2012 marks the 100th anniversary of New Mexico’s statehood. It was on Jan. 6, 1912, that New Mexico became the 47th state. A few other notable events occurred 100 years ago as well.
Early Attempts At Statehood
As soon as New Mexico officially became a Territory in 1850, statehood bills were introduced in almost every U.S. legislative session thereafter – but these bills were quickly defeated. Excuses ranged from New Mexico being too Catholic, too many “savage Indians,” to too many Democrats. In reading some of the speeches on the House floor opposing statehood, some are outright nasty and mean. We were called Mexico City loyalists, from nearly prehistoric people living in mud huts, to barely able to write or speak in any language. You’d almost think they didn’t like us!
About 50 years later, a statehood bill was finally passed by Congress. Although it was voted on by the people in 1906, it was not ratified. The reason is because the bill wanted to make the combined territories of New Mexico and Arizona into one single state. While it barely passed in New Mexico, Arizonans strongly rejected it. As Arizona newspapers expressed it, they didn’t want to be ruled “by the Mexicanized snakes in Santa Fe,” referring mostly to the infamous “Santa Fe Ring.” Of course, New Mexicans didn’t care much for them either.
In late 1909, another attempt was introduced — called the “Joint Statehood Bill” — making New Mexico and Arizona separate states, although considered for statehood together. In 1910, the new state constitution was drafted, passed and submitted to Washington D.C. There, it was approved by a congressional committee and the Territorial Commission. It was returned to Santa Fe to be ratified by the people of New Mexico.
The Fight Within
There were some New Mexicans, including a few legislators, who clearly did not want to see statehood achieved. Some were large cattle barons who enjoyed grazing their herds on Territorial lands for next to nothing, often snuffing out the small ranchers, and having lucrative contracts with the government.
Under statehood, everyone would have equal standings for grazing rights and competing for contracts. Others had similar self-serving reasons, though seldom expressed in public.
The next step was for a territory-wide election to ratify statehood. Some of those who were opposed began a movement claiming statehood would dissolve the pueblos and nullify the Mexican Land Grants. Thus, thousands of families would lose ownership of the lands that had been in their families for generations. This, of course, was not true. The Pueblo Indians didn’t buy it, but many families living on Mexican Land Grants did.
When the election was held in early 1911, each county hand-delivered the ballots to Santa Fe for counting by representatives from both political parties. The ballots from Socorro County were delivered by Republicans Holm O. Bursum and Michael Cooney, and Democrats Porfirio Sanchez and Juan. A. Sedillo. When the ballots were tallied, 26,195 New Mexicans voted in favor of statehood and 14,735 opposed it.
Many of the northern counties voted against statehood, such as Rio Arriba County with 2,038 voting against and only 676 voting in favor. The counties of Santa Fe, Taos, Union, and surprisingly, Sierra strongly opposed statehood. There was a virtual draw in Guadalupe and Lincoln counties. Socorroans strongly favored statehood, with 2,040 voting for and 455 voting against.
Statehood was passed with an 11,460 vote advantage, or about a two-thirds majority. With New Mexicans approving statehood, the opposing factions suddenly claimed the election was fraudulent. They filed a formal complaint with the Territorial Commission that claimed the election returns were not properly counted or handled, Spanish-speaking Democrats were blocked from voting, and even that saloons were opened and serving free drinks to those who voted in favor of statehood. Of course, if true, these would be serious voting irregularities that would nullify the election — no doubt, the hope of those who filed the grievances.
Washington sent people to investigate the claims. The governor asked prominent leaders of each community to write a letter stating how their elections were conducted. Newspapers carried stories urging New Mexicans to write letters on what irregularities, if any, they saw or experienced.
In the end, there was no evidence of election irregularities. The official investigation determined “the assertions were unsubstantiated,” a nice way of saying “bogus.” Furthermore, many communities, including Socorro, had a temperance movement working to eradicate the “evils of liquor.” Even they wrote letters testifying all saloons were closed on the day of the election, and you can bet they were watching.
