From Traders to Traitors

Exuding power, his clothing a testimony to wealth, he strolled across the sun-drenched plaza with the confident gait of one born to the manor, prepared to conclude a most auspicious deal. The crisp, clean air of the February morning added to the excitement Rafael Armijo felt as he anticipated the culmination of this deal. The deal was not unusual, an exchange of goods for money, with credit terms to the debtor. It was not unusual even in the provision for debt peonage of one of the debtors, a common practice in New Mexico from the earliest colonial days. The extraordinary aspect of this transaction was its transfer of indebtedness from husband to wife, who would bear full responsibility for repayment of the debt with “her personal services” to Don Rafael.

This agreement would come across as quite remarkable to the wealthy, powerful men of New Mexico in 1855. Los Ricos, an elite group consisting of political and business leaders, were not used to formalizing their arrangements with the lower classes for services or sexual favors. After all, such activities had been regulated by custom since the first Spaniards set foot in New Mexico in 1598.

The life of New Mexico was imbued with Spanish traditions that lasted through the long colonial period. The Mexican period, which began after Mexico declared independence from Spain, saw these traditions continue to be deeply ingrained in the state’s culture. The people who lived there functioned within the bounds of their established traditions, laws, regulations, religious beliefs and social norms. These were understood by everyone, even if not always accepted.

The Armijo family had an ingrained tradition in trading. Vicente Ferrer Duran de Armijo, the original New Mexican Armijo, had a will dating back to 1743 that listed his belongings such as fifteen mules and sixteen pack saddles with all their accompaniments. The will was also a record of his accounts for creditors and debtors alike. His father, Jose de Armijo, had originated from Zacatecas, a place Vicente remembered fondly throughout his life. In Santa Fe he married Maria de Apodaca and they had three sons named Salvador Manuel but were known by their numerical order: el primero, el segundo, and el tercero.

Salvador Manuel el segundo and Francisca Alfonsa Lucero de Godoy started the Albuquerque branch of the Armijo family with their twelve children, thereby accumulating the initial wealth and influence in the region. Their eldest son Vicente Ferrer pushed social limitations by marrying Barbara Casilda Duran y Chavez, a member of an influential family. Together, they had fifteen children; these descendants were vital to Albuquerque’s political, commercial, and military scene throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. Offspring of Vicente and Barbara acted as alcaldes, conducted business through Santa Fe or Chihuahua trails, and bore titles of officers within the militia.

The most renowned sibling, Manuel, held the office of governor of New Mexico three times. An elderly brother of Manuel’s, Jose Francisco, fathered Rafael and Manuel through his tumultuous marriage to Rosalia Mestas in 1801. Called “El Colorado,” Jose Francisco served as commander of the Second Squadron of the militia of Albuquerque in 1819, a cavalry corps commanded by wealthy officers. Manuel was born about five years prior to Rafael in 1810, although there were some other siblings that came between them. Regardless, these two brothers had a close relationship that lasted their entire lives. The Albuquerque community referred to them together as “Los Lillos,” viewing them almost as one entity.

In their youth, living in the early years of Mexican rule, they witnessed the great possibilities of trade with the Americans while also having access to luxuries that came with being ricos—metal and leatherwork, laces, silks, fine fabrics and painted furniture were all accessible through the trading network. Rafael and Manuel soon became wealthy capitalists thanks to their merchandise store in Albuquerque, growing it into the largest one in the city during the 1850s.

Manuel and Rafael, like most men of the Spanish upper class, took their civic responsibilities as active politicos seriously. Manuel was part of the 1874 Democratic committee to elect delegates from Bernalillo County to the party’s convention in Santa Fe, whereas Rafael managed county affairs as its probate judge between 1853-1861. He also served in the legislature from 1847-1853 and during his tenure wrote to Governor Donaciano Vigil regarding election of alcaldes in 1850. In October 1859, a contentious election saw him regain his position as Bernalillo County’s probate judge.

The business also spread beyond Albuquerque, into Dona Ana County with shops in La Mesilla and Las Cruces. Rafael especially liked it there and was a resident from 1852-1859 and again from 1867-1881. During these years, Manuel ran the Albuquerque store by himself while Rafael was away. The two catalysts for his eight year absence from southern New Mexico were firstly, the influence of his mother Rosalia who enticed Rafael’s wife Gregoria Trujillo with promises of her own house and land in Albuquerque if they relocated and secondly, being a Confederate supporter during the Civil War.

PA2019.023.002 Manuel Armijo Residence in Old Town Albuquerque (Sunnyside Inn in the back left of the frame), ca. 1905 Albuquerque Museum, gift of Historic Albuquerque, Inc.


Following the war, there were both legal proceedings against those accused of treason and civil suits. As stated earlier, the Armijo’s generously lent Sibley the use of their large adobe home located a stone’s throw from the plaza. It was an ideal location for him to plan out the rest of the invasion of New Mexico. Sibley wrote to the Confederate headquarters at Richmond that the Armijo’s “came forward boldly and protested their sympathy with our cause, placing their stores, containing goods amounting to $200,000 at the disposal of the troops and that the brothers were undoubtedly the wealthiest and most respected native merchants in New Mexico.”

   Sibley issued Raphael Armijo a draft to be exchanged for $200,000 in gold as payment for the goods they had supplied the rebel army; however, the Confederate government in Richmond never honored their commitment, leaving the Armijo’s with nothing but a worthless piece of paper.  When the Confederate forces were defeated at the Battle of Glorieta, the Armijo brothers were left with no other choice but to abandon their luxurious homes and storehouses, leaving them to experience the same consequences as the Confederacy. Despite joining Sibley’s march westward, Manuel’s only son, Diego, stayed behind in Albuquerque in order to guard the family’s mercantile interests.

In the summer of 1862, after Rebel forces had departed from San Antonio, virtually everyone who had assisted the Confederacy was put on trial for treason. Even those who failed to appear in court faced punishment; their personal assets were taken away. The Armijo brothers bore the brunt of this penalty due to their lack of commitment. The Armijo family owned a great deal of land, due to the Sitio de Navajo grant. They owned 100,000 acres, which they purchased in the year 1850. Los Lillos was their most prominent ranch and became their pride and joy. According to the census in 1860, each brother had the same amount of assets that included twenty-two servants.

Texas, a detested place in the eyes of many New Mexicans, became Rafael’s new home while Manuel supposedly left to head for Richmond. Rafael stayed in San Antonio for four years, where he is said to have earned and then lost another considerable amount of money in property and found a treasure of $40,000 in gold coins along with three large demijohns full of gold dust. It is estimated that this stash was worth quite a lot. The whereabouts and activities of Manuel during the time they were exiled is still undetermined.

U.S. Marshal Abraham Cutler started taking away the possessions of Southern sympathizers, including Los Lillos, and he pursued legal action against them too. Manuel ran to Richmond, Virginia, while Rafael left for San Antonio, Texas. This caused a stir among their relatives, Cristobal and Ambrosio Armijo offering funds as securities in two separate cases, and Salvador even agreeing to be a witness for the prosecution at the treason trials.

Congress passed a law allowing seizure and sale of property owned by those declared disloyal to the Union. Thus, the Armijo brothers lost almost $200,000 to the Confederates as well as their stores, flour mill, and ranches worth an estimated $400,000. The U.S. government also confiscated $38,964.40 in U.S. currency. In addition, other properties in Albuquerque and Mesilla were condemned and ordered for sale on June 14th 1864 by way of U.S. Court decree in Albuquerque.

Rafael and Manuel Armijo journeyed back to Albuquerque, New Mexico in June of 1866 after taking their loyalty oaths to the United States. Rafael set up camp in Dona Ana County while Manuel finally returned back to Albuquerque. Manuel had a number of legal battles to regain possessions and resources taken from the family, but he passed away while still embroiled in such affairs. Following his death, Rafael replaced him at the head of businesses in Albuquerque. Conflict soon emerged between members of the family, with Rafael taking Francisco Armijo Otero and Perfecto Armijo to court over selling belongings that Los Lillos owned. He was not successful. Raphael’s loyalties ultimately lay south of the border, so he relocated to Las Cruces, New Mexico. However this did not stop Rafael from trying to recover his lost property as detailed in an article in the Albuquerque Journal on August 28th, 1883.

