|A few New Mexico Stage Stations
Soldier's Farewell Stage Station
'Soldiers Farewell Stage Station was a stagecoach stop
of the 1858-1861 Butterfield Overland Mail route before the company moved
to the central route (former Pony Express route). West of "Soldiers Farewell
Hill" on the west bank of a drainage arroyo, the stop was on the Butterfield
Overland Mail route (1858-1861) in Grant County, New Mexico. According
to the Overland Mail Company Through Time Schedule, it was 150 miles (33½
hours) west of El Paso, Texas and 184½ miles (41 hours) east of
Tucson, Arizona. Located 42 miles east of Stein's Peak Station and 14 miles
southwest of Ojo de Vaca Station.
Ojo de Vaca Station - Wikipedia
Ojo de Vaca Station, was a Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach
station at Ojo de Vaca (Cow Springs), in New Mexico Territory. It was located
14 mi (23 km) northeast of Soldiers Farewell Station and 16 mi (26 km)
southwest of Miembre's River Station, later Mowry City, New Mexico. The
site is now Cow Springs Ranch located in Luna County, New Mexico.
Ojo de Vaca was a watering place on the old trail between
Janos, Chihuahua, Mexico to the Santa Rita copper mines. When Cooke's Mormon
Battalion was searching for a wagon route between the Rio Grande and California,
they intercepted the old Mexican road at this spring, then followed it
southward to Guadalupe Pass then westward and northward to Tucson, pioneering
the route known as Cooke's Wagon Road. In 1849, Cooke's road became the
major southern route of the forty-niners during the California Gold Rush
and Ojo de Vaca spring was one of the reliable watering places on what
became the Southern Emigrant Trail. Later Ojo de Vaca was a water station
on the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line and subsequently the Butterfield
company built their stagecoach station there. It remained an important
stop on this route until the long distance stagecoach lines ended in the
late 19th century.
Mesilla (also known as La Mesilla and Old Mesilla) is
a town in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States. The population
was 2,180 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Las Cruces Metropolitan
During the American Civil War, Mesilla briefly served
as capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona.
The Mesilla Plaza is a National Historic Landmark.
The village of Mesilla was incorporated in 1848, after
the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo moved the U.S.-Mexico border south of the
village of Doña Ana, placing it in the United States. A small group
of citizens, unhappy at being part of the United States, decided to move
south of the border. They settled in Mesilla at this time.
By 1850, Mesilla was an established colony. By this time,
its people were under constant threat of attack from the Apache. By 1851,
the attacks caused the United States to take action to protect its people
just to the north of the border, in the Mesilla Valley. They did this by
creating Fort Fillmore. As a result of the fort, the United States declared
the Mesilla Valley region part of the United States. Mexico also claimed
this strip of land, causing it to become known as "No Mans Land." This
boundary dispute, which was officially caused by a map error, was resolved
in 1853, with the Gadsden Purchase. Mesilla became a part of the United
States, as well as the southern part of New Mexico and Arizona.
Two battles were fought at or in the town during the Civil
War. Mesilla served as the capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona
in 1861-1862 and was known as the "hub", or main city for the entire region.
Recaptured by the Volunteers of the California Column, it then became the
headquarters of the Military District of Arizona until 1864.
During the "Wild West" era, Mesilla was known for its
cantinas and festivals. The area attracted such figures as Billy the Kid,
Pat Garrett and Pancho Villa. The village was also the crossroads of two
major stagecoach lines, Butterfield Stagecoach and the Santa Fe Trail.
The village of Mesilla was the most important city of the region until
In 1881, the Santa Fe Railway was ready to build through
the Gadsden Purchase region of the country. Mesilla was naturally seen
as the city the railroad would run through. However, the people of Mesilla
asked for too much money for the land rights, and a land owner in nearby
Las Cruces, New Mexico, a much smaller village than Mesilla, stepped in
and offered free land. The city of Mesilla has not grown much since, and
Las Cruces has grown to a population of an estimated 95,000 people (2010)
and is currently the second largest city in New Mexico.
La Mesilla Historic District, which includes Mesilla Plaza,
was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
The Fountain Theatre, except for 12 years, has been in
operation since the early 1900s
In 2008, the Roman Catholic parish church of San Albino
was raised to the status of minor basilica by the Holy
The gazebo in the center of the plaza was torn down and
rebuilt due to unnoticed structural problems that made the gazebo unsafe.