Finally, after being voted upon and ratified by the citizens of New Mexico, the statehood bill was returned to Washington. The bill was introduced in Congress, where it sat … and sat … and sat.
By June, the statehood bill had still not been placed on the agenda and the 59th Congress was scheduled to adjourn on June 18. President William Howard Taft and Vice President James Schoolcraft Sherman, upon reviewing unfinished business, urged Senate leaders to pass certain legislation before adjournment, including the New Mexico and Arizona statehood bills. They were voted on — and passed by the Senate — on June 15.
Once in the House, the bill seemed to drag right up to the 11th hour. The Democrat-controlled House seemed opposed to anything favored or passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, and vice versa. How little things have changed.
Finally, the senior Democrat member of the House stated, “While I am not entirely satisfied with the Senate (statehood) bill, yet in order to insure immediate statehood for the Territories, I would not oppose it.”
That broke the ice and the House unanimously voted in favor of statehood for both New Mexico and Arizona. Probably, just because they wanted to adjourn and go home.
Regardless, 60 years of conflict in trying to achieve statehood was finally over. Or was it?
Finally – Statehood
The Proclamation of Statehood was not immediately signed by President Taft. The reason was simple: A special November 1911 election was scheduled to give New Mexicans the opportunity to vote for their first state governor, and state and federal legislators.
Throughout most of the territorial era of New Mexico, politics were dominated by the Republicans. They had little doubt it would remain that way under statehood. The party nominated Socorroan Holm O. Bursum, one of New Mexico’s most powerful Republicans, to be the first state governor. The Democrats nominated Lincoln County rancher William McDonald, considered by some to have an unfair advantage against the imposing Bursum.
When the ballots were counted for the special election, McDonald was elected governor with a lead of 3,000 votes, mostly due to support received from the northern counties and Doña Ana. It was now just a matter of listening to the clock tick until Jan. 6, 2012 — the day of statehood.
In searching the Albuquerque Journal to the Socorro Chieftain newspapers for details about statehood — there is a deafening silence. Hardly anything about statehood leading up to the event can be found. Compared to the other stories on the front page, from a few missing sheep in Polvadera to who was seen in Socorro getting a haircut, you’d think statehood would at least equal to that! But, nothing.
Then, you come to the editions for Saturday, Jan. 6, 1912. Certainly, the story would be here. However, no banner headline in the Albuquerque Journal. The weekly Saturday issue of the Socorro Chieftain gives only a slight indication with its headline “Statehood Next Week” and the opening line is â€ŸNo statehood yet!”
We know New Mexico became a state on Saturday, Jan. 6. So why no statehood headlines on the historic day?
Angry legislators in Santa Fe dug up an unresolved lawsuit over the sale and lease of timber. Hardly worth halting statehood over, yet they made a formal request to the Department of Justice to delay statehood until the matter was resolved.
According to the Federal Register, it involved the “Alamo Gordo Lumber Company,” (obviously, Alamogordo). They had purchased about 30,000 acres of timberland with clear title, much of it from the Territory. The company built a railroad toward Cloudcroft, with spur lines to the lumber camps, to haul the timber to the mills in Alamogordo. It was a massive lumber operation.
In 1907, some Santa Fe legislators began to question the validity of whether or not the Territory had the right to sell some of the timberland for harvesting. A lawsuit was brought against the company, which prevented them from cutting timber until the matter was settled. Like today, the lawsuit dragged on for months and, unable to conduct business, the company went broke. Two years later, the mill and the railroad was dismantled and the railroad tracks were sold for scrap.
Yet, seemingly days before statehood, some Santa Fe legislators dug up this old lawsuit that questioned who owns the land … the bankrupt lumber company or the Territory? The official word was statehood was delayed — once again.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, President Taft was infuriated at the delay tactics to halt New Mexico’s statehood. Upon learning that the land issue was an unresolved and suddenly remembered lawsuit from 1907, involving a lumber company that has been out of business for five years, it was a no-brainer that it didn’t warrant a delay. Certainly the new state legislature could work out what to do with a clump of trees in the Sacramento Mountains.
