The governor that time forgot

By Don McAlavy: Local columnist

I have book cases that are full of old history books. One of the books fell out of the case yesterday.

The book was titled “My Life in the Mountains and on the Plains” and the man who wrote the book was that old New Mexico governor.

David Meriwether, Virginia-Kentucky frontiersman, mountain man in the American Far West, plainsman, and territorial governor of New Mexico, enjoyed a career matched by few of his time in the first sixty years of the 19th century.

His activities as governor of New Mexico Territory area are a matter of fairly extensive record and has frequently been cited by historians.

But the David Meriwether who went to the Upper Missouri in 1819 under contract to Colonel John O’Fallon, who saw Santa Fe as a prisoner of the Spaniards in 1820, became a trader at Fort Osage, and ultimately returned in 1853 as chief of state of New Mexico is little known to historians.

The reason is simple: practically no data has been available on the years before his territorial governorship.

In New Mexico, the one link with the rest of U.S. was the Santa Fe Trail from Independence, Missouri, with its infrequent trader caravans and its monthly mail service.

David Meriwether lived with three companions on the Great Plains through the bitter winter of 1820-21 and lived with his faithful African-American boy and three Indian companions on the Great Plains in a makeshift shelter through the bitter winter.

He made an intelligent, practical Governor. But during his administration of four years there was incessant war with the Navajos on the West, the Utes and Jicarillas Apaches on the north, the Mescaleros on the east, and the Gila and Mogollon Apaches on the south, were of frequent occurrence, and the military was kept busy all the time.

Meriwether returned to his home, supervising his two farms in

Indiana and Kentucky’ and he became actively engaged in politics. A year later in 1858 he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, becoming speaker in 1859.

In 1886, at the age of eighty-six, Meriwether began dictating this account (this book) to a granddaughter.

A copy of the manuscript descended to a great-granddaughter, and its survival has made possible the publication of this important piece of Western Americana seventy-nine years after it was written.

Meriwether was the fourth Territorial Governor of New Mexico. His years in office as governor in New Mexico was 1853-1856.

This book was published in 1965 by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: