louis, at times making the trip himself. Beaubien also began to devote more effort to improving the grant east of the mountains. In exchange for a one-fourth interest that was illegal under Mexican law, Charles Bent secretly agreed to supervise the development of colonies along the Poñil, Rayado, Cimarrón and Vermejo Rivers. Establishment of long-term settlements proved difficult due to marauding Indians who considered the area prime hunting grounds. Padre Martínez also tried to create difficulties by regularly writing letters of complaint to the government about Bent's suspected involvement/ownership. Beaubien assured the government that “Bent had no part of the grant.”
In spite of the opposition, in 1843, Beaubien increased his land holdings when he requested a second grant in the name of his son, Narciso, who was away at school in St. Louis, and fellow Taos merchant Stephen Louis Lee. The petition encompassed the southern part of the fertile San Luis Valley, bordered by the Trincheras, Culebra, and Costilla Rivers. Once again, Armijo readily approved the petition, which became known as the Sangre de Cristo Grant. Beaubien was able to convince a group of Taos residents to attempt to settle and farm part of the grant. Thus, settlements such as San Luis and Costilla were born.
As the pivotal year of 1846 approached, surely Beaubien and others saw the writing on the wall and likely did whatever they could to encourage the U.S. takeover of the territory. Surprisingly, the historical record is silent and so we cannot be sure what they were thinking. No doubt they were fed up with interference in their business affairs by Padre Martínez, as well government intrusion in the shape of an unfair tax burden, not to mention frequent raids on storehouses in search of hidden merchandise. The Mexican Government was well aware of the game being played by traders. By keeping their actual inventory out of sight they evaded taxes. To the Americans, it was a way to recoup the onerous burden of taxes. It is likely that Beaubien, Bent, Lee and others welcomed the prospect of American control and its accompanying commercial freedom.
Indeed, when General Stephen W. Kearney marched into Santa Fe in September of 1846 and declared the territory as part of the United States, the former colonizers, trappers, and traders found themselves transformed into politicians. Within months, even weeks, Charles Bent was named “interim” governor; Stephen Louis Lee was named sheriff; and Carlos Beaubien was named one of the judges. The newly appointed officials must have beamed at the prospects that lay ahead.
But the fledgeling interim government established by the United States would see itself tested in violent, extreme terms just a few short months after the takeover. While Bent, Beaubien, and others enjoyed newfound freedom to trade and earn money under U.S. control, a carefully orchestrated plot by Mexican loyalists and Indians from Taos Pueblo to rid the territory of the foreigners, once and for all began percolating in the latter half of 1846. The Mexicanos resented the recent takeover and the Taos Indians held little affection for yet another set of intruders onto their ancestral lands. The pot boiled over shortly after the New Year arrived.
As fate would have it, many of the key players in the Taos merchandise trade were away at the time of the rebellion of January, 1847 and escaped what surely would have been a death sentence. Beaubien, as a newly appointed judge was actually holding court down Los Luceros, not Tierra Amarilla as is often reported. Lucien Maxwell was at Bent's Fort, returning from a trip east. Carson was en route to California with Kearney, while St. Vrain was in Santa Fe.
Not so fortunate were the other newly appointed officials. Prefect Cornelio Vigil – uncle to Ignacia Jaramillo Bent, was literally hacked to pieces while trying to quell the anger of the mob. Sherriff Stephen Lee was dragged out of bed and similarly butchered. Circuit Attorney James W. Leal was stripped naked, scalped alive and paraded through streets while his tormentors shot arrows at him. Begging for death, he was finally put out of his misery with a bullet to the head. Charles Bent, just returned from Santa Fe, was aroused by banging at his front door and he too was scalped, pierced with arrows and subsequently shot in front of his wife and children in their home just north of the plaza.
As the din of the rebellion grew louder, Pablo Jaramillo, brother to Ignacia and Josepha, heard the mob coming and along with Narciso, Beaubien's eldest son, managed to hide themselves in some straw in a barn. Narciso had returned to Taos from college in St. Louis a mere 4 days before. The rioters, unaware of their prey hidden in the barn, passed them by. Fortune, sadly was not on their side. A nearby housekeeper jumped on a roof and called the mob back to where Pablo & Narciso were hiding, proclaiming, “Kill the young ones and they can never become men to trouble us.” Before they could get out of the barn the attackers fell upon the young men, piercing their bodies with swords and lances over and over again until their victims were unrecognizable. Both were scalped and as further insult, an attacker cut off one of Narciso's fingers off for a ring.
Luz Beaubien Maxwell, hidden by a sympathetic neighbor during the long night of mob violence made it through physically unscathed. As to the whereabouts of the rest of the Beaubien family – where they were and how they managed to survive – the record is silent. Incredibly, all did indeed survive.
While most of the family may have gotten through the tumultuous days of rebellion without physical harm, the emotional toll must have been staggering. One can only imagine Pabla's elation at having Narciso, her firstborn, back in the family home after five long years away at school; and the nightmarish heartbreak of losing him in such violent circumstances after just four days together.
One can only imagine Carlos' own sorrow and guilt over the events of the rebellion. Not only was he unable to protect his family, his eldest son was gone, as well as some of his closest friends and confidentes with whom he'd worked and known for decades. Moreover, his home and business had been sacked – most of his property was gone. The price of complicity in the U.S. takeover of Mexico was higher than Beaubien or anyone else could have anticipated. But there was no turning back the clock now. There were dead to be buried and put to rest. No choice but to go on.
After the rebellion was extinguished, the main culprits and conspirators were thrown in jail and trial was set for the end of January.
Appointed as one of the judges at the trials, Beaubien sat in stoic silence listening to one grisly, gut-wrenching testimony after another. On the jury sat Lucien Maxwell, Narciso's brother-in-law; as well as several other Bent - St. Vrain Company men. Given this judicial scenario, the verdicts handed down were inevitable. In delivering their sentence and sealing the fate of his son's murderers, Beaubien quietly repeated the words, “Muerto, muerto, muerto.” The concept of impartial court proceedings hadn't quite found their way to Taos and young Lewis Garrard, who had accompanied William Bent to Taos from Bent's Fort, wondered at the justness of killing men trying to defend the invasion of their country.
The untimely deaths of both Narciso and Stephen Lee meant that the Sangre de Cristo Grant was transferred to Beaubien's name, increasing his land holdings considerably. Shortly after the rebellion, son-in-law Maxwell, Kit Carson, and their friend, Thomas O. Boggs, made a stab at establishing a permanent settlement at Rayado on Beaubien's first land grant. Jesús Abreu, son of Ramón Abreu, who had brought the first printing press over the Santa Fe Trail, also accompanied them. Jesús would make Rayado his home for the next several decades, becoming an important citizen of the area. A welcomed respite from the intense sorrow of the previous year appeared when the family welcomed the first grandchild in 1848: Luz's son, Peter Maxwell. Over the years, nine more children would follow Peter's birth. Yet another child for Carlos and Pablo also eased their pain in 1849, when Pablo was born.
By 1850, Lucien had constructed a complex containing multiple buildings at Rayado, surrounded by protective, high adobe walls. The home he made for Luz contained 16-20 rooms – ample space for a growing family. The house Maxwell built for her, and which the Abreu family subsequently lived for many years still stands to this day, in excellent condition. A short distance southeast, Carson lived in another adobe with his family. By then, the group had been joined by Zan Hicklin, who would eventually marry Charles Bent's youngest daughter, Estefania and settle the Greenhorn Valley in Colorado the following decade.
During this time, Beaubien and Pabla welcomed the last of their eleven children into the world on February 3, 1853, when Juan Cristóbal was born. Their joy was short-lived as the infant succumbed a mere six days after his birth from unknown causes.
