New Mexico Joins the U.S.!

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.

Albert-Bacon-Fall.Britanica

Albert Bacon Fall http://www.Britannica.com

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.               ;

Stephen Elkins Takes Lucrative Federal Position

On Saturday, December 22, 1866, New Mexico Territory’s acting Governor W.F.M. Arny appointed Stephen B. Elkins Territorial Attorney General, putting Elkins into the first of a series of Federal positions that would be extremely beneficial to his bank account.

William Frederick Milton Arny had arrived in New Mexico in 1861 as President Lincoln’s  Indian Agent to the Ute and Jicarilla Apache of northern New Mexico. Stationed at what is now Cimarron, Arny worked to provide agricultural opportunities for the Native Americans for whom he was responsible. However, he was moved out of this position to that of Territorial Secretary in 1862, where he served under Governor Henry Connelly until Connelly’s death in July 1866. Arny served as interim Governor about six months, until Robert B. Mitchell took over. During that period, he appointed Stephen B. Elkins to his new job.

The two men seem to have been quite different in their approach to New Mexico. Even after he was no longer Indian agent, Arny continued to work for what he saw as the good of Native Americans in New Mexico and to express his opinions about Native American issues, even when they weren’t popular. He opposed moving the Navajo people to Bosque Redondo and suffered the political consequences of that stance. He died in Santa Fe in 1881, virtually penniless.

Dec 22 illustration.Arny, W. F. M

Elkins, on the other hand, seems to have always been focused on his own needs. He arrived in New Mexico in 1863, after resigning from his position as Captain in the Union Army in the middle of the Civil War. Elected to the Territorial House of Representatives the following year, he moved from there into Federal positions, beginning with his appointment as Attorney General. When his right to the job was challenged by Governor Mitchell, he negotiated himself into being named the Territorial U.S. District Attorney instead.

While District Attorney, Elkins also practiced law with Thomas Catron. He was elected New Mexico’s Congressional Delegate in 1872 and served two terms, during which he worked to delay New Mexico statehood, an event he and Catron felt would be detrimental to their business activities, which included land grant speculation and other questionable practices.

Elkins left New Mexico in 1877 and moved to West Virginia. There, he served as Secretary of War during the Benjamin Harrison administration and was elected to the U.S. Senate. He remained Senator until his death, all the while continuing to dabble in shady enterprises. These included exploiting the government-owned Alaska fur seal industry and participating in the mail contracts that played into the Star Route mail frauds exposed in 1881.

By the time Elkins died in 1911, he was wealthy enough to have co-founded Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. He left behind a legacy, both financial and educational.

But I’m still inclined to think that Arny was the better man. Even if he did give Elkins a leg up in his political career.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico Biographical Dictionary, Vol. I, Rio Grande Books: Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 2007; Howard R. Lamar, The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, Harper & Row, New York, 1977; Hal Stratton and Paul Farley, Office Of The Attorney General, State Of New Mexico History, Powers And Responsibilities 1846-1990, State of New Mexico, 1990.

 

Chasing the Santa Fe Ring: Book Review

Chasing the Santa Fe Ring cover
by David L. Caffey
University of New Mexico Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8263-1947-0

In New Mexico, the words “Santa Fe Ring” convey the same concept as the words “Tammany Hall” in New York. The Ring is synonymous with collusion by a few to suppress the many, the use of political power for private ends, and the accumulation of wealth by unsavory means.

In Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, David L. Caffey describes the beginnings, height, and end of the Ring and the people involved in it. The major figures he discusses include, of course, Thomas Catron, Governor Samuel Beach Axtell, Stephen Benton Elkins, and William Breeden. But there were a number of less well-known figures that had links to the ring—Colfax County men like physician Robert Longwill and attorney Melvin W. Mills and Santa Fe merchants like Lehman Spiegelberg and Abraham Staab. Caffey places the activities of these men in context and also provides a helpful summary of their activities in the back matter.

One of the pleasures of reading this book is learning about the connections between the Ring and the various events in New Mexico Territory that tend to be treated as stand-alone eruptions—for example, the Lincoln County War and the Colfax County War. Chasing the Santa Fe Ring is actually a great way to obtain a comprehensive history of the Territory from the lens of the Ring and its particular chronology of events.

Catron and his allies seem to have had their hands in any and every opportunity that appeared to promise a monetary return. This included something as large as using their legislative power to “open up” the land grants to acquisition by outsiders and as small as arranging for jury members to be paid in script with little or no monetary worth, buying that script up, and then forcing a law through the legislature which increased its value.

But this book isn’t just a record of the wrongs perpetuated by the Santa Fe Ring. It’s also the story of how a few people took action and brought an end to its power. One of those people was Mary Tibble McPherson, a woman who didn’t actually live in New Mexico. But her daughter did. By the time McPherson was finished raising hell, even Washington D.C. was taking notice.

Mary McPherson wasn’t the only person involved in the fight against the Ring. But to find out more, you’ll have to read the book. If you’re interested in New Mexico history in the Territorial period, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring is a great resource. I recommend it!

 

Governor Offers Reward for Reverend Tolby’s Killer

On Thursday, October 7, 1875, three weeks after Reverend Franklin J. Tolby’s body was found shot in the back in Cimarron Canyon, New Mexico’s Territorial Governor Samuel B. Axtell announced a $500 reward for the apprehension and conviction of Tolby’s murderer. The proclamation, published in the Friday, October 8 Las Vegas Gazette, seems to indicate that the Governor felt pressured to offer the reward. “A large number of highly reputable citizens of Colfax County, including the county officers, local magistrates, local business owners, and publishers of the local newspapers” had petitioned the governor to issue the proclamation.

Las Vegas Gazette.10 8 1875.Tolby.clipped

The Governor’s apparent lack of enthusiasm lends supports to a local theory that members of the Santa Fe Ring were behind Tolby’s murder. The Governor was thought to be, at the very least, a tool of the Ring, which included Thomas B. Catron, Colfax County Probate Judge Dr. R. H. Longwill, and others, and would play a role in the Lincoln County War in the late 1870’s.

Whether the reward offer had anything to do with what happened in Colfax County in the following weeks isn’t known. What is known is that local attempts to identify Tolby’s murderer would lead to more deaths, one of them far more violent than a mere shot in the back. Stay tuned . . .

Sources: Las Vegas Gazette, October 8, 1875; David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring¸ UNM Press, 2014.