In 1841, in the midst of New Mexico’s Mexican period, Texas made a bold attempt at a land grab, namely the territory of New Mexico.

For 20 years, New Mexico was an integral — not peripheral — part of the nation of Mexico. But an independent Texas had other ideas for the future Land of Enchantment.

Much like New Mexico, Tejas was a distant Spanish territory in the 1700s — a buffer between expanding British and French national interests to the east. Spain, at least officially, forbade its territories from trading with foreign powers and imposed closed borders in places like New Mexico, Texas and California.



But upon gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico opened its borders to the United States. Only then was the development of the Santa Fe Trail possible. The trail brought enterprising Americans, who were looking for land to settle and business opportunities to exploit. At first, Mexico welcomed the Americans, as the northern Mexican lands were sparsely populated. Within a few years, acceptance turned to concern, as local officials reported to the central government in Mexico City there were too many Americans entering the Mexican nation.

The Mexican government responded by closing the northern border. In an ironic twist of history, Americans continued to pour into Mexico illegally, settling and even squatting on lands already claimed by Native Americans and Mexicans for centuries.

All of this would have been unsettling enough, until the events of 1841 unfolded.

Some maps of the time can be distressing to modern New Mexicans. They depict Texas extending as far west as the Rio Grande, encompassing more than half New Mexico’s territory and enveloping towns such as Alburquerque (its spelling at the time), Santa Fe, Taos, Picuris and Pecos. Yet, those maps were more propaganda than truth, more wishful thinking than reality. This land was never part of Texas.

Manuel Armijo, the three-term Mexican governor of New Mexico, is, along with Padre Martínez of Taos, one of the state’s more fascinating historical figures from the 1800s. Like his religious counterpart, Armijo was born in New Mexico, in the area south of Albuquerque, in the late 1700s and lived to see his homeland ruled by Spain, Mexico and the U.S.

In 1841, during his second term as governor, Armijo was tasked with confronting a threat from the east — not from the United States or France but from the Republic of Texas.

American-born Texans were in an expansionist mood that year and felt they would need room to grow their newly minted republic. New Mexico seemed ripe for the taking. Word reached Santa Fe of a contingent of Tejanos moving west toward the New Mexico border. Armijo amassed an army of Mexican New Mexicans and led them east to head off the invading army. This was the Texas-Santa Fe Expedition.

The Texans, who numbered about 300, were not prepared for the harsh terrain, nor for the vast, empty distances of western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Their miscalculations would dearly cost them dearly.

The brave contingent of New Mexicans was able to easily overtake and overcome its adversaries, who were in bad shape and half starving by the time the New Mexicans encountered them. Armijo took the Texans prisoners, and they were marched south to be imprisoned first in Mexico City, then in Veracruz, Mexico.

The surrender of the Texans to a well-armed military force from New Mexico was cause for a fiesta. Americans in the New Mexico Territory feared retribution from the New Mexicans, but none came. Mexico’s northern lands were safe for the time being.

After negotiations and international intervention, the defeated Texans were eventually set free to return to Texas. New Mexico remained New Mexico, and the Texans would lick their wounds before attempting another takeover in 1862 during the Civil War.

Rob Martínez, New Mexico’s state historian, writes a column about the state’s rich past every month in The New Mexican. View episodes of his YouTube series, New Mexico History in 10 Minutes, at tinyurl.com/NMHistoryin10.

(16) comments

Mary Lee

I spent a great deal of time researching Tejas while doing family genealogy.. And since a number of our families that had been involved in the Austin Colony were in reality, and there is not a kind way of saying this, they were slavers.. I finally came to realize that the reason for Colonizing Texas, was actually finding a location to maintain their slaves without issues from the US government, slavery was becoming a major issue as early as 1820's, in the original draft of the Constitution Slavery would have been banned, but it was changed due to failing votes to pass it. The south in having slaves on the plantations, was increasing the volume of slaves in the south, and the sales.. so expansion was needed.. And Austin found a way.. This issue with Texas claiming New Mexico isn't surprising, not a bit. And the sending confederate troops to NM was always a query of why.. well we know now.. Let me tell what truly started the war in Texas.. In 1830, The Mexican Government decided they did not approve of Slavery.. so they passed a law stipulating that all slaves in Tejas would have to be freed after a ten year period of slavery.. What hurt my heart was the realization, that those who were brought in to take and hold the Alamo, were all volunteers from around the US. They were not colonist, they were US Citizens, and they also held passports to enter Texas.. The Alamo as intended sparked the Revolution.

