Learn Your History Thursday (the Governor Says So)

It’s official: Governor Susana Martinez has declared Thursday, May 3, “New Mexico Statehood History Day.” Thursday, not so coincidentally, happens to be the day the New Mexico History Museum and the Historical Society of New Mexico kick off three days of learning about statehood.

In her proclamation, Governor Martinez said:

Whereas, the year 2012 marks the Centennial of New Mexico becoming the 47th state of the union on January 6, 1912; and

Whereas, New Mexico’s millennia of cultural traditions and centuries of recorded history, beginning with the first Spanish entrada in 1540 and continuing through Spanish Colonial, Mexican, Territorial, and statehood periods, are as rich and deep as any; and

Whereas, New Mexico’s long path to statehood, beginning with being named a territory of the United States in 1850, involved the perseverance oaf many dedicated citizens over many decades; and

Whereas, the study and understanding of our unique history provides a base for New Mexicans to better prepare for the future;

Now, therefore I, Susana Martinez, governor of the state of New Mexico, do hereby proclaim the 3rd day of May 2012 as “New Mexico Statehood History Day” throughout the state of New Mexico.

The best way to honor Statehood History Day, in our eyes, is by visiting the state History Museum. Admission is free to everyone on Thursday and you can pop into any or all of the lectures at our Centennial Symposium. On Friday and Saturday, the Historical Society holds its annual conference at the Santa Fe Convention Center, and this year, the discussions are focused on statehood. (Click on the link for details on how to register.)

Topics will range from traditional foods in Native American communities to land-grant studies, Western characters like Kit Carson and Wyatt Earp, and controversial New Mexico politicos such as Thomas Benton Catron, Bronson Cutting, and New Mexico’s first Territorial Governor (and possible U.S. spy) James S. Calhoun. The conference’s 24 sessions and nearly 70 presentations include:

  • “Juan Dominguez de Mendoza: Soldier and Frontiersman of 17th-Century New Mexico,” by historians Marc Simmons and José Antonio Esquibel.
  • “The Changing Character of New Mexico Statehood as Reflected by the Santa Fe Fiesta Celebration,” by Andrew Lovato, assistant professor of speech communications at Santa Fe Community College.
  • “Butch Cassidy in New Mexico: His Winning Ways, Dancing Feet, and Postmortem Return,” by free-lance writer Nancy Coggeshall.
  • “U.S. Army Nurses at Fort Bayard,” by Cecilia Jensen Bell, a researcher with the Fort Bayard Historical Preservation Society.
  • “La Matanza: Conserving Identity through Food in Los Lunas,” by Daniel Valverde, an anthropology student at New Mexico State University.

“The research that these scholars have accomplished is truly impressive,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum. “Visitors can start their weekend history immersion by seeing the maps, paintings, photographs and artifacts that we use in our main exhibit, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now. If you’re not already a fan of history, the symposium and conference will make you one.”

Founded in 1859, the Historical Society of New Mexico is the oldest historical society in the West. Its collections were incorporated into the original Museum of New Mexico, created in 1909 in the Palace of the Governors, and today represent an important part of the New Mexico History Museum’s holdings. The society’s photographs, documents and books, collected from 1885 on, became the core of the museum’s Fray Angélico Chávez History Library and the Photo Archives at the Palace of the Governors. The Society began its annual conferences in 1974, and also publishes award-winning papers and news of history around the state in La Crónica de Nuevo México.

Image above: Dignitaries join U.S. President William H. Taft as he signs New Mexico into statehood in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 1912. Photo by Harris and Ewing. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives 89760.

Can’t Beat This: Free Admission and a Free Centennial Symposium

In honor of New Mexico’s 100th birthday, the New Mexico History Museum invites you and your family to enjoy free admission all day Thursday, May 3, when you can also attend all or parts of a daylong Centennial symposium. The symposium, co-hosted by the Historical Society of New Mexico begins at 10:30 am in the auditorium and concludes at 4 pm. The Historical Society picks up the reins Friday and Saturday with its 2012 Centennial Conference at the Santa Fe Convention Center. (Click on the hotlink for information on admission, as well as the conference program.)

The History Museum’s symposium schedule:

10:30 am: Welcome and introductions by Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum; and Dr. Richard Melzer, professor of history at the UNM-Valencia campus.

10:45 am: Keynote address, “New Mexico Statehood, an Earlier Pereption,” by Dr. Robert Larson, professor emeritus of history at the University of Northern Colorado and author of the classic book New Mexico’s Quest for Statehood, 1846-1912.

