February 29, 2024

[Fr. Juan Romero was born in Taos, ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1964. In 1973, he authored RELUCTANT DAWN, a biography of Padre Martinez. A second edition was published in 2006 upon the installation of the memorial in honor of the Cura de Taos at the Taos Plaza. Romero maintains a blog about the Padre <>, is retired from administration, and still helps at parishes in the Palm Springs area where he resides.]


  In local folklore, Padre Martinez is considered the founder of the Taos News. Since boyhood, Padre Martínez had grown up in Taos. He was ordained a priest at Durango in 1822 and returned to Taos 1826 for a new assignment as priest in-charge of San Geronimo parish based at the Pueblo. The parish included several mission churches, among them Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the Plaza. One of the first things the Padre did as priest-in-charge was to establish a school for girls as well as for boys at his home near the church. Education was one of his major passions. He later established a seminary (1835) at his home and then a law school (1846).

El Crépusculo de La Libertad – Taos News Precursor

  Padre Martínez did not actually begin the Taos News. Robert McKinney founded the paper in 1959.  His daughter Robin McKenna Martin was its printer for several years and has been the paper’s owner since 1978. She continues in that latter role until today. In a November 2023 Taos News podcast hosted by her daughter Laura, Robin boasted that the newspaper, according to the National Newspaper Association, was “the best [small-town] weekly newspaper in the United States”. Ms. Martin, however, credited the Cura de Taos with having founded El Crepúsculo de La Libertad, a precursor of today’s Taos News. She related that there were many papers in Taos County during the 1800s “mostly during the Gold Rush…. Revista de Taos began in 1908”, she commented and then proceeded to share some of the paper’s history according to family lore.

The name El Crepúsculomeans ‘gloaming’ in English…the time of day or night when the sun is below the horizon. It’s not quite dark so it can either mean dawn or twilight–the dawn of liberty as his supporters understood it, or the twilight of liberty as his detractors have called it.

When Mexico, then including New Mexico, became independent from Spain in 1821, two Abreu brothers brought a press up on the Camino Real from Mexico City to Santa Fe. [They] printed [likely on a handheld press] a [broadside] paper critical of the [Mexican] government. As a result, civil enforcers hung the Abreu brothers by their thumbs in the Santa Fe Plaza and then flayed them alive. That was the end of the paper….

  Robin Martin continued relating the story to her daughter and podcast listeners:

During the depths of the depression [in the 1930s], your grandfather Robert was doing a lot of research into companies that were almost worthless…. He bought stock in them for pennies, and eventually they became very valuable because the land was recognized as being valuable. By 1949, he was married [to your grandmother] whose family had a ranch in eastern New Mexico. They bought the Santa Fe New Mexican, and the Taos News a decade later.

In 1959, your grandfather was at a party when he heard that the Taos News was for sale. He was sitting next to George O’Keefe at the pool at Lake Ranch. She mentioned to him that the newspaper in Taos had just shut down. He got up from the party and went back to Santa Fe, got a crew together and started the Taos News [under new management] with a publication on the streets by the following Thursday.


  Antonio José Martínez, eldest of his siblings, was born in 1793 at Abiquiú, NM six years before President Washington died, the year the cornerstone of the White House was laid, and the Cotton Gin invented. The family moved to Taos when Antonio José was eleven. He was seventeen when Padre Hidalgo in 1810 gave his cry (grito) for Independence from Mother Spain. At age 19, Antonio José married a distant cousin, also from Abiquiú, but she died giving birth to their daughter. A couple of years later, the young widower traveled far south to the Durango seminary and four years later was ordained a priest in 1822, a year after Mexican Independence.

  A decade later in 1832, Padre Martinez preached a powerful panegyric exalting Padre Hidalgo from the pulpit of La Parroquia of Santa Fe, location of the future cathedral. A Mexican nationalist, Padre Martínez nevertheless was always well-disposed toward the ideals of the American government. He named one of his sons GEORGE (not Jorge) after George Washington, and was also partial to his contemporary Abraham Lincoln. Always favorable toward the ideals of the American government, Padre Martínez in later life was to become more so.


