Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Colt’s Six-Shooters at 15 Paces

DUEL NEAR MESILLA — Correspondence dated Mesilla, 10th September, says:

On Sunday (4th September) Otero, the Democratic nominee for Delegate from New Mexico, made a speech in the Plaza in this town. He was answered by Judge [John S.] Watts, a Galligos [Gallegos] stumper. In the course of his remarks he made allusion to the family of Otero in such a manner that Otero gave him the lie. A challenge ensued, and the parties, accompanied by their seconds, surgeons, etc., met yesterday morning, near the Mexican line. Three shots were exchanged. Weapons, Colt’s navy six-shooters; distance, fifteen paces.

After the first fire the seconds endeavored to effect a reconciliation, but were unable to do so. Two more shots were exchanged without effect, when the seconds withdrew their principals from the field. The difficulty still remains unsettled, however. Both parties behaved with especial gallantry and coolness. After the second shot, Otero lighted his cigarito and enjoyed his smoke, while Watts amused himself with whistling.

Source: Sacramento Daily Union (newspaper), October 5, 1859

In the election referred to in this article, Delegate from New Mexico to the legislature of the United States, was defeated by . This was a continuation of a very personal political war between the two men that begin in 1855.

Gallegos and Otero dominated early New Mexico politics.

Jose Manuel Gallegos

Gallegos was born in New Mexico in 1815 while it was still part of Mexico and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1840. When New Mexico became a territory of the United States as a result of the Mexican-American war, Gallegos participated in the planning of a plot to revolt against American authorities and restore New Mexico to Mexican control. As a result of that activity and other conflicts with the Catholic Church, Bishop forced Gallegos’ resignation from the priesthood in 1846.

Always very political, Gallegos had served in the Department of New Mexico Assembly under Mexican rule from 1843 to 1846. Even though he opposed American rule following the Mexican-American war, he evidently decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. Gallegos was elected to the American New Mexico Territorial Council in 1851, and then won election as the Territory’s Delegate to the US Congress in 1853.

In 1855, Gallegos ran against Otero for the first time, and won a second term as Delegate. But Otero alleged massive voter fraud in Mesilla and he eventually prevailed, due primarily to his party’s control of the certification process. Gallegos was forced to give up his position several months before his term ended, and Otero replaced him.

Miguel Antonio Otero

So the 1859 election contest between Gallegos and Otero was a blood match between two men who heartily despised each other. Adding to the open bitterness of the conflict, Bishop Lamy strongly supported Otero, making the election a continuation of his old feud with Gallegos.

After Gallegos lost as Delegate in 1859, he won election to the New Mexico Territorial legislature in 1860 and served as Speaker of the House.

Gallegos failed again as Delegate candidate in 1862, but in 1871, after switching to the Democratic Party, he succeeded in defeating and becoming Delegate for a third time.

The Gallegos/Chavez contest was the cause of the Mesilla Riot, August 27, 1871, which resulted in at least seven deaths and 30 woundings. More on the Mesilla Riot in a later posting.

Gallegos died April 21, 1875 and is buried in the Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe.

See Also:
Mesilla Duel — Legal Considerations

Hispanic Americans in Congress, Carmen E. Enciso and Tracy North, 1996.
History of New Mexico: From the Spanish Conquest to the Present Time, Helen Haines, 1891.
The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Ralph Emerson Twitchell, 1917.

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