11:30 am:“The Rough Road to Statehood,” by Dr. David Van Holtby, research scholar at the Center for Regional Studies, UNM, and retired associate director and editor-in-chief of UNM Press. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Forth-seventh Star: New MExico’s Struggle for Statehood, 1894-1912.

12:15 pm: Break (lunch on your own).

1:30 pm: “The Quest for Law and Order and New Mexico’s Struggle for Statehood,” by Robert Torrez, independent scholar and former New Mexico state historian. He is the author of more than 100 articles and books on New Mexico history, including the award-winning Rio Arriba, A Nexico County.

2:15 pm: “New Mexico Icons,” by Henrietta Martinez Christmas, noted New Mexico historian and genealogist who has written more than 100 articles and books on New Mexico history, focusing on the history of New Mexico families.

3 pm: Break.

3:30 pm: Open discussion with Dr. Melzer and other presenters.

The event is supported by a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council. Free admission has been generously donated by the History Museum and the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents.

Image above: A 1912 parade float in Santa Fe. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives 118354.

The One Thing President Taft Got Right: New Mexico Statehood

Noel Pugach, a professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico, delivered this week’s Centennial Brainpower & Brownbags Lecture in which he explored the story of the man who managed to give New Mexico what it had sought for more than 60 years: statehood. But beyond making New Mexico (and Arizona) a state, President William Howard Taft left a legacy that can best be represented by a shrug of the shoulders.

“Taft had a distinguished career before and after his presidency, yet most historians rate him as an average president–even mediocre,” Pugach said.

(That’s Taft at left, joined by dignitaries as he signs New Mexico into statehood in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 1912. Photo by Harris and Ewing. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives 89760.)

Theodore Roosevelt preceded Taft and helped him win election in 1908; Woodrow Wilson succeeded him four years later. “He was unfortunately sandwiched between two dynamic men who left their marks on history,” Pugach said. “That’s hard to beat, and here you come in the middle. Taft suffers by comparison.”

He also suffers by having been a poor administrator, owning a political tin ear and displaying a knack for choosing the conservative sides of issues in a country that was then moving left. Not to mention that he ate compulsively to cope with whatever inner demons drove him, ending up at something like 340 pounds while in the White House where, yes, he got stuck in a bath tub. More than once. Laugh if you must, but do take a moment to consider what mental and physical agony he must have suffered. (That said, he was an avid golfer and a darned good dancer.)

When Taft took office, some conservative Republicans remained stuck on the idea that a New Mexico-Arizona combo state was the only way to go, despite Teddy’s best efforts to dampen their zeal. Taft did some of his own cajoling and negotiating to quell that plan, then had to engage in some last-minute horse-trading that weakened his ideas for regulating the railways in return for granting New Mexico statehood.

(At left: Noel Pugach with History Museum Director Frances Levine.)

The Cincinnati native had graduated from Yale where he not only scored good grades but had enough social acumen to win an invitation into the secret Skull & Bones Society. He earned a law degree and embarked on a political career of appointed positions–an important distinction, Pugach said, given Taft’s later inability to succeed at the mano a mano of electoral politics. After he served admirably as chief civil administrator in the Philippines, Roosevelt made him his Secretary of War (despite a lack of military experience) and, though he dreamed of being a Supreme Court justice, Teddy and Taft’s wife, Helen, pressured him to run for the presidency against Democrat William Jennings Bryan. He won handily and eventually amassed a record as a better trust-buster than Roosevelt (though Teddy would get the glory).

He didn’t like Washington and spent so much time traveling that he got a reputation of being out of touch.

“He was a lousy politician,” Pugach said. “He had terrible political instincts. He spoke too candidly. He was inept at horse trading. The press called him `The Blunderer.'”

On the upside: “He was a man who was very bright. He had good intentions. He cared for his country. But by and large, he was unsuccessful in his presidency. This is the man who finally brought us statehood.”

By 1912, when Republicans nominated Taft for a second term, Roosevelt had lost so much faith in him that he formed the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party, thereby splitting the GOP vote and handing victory to Wilson. Taft went happily back to Yale, where he served as a law professor until President Harding gave him his dream job, Chief Justice of the United States.

Of his performance in that job, Pugach said, Taft’s record was … “average.”

