The three deaths of George Curry


Celebrated humorist Mark Twain, after a surprise reading of his own obituary in the newspapers, released the following comment: “The report of my death was greatly exaggerated.” George Curry, one of the last territorial governors of New Mexico, late in life referred to three similar experiences of his own, or as he stated the matter: “The doubtful privilege of reading an account of my death has been mine, three different times.”

A Louisiana native, at age 18 he landed in New Mexico, where he worked on the famous Block ranch, and then as a clerk in the post store at nearby Fort Stanton, both in Lincoln County. The experience cemented his love of New Mexico, and he served in several county offices, including sheriff, before being elected to the legislative body of Santa Fe. With the Spanish American War in 1898, Curry enlisted in the Rough Riders, becoming a favorite of Teddy Roosevelt. Afterward, when Roosevelt advanced to the presidency, he named his former Rough Rider to the governorship of Samar Province in the Philippines, a former Spanish colony acquired by the U.S. in the late war. Philippine guerillas, however, refused to accept American rule and engaged in jungle warfare. Gov. Curry went to an outpost called Mocton and there walked onto a field to negotiate with the rebel leader.

As he did so, a fullscale conflict erupted and he disappeared. The guerillas retreated, but a news report declared the provincial governor was missing and presumed dead.

Catholic Masses for him were said throughout Samar and the capital of Manila. Word reached the United States that Curry had perished at the battle of Mocton. But a follow-up story provided a correction. George Curry, in fact, had turned up alive and well. Once back in friendly hands, the governor received a cablegram from President Roosevelt. It read: “Congratulations on your miraculous escape. Keep a stiff upper lip. I am with you. —Theodore”

The president was so “with him” that in 1907 he summoned the stout-hearted Curry home and then appointed him to the office of territorial governor in Santa Fe. Of the three false publications of George Curry’s obituary, the one originating in the Philippines proved to be the most sensational. Prior to that, in 1884, while living briefly in Raton, Curry had gone one summer’s day over the pass of Trinidad to attend a baseball game and a Colorado State Fair. The town was jammed with visitors and lodgings scarce, but Curry had made a hotel reservation. While in the lobby, he met a newly arrived Englishman, loaded with cash and looking to buy a ranch in the area. Yet, he could find no place to stay for the night. Curry, ever helpful, instructed the desk clerk to have a cot placed in his own room for the foreign visitor. And it was done. Upon arising the next day, he found that the guest had left at dawn and in the semi-darkness put on Curry’s vest by mistake rather than his own. The same afternoon, the Englishman was discovered murdered, evidently for his money. A search of the victim’s body produced only one piece of identification. A letter in the vest pocket bore the address “George Curry, Raton, N.M.” As Mr. Curry remembered it at a later time, “New Mexico newspapers published a flowery obituary in my behalf.”

Many years later, following his stint as governor and then as a one term representative in Congress, George Curry for a while resided at Hot Springs (today’s T or C.). One day he left for the mining town of Hillsboro on business.

Upon arriving back in Hot Springs, he was astonished to find, gathered outside the Sierra County Courthouse, his two grown sons and numerous friends mourning his passing. The Albuquerque Journal has published an account of his death, but again it was a case of mistaken identity.

Early in 1947, the New Mexico Legislature passed a bill establishing the historic Lincoln County Courthouse as a state museum. It also provided that the state historian should have custody of the building, naming an aging George Curry to that office.

Curry enjoyed his role as historian and even quipped, “The next time my obituary is published, I expect the report will be correct.” And so it was. He died the following Thanksgiving 1947 at age 87. He was buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery with full military honors.