Álvarez, Manuel (1794–1856)

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Álvarez, Manuel (1794–1856)

Manuel Álvarez (b. 1794; d. 5 July 1856), fur trapper, merchant, and government official in New Mexico. The life of Álvarez, a native of Abelgas, Spain, exemplifies the tremendous opportunities that existed in New Mexico during the first half of the nineteenth century for an enterprising and well-connected immigrant.

In 1818 Álvarez immigrated to Mexico; in 1823 he moved to Cuba after Mexican independence unleashed anti-Spanish sentiment. There he obtained a U.S. passport and sailed to New York, planning to work his way back to Mexico. By 1824, Álvarez had joined a trading group in Saint Louis and had reached New Mexico, where he became friends with Charles Bent. There he opened a store to sell goods imported from Missouri.

The contacts and commercial ties that Álvarez built during the 1820s enabled him to take up fur trapping in 1829, when Mexican authorities expelled all Spanish residents from the country. By 1831, Álvarez worked for the American Fur Company as the leader of a team of forty fur trappers hunting in an area that is now part of Yellowstone National Park. Álvarez managed his store in Santa Fe from a distance until 1834, when he returned there, his Spanish origin no longer a problem.

While claiming Mexican citizenship, Álvarez used his U.S. passport to gain an appointment as U.S. consul for Mexico, based in Santa Fe. Forced loans that American merchants made to the New Mexican officials during the 1837 revolt in Taos and Río Arriba, and losses to Americans resulting from the Texan expedition against Santa Fe in 1841, prompted American claims for reimbursement. Even though he never received complete confirmation of his post, Álvarez represented these petitions to the New Mexican governor and Mexican officials. His success in this role came from his relationship with Governor Manuel Armijo, based in part on the information that Álvarez and Bent provided about Apache and Texan movements of concern to New Mexico.

Upon the U.S. declaration of war against Mexico in 1846, the Americans sent "spies" to speak to Álvarez. He appears to have provided reports about affairs in New Mexico and advice on how to proceed with its occupation. Álvarez met with Governor Armijo and probably contributed to his decision not to oppose Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny and his force when it arrived to occupy Santa Fe. Although his friend Charles Bent served as interim governor of New Mexico until his murder during the 1847 revolt against the Americans, Álvarez received no post in the administration.

In the wake of the military government imposed on New Mexico after the revolt of 1847, Álvarez began to use his political skills in defense of the Spanish-Mexican population of the territory. He came to lead a political party, arguing against the propensity of military rule to ignore the civil rights of the population and advocating immediate statehood for New Mexico in order to bring back civilian rule. After a brief stint as editor of one of the early New Mexican newspapers in order to gain support for the statehood faction, Álvarez won the post of lieutenant governor alongside Congressman William Messervy in the election of 1850. Because Messervy had to spend most of his time in Washington, D.C., lobbying for statehood, running the state fell to Álvarez. Opposition from the army and the territorial party hampered the new government's ability to function. Soon after, the Compromise of 1850, admitting California to the Union as a free state and organizing New Mexico and Arizona into a single territory, made the position of the Statehood faction untenable.

Álvarez was never again involved as prominently in the affairs of the territory, and withdrew to his commercial ventures during the last years of his life. His ambition, and his service as an advocate for various American and Spanish-Mexican constituencies, wove him into the fabric of the critical events of New Mexican history bridging the Mexican and American periods. He died in Santa Fe.

See alsoNew Mexico .


Howard Roberts Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846–1912: A Territorial History (1966).

David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540–1846 (1971).

Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, 1837 (1985).

Thomas E. Chávez, Manuel Álvarez, 1794–1856: A Southwestern Biography (1990).

                                      Ross H. Frank

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