 The first printing press on the American continent was established at Mexico City in 1539, a century before any printing press arrived in the British Colony of Massachusetts or anyplace else in what is now the United States. The press that Padre Martinez eventually used was purportedly a Ramage press assembled in Philadelphia. According to the NM History Museum, Josiah Gregg (author of Commerce of the Prairies, 1844) is said to have brought the press on the Santa Fe Trail from St. Louis to Santa Fe in 1834. Gregg supposedly sold it to Ramón Abreu.

  However, another more circuitous narrative credits Don Abreu himself for being the key person in getting the press to New Mexico. This adventure likely took place at the instigation of Padre Martinez who served a few times on the Asamblea del Departamento de Nuevo Mexico, analogous to a state or territory of the Mexican Republic. Don Ramón Abreu was a native New Mexican who was serving in the Mexican legislature as secretary for the same Departamento. As politicians in northern New Mexico, both Don Abreu and Padre Martínez were well acquainted. It is not much of a stretch to think that Padre Martinez, planning for his educational endeavors, asked Don Abreu to obtain a printing press for New Mexico.  Abreu in 1832 contacted Don Antonio Barreriro, deputy from Mexico City, to arrange for the transfer of a printing press from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Abreu then contracted with Jesús María Baca of Durango, a printer by trade, to bring the press from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Padre Martínez may already have known José María from his four years in Durango when a decade earlier he studied there as a seminarian. Martinez and Baca may even have been schoolmates—a supposition.


  Two years after the encounter between Abreu and Barreriro, Jesús María Baca in 1834 transported the Abreu press from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Shortly thereafter Padre Martinez wrote the SPELLER-GRAMMAR dedicated to the “Children of the Martinez Family” published on the Abreu press that some have mistakenly deemed as New Mexico’s first book.


The NM State Archives, however, recognizes Manualito de Parrocos as the state’s FIRST BOOK published in 1839 on the Padre Martinez press. The Handbook for Priests, a bilingual ritual in Latin and Spanish, contained the rites of sacraments and some special blessings.

  The publication of the Speller five years before coincided rather closely with the first pastoral visit of Bishop José Laureano Zubiría of Durango. In the fall of 1834, he traveled a thousand miles to the northern extremity of his far-flung diocese. Bishop Zubiria had been a seminary professor of Padre Martínez and was familiar with the acumen and talents of the priest of Taos. The Padre asked permission from his former teacher to begin a preparatory seminary at his own house, and permission was granted.

  The Padre soon came to own the Abreu press, hired Jesus Maria Baca as his printer, and in late 1835 moved the press from Santa Fe to Taos. They used it for well over thirteen years to print religious pamphlets, educational materials, and political tracts. At some point during this period, the Padre published New Mexico’s first NEWSPAPER El Crepúsculo de la Libertad. After only six issues, however, Padre Martinez ceased publication to focus on his education priorities.

  Martínez began his preparatory seminary for the study of logic (introduction to philosophy), rhetoric, Latin and other topics for which he printed materials and was the primary professor. Graduating students traveled almost a thousand miles south to Durango to continue their seminary studies in philosophy and theology in preparation for priesthood. Sixteen such students were eventually ordained to the priesthood to serve the people of New Mexico. Other alumni eventually went into law, politics, or other stations in life.


  During the Chimayó Uprising of 1837, the Padre was conflicted since he was appointed chaplain for the New Mexican soldiers fighting on behalf of the Mexican Republic. At the same time, he felt closely related to his parishioners, fellow New Mexicans including Native American partisans from Taos and Chimayó. The “rebellion” needs to be seen within the wider context of war and the costs of war. General Santa Anna had been victorious against “Texians” who in the 1836 battle of the Alamo at San Antonio unsuccessfully tried to secede from the Mexican Republic. The following spring, however, General Sam Houston retaliated at San Jacino with his American soldiers and quickly defeated General Santa Anna’s troops. This victory gave Texas its independence from Mexico, assured expansion of Manifest Destiny westward, and ultimately led to the U.S. Mexican War a decade later.

