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A Taos ghost story?

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Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 4:35 pm | Updated: 5:08 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

I found out today (Jan. 21) that something unusual happened last weekend at Moby Dickens Bookshop on Bent Street. Apparently at some point on Friday evening (Jan. 18) a book titled “Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson inexplicably fell off a top shelf and landed on the middle of the hallway. No one was working at the time.

The sound of the book hitting the floor apparently was enough to set off the store’s alarm, which is how the store’s management discovered it.

The title of the book doesn’t seem to be significant, but the date it hopped off the shelf could be. On Jan. 18, 1847, Territorial Gov. Charles Bent was attacked at his home and murdered in front of his family. This incident sparked what has become known as the 1847 Taos Revolt. Many others died that violent day.

Gov. Bent’s home is right across the road (now called Bent Street) from the John Dunn House where Moby Dickens is now located.

The 1847 revolt is a painful incident from Taos’ past. A few months earlier, on Aug. 18, 1846, Gen. Stephen W. Kearny and his Army of the West had seized Santa Fe from the Mexican government, and in so doing sparked terror in the hearts of citizens who feared the new government would forcibly take their land and resources, in effect ripping up the centuries old land grants assured by the Spanish crown. Nowhere was this fear more intense than in Taos, where both Native Americans and Hispanos shared these concerns.

Once Kearny had Santa Fe, he appointed the well known trader from Taos, Charles Bent, to be Territorial Governor. Bent moved into the Governor’s Palace, but on Jan. 14 he traveled home for a brief visit, according to historian Marc Simmons writing for the Santa Fe New Mexican April 24, 2009.

Simmons writes: “All arrived at Taos late on a cold Jan. 18. Early the next morning, a rampaging mob composed of Taos Indians and Taos town residents went on a killing spree, slaying in a horrible manner Gov. Bent and all his traveling companions. On receiving word of the tragedy, Col. Price and his troops started for Taos, vanquishing on the way opposing forces at Santa Cruz and Embudo. On Feb. 3 they attacked the Taos Pueblo, where Hispano and Indian rebels joined to make their stand. The battle continued on the following day, the American artillery blasting away at the thick-walled adobe church where most of the defenders were concentrated. On Feb. 5 Taos Pueblo fell to the attackers. It had lost 154 men, a devastating blow for such a small place.”

The ruins of that church still remain to this day, and for a long time served as the tribe’s cemetery. This was a tragedy of monumental proportions.

No one is saying the book falling off a shelf has anything to do with ghosts or haunting or Charles Bent. It's just an odd thing that happened.

Many people believe the ghosts of Taos become active around dates of particular significance. This is a very old place and the footsteps of generations overlay those of even older journeys. You might not believe in such things and you may be right not to, but somewhere deep inside the shudder of recognition may ring when such a coincidence comes to the surface.

Do the ghosts of Taos rise at this time of year to remind us of the horror that happened that week 166 years ago? Only you can decide.

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Welcome to the discussion.

1 comment:

  • grace posted at 7:02 am on Thu, Jan 24, 2013.

    grace Posts: 147

    I’ll bet that poor old ghost was Reies Tijerina. He mistook the Moby Dickens bookshop for the Tierra Amarilla Court House. Poor thing. Somebody needs to let him know that the land grant issue isn’t such a big topic anymore, and even a bit of a red herring that conveniently detracts from the real social injustices Hispanos and Pueblos face.

    It’s true that Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California were stolen at gun point from Mexico. General Ulysses S. Grant, who fought in the Mexican American War, thought stealing all that land from a country that so desperately needed it was one of the worst crimes in the history of humanity. He even felt that the slaughter of the American Civil War was an act of divine retribution for such criminality. If we lived in a just world, all that territory would be returned to Mexico. I doubt very many around here, including Hispanos, Pueblos, or Anglos, would like that very much.

    Or perhaps we could at least return the land grants to their original owners. A patriarchal, neo-feudalistic, landed gentry would add a lot of color to New Mexico. And it would more closely align us to the rest of Latin America with its extreme variances in the distribution of wealth. As if our current economic dichotomies here in Taos weren't already bad enough.

    Or perhaps we could sort out all of the heirs and give the land back to them. We’ll have to ignore that they probably sold land, but that’s just a detail. If we figure in all the descendants to date, each piece of land should be about half a mile long and three feet wide in order to stretch down to the nearest acequia. This could lead to some new and uniquely New Mexican architectual developments -- Neo-Colonial Slender Adobe.

    Of course this will never happen because people are sick of having their property values demolished because their deeds are thrown into question with ridiculously spurious law suits. And none more so than all the Hispanic families living around here who want to be able to deed their land and homes to their beloved children without having ownership thrown into question.

    All the same, the whole land grant issue makes such a great slogan – and now yet another Taos ghost story. Let’s join that old phantom and take over the court house! Or if that seems too dangerous, at least Moby Dickens. Viva Reies Tijerina!!!