On Saturday, January 6, 1912, New Mexico finally became a full member of the United States of America.
The day had been a long time coming. The first attempt at statehood had been promptly crushed by the Compromise of 1850, when Congress used New Mexico in a deal to keep the southern states from revolting over the slavery issue. While California was admitted as a “free” state, New Mexico and Utah were classified as Territories where slavery was allowed.
During the following sixty years, the issue of slavery was resolved, but New Mexico still wasn’t made a state. Over fifty bills to initiate a statehood process were proposed, but none passed.
There are different theories about why New Mexico statehood took so long. One is that the Santa Fe Ring, led by Thomas B. Catron, was doing well under Territorial status and didn’t want to rock that particular financial boat.
Ironically, the wheeling and dealing produced by the likes of the Ring also resulted explosions like the Lincoln County War, a story the Eastern papers seemed especially drawn to. Clearly, New Mexico wasn’t civilized and law-abiding enough to be a State.
It’s also possible that the large number of Catholics in New Mexico made Protestant politicians back East nervous. As well as the fact that so many of those Catholics had brown skin.
Whatever the reason, on January 6, 1912, New Mexico became the 47th member of the United States of America. William C. McDonald, a Carrizozo rancher, was the first State Governor and Albert Bacon Fall and Thomas Catron, the first senators.
Fortunately, Catron was past his prime at this point, so he couldn’t do much harm in D.C. But Fall, at age 51, was still young to get in trouble. He became embroiled in the Teapot Dome scandal—he’d accepted a $100,000 “loan” while officially negotiating the lease of federally-owned oil lands—and had to resign.
So New Mexico finally achieved statehood, but it got off to a less than perfect start. Fall proved that it was still a wild place where newcomers, at least, could end up getting themselves in trouble. He had, after all, only been in New Mexico since 1883.
Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico Biographical Dictionary Vol. I, Rio Grande Books: Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 2007; Thomas C. Donnelly, The Government of New Mexico, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1953; David V. Holtby, Forty-Seventh Star, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 2012; Marc Simmons, New Mexico, an interpretive history, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1988. ;