Demolition started in October 2013, ending next year in May 2014 for the
annual 'Cinco de Mayo' celebration.
Mesilla is located at 32°16'22"N 106°48'3"W (32.272776,
-106.800965). According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has
a total area of 5.4 square miles (14 km2), all of it land.
Census Pop. %±
1950 1,264 —
1960 1,264 0.0%
1970 1,713 35.5%
1980 2,029 18.4%
1990 1,975 ?2.7%
2000 2,180 10.4%
2010 2,196 0.7%
Est. 2014 1,880  ?14.4%
U.S. Decennial Census
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,180 people, 892
households, and 595 families residing in the town. The population density
was 407.0 people per square mile (157.0/km²). There were 981 housing
units at an average density of 183.1 per square mile (70.7/km²). The
racial makeup of the town was 73.99% White, 0.23% African American, 1.01%
Native American, 0.23% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 20.69% from other
races, and 3.81% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race
were 52.20% of the population.
There were 892 households out of which 25.6% had children
under the age of 18 living with them, 53.5% were married couples living
together, 9.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.2%
were non-families. 27.8% of all households were made up of individuals
and 8.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The
average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 2.99.
In the town the population was spread out with 22.2% under
the age of 18, 7.9% from 18 to 24, 23.4% from 25 to 44, 29.4% from 45 to
64, and 17.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43
years. For every 100 females there were 90.9 males. For every 100 females
age 18 and over, there were 90.7 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $42,275,
and the median income for a family was $51,181. Males had a median income
of $30,500 versus $25,000 for females. The per capita income for the town
was $25,922. About 6.3% of families and 9.4% of the population were below
the poverty line, including 7.4% of those under age 18 and 5.8% of those
age 65 or over.
Shakespeare, New Mexico
Shakespeare is a ghost town in Hidalgo County, New
Mexico, United States. It is currently part of a privately owned ranch,
sometimes open to tourists. The entire community was listed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Founded as a rest stop called Mexican Springs along a
stagecoach route, it was renamed Grant after the Civil War, after General
U. S. Grant. When silver was discovered nearby it became a mining town
called Ralston City, named after financier William Chapman Ralston. It
was finally renamed Shakespeare, and was abandoned when the mines closed
On November 9, 1881, Old West outlaws "Russian Bill" Tattenbaum
and Sandy King, both cattle rustlers and former members of the Clanton
faction of Charleston, Arizona Territory, were lynched in Shakespeare,
and their bodies were left hanging for several days as a reminder to others
that lawlessness would not be tolerated. The two had been captured by gunman
"Dangerous Dan" Tucker, who at the time was the Shakespeare town marshal.
|Lamy, New Mexico - Wikipedia
Lamy is a census-designated place (CDP) in Santa Fe County,
New Mexico, United States, 18 miles (29 km) south of the city of Santa
Fe. The community was named for Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, and lies
within the Bishop John Lamy Spanish Land Grant, which dates back to the
Lamy is part of the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Metropolitan
Statistical Area. The population was 218 at the 2010 census. The former
Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (ATSF), now the Burlington Northern
Santa Fe (BNSF), passes through Lamy. This railroad, usually called just
the "Santa Fe," was originally planned to run from Atchison, Kansas, on
the Missouri River, to Santa Fe, the capital city of New Mexico, and then
points west. However, as the tracks progressed west into New Mexico, the
civil engineers in charge realized that the hills surrounding Santa Fe
made this impractical. Hence, they built the railway line though Lamy,
instead. Later on, a spur line was built from Lamy to Santa Fe, bringing
the railroad to Santa Fe at last. In 1896 the Fred Harvey Company built
the luxurious El Ortiz Hotel here. Thus Lamy became an important railroad
junction. In 1992 the spur line was taken over by the Santa Fe Southern
Railway, which operates a popular excursion train, using vintage passenger
railcars and modern freight cars, between Santa Fe and Lamy.
The significance of Lamy as a railroad junction is related
in the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Day After Trinity (1980), about
the building of the first atomic bomb, and is referred to by instrumental
group the California Guitar Trio in a five-part suite Train to Lamy on
their second album Invitation (1995).
Lamy is located at 35.480°N 105.88°W.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP
has a total area of 1.1 square miles (2.8 km2), all land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 137 people, 55 households,
and 33 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 126.2 people
per square mile (48.5/km²). There were 64 housing units at an average
density of 59.0 per square mile (22.7/km²). The racial makeup of the
CDP was 74.45% White, 2.92% Native American, 18.25% from other races, and
4.38% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 44.53%
of the population.