Lucas Lujan

They were not in New Mexico long enough to learn how to cook New Mexican food. So they went back to Texas with their tales between their legs and hatched a story about their TEXMEX chili being the best, darn liars all of them. Viva New Mexico.

Jarratt Applewhite

Wonderful article. Thanks. I had no idea. I am always looking for ways to deflate my Tejano pals. Thanks for the ammo.

Mike Johnson

I would like to know what Verne Lucero thinks of this article. Verne, are you out there?

Yvonne Hart

This expedition from Texas was called the Lamar

Expedition. I am the 6th generation granddaughter of Jose Antonio Navarro, who was the only native (Tejano /Mexican American)Texan commissioner leading this expedition. My understanding is that the expedition split into two parties near what is now the eastern NM border. The part of the expedition which included my ancestor was captured near what is now the eastern NM border with Texas; while the other part of the expedition proceeded as far as the Anton Chico area - possibly to the fort at Tecolotito. Many current day New Mexico families are descended from he solders who captured this expedition. Antonio Lopez de Santana ( the Mexican General @Battle of the Alamo )was then the President of Mexico. While most of the expeditioners were released in Mexico city, my ancestor was tried and imprisoned in for about eight years until he escaped back to Texas. His home and business are now a Texas state historic site in San Antonio

https://www.thc.texas.gov/historic-sites/casa-navarro-state-historic-site and there are multiple , well researched books about his life, accomplishments , and contributions.

Mike Johnson

Excellent! Thank you!

Emily Hartigan

Thank you for the citation to Navarro.

In this letter from a Potter (seems Anglo) to Mirabeau Lamar (seems French) President of the Republic of Texas who authorized the Lamar expedition, Navarro is described as not speaking English but crucial for his Spanish ---- so, a superficial look by someone who doesn't know a ton about the history, the expedition might better have been called "Texians" rather than Tejanos? There is ambiguity about that term, but it's what I'd always heard the folks in Texas when it was, briefly, a Republic. Apparently trying to be an empire?

Yvonne Hart

In a letter ,published in a Texas newspaper, Navarro,himself, said "I am a Mexican-American."My understanding is that he spoke, read and wrote primarily in Spanish but used interpreters to work in other languages.. Navarro was of the first generation born on this continent. His father immigrated from Corsica,Spain to Mexico and Navarro's mother was born in Mexico. Spanish is/was the primary language of many generations of his descendants until my generation. My understanding (not sure from where) is that he was also enlisted as a commissioner to the Lamar expedition because he was related through his mother to influential families in the NM Rio Grande Valley. This article illustrates the many views/perceptions of history - unclear that the Texas perception was necessarily to invade and conquer New Mexico. It was President Jose Antonio Lopez de Santana of Mexico (who had been the general at the Alamo) who deemed the expedition an invasion and who ordered the capture of the expeditioners.

Dottie Butler

I thought I was too old to learn something new about the history of our country.

This is something that should have been taught in all of America.

The history of New Mexico and Texas just isn't what I was taught.

I'm glad to know the truth. Everyone should know this truth.

It matters today as much as it did when it happened.

Jim Southard

The Llano Estacado can be formidable barrier indeed! Better than any “wall” on the south side. That’s so interesting in so many ways. 👀

Mike Johnson

So Gov. Armijo was the "hero" of this encounter? Interesting as he was the coward who surrendered NM without firing a shot 4 years later, ran to Mexico, and was tried for desertion and cowardice. I guess he was not up to fighting a real army. But no matter, most of the Santa Fe real estate seems to be owned by Texans now anyway.

David Romero

This article fails to mention the black bean incident. When the Texans got to Mexico the Mexicans filled a jar with pinto beans. The Texans were forced to draw beans out of the jar. The ones who drew black beans were executed.

William Juett

David, that was the Mier Expedition that had to draw the beans. Larry McMurtry blended the two stories in Dead Man’s Walk.

Pamela Herman

I'd call that a reason to celebrate, if not to erect a monument..

Emily Hartigan

Tremendously interesting -- I'm sending this to many of my Texas friends [rolleyes] -- but I have a question. In San Antonio, a "Tejano" in the late 20th century meant a person of Hispanic or Mestizo/a ancestry whose families were from the area now Texas. Was it used differently back in the mid-19th century, as the would-be invaders are referred to in this article as "Tejano" but presumably many were Anglo?

Tobin Clark

According to Donald Trump, he actually won this conflict (in a landslide) but the fake news at the time and a communist/socialist Democratic Party wrote a different history of the event.

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