Letters, We Get (New Mexico Centennial) Letters

When we launched the Centennial Letter Writing Project on Jan. 6, 2012 (the 100th anniversary of New Mexico statehood), some of us at the New Mexico History Museum wondered aloud whether we’d eke out even 200 letters over the next 12 months. Well, it’s early March, and we’re about to zoom past that total. The stack at left? That’s just today’s haul.

Students in the Upward Bound college-prep program in Roswell have written by the dozens. So did a class at St. Michael’s High School, members of a creative-writing group in Taos, and individuals of all ages in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and elsewhere.

(We sure could use some voices from western and southern New Mexico — hint, hint.)

Our request was simple enough (though it seemed a bit of a burden to the Twitter generation): Tell us about your life in the year 2012 so that historians in the year 2112 might have some first-person accounts told by rank-and-file residents. We want to hear what your neighborhoods are like, your houses, your career, what you worry about and what gives you hope. Think about what someone 100 years from now might want to know about you. The type of car you drive, its color, what it can and can’t do. The stores you shop at and what you buy there. Do you visit a farmer’s market? Describe the vendors and their produce. Tell us how you make your family’s favorite holiday food and where you get the ingredients. Do you work out? Where? Do you ride bikes or go hiking? Describe the route.

Over the next few months, we’ll post excerpts from some of those letters here on the blog. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have. And we hope that you, too, will put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard; computer printouts are A-OK) and tell us about your life.

Where, pray tell, might you send your missives? Here:

(Isn’t that handwriting about the prettiest thing you’ve seen all week?)

Onto some samples from a few of our friends in Albuquerque. (We’ll only use first names and leave out writer’s addresses.)

Evelyn wrote:

“In this centennial year for New Mexico, I am 80 years old. I live in the Northeast Heights in a house purchased in 1958 for $10,500. It was built in 1954 … one block from Morris St. There were no buildings at that time from east of Morris St. to the mountains…just a dirt road named Juan Tabo. My house has 3 bedrooms, one bathroom and a one-car garage. Every home then had clotheslines and I still use mine. …As a single mother of four children, I taught sewing classes as my own business in fabric stores for 30 years. Most women work outside the home today so sewing is more of a hobby than a necessity. However, young people are becoming more interested in sewing because of a TV program called Project Runway. Sewing classes have been phased out in schools. …”

Joanne wrote:

“I am a native New Mexican, born in 1940 on North Fourth Street in Albuquerque. My father came to NM in 1907 from Kansas as a homesteader in Edgewood when he was 18 years old. His father and eight brothers each received 160 acres but later most of them lost their land because of drought and moved to Albuquerque. My mother came in 1912 when she was 12 years old because her father had TB. I was a teacher at Grant Jr. High and Manzano High School. …

“In 2010 I decided to remodel my house, the original part of which was built in 1947. it was cold in winter, hot in summer, a typical uninsulated, flat-roofed house. I decided to insulate it by wrapping the entire house with straw bales. With the stucco on the outside it looks like an adobe house. I also wanted to see the mountains so I added a second floor bedroom and bath with a deck. I remodeled the house to make the garage into an art studio and added a solar green house on the south side of the house. I added solar panels that produce more energy than I use, giving me great satisfaction, especially when I get a refund every month from the electric company. It makes me so happy to know that I am producing energy for someone else to use as well without polluting our beautiful earth. I am trying to have a garden for produce, fruit trees, flowers and foliage without using too much water so I installed rain-water collection tanks. I think of my house as a demonstration of what one can do with an old house to make it really energy efficient. …”

Suzanne, a 71-year-old Albuquerquean, included details of a friend’s upcoming surgery that, in 100 years, may seem like a commonplace procedure. Not today:

“Dear friend Emily … announced she will have deep brain surgery Mon. Jan. 9 to harness and correct hand tremors she’s suffered for several years. This is not experimental but cutting edge. She will be in intensive care two nights, then rehab after having a tiny computer implanted in her chest to maybe take the place of the part of her brain that is malfunctioning. She is frightened and excited. I think she is so brave but she needs to reclaim her life so she can paint and sew and make jewelry again.”

We’ll close out today (don’t worry, we’ll share plenty more in the weeks ahead) with Olivia, a fourth-grader from Hubert Humphrey Elementary School, whose optimism just may be catching:

“N.M makes me feel special because everyone is different and no one is mean or disappointed because this is the Land of Enchantment. Special things can happen, and that’s why I love New Mexico. What I worry about is people doing dangerous stuff. What gives me hope is seeing people happy and people encouraging me.”