There were 55 households out of which 40.0% had children
under the age of 18 living with them, 49.1% were married couples living
together, 10.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.2%
were non-families. 29.1% of all households were made up of individuals
and 9.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The
average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.18.
In the CDP the population was spread out with 27.7% under
the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 26.3% from 25 to 44, 28.5% from 45
to 64, and 7.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34
years. For every 100 females there were 95.7 males. For every 100 females
age 18 and over, there were 98.0 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $43,333,
and the median income for a family was $27,083. Males had a median income
of $25,568 versus $0 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was
$16,765. There were 17.5% of families and 20.5% of the population living
below the poverty line, including no under eighteens and none of those
Poet James Thomas Stevens resides in Lamy.
Ivo Watts-Russell, Co-founder of music label 4AD, resides
The Lamy Railroad and History Museum, located in the historic
"Legal Tender" restaurant building, is dedicated to preserving local history
and heritage, with emphasis on the railroads and their impact on the area.
The museum buildings, formerly the Pflueger General Merchandise Store (built
in 1881) and the attached Annex Saloon (built in 1884), are listed on the
National Register of Historic Places. The Legal Tender Saloon and Restaurant
re-opened as the Legal Tender at The Lamy Railroad & History Museum
in March 2012, after 14 years. The restaurant and museum are run as a non-profit
and the waitstaff are volunteers. It is open Thursday through Sunday.
There are multiple accounts, particularly in the Santa
Fe New Mexican at the time (March 26, 1880) of a sighting of a "fish-shaped
balloon" which contained "about ten human occupants" from which was heard
singing, music, and shouting "in an unknown language". A rose tied to a
letter written with "unknown characters" and a cup of "unusual workmanship"
were reportedly dropped from the vehicle. According to accounts, the following
day a person unknown to residents purchased both items for "a large sum
of money", declaring them "of Asiatic origin".
|The hanging of Paula Angel - Wikipedia
Characteristics: The victim refused to leave his wife
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 23, 1861
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1842 ?
Victim profile: Juan Miguel Martin (her married lover)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: San Miguel County, New Mexico, USA
Status: Executed by hanging at Las Vegas on April 26,
It's not clear today how old she was -- nineteen, maybe,
or twenty-six, or twenty-seven -- the reports all differ. It's not even
clear what her true name was: Paula Angel by most accounts, but she was
also called Pablita Martin. But the most pressing questions, still unanswered
nearly 150 years after her execution, are why she was hanged in the first
place and how the sheriff managed to bungle the job so badly.
Paula Angel was the first and last woman ever executed
in New Mexico (while it was yet a territory). Her crime: she stabbed her
married lover, Juan Miguel Martin, to death when he tried to end their
affair. Her execution was on April 26, 1861, in San Miguel, now Las Vegas.
Anyone familiar with historical crimes and trials, particularly
those involving women, will marvel at such an outcome. A capital conviction
for stabbing a lover, a crime passionel? That's certainly not the outcome
one would expect for that era (or this era, for that matter; today we'd
label it second-degree murder at worst).
One explanation for Miss Angel's hanging is that the newspapermen
never got the story. Decades later, the wire services circulated very brief
accounts of her trial and execution under headlines such as "The Story
The Newspapers Missed." So she may well have lacked the greatest champion
anyone facing a murder charge can have: public opinion -- the verdict of
the greater jury. Throughout the nineteenth century, there was a
universal revulsion for the execution of women, no matter what their crime,
and judges and juries were anxious to find a reason to acquit a woman.
But the authorities in New Mexico Territory were eager
to see her hanged. The accounts that survive today report that the jailer
taunted her every day leading up to her execution -- "I'm going to hang
you until you're dead, dead, dead," is the quote attributed to the sheriff.
What was her social status? Was she a prostitute? Was
she a violent menace to the community? Had she committed other terrible
acts? Was she unrepentant? Did she sullenly testify at her trial and put
in a poor appearance on her own behalf? Most importantly, was she
ugly? The accounts available today don't say.
When it came time to launch Angel into eternity, the sheriff
did not build a gallows. He selected a sturdy cottonwood tree outside of
town. Paula Angel was driven there on a wagon, forced to ride on her own
coffin to the site of her execution, which was witnessed by ranchers and
townsmen. The sheriff fixed the rope to the tree, garlanded her with hemp,
and then resumed his seat on the wagon and hawed the horses. But he'd made
an error. He forgot to tie her hands behind her.