Beaubien, after having served as judge for a number of years, decided that he'd had enough of political life and settled into semi-retirement. Evidently, Don Carlos was suffering from bouts of illness and the traveling obligations of being judge had become increasingly burdensome. In Taos, he entered into a partnership with Taos resident, Frederick Muller, who helped Beaubien considerably with rebuilding his business. Muller would later become his son-in-law through marriage with Teodora. Over time, Frederick began running the store on the plaza and increasingly took on financial duties. The business prospered and both Muller and Beaubien added considerably to their wealth.
By now, Beaubien's other children were coming of age and marriage was in the air. Petra married Jesús Abreu in 1860 and joined him at the Rayado settlement. Both would become prominent members of the Rayado-Cimarrón area, in later years establishing a stage station, as well as a lovely chapel that stands across the road from the Maxwell-Abreu house. Both became very active in civic affairs. At the time of Petra's death in 1914, she had 32 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. Petra and Jesús graves are in the family cemetery behind the house in Rayado. Their large stone monuments are testimony to the esteem and love they were held in during their lifetimes.
Leonora married Vidal Trujillo and remained in the Taos area. Four years after Petra's marriage, Juana married José Clouthier and settled into a home of their own in Taos. A photograph of Juana, taken when she was a young lady, reveals a soft, quiet beauty that likely came from her mother.
Around the time Rayado was beginning to take hold as a settlement, the United States Government started the process of assessing and confirming the various Spanish land grants scattered across the newly acquired territory. Beaubien was incredibly fortunate in that the U.S. Government recognized in their entireties both the Beaubien-Miranda Grant as well as the Sangre de Cristo Grant. Most others weren't nearly as lucky. By the time his grant was confirmed, St. Vrain saw his vast Vigil - St. Vrain Grant in southern Colorado eviscerated to a mere fraction of what it had been originally.
Curiously, once the Beaubien-Miranda Grant was confirmed, Carlos decided to sell all of his interests in the grant to Maxwell for the sum of $2,500. Maxwell and Luz remained in Rayado until 1860 when they moved to a large home in Cimarrón, a short distance north of Rayado. By then Luz had given birth to a daughter, Verenisa, who became the apple of grandma Pabla's eye.
Don Carlos sought to get rid of the Sangre de Cristo grant as well. Taxes imposed by the U.S. were an increasing drain – he was comfortable enough financially with his interests in Taos. It was time to let it go. Beaubien entered into negotiations with William Gilpin, future governor of Colorado. Gilpin would eventually lay claim to nearly 1,000,00 acres of the grant, even though Beaubien never signed the papers.
In the latter half of 1863, Don Carlos' health began to decline and pneumonia set in. Luz and Maxwell, as well as Petra and Jesús braved deep winter snows covering the mountains to be with their father in his final hours. On February 6, 1864, at the age of 64, Carlos Hipolite Beaubien passed away, surrounded by his grieving family and friends. The Santa Fe New Mexican, in noting Beaubien's passing, stated that he was renowned for his great respectability, large sphere of influence and general goodheartedness.
After all these years, the seminary education indeed proved to have been an advantage. By the time of his death, Beaubien had recouped his losses during the rebellion and left an impressive estate for the time and place. The total value of his estate was $63,705; and included a buggy worth $265, ten freight wagons valued sans cargo at $1,250, as well as a large amount of whisky he had kept for “thirsty” clients. It was quite an impressive estate considering his debut in the territory had been as a relatively poor man.
Upon her husband's death, Pabla left Taos and moved in with her daughter Luz and son-in-law Maxwell at their Cimarrón home. So did 16-year old Pablo, who had just completed his education at St. Genevieve. Barely did the family have time to put Beaubien's death behind them when tragedy struck yet again. Little Verenisa took ill and never recovered. In March, just a month after Carlos' passing, they buried her in a small grave a short distance from the Maxwell home. Grief-stricken, unable to gather up the will to live after the death of her husband and cherished granddaughter, Pabla succumbed a few months later in June. She was buried alongside her precious Verenisa. Their unmarked graves remain inside a wrought-iron fence near the old Cimarron Plaza. The town has recently put up a placard that gives some detail about the graves.
