On Tuesday, May 5, 1903, a crowd of 15,000 people met President Theodore Roosevelt in Albuquerque during his stop there as part of a 66-day train tour of the American West.
It wasn’t the President’s first visit to New Mexico Territory. He’d been in Las Vegas four years earlier, attending the first annual reunion of his Rough Riders. This was an important moment for Roosevelt and for the Territory. He announced his candidacy for U.S. President and also promised to work for New Mexico statehood.
At the May 1903 event, New Mexicans took the opportunity to remind Roosevelt of his promise. When his mid-afternoon train arrived at the Albuquerque Depot and recently opened Alvarado Hotel, New Mexico’s Territorial Delegate began the festivities with a speech that emphasized the Territory’s eagerness for statehood.
To further enhance his point, the dignitaries’’ platform faced a tableau of 45 young girls carrying banners that represented each of the current states and another child with her hands extended, appealing for admission to the Union. But Roosevelt didn’t let himself be tempted into making promises. His speech and ensuing remarks at a private reception in Albuquerque’s Commercial Club contained only platitudes and generalities.
However, in the end, the President did come through for New Mexico. As best he could, anyway. His December 1905 message to Congress included an endorsement of New Mexico statehood. Unfortunately, he recommended merging it and Arizona into a single unit, a proposal that Arizona shot down at the November 1906 polls, although New Mexico voted for it.
Roosevelt made further attempts to fulfill his promise, but none of them resulted in New Mexico statehood. It would be another seven years before the Territory would become a full member of the Union, in a deal crafted by Roosevelt’s successor, President William Howard Taft.
Despite Roosevelt’s inability to accomplish statehood, May 1903 wasn’t the last time New Mexico would get a glimpse of him. He returned to Albuquerque in Fall 1916, campaigning for Republican presidential nominee Charles Evans Hughes. A short film of his appearance can be found at www.loc.gov/item/mp76000168.
Sources: Albuquerque Historical Society, http://www.albuqhistsoc.org; Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishing, 1988; David V. Holtby, Forty-Seventh Star, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012.