Paula Angel managed to get her fingers underneath the
rope in a last pitiful effort to save her own neck, and she struggled on
the end of the rope. It must have been an awful sight to see. The crowds
surely voiced loud complaints. The sheriff was forced to put the wagon
beneath her a second time, to cut her down, retie the rope amid the jeers
and catcalls, properly secure her hands and feet, and to repeat the process.
She did not survive her second hanging.
And there hasn't been one woman executed in New Mexico
since. Rarely has any woman from that state even faced the possibility,
though a few years ago Linda Henning nearly became the second woman executed
there -- and she certainly deserved it. Fans of Court TV will recognize
the name, since Court TV has rebroadcasted Henning's bizarre trial more
She was tried for the cooly planned and bloody murder
of Girly Chew Hossencofft, the estranged wife of her boyfriend, in one
of the weirdest trials of the century. But the jury rejected the death
penalty. The reason Henning agreed to involve herself in the murder of
a woman she had not even met: Henning was convinced that Girly Chew was
a reptilian alien queen from another galaxy.
Paula Angel: The Only Woman Ever Hanged in New Mexico
there were two)
By Robert Torrez
New Mexico's history is full of marvelous stories about
ordinary people who happen to end up in the historical record when they
get caught up in extraordinary circumstances. As we leaf through the stories
of such individuals, one often wonders how much of what has been passed
on to us about their lives is fact and how much of it is myth. The following
is the story of one such person, Paula Angel, a fascinating and mysterious
woman about whom we know very little, but who has for several decades been
endowed by our history books with the dubious distinction of being "the
only woman ever hanged in New Mexico."
Paula Angel's story was brought to wide public attention
when an article about her was published in The New Mexican, on April 26,
1961, under the title, "Bizarre Frontier Hanging Recalled." The story was
timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of her execution in 1861 at
Las Vegas, New Mexico. Reporter Ernie Thwaites indicated the story was
"as told" to him by then New Mexico District Court Judge Luis E. Armijo.
The essential elements of Judge Armijo's story are as
follows. Paula Angel, he tells us, earned her small niche in history on
April 26, 1861, when she was executed for a crime that was “as old as Eden."
Paula was arrested and brought to trial during the March 1861 term of San
Miguel County District Court for the murder of a lover who had jilted her.
Found guilty of first- degree murder, Judge Kirby Benedict imposed upon
the only sentence allowed by New Mexico’s territorial law—death by hanging.
The date of her execution was set for Friday, April 26, 1861.
While awaiting her appointed day of execution, San Miguel
County Sheriff Antonio Abad Herrera daily taunted his prisoner: "Paula
Angel, you have only _____ days more to live," reducing the figure from
day to day. When April 26th dawned, a large crowd had gathered in Las Vegas
from every corner of the territory to witness the hanging. Sheriff Herrera
selected a large cottonwood in a nearby grove and took Paula there in a
wagon that also carried her coffin. He drove the wagon under the noose
that dangled from a limb, halted, and placed the noose around her neck.
Then, "perhaps overeager... [he] whipped the team and wagon away."
As Herrera pulled away, he glanced over his shoulder and
was horrified to see that he had forgotten to tie her arms. Instead of
being hanged, Paula had grabbed hold of the rope and was "frantically trying
to pull herself upward from the strangling noose." The sheriff leaped from
the wagon and grasped her around the waist, trying to pull her downward,
while Paula desperately clung to the rope. But the spectacle was too much
for the startled crowd, and they rushed forward, pulled Herrera to the
ground, and cut Paula down. Herrera protested, noting that justice had
not been done, but he was shouted down by the crowd which contended that
Paula had been hanged—albeit unsuccessfully—and the sentence carried out.
Then Colonel J. D. Sena of Santa Fe, "a prominent and
forceful man," stepped forward and addressed the crowd. Reading from the
warrant of execution, he emphasized Paula had to be “hanged by the neck
until dead.” The crowd backed away, and Paula Angel was again stood on
the back of the wagon, this time with her hands tied behind her back, “and
with little further delay gained her own particular claim to fame.…”
Judge Armijo’s story of Paula Angel’s hanging contains
many elements of fact, an unusual characteristic for a tale that seems
to have reached us largely through oral tradition. Several of the individuals
named in the story by Judge Armijo are accurate for the time and place.
