The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997 Page: 397
PAULA MITCHELL MARKS, Editor
On the Edge of Empire: The Taos Hacienda of los Martinez. By David J. Weber. (Santa
Fe: The Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996. Pp. 120. Introduction, illustra-
tions, appendix, acknowledgments, list of abbreviations, index. ISBN o-
89013-299-2, $24.95, cloth.)
David J. Weber is a renowned authority on the Spanish and Mexican periods
of Southwest history. One of his many talents is an ability to focus on important
segments of the past in some works, while explaining large sweeps of history with
equal skill in projects like his award-winning Spanish Frontier in North America
On the Edge of Empire is an "important segment" book. It is a history of the pow-
erful Severino Martinez family in the Rio Arriba region of New Mexico during
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These years saw great change
in New Mexico as Indian relations remained volatile, Mexico won its indepen-
dence from Spain, and norteamericanos arrived in ever-increasing numbers down
the Santa Fe Trail.
The Martinez family adjusted to these monumental changes, profiting hand-
somely in social, economic, and political terms. This was especially true of Don
Severino, the family patriarch, and his most famous son, Padre Antonio Josh
Martinez, here described as a complex leader, riddled with contradictions: "a
moralist with illegitimate children; a popularist whose broad humanitarian vi-
sion [was] offset by arrogance ... ; and an ardent Mexican nationalist" who led
the way in dealing with New Mexico's new foreign master, the United States (p.
The Martinez family's vast power and affluence was most apparent in two sur-
viving pieces of evidence: Don Severino's 1827 will and his now-rebuilt hacien-
da, two miles southwest of the Taos plaza. The will is reproduced in its entirety
as an appendix. The casa mayor is described in some detail, especially in a room-
to-room photo tour. With thirteen rooms around a central placita, the hacienda
was three to four times larger and grander than the average home of its day in
Weber has written a masterful book with relatively few primary sources. With
few sources, his text is peppered with speculative phrases, the use of which might
cause doubt in the text of a lesser historian. But no great leap of faith is needed
to trust Weber's depiction of the Martinez family in relation to the larger sweep of
Southwest history. The result is an admirable feat, highly recommended especially
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997, periodical, 1997; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/m1/463/ocr/: accessed January 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.