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Mexico arrests pioneer merchant as a spy

September
27
1846

On this day in 1846, a Mexican justice of the peace in New Mexico arrested James Wiley Magoffin and four others as spies. Magoffin, born in Kentucky in 1799, had moved to Chihuahua, where he became a prominent Santa Fe trader, by 1836. In 1844 Magoffin moved to Missouri. In 1846, during the Mexican War, President James K. Polk instructed him to join Gen. Stephen W. Kearny's expedition to conquer New Mexico. Magoffin caught up with Kearny in late July and helped negotiate the peaceful surrender of Santa Fe. He was en route to Chihuahua to prepare the way for the advance of Col. Alexander W. Doniphan at the time of his arrest. Magoffin spent several months imprisoned in Chihuahua and then Durango. After his release in June 1847, he returned to Missouri and organized another wagontrain, but on his arrival at El Paso del Norte he found that the high Mexican customs duties destroyed any hope of turning a profit. At this time he apparently decided simply to stay where he was, and by June 1849 he had settled on the eastern bank of the Rio Grande, just across from El Paso del Norte. There he quickly became the leading Anglo-American in the area, building a large hacienda that became known as Magoffinsville. Magoffin died in San Antonio in 1868.

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