By Jesus L. Lopez
For almost seven decades beginning in the 1860s, one family would dominate the social, financial and political landscape of Las Vegas and San Miguel County. Their influence would be felt throughout New Mexico, and would not end until the late 1920s.
The sons of this Las Vegas dynasty would represent territorial New Mexico in Congress, and help ensure that New Mexico was admitted to the Union.
They would represent our town and county in Santa Fe at the constitutional convention in 1910, and there ensure that New Mexico’s constitution would forever protect the rights of Hispanic New Mexicans.
They would serve as our U.S. marshals and long time mayors of Las Vegas and sheriffs of San Miguel County, and would establish our first fire department, and provide the first buildings for our courts and government offices.
They would establish great mercantile houses, build the Plaza Hotel and erect the most elegant mansions in all the southwest.
They would provide the financial wherewithal to establish the first formal education system in Las Vegas, and would care for the disabled and mentally ill and ensure that New Mexico’s state hospital was located here.
The last of them would serve as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives and U.S. Marshal, and twice seek the office of governor.
This was the great Romero family, and they ruled supreme. Their power and influence would not end until 1929, with the death of Secundino Romero, the last scion of this enduring dynasty, and grandson of its patriarch, Don Miguel Romero.
Miguel Romero was one of the first settlers of Las Vegas, and among the first grantees of the Las Vegas Land Grant. He was born at La Cienega south of Santa Fe in 1798, and was in the Las Vegas area as early as 1833. While settling Las Vegas, he and other family members were simultaneously engaged in mining operations south of Santa Fe, near the Ortiz mountains. (Placer mining for gold in that area was very extensive at the time, and it is reputed that Don Miguel and other family members acquired considerable wealth from their mining ventures).
In 1851 Don Miguel and his wife Josefa (Delgado) moved to Las Vegas permanently, building their home at the northeast corner of the Plaza. The home was located where North Gonzales Street begins today, and ran west to include the present corner building and Roberto Armijo’s former law offices, as well as a part of what we call the Dice Apartments (east of Casa de Música). The house was Spanish colonial adobe built in a complete square, creating an inner courtyard, as was the custom among the more affluent Hispanics at the time. (It is said that one could walk through a doorway into the vast Romero orchards and gardens that extended east to the Rio Gallinas).
Before moving here permanently in 1851, Don Miguel had already acquired some capital as both a merchant and gold miner in the area south of Santa Fe. But more than most anyone else at the time, he foresaw that after the 1846 annexation of New Mexico by the United States, commerce along the Santa Fe Trail would boom, and that Las Vegas would become an important point along the Trail.
The Santa Fe Trail, of course, was the famous trade route which opened commerce between New Mexico and the United States. The route, roughly, was from St. Louis west across the entire state of Missouri to Independence, across all of Kansas and into southeastern Colorado (Bent’s Fort/La Junta), then south to Ft. Union and into Las Vegas, ending in Santa Fe. (Santa Fe Trail aficionados are asked to indulge my cursory depiction of the Trail, as a full description of the exact route and locations would fill this entire column and more, and our focus is Las Vegas).
From Las Vegas and Santa Fe, the vast mercantile brought from the east would move throughout New Mexico and south into Mexico, with immense amounts of goods routed back to the east. It is estimated that every year in the 1860s, at least 5,000 wagons traversed the Trail, which covered 1,200 miles and took a full two months to complete.
With this foresight, that commerce would boom on the Santa Fe Trail, when Don Miguel settled here permanently in 1851, he immediately entered the business of freighting goods along the Trail. By the end of the 1850s and early 1860s, Miguel Romero had established one of the largest and most lucrative freighting operations on the entire Santa Fe Trail, and this was just the beginning for Don Miguel and his five sons.
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.