Early on Sunday morning, November 27, 1904, news reached Santa Fe that J. Francisco Chaves was dead. Chaves had been eating dinner at a friend’s house at Pino’s Wells in Torrance County when a lone gunman shot through the window of the room he was in, then escaped on horseback.
The murder was shocking both because of its Wild West nature and because of the victim’s status in New Mexico. Born at Los Padillas in what is now Valencia County, the 71-year-old Chaves was considered the father of the Territory’s Republican party. He was a veteran of the battle of Valverde and subsequently commander at Fort Wingate. The was followed by service as Territorial Delegate to Congress from 1865 to 1871 and also as New Mexico’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. By 1904, he’d served in the Territorial Legislature for almost 30 years and was a longtime friend and political ally of Governor Miguel Otero.
But political power had apparently given Chaves a sense that he wasn’t obliged to abide by other men’s rules. He was a strong supporter of the idea that New Mexico should be made a state as soon as possible and had been working hard at the territorial and national levels to make that happen. When Bernard Rodey, New Mexico’s delegate to Congress, came out in opposition to immediate statehood, Chaves was furious.
But he didn’t confront Rodey, who was up for reelection. Instead, he publicly supported Rodey’s candidacy, while quietly arranging for another man to get the Republican nomination to the position.
Chaves’s candidate would win that election and proceed to Congress, but Chaves wouldn’t live to see his success. He was dead by then, killed in a way that contributed to the idea that New Mexico Territory was still a violent frontier and not ready yet for statehood.
The behavior of the new Delegate didn’t help matters. Within seven weeks of his arrival in Washington, D.C., scandal engulfed him, raising further questions about New Mexico’s right to become a full-fledged state. It would be another eight years before the cloud lifted and New Mexico achieved Chaves’ desire. One has to wonder if Statehood would have happened sooner if Chaves hadn’t tried to hurry it along.
Sources: David V. Holtby, Forty-Seventh Star, New Mexico’s Struggle For Statehood, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2012.; Frank H. H. Roberts and Ralph E. Twitchell, History and Civics of New Mexico, Robert O. Law Company, Chicago, 1914; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2015; Ralph E. Twitchell, The Leading FActs of New mexican History Vol. III, The Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, 1917.