Nuestra Historia - This column’s highlights of 2012

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Just before ending its first year in 2011, Nuestra Historia embarked on a titillating series called “Myth, Legend or Fact.”

Among the fascinating topics covered in that series were “Lynch the Wind Mill,” “Will the Real Hermit Please Stand?” “La Gavilla de Silva,” “Starvation Peak,” and “Highlands’ Eyring Left in His Chair.”

Based on reader reaction, however, the most amusing entry in the series was “Tiny, Joe, the Monkey and the Moon,” apparently enjoyed with hearty laughter by many Optic readers.

We continued with a column devoted to the origin of Las Vegas street names and our town’s old trolley system, and the history of the several bridges which have spanned Bridge Street. We also told the remarkable story of Camp Luna and King Stadium, and the great military tradition which began there in 1904. Finally, we recounted the history of the Immaculate Conception church and school, and of our Protestant churches and Zion Hill.

As Nuestra Historia entered 2012, at the wise suggestion of Optic publisher Tom McDonald, we focused on New Mexico’s centennial, recounting the history leading to statehood in 1912. The series was well received, and many readers said they learned about events not usually covered in narratives relating to New Mexico’s long quest for statehood.

The centennial series was introduced with a column describing the premier standing of Las Vegas in the years immediately preceding statehood, and the pivotal role played by many Las Vegas leaders at the time New Mexico was admitted as the 47th state.

We then went back in time, to describe the courageous anti-slavery proclamations made by New Mexico’s Hispanic leaders immediately after the territory was annexed by the United States, as they willingly jeopardized early statehood for their valiant and unyielding passion against human bondage.

We continued New Mexico’s long quest for statehood in several columns which recounted the momentous events which followed Archbishop Lamy’s arrival in New Mexico in 1851. In a narrative which began with an entry titled “New Mexico Trembled as Territorial Titans Clashed,” we told the story of Lamy’s purge of the Hispanic clergy, including his excommunication of Padre Antonio Jose Martinez. We also recounted how Lamy intervened to ensure that Padre Jose Manuel Gallegos did not continue as New Mexico’s delegate to Congress — and how Lamy’s oppression caused a protracted vacuum in the territory’s Hispanic leadership.

In another column appropriately called “The Handshake that Doomed Statehood,” we told the fascinating story of how a simple congratulatory gesture extended on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1875, caused southern congressmen to retaliate against New Mexico, and how statehood continued to be rebuffed because of the sectional division which pervaded the United States following the Civil War.

In subsequent unvarnished narratives, introduced with “The Mean Season Begins for New Mexico,” we recounted the years immediately preceding statehood, when both Washington and the American press embarked on an unabashed racial tirade against the Hispanic people of New Mexico. Recounting the 1902 visit to Las Vegas by the Beveridge Committee of the U.S. Senate, we titled one column “It is Hard to Teach Mexicans English Well,” quoting from testimony before the Beveridge Committee, in what became a grand inquisition against all things Hispanic — resulting in Washington’s continued denial of statehood because New Mexico was not sufficiently Americanized.

We also recounted how statehood was again obstructed when Washington required that New Mexico and Arizona be admitted as one state under the name of Arizona. We then reviewed the political maneuvering which brought statehood within reach at the 1908 Republican National Convention in Chicago; and President Taft’s personal intervention to foil last-ditch attempts to defeat statehood in the crucial moments before New Mexico was finally admitted.

We concluded the centennial series with the momentous constitutional convention of 1910, when the Spanish language and other Hispanic rights were forever enshrined in New Mexico’s constitution; and we brought the series home again with the election of Ezequiel C de Baca of Las Vegas as New Mexico’s first lieutenant governor and our state’s second governor — ending with the heartbreaking story of his death only 49 days after becoming governor.

As 2012 continued, we told the history of the storied Las Vegas judgeship, including a much acclaimed series about the Carl Magee libel and murder trials of 1923 and 1926, and the bizarre machinations of Judge David Leahy and political boss Secundino Romero, as New Mexico’s most celebrated First Amendment case came to life on this page. We also recounted the long tenure of legendary district judge Luis Armijo, and the political intrigue to keep Donaldo A. “Tiny” Martinez from succeeding him, and we concluded with the history of the judgeship through the present time.

Our present “Tale of Two Cities” will continue through consolidation in 1970, and we will next preview the people and events which will fill this page as Nuestra Historia unfolds in 2013.

Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.