September 1846. Villagers of Doña Ana arrest U.S. Spy James Magoffin

175 years ago, in 1846, the United States instigated a war against its neighbor, Mexico, another republic, for the purpose of acquiring land and resources, and extending slavery of African-Americans into Texas and other areas of northern Mexico.

In late September of 1846, while U.S. troops occupied a section of northern New Mexico, juez de paz Pablo Melendres and other men of the Pueblo of Doña Ana arrested James “Santiago” Magoffin, a U.S. spy and trader.  Six men from Doña Ana took Magoffin and four of his companions south to Paso del Norte. 

Sebastian Bermudes, the Prefect of Paso del Norte, reported the event to the Governor of Chihuahua.  Bermudes’ account – translated into English — is below.

It was a small world: Bermudes was the padrino to one of Melendres’s sons, Juan Antonio.


Prefecture of El Paso.

Most Excellent Sir. I send to Your Excellency by special delivery the report about the happenings and present conditions of New Mexico that Mr. Mariano Varela, coming from that Department with his family, has made known to this Prefecture, since it contains news of interest to the Nation and the State.

Mr. Santiago Magoffin, the naturalized foreigner in our Republic has also arrived in this Town coming from New Mexico with four residents of the same Department, who was sent to this Prefecture by the Juez of Doña Ana with six men. In the area of the Brazito, the Apaches attacked him and robbed him of his carriage with all his baggage and with it all his documents were lost, having presented me with only an announcement from General Kearney which he said he just happened to have in his pocket and which I include. He also declared to me in particular that he was traveling to the capital of Chihuahua only to attend to his commercial affairs and that Gen. Kearney should have left Santa Fe with two thousand men on the 29th of this month heading for California, that Kearney himself told him that although he doubted he would travel to California using the desert route or through here, but he was resolute in dropping the first option, because of its inconveniences and in favor of the second. Accordingly I am preparing an advance squad composed of seventy-five men under the command of Captain Don Jacinto Alvillar with orders to apprehend and send to this Prefecture the foreigners Mr. Samuel Oinz and Mr. Enrique Cornelly who I have on good authority are at Doña Ana and that he proceed with all the necessary precautions to investigate if the enemy forces are coming and where they are and fight them if a perfect opportunity presents itself, in such case sending me notice by special delivery so that I can immediately mobilize all the forces of the District with the goal of fighting them by all the means available to me.

In fulfillment of my duty under the supreme order issued on the 22nd of this month I will immediately have Magoffin and his companions disarmed and apprehended and I will put them at the disposal of the Judge who should judge them, and I will do the same with Cornelly and Oinz if I manage to apprehend them.

In closing this note I wish to express to Your Excellency that all the towns of the District under my command: find themselves full of enthusiasm and resolved at all costs to sustain the national honor committed in the present struggle.

I proclaim to Your Excellency my respect: consideration and appreciation.

God and Liberty, El Paso, September 27, 1846 – Sebastian Bermudez


Letter dated September 27, 1846 from Sebastian Bermudez to the Governor of Chihuahua, reprinted in Jose M. Ponce de León, Reseñas Historicos del Estado de Chihuahua, 43-44 (1905).

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