These include San Miguel County Sheriff Antonio Abad Herrera, District
Court Judge Kirby Benedict, defense attorney Spruce M. Baird, and “Colonel”
Jose D. Sena.
The presence of "Colonel" Jose D. Sena and the role he
played that fateful day is most plausible. Jose D. Sena had a long and
distinguished public career and possessed a well-documented talent for
public speaking. At his funeral in 1892, Sena was eulogized as a popular
speaker whose "eloquence and rhetoric often inspired the multitudes to
the highest enthusiasm." It is not difficult to imagine him standing before
that crowd in Las Vegas in 1861, pointing out that Paula’s bungled hanging
did not comply with the letter of the law.
However, the use of a military rank with Jose D. Sena's
name suggests that parts of this story developed after the actual event.
Sena entered military service in July 1861, three months after Paula's
hanging. At that time, he was mustered in as a captain in the New Mexico
Volunteers and later participated in the Civil War battles at Valverde
and Apache Pass (Glorieta) and several Indian campaigns. He was promoted
to the rank of Major in 1863, but there is no indication he ever attained
the rank of colonel, although his son, Jose D. Sena Jr., was later a colonel
in the New Mexico National Guard.
The fascinating and entertaining accounts of Paula's execution,
however, are unsubstantiated by a single shred of primary documentation.
The following will explore this historian’s efforts to determine whether
or not someone named Paula Angel was in fact, hanged at Las Vegas on April
26, 1861, and if so, whether she has been the only woman executed in New
The question of whether Paula was the first or the only
woman to be hanged in New Mexico is answered by a marvelous manuscript
found in the Spanish Archives of New Mexico. This folio of ancient documents
records the story of two women from the Pueblo of Cochiti who were hanged
together in Santa Fe on January 26, 1779. On that date, Maria Josefa and
her daughter, Maria Francisca, suffered the penalty of death for the premeditated
murder of Francisca's husband.
So while we can easily determine that this distinction
is not Paula’s alone, documenting the facts of her own story has proven
more of a challenge. For several years, this writer harbored doubts that
her hanging had actually taken place. This skepticism surfaced during an
on-going project to compile a complete and accurate list of the legal executions
that took place in territorial New Mexico (1846 -1912). To accomplish this,
it was necessary to establish two basic criteria. The first required primary
evidence of an indictment, trial, or other judicial actions that documents
the due process that distinguishes legal hangings from the dozens of lynchings
that took place during that period of our history.
The second required primary evidence that the execution
took place. It became clear early in the course of this research that documentation
of a death sentence imposed through due process was, in itself, insufficient
evidence that an execution had actually taken place. New Mexico's territorial
judges imposed many death sentences that were not carried out, principally
because governors frequently exercised their privilege of executive clemency
and issued a number of pardons and commutations of death sentences to life
imprisonment. Additionally, a few condemned persons died while awaiting
execution, while others cheated the hangman by escaping from the territory's
notoriously inadequate jails. William Bonney, better known to us as Billy
the Kid, is merely the most famous example of a condemned prisoner who
escaped from jail while awaiting execution.
The records needed to fully document Paula Angel's case
have been difficult to find. Several authors have cited the handwritten
transcripts of Paula Angel's trial and sentence, presumably located at
the San Miguel County Courthouse in Las Vegas. However, between the times
when these books were published and when the San Miguel County Territorial
District Court records were transferred to the New Mexico State Records
Center and Archives in Santa Fe in 1976, Paula's case file had disappeared.
There are only two extant items related to Paula's trial
at the State Records Center and Archives, New Mexico's official repository
for territorial judicial records. The first consists of an entry of the
case name and number, Territory of New Mexico vs Paula Angel, 73b, in a
surviving San Miguel County District Court docket index. The second item
is an April 3, 1861, entry in the Executive Record where New Mexico Territorial
Governor Abraham Rencher notes he "issued his writ for the execution of
Paula Angel, sentenced to be hung, at the March term, 1861, of the District
Court, for San Miguel County."
This scant information seems to indicate Paula was probably
tried and condemned through due process, but it does not constitute the
primary evidence needed to prove the execution actually took place. Even
the newspapers of the period failed to carry a report of what should have
been a well-attended public event. The firing on Fort Sumter on April 12,
1861, meant that by the time Paula Angel was scheduled to hang, the territory's
few newspapers were more concerned with reporting the unfolding events
of the Civil War as well as rumors of silver strikes in southwest Colorado.
