SANTA FE, N.M. — A proposal to honor a Hispanic leader of Union troops in U.S. Civil War with a bronze bust in the New Mexico state Capitol has been rejected by the governor, as details emerge about the officer’s involvement in bloody campaigns against Navajos and other American Indian tribes.
Gov. Susana Martinez will line-item veto the $50,000 proposal for a bust of Manuel Antonio Chaves that was approved by the Legislature within a broader infrastructure bill last month, according to spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell. The money would be better spent on infrastructure for local schools or law enforcement, Cantrell said.
Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said he requested funding for the Chaves bust as a means of boosting local tourism at the suggestion of local Civil War-history buffs — while acknowledging he knew little about Chaves’ full life story.
Chaves is credited with leading a crucial Union attack on a supply caravan during the 1862 battle at Glorieta Pass that helped halt the western advance of Confederate forces.
But Chavez also left an indelible mark as a leader of bloody skirmishes with several American Indian tribes, starting as a young man and culminating in the early 1860s as he led 450 volunteer soldiers in a retaliatory campaign against the Navajo in what is now northwestern New Mexico, according to historians and the only book-length biography of Chaves.
Peter Linder, a history professor New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., said volunteers on the 1860 raid led by Chaves against the Navajos received no pay but were allowed to take livestock — and capture women and children in an era where American Indians still were being sold into servitude.
He notes that Chaves grew up in the town of Cebolleta — an outpost renowned for its slave-taking expeditions that brought back children that were enlisted as household “servants” to circumvent official prohibitions on slavery. A spate of new research and books are highlighting those enslavement practices — and that they endured beyond the end of the Civil War.
State Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, N.M., called the proposed Chaves bust inappropriate and said it struck at sensitivities about past conflicts and even his own ancestry.
“We need to thoroughly research history and understand the consequences,” said Campos, who says his paternal grandmother was listed on census forms as a servant and not a full-fledged citizen — an indication she may have been of Navajo descent. “There are individuals who are directly affected in ancestry by those who were in battle.”
Campos said he took part in the unanimous Senate vote for the capital spending bill without knowledge of the Chaves bust — and also sponsored unsuccessful legislation this year that would provide greater disclosure and vetting of small earmarks for capital projects.
Mixed sentiments about Civil War regiments that went on to fight against American Indians are on prominent display in Santa Fe’s downtown plaza, where an 1868 memorial Obelisk to Union soldiers has been left standing — thought a reference to Indian “savages” has been chiseled out.
Fresh graffiti in purple ink marked the memorial Monday, crossing out a reference to soldiers as “heroes,” and substituting “savages.”
East of Santa Fe at the site of the Glorieta Pass battlefield within the Pecos National Historical Park, a bronze plaque commemorating Chaves is scheduled to be unveiled later this month, affixed to a new stone monument to the contingent of new Mexico volunteers that fought there.
Park officials say they openly discuss Chaves’ role in both the Civil War and Indian campaigns with visitors.
The reference to dates in the fifth graph has been corrected to the 1860s.