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Days Past: John R. Baylor, first Governor of Arizona Territory

John Robert Baylor, date unknown.

John Robert Baylor, date unknown.

photo

Public domain

Johnson’s Map of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, 1862.

For many Americans today, the name “Baylor” brings to mind a major college in Texas known for sports and scholarship. Founded in 1845, it’s the oldest university in Texas and one of the oldest in the West, named for Judge Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor. In Arizona, the name Baylor is remembered because of Judge Baylor’s nephew, John R. Baylor, who created the Confederate Territory of Arizona in August 1861, setting off a chain reaction leading to the establishment of the United States’ Territory of Arizona.

John Robert Baylor was born in Kentucky and lived on various Army posts as a child. He moved to Texas at age 18 and became a prominent citizen: farmer, rancher, lawyer, state legislator and newspaper publisher. Continuing battles with the Comanches hardened his attitude toward all Indians and contributed to his later downfall.

In 1861, just before the start of the Civil War, he organized the Second Regiment of Texas Mounted Rifles under the ruse of hunting buffalo. The actual reason: to drive Union forces from the Southwest. He succeeded, until the intervention of General James Carleton and the California Column in 1862.

In the meantime, Baylor managed to gain official recognition for his unit by the Confederate government and was appointed a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of one of the two battalions of the Second Regiment. Beginning in May 1861, he led his unit through a sweep of abandoned U.S. posts until he reached Fort Bliss in July 1861. Concerned about reports of U.S. troop movements farther west in New Mexico Territory, he continued on, managing to defeat a superior number of Union forces at the First Battle of Mesilla. Following this victory, on Aug. 1, 1861, he proclaimed himself the military governor of the Confederate Territory of Arizona, which included the southern half of present-day New Mexico and Arizona.

On Aug. 2, Baylor appointed the first officers of the new Territory, and a Confederate government in the Territory of Arizona was soon functioning. It would continue until the fall of the Territory to Union troops in July 1862, a testimony to Baylor’s organizational skills.

Besides the imminent threat of a Union counterattack at any time, the new government was beset by many problems. Baylor’s unit was down to about 300 men (due to desertions and the need to garrison abandoned forts); provisions and water were scarce. And, the Apaches continued their raids on both the citizens and their new protectors, severely straining the limited manpower of the remaining Confederate troops.

By March 1862, now-Colonel Baylor in desperation turned to a policy of extermination to end the Apache threat. He issued an order to trick the Indians into meeting for peace talks using any means, then massacring all adult Indians and selling their children to defray expenses.

There is no indication that this policy was ever implemented. Nevertheless, when news of it reached Confederate President Jefferson Davis, he immediately relieved Baylor of his position as governor and revoked his commission in the army.

By July 1862, General Carleton and his California Column effectively took control of New Mexico and Arizona from the beleaguered Confederates. Ironically, Carleton implemented his own extermination policy in October, ordering that all male Indians be killed on sight. A company of troops was able to persuade an Apache leader, Mangas Coloradas, to attend a parley near what is now Silver City, New Mexico, in January 1863, only to torture and kill him. His son-in-law, known as Cochise, sufficiently enraged, helped to make sure the carnage would continue for decades.

Initial discoveries of mineral wealth, along with the recognition of the political impact of the (albeit temporary) loss of the huge swath of western territory to the Confederates, led Congress to introduce the Arizona Organic Act in March 1862. After prolonged debate, President Lincoln signed the measure on Feb. 24, 1863, creating the separate Territory of Arizona.

John R. Baylor and his brazen band of rebels may not have been the sole or even major cause of Arizona becoming a U.S. territory. But their adventures refocused attention on the area that had been virtually abandoned by the American military due to more immediate events in the east, and paved the way for a separate Arizona.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.