Was it possible that during these trying and undoubtedly
hectic days, Paula could have been set free or had her sentence commuted?
This possibility was reinforced when the Las Vegas Daily Optic, commenting
on a 1907 case of two women being tried in Sierra County for capital murder,
noted emphatically that "No woman has ever been hanged in New Mexico."
Other newspapers in the territory made the same claim, and while it is
no surprise these papers did not know of the 1779 hanging mentioned earlier,
it does not seem likely the Las Vegas newspaper would have been unaware
of Paula Angel's story.
Furthermore, there is among the vast treasure of Las Vegas
folklore the tale of an unnamed weeping woman, or llorona as these wandering
spirits are called, which tells of a young woman who was condemned to hang
for killing her lover. As related by Edward Garcia Kraul and Judith Beatty
in The Weeping Woman, Encounters with La Llorona, when the time came for
this woman to be hanged, no one dared "pull the rope" for fear her spirit
would come back to haunt them. Consequently, she was set free, but when
she died years later, her spirit was condemned to wander the hills at the
outskirts of Las Vegas because she had not expiated her heinous crime.
Could this story have been based on what might have happened to Paula Angel
and explain why there seemed to be no primary evidence of her hanging?
Part of the answer to this historical puzzle was provided
by Julian Josue Vigil’s publication of an old folk ballad entitled La Homicida
Pablita. Vigil determined that Juan Angel, Paula’s cousin, had composed
the ballad in 1861 to commemorate her tragic crime and death. Juan Angel’s
ballad includes several elements of the story passed on to Judge Armijo
by his grandmother. As the ballad unfolds, one can visualize Paula's trial
and feel the heavy burden of the death sentence imposed on her. We shudder
as the closing cell door brings Paula to full realization of her disgrace
and the fate that awaited her. The ballad even describes her final ride
on the wagon that carried her to the gallows.
But while folklore often complements and provides direction
for research on local history, this ballad still was not the primary evidence
needed to determine what happened to Paula Angel. It was not until quite
recently that the most important but elusive piece of documentation showed
up in the most unlikely of places—the Huntington Library in San Marino,
The Huntington’s William Gillet Ritch Papers, a collection
of nearly two thousand documents extracted from New Mexico’s archives more
than a century ago, contains the original warrant issued by Governor Abraham
Rencher for the execution of Paula Angel. The document, dated April 3,
1861, is written in Spanish and contains language rather typical of the
genre. Addressed to the Sheriff of San Miguel County, it opens with "Greetings,"
Whereas I have received official information
that at the March 1861 term of District Court, held in and for the county
of San Miguel, in the Territory of New Mexico, where, one Paula Angel,
was convicted at said court of the crime of murder committed against the
body of one Miguel Martin, and was sentenced by said court to suffer the
penalty of death:
With this you are ordered that on the
26th of April of 1861, you take the said Paula Angel from the jail of the
County of San Miguel, in which she now finds herself incarcerated, to some
appropriate place within the limits of said county, and within a distance
of one mile from the seat of that county, and that between the hours of
ten in the morning and four in the afternoon of said day, 26th of April
1861, you then and there hang the said Paula Angel by the neck until she
is dead, dead, dead; and may God have mercy on her soul.
Here is the "writ [of] execution" Governor Rencher had
noted in the Executive Record of that date! The final piece of documentation
needed to complete the search for Paula’s story is on the reverse side
of Governor Rencher's warrant. It consists of a simple handwritten statement
and signature of San Miguel County Sheriff Antonio Abad Herrera. There,
Herrera, perhaps still a bit shaken by the day's events, certified compliance
with the order to hang Paula Angel with the simple phrase, "Retornado y
cumplido este mandato, hoy Abril 26 de 1861."(This order was completed
and returned today, April, 26, 1861)
We now can be reasonably certain about the basic facts
surrounding Paula Angel's execution. Someday the missing judicial case
file may surface and provide us details of her indictment and trial, and,
possibly, something about Paula herself. For now, we can certainly relieve
her of the dubious distinction of being “the only woman hanged in New Mexico.”