The claims raised by Rafael Armijo against the government of the United States for a vast amount of property, some of it being part of the city of Albuquerque, has caused considerable discussion among the people, especially those mediately interested, since a publication of a history of the case in these columns last week. It will be remembered that Rafael Armijo and his brother were the leading merchants of Albuquerque at the time of the war, and that Rafael was considered the richest man in the Territory. He supplied the Union troops with provisions, clothing, trains of mules and wagons, etc., for which he has never been paid. The confederate forces took possession of Albuquerque and were supplied with goods to the amount of $200,000, not $40,000 as before stated. When the Rebels left, the Armijo brothers left with them for the purpose, Rafael says, of collecting the money due them.

Thereupon the Union officers declared him a rebel and confiscated and sold his land and goods. He claims that the charge of rebellion made against him was not sustained, and that therefore he is entitled to his property. His brother is dead, and he claims his property also on the ground that under the act of Congress the effect of the confiscation could last only during the lifetime of the owner and cannot affect the rights of the heirs thereto. Some interested parties say Armijo is wild in making such claims.

At the request of THE JOURNAL man W. S. Stone, Esq. has looked up the law on the subject which is as follows:

Congress has passed two acts in reference to the confiscation of property, passed with peculiar reference to the late war of rebellion. The first act was passed August 6, 1861, entitled, “An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes.” The act provides that if during an insurrection against the government of the United states, after the President has declared by proclamation that the laws of the United States are opposed and the execution thereof obstructed by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the power vested in the marshals by law, any person shall purchase or acquire, sell or give any property with intent to use or employ the same, or suffer the same to be used or employed, in aiding, abetting or promoting such insurrection or resistance to the laws, etc., the president may cause to be seized, confiscated and sold. Under this act it has been decided by the supreme court in the case of Kirk vs. Lynd, 106 U.S, Supreme court reports that the purchaser acquired a fee simple to real estate thus sold. Under this act the property is what is used to aid and abet the insurrection or rebellion, and the action is an action in rem against the property.

The act of July 17th, 1862 was an act passed to “insure the speedy termination of the present rebellion,” and provides for the punishment of all parties engaged no open rebellion against the government of the United States or who give aid and comfort to such rebellion. The third clause of the fifth section of this act provides tor the unconditional seizure confiscation and sale of the property, of persons referred to in the act. And thinking that this section of the Act was in conflict with the third section of the third article of the Constitution of the United States, which provides that “the congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture except during the Life of the person attained.”

Mr. Lincoln, then president, refused to approve the Act until congress in joint session passed the following resolution:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives, in Congress assembled. That the provision of the third clause of the fifth section of ‘An Act to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion to seize and confiscate the property of rebels and for other purposes,” shall be so construed as not to apply to any act or acts done prior to the passage there of; nor to include any member of the State Legislature or Judge of any State court who has not in accepting or entering upon his office taken an oath to support the constitution of the so called Confederate States of America; nor shall any punishment or proceedings under said act be so construed as to work a forfeiture of the real estate of the offender beyond his natural life,” and the President considering the act and joint resolution substantially the same approved and signed both.

This is the act under which the property of Rafael and Manuel Armijo was confiscated, and the confiscation can only work a forfeiture during their natural lives. This act las been construed by the supreme court of the United States, in the case of Miller vs. United States, 11 Wallace Reports.

Under this act the action to confiscate property is an action in personam and is intended to punish the offender (the owner) for being in rebellion, while the act of August, 1861, is intended to confiscate and sell property used in aid of rebellion, this is the difference between the two acts: One takes the property because of its use in aiding the rebellion, the other confiscates the property as a punishment to the offender.

Rafael was proud of his Spanish roots, and made it known through his actions. He chose to spend most of his adult life near the Mexican border in Las Cruces, and supported the opposing side during the Civil War and remained a Southern sympathizer.

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