A.B. Fall and the Bull Act

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The other day, I ran upon a curious and little known incident in the career of New Mexico politician Albert B. Fall. It concerned something called the American Bull Act passed by the territorial legislature in the late 1880s.

 

 

New Mexican ranchers since colonial days had raised a mongrel class of cattle known as criollos. Often they grazed their herds upon the unfenced public domain.

However, with the advent of American stock raisers in the last decades of the 19th century, a problem arose. The progressive newcomers began introducing pure-blooded animals in an effort to upgrade the quality of beef and enhance profits.

On the open range, though, the pricey new cattle inevitably bred with the common grade criollos, angering the ambitious Americans.

Since the New Mexicans had no interest in or could not afford importing blooded stock, their rivals sought redress in Santa Fe with the legislature.

They managed to get enacted a discriminatory measure that prohibited ranchers from running stock upon New Mexico grasslands unless they had a minimum of six bulls for every 100 head of cows. In addition, three-fourths of the bulls were required to be American breeds.

Penalties for violators were stiff. Owners failing to comply with the “American Bull Act,” as it was named, faced a heavy fine and a term in the territorial penitentiary at Santa Fe.

Like an early day Lone Ranger, Las Cruces lawyer Albert B. Fall came riding to the rescue of the aggrieved parties. It would be, perhaps, his finest hour.

Growing up in Kentucky, Fall taught school and read law until health problems prompted him to move to Texas, where a better climate cured him.

Twice he went up the Chisholm Trail with a beef herd and afterward worked at mining in Mexico. The year 1885 found him prospecting around Silver City and eastward into the Black Range.

By 1887, Fall had settled in Las Cruces with his family. There he passed the bar exam and opened a law office. Among his early clients were native ranchers, charged and indicted with violation of the American Bull Act.

Apparently, most of the 20 or more men he defended spoke no English, but A.B. Fall by now was fluent in Spanish. Thus, during jury trials, he could dispense with interpreters.

Taking on the Bull Act as a personal crusade, Fall challenged its legality in the 3rd District Court at Las Cruces. And he won. The court declared that the American Bull Act violated federal law.

At the very time those proceedings were in progress, Fall decided to enter politics. Winning a seat in the territorial legislature, he managed to get the prejudicial Bull Act repealed, soon after taking his seat inthe capitol.

From that point, Fall’s career soared like a meteor. Lofty offices in Santa Fe that he won included associate justice on the territorial supreme court and two terms as attorney general. In 1912, the statehood year, he advanced to the U.S. Senate.

There, he became a friend of Sen. Warren G. Harding, who was elected president in 1921. The following year, Fall was named Secretary of Interior in Harding’s cabinet.

Up to that time, no other New Mexican had ever achieved such a high position in Washington. Fall’s world crumbled, however, when he was accused and convicted of accepting bribes for leasing government oil lands to friends, in the infamous Tea Pot Dome Scandal.

Fall went to prison in 1931, never to recover his reputation or fortune.

Fall’s significant role in abolishing the American Bull Act has been forgotten. Yet, that small incident remains part of New Mexico’s ranching history.

 


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