But this does not mean we should forget her story. In fact, we should continue
to tell it, not only because it is a splendid tale deserving of being told,
but also because it serves as a wonderful example of how myth and history
often combine to provide us with colorful and fascinating views of our
Observations on the demise of Paula Angel
By Don Bullis
Historical researchers love to deal with anomalies, and
the matter of Paula Angel, also known as Pablita Martin, is an anomaly
in several ways.
In the first place, she was the only woman to be legally
hanged in New Mexico. That alone makes her stand out in a crowd of 62 men
who were hanged between 1847 and 1923. But there is much more to her story.
Her crime was murder. On March 23, 1861, she stabbed her
lover, Miguel Martin. Miguel was no paragon of virtue, being married to
another woman at the time, and the father of five children. As the story
goes, he'd announced to Paula that he wanted to break off the affair, and
she'd requested a final assignation. As they embraced one last time, she
plunged a butcher knife into his back. Paula was 26 or 27 years old at
One source mentions in passing that Paula lived in the
San Miguel County town of Loma Parda, with her parents. Loma Parda was
at the time a collection of buildings along the Rio Mora that had become
what some referred to as the most sinful town in New Mexico, called 'Sodom
on the Mora.'
The community catered to an assemblage of gamblers, harlots
and saloon keepers who provided their unseemly services to the soldiers
at Fort Union, six miles away. No mention is made as whether Paula's crime
was committed in Loma Parda, but the town would have been in full swing
at the time since Fort Union had been in operation for about 10 years.
It is most unlikely that Paula was one of the town's prostitutes.
Paula was arrested within a day or so of the killing,
and oddly in any context, she went on trial only five days later, on March
28. Representing her before the court of Judge Kirby Benedict was attorney
Spruce M. Baird. There is no indication that Paula had much in the way
of resources, and yet her lawyer was high profile and well known. Baird
had successfully defended Major R. H. Weightman in the killing of F. X.
Aubrey at Santa Fe in 1854. He was also involved in land grant litigation
and he'd run for a seat in the U. S. Congress less than two years earlier.
Baird argued her case in both Spanish and English. She
was, he said to the jury, "disturbed by her lover's rejection. Do not be
so cold in soul as to demand death of this fair maiden who has been wronged
by an uncaring adulterer." It didn't help. On that very afternoon she was
convicted and sentenced to die by hanging on April 26. In yet one more
interesting twist, Judge Benedict ordered Paula to pay for all the costs
of legal action against her, including her own hanging.
At this late date it is impossible to understand the social
dynamic of Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1861. It seems, though, that Paula
was not universally liked by her fellow citizens. In fact, the Sheriff,
Antonio Abad Herrera, harangued her daily, reminding her that he was going
to hang her until she was "dead, dead, dead."
A word about Sheriff Herrera is in order. His law enforcement
career seems to have been quite short. Records show that Jose Sena was
appointed sheriff of San Miguel County in December 1860. Herrera is known
to have been in office at the time of the Angel matter, but Juan Bernal
was elected sheriff in September 1861. Herrera served less than one year
And when execution day came, Sheriff Herrera further displayed
his ineptitude. He had identified a cottonwood grove where the hanging
would take place, and on the appointed day he drove to the spot. Paula
was obliged to ride on the back of the wagon, seated upon her own coffin.
Once there, Herrera drove his team under the tree, then he stepped to the
rear of the wagon and put the noose around Paula's neck. Next, according
to one source, "he eagerly jumped on to the wagon seat and popped the reins
for the horses to go forward."
The problem was that in his haste he'd failed to bind
Paula's hands. Herrera looked around to see the hapless woman swinging
about and holding on to the rope that was choking her. Herrera jumped down
from the wagon and ran to Paula, wrapped his arms around her waist, and
attempted to weigh her down and facilitate her demise.
Some of the spectators were so appalled at this turn of
events that they pushed the sheriff aside and cut Paula down. The problem
was that the execution order said that she was to be hanged by the neck
until she was dead. At that point she'd been hanged but was not dead. So
they did it all over again, with her hands and arms bound, and that time
There are a number of questions about this case that remain
unanswered. One has to do with the urgency of the matter: a trial five
days after the commission of the crime, and execution only four weeks later?
Was the case appealed, as were all capital cases, then and now? No source
The one possible explanation is that the people of New
Mexico, including the courts, were somewhat distracted by another matter:
The invasion of the territory by the Texas Confederates. In fact, on the
very day that Paula was tried, March 28, 1861, the Battle of Glorieta raged
only a few miles west of Las Vegas.
Looks like Paula Angel had bad luck all the way around.