Besides, dozens of New Mexicans were in Washington for the statehood signing, including Governor-elect McDonald. A little after 1 p.m., the New Mexico entourage was called to the Oval Office. Was this meeting for good news or bad?
On the president’s desk was the unsigned Proclamation of Statehood. The postmaster general handed the president a gold-plated pen, used for signing landmark legislation. New Mexico delegate William Andrews also handed the president a pen — a gold-banded quill pen made of a feather from a great American eagle captured near the Taos Pueblo.
President Taft scribbled half of his signature with the gold pen, and the remainder with the Taos quill. The White House clock stood at 1:40 p.m. Some historical records cite the time was 1:35 p.m., based on President Taft’s habit of setting the White House clocks five minutes fast. Regardless, the people of New Mexico were no longer servants to the United States, but full and equal citizens — at last. This included the Navajo, Apache and Pueblo Indians living in New Mexico.
Immediately, telegrams were sent to Santa Fe that the proclamation for New Mexico’s statehood had, indeed, been signed by the president — much to the delight of most and a disappointment to a few.
However, outside of Santa Fe, most New Mexicans were unaware of the president’s signing. In those days, a lot of newspapers were weekly editions, including the Socorro Chieftain. On the day of statehood, Saturday, Jan. 6, 1912, the Chieftain reported “No statehood yet.” When the next weekly Chieftain was printed, Socorroans learned statehood was a done deal and old news.
The handful of disgruntled lawmakers in Santa Fe didn’t halt statehood, but they did rob New Mexicans of the fanfare. Sadly, it seems our centennial suffered the same fate. Yesterday, Jan. 6, was New Mexico’s 100th birthday. Where was the fanfare? I wanted a parade or some fireworks.
New Mexico’s statehood was hardly the biggest news story of 1912. In fact, it was at most a two-paragraph story in most newspapers.
Next to statehood, another centennial for Socorro occurs this month. It was 100 years ago that the “M” on “M” Mountain first appeared. Students from the New Mexico School of Mines worked in knee-deep snow over the holidays to construct the landmark icon. For 100 years, students have climbed the lofty mountain to realign the rocks and whitewash or paint the giant structure to keep it pristine, an under-appreciated job. What would Socorro be without our “M”?
The year 1912 also left its mark on world history as well.
In early 1912, the world was following reports of British explorer Robert Scott and his expedition to the South Pole. They walked more than 800 miles across the frigid Antarctic continent to be the first to reach the pole. Scott and his men arrived at the South Pole on Jan. 18, only to find a tent and a Norwegian flag planted squarely at 90 degrees south latitude. It had been placed there by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen only a month before. Amundsen and his men, credited as the first to arrive at the South Pole, safely returned to Norway, while Scott and four of his men perished on their return to McMurdo Sound.
Tarzan is also 100 years old this year. It was in 1912 that Edgar Rice Burroughs first published his story “Tarzan of the Apes.” It was an instant hit. The character and story plots were so popular, he wrote a sequel, then another … and another. By the 1940s, Burroughs had published two dozen Tarzan books. In the 1930s, Tarzan movies, starring Johnny Weismuller, further popularized the series. Tarzan, Jane and Cheeta will probably be with us for the next 100 years.
However, without a doubt, the largest news story of the year, and one of the most enduring of the 20th century, was the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. One hundred years ago, 1,517 souls perished in the freezing north Atlantic waters in what has become the most unforgettable maritime disasters of all time. To honor this monumental event, a British company has employed two ships, representing the Titanic and the rescue ship Carpathia, to reenact the historic voyage — hopefully minus the iceberg. The history article for April will be devoted to the memory of the iconic disaster of the RMS Titanic.
Happy birthday New Mexico!