Nuestra Historia: Conclusion of La Voz; photo acknowledgements

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By Jesus Lopez

The significance of La Voz del Pueblo in the history of Las Vegas cannot be overstated. The newspaper founded by Felix Martinez in 1890 had a 35-year run, publishing until 1925, and during much of that time was among New Mexico’s leading newspapers. The populist revolt which Martinez engendered on the pages of La Voz was short-lived, however, and the Romero regime returned to power with a vengeance in the late 1890s. (The Romero family would continue its dominance for another three decades, until the death of Secundino Romero in 1929, as related in earlier columns.)

Martinez moved to El Paso in 1900, and we will never know for certain whether it was his familiar wanderlust, or his frustration at having to live under the Romero regime, that caused the founder of Highlands University to leave Las Vegas. He later sold La Voz to his associates Ezequiel C de Baca and Antonio Lucero, who would espouse the egalitarian and populist ideals which Martinez had engendered.

La Voz continued the fight for the Las Vegas Land Grant and other Hispanic and populist causes, and though politically powerless in Las Vegas itself, the newspaper spurred great social and political debate throughout New Mexico. So influential was La Voz that C de Baca became the state’s first lieutenant governor, and Lucero the first secretary of state in 1912. Four years later, C de Baca was elected New Mexico’s second governor, though the Romero political machine denied him a victory in San Miguel County. (See our series on Gov. C de Baca, Nuestra Historia, April and May, 2012).

In 1916, the same year his protégée was elected governor of New Mexico, Felix Martinez died in El Paso, where the Renaissance-man left an equally impressive legacy. He was a prominent banker and publisher of the El Paso Daily Times, served on the board of governors of the Federal Reserve Board in Dallas, and spearheaded the establishment of Elephant Butte Dam in southern New Mexico, still one of the major power and irrigations projects of the Southwest.

So accomplished and renowned was the former Las Vegan, that during the Mexican Civil War, Felix Martinez was called upon to serve as liaison at a diplomatic meeting between President Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, and helped bring about a temporary end to hostilities in 1912. Despite his many accomplishments, he always remembered this brief episode as one of his most fulfilling moments.

While most photographs which run with this column are related to the week’s article, some are chosen simply because they provide an enchanting look at the past, as is the case with today’s picture. We are grateful to those who make the pictures available, and have been remiss in not acknowledging them.
Las Vegas is fortunate to have incredibly rich repositories of old photographs, including the Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation, the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Collection, and both Donnelly Library and Carnegie Public Library. Private collections are also a source for pictures that appear in Nuestra Historia, and we are grateful to those who make their private photographs available.

Another special collection is actually owned by hundreds of Las Vegans whose families preserved the treasured church bulletins published by Our Lady of Sorrows pastor James T. Burke in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fr. Burke ran his own printing press in the church rectory, and every Sunday published fascinating historical photographs made available to him by parishioners and others, and several have appeared in Nuestra Historia. (In a later series relating to the tumultuous times at Highlands University in the early 1970s, we will profile Fr. Burke, an activist priest who printed (and authored) many of the pamphlets and other publications disseminated during the Highlands demonstrations, and later served on the university’s board of regents.)
Then there is Joseph A. Lordi, the photo-historian extraordinaire, and Las Vegas aficionado. Like so many people who fall in love with our town, Lordi accidentally stumbled upon Las Vegas while traveling along Interstate-25. He happened to glance over his shoulder, noticed the magnificent old buildings just off the highway, made a quick exit, and has been enchanted with our town ever since.

From Kennett Square, Pa., Lordi has published two Las Vegas Pictorials, Vol. I in 2010, and Vol. 2 in 2012. They include hundreds of clear and crisp historical photographs, and no part of Las Vegas is omitted. Nor are his books mere collections of old pictures, but a compendium of succinctly robust narratives, relating the history of Las Vegas through each fascinating picture.

A cultural anthropologist and historian, Lordi’s arduous research is evident in both volumes, and each photograph includes a tantalizing cutline.

His Las Vegas Pictorials are themselves history books, and we recommend them to anyone who desires to learn more about our town — and we thank Joe Lordi for his courtesy and kindness in allowing us to use his pictures in Nuestra Historia.

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