 Santa Anna needed to recuperate funds for the great financial losses in Texas, so he sent Albino Perez as Governor to northern New Mexico to impose new taxes to recuperate monies. It proved to be an unpopular move and Perez proved to be an unpopular governor. Resistance turned harsh in the form of his decapitation. A couple of Native Americas succeeded as co-governors of New Mexico and they appropriately had their headquarters at the Palace of the Governors. Interestingly but tangentially, Don Ramón Abreu who had been a key player in the transfer of the printing press from Mexico City to Santa Fe three year prior, surfaced as a player in this Chimayó Uprising. H.H. Bancroft in his History of NM and Arizona mentions Abreu: “The alcalde was arrested at the governor’s orders (Albino Perez) by Ramon Abreu who is called prefect.” (The Revolution of 1837, #317)


  Padre Martínez wrote his AUTOBIOGRAPHY soon after the Chimayo War of 1837 and published it on his press the following year as Los Méritos del Presbítero Antonio José Martínez, Cura de Taos. In an 1840 revision of the autobiography, Martínez more truthfully and humbly refers to himself as “INTERIM CURATE” instead of as “Cura” that connotes the rank of pastor. He would not actually be named as the pastor of Taos until parish jurisdiction would be transferred from the church of San Geronimo at the Pueblo to the church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the Plaza. Both the change in jurisdiction and the promotion to CURA happened soon after the Padre’s return to Taos from Durango.


  One of the signature items printed on the Martinez Press was the autobiography Padre Martínez wrote following the uprising in 1837 and published a year later. On the title page, he referred to himself as the “Cura de Taos”. Eleven years prior, he had been appointed priest-in-charge of the parish in Taos and its missions, but he had not yet been officially named as “pastor”. As a young man and quite busy priest, the intellectually gifted priest had missed canonical examinations that were a requisite before one could be named to a pastorate. A year’s sabbatical would make up for that.

  In preparation for a sabbatical in Durango where he had spent four years as a seminarian, Martínez in 1840 prepared a shorter version of the autobiography for his ecclesiastical superiors. In the revision, Martinez did not mention either his prematurely deceased wife or his legitimate daughter who died at the age of twelve. Less so did he mention other children that he fathered after taking Holy Orders. Two were of special note: Santiago Valdez wrote a Biography of the Padre in 1877; Vicente Romero converted to the Presbyterian Church, became an effective circuit rider as a layman, and effectively used the Padre’s press to print Protestant tracts.


  Shortly after the Padre returned from his Durango sabbatical in 1842, the Pueblo church of San Geronimo, lost its status as a parish headquarters for the churches and chapels of Taos. The mission church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the Taos Plaza was elevated to the status of parish, and Padre Martínez was named PASTOR officially meriting the title Cura de Taos. At about the same time in 1842, Padre Martinez asked for and received a license from the Governor to practice civil law.Since seminary days, Martinez was already accomplished in canon (church) law, and now was also recognized as a civil lawyer. This strengthened his hand in politics.


  At the end of summer 1846, there was a serious change in the political weather. Stephen Watts Kearny brought the US-Mexican War to New Mexico when he occupied Santa Fe. Kearny invited Padre Martínez and his brothers to swear American citizenship, and all freely did so. Shortly afterwards, Martínez moved his printing press from Taos back to Santa Fe where he made it available to the soon-to- become GENERAL Kearny who in turn used it to print his LAW CODE as well as other government documents.


  Forty-two years after coming to Taos as the priest-in-charge, Padre Martinez died in 1867. Just as the Grandfather’s Clock stopped ticking “when the old man died”, so also did his printing press cease to function in the same year as the Padre’s demise. Located at the printing office of the Cimarron News fifty-five miles northeast of Taos, the press was destroyed at the beginning stages of the Colfax County War. The war derived from the turmoil between new owners and old settlers with different claims to the Beaubien-Maxwell land grant. According to the NM History Museum, “the printing office was broken into…. The press and printing type were thrown into the Cimarron River…[and] no further record of the press or its parts has surfaced.”


  Robin Martin, heir of the Padre Martinez Press legacy, concludes her reminisces:

The original offices of the Taos News were in Cabot Plaza but then were moved to a location with the long porch directly south of Guadalupe Church. The offices are now located down the street from the County buildings [north of the plaza] …. Some people have always been upset or angry at the paper but that’s fine. We talk about things that are uncomfortable. If we think something in the government’s not going right, we let people know…. Having local ownership is important because you know the history of a community, you know where the bodies are buried, and you know when something’s about to blow up. You can investigate it, and maybe keep it from blowing up…. It’s the community [that is important], saving democracy and saving the way the town feels, saving the honesty of the government. Absolutely!