In 1870, when Maxwell decided to pull up roots yet again and move into the old Ft. Sumner buildings down south, Beaubien's son, Pablo, then 21 years of age, decided to join them. At the beginning of the year, he agreed to sell his rights as heir to the Beaubien-Miranda-Maxwell Grant to Luz and Lucien for the sum of $3,500. The sale meant that Maxwell now owned over two million acres of prime United States Territory. He wouldn't keep it very long. In April he signed papers deeding the entire property over to three New Mexico officials, including the governor of the territory, William A. Pile, who were working on behalf of the newly formed Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company.
By October the Maxwell caravan was packed up and left Cimarrón. The town came out to see them off, wondering what the future held for the area without the driving force of Maxwell. It wasn't long before violence and lawlessness became the trademark of the town. Fights broke out nightly at Swink's Saloon, and notorious Black Jack Ketchum, among other outlaws, became a regular feature in town.
The family attempted to adjust to life in Fort Sumner. While the old fort buildings provided a larger space for the family to live in, the terrain and weather were nothing like the family had dealt with before. Gone were the mountains blanketed with forests. Gone were the lovely creeks that meandered down from the hills providing water to thirsty deer, elk, and wild turkeys. Never one to back down, Lucien marched forward with Luz and family in tow. He made improvements on the property, even though he did not yet have legal title to it. His business ventures included banking and investing in the Texas Pacific Railroad. None proved very fruitful. Not long after the move, Maxwell's health began to decline, exacerbated by a drinking problem. On July 25, 1875; the sixth birthday of his youngest daughter, Odile, Lucien passed away – most likely from kidney problems. Luz lived considerably longer – finally passing away on July 13, 1900, having outlived most of her children.
Her brother Pablo married Rebecca Abreu, sister-in-law to Petra. He remained at Ft. Sumner, becoming a successful sheep rancher while building a solid foundation for his family there. Over the years, Pablo and his descendents contributed much to the development of the Ft. Sumner area.
Peter Maxwell gained some notoriety when the bandit Billy the Kid was killed in his home on July 14, 1881. Reasons for Peter's complicity in Pat Garrett's plan to kill Billy are not fully clear but may have centered around the Kid's romantic involvement with his younger sister, Paulita; as well as Deluvina, an Indian girl adopted by the Maxwells. In any event, the Kid was gunned down in the Maxwell home.
The list of famous players in the life of the Beaubien family and their exploits together in shaping New Mexico history are impressive. Yet, in spite of his prominence, especially in Taos history, the grave of Carlos Beaubien is lost to history. So is Narciso's. Unlike many other famous Taoseños who can be found in the Kit Carson Cemetery, both lie somewhere beneath the cement of Guadalupe Plaza, just off of Camino de la Placita. Their graves were victim to the fire that swept the old Our Lady of Guadalupe Church several decades ago. The church was rebuilt in much larger dimensions to the northwest of its former location. Guadalupe Square, where the church and cemetery once stood were converted into a public parking lot. Since the Beaubien graves were either no longer legible or were ravaged by the fire, their remains were not re-interred during construction.
So the next time you find yourself in Guadalupe Plaza in Taos, remember that somewhere beneath your feet lie the remains of one of the pre-eminent contributors to New Mexico history. Carlos Hipolite Beaubien came to New Mexico as an unknown French trapper in 1821. Upon his passing four decades later he left a lasting legacy that significantly shaped the state's transition from Mexico's northern frontier to United States territory . While many can claim a hand in New Mexico's history, few can claim the depth of influence that Beaubien had during the 19th century. So as you walk the pavement in Guadalupe Plaza, give the old man his due – wherever he is. Carlos Beaubien has earned it.
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