It was a Sunday morning on Feb. 18, 1917. Surrounded by his family, Ezequiel C de Baca died peacefully at age 52, after 49 valiant days as New Mexico’s second governor.
C de Baca had not sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1916.
He genuinely resisted attempts to draft him, protesting that he did not have the funds to wage a campaign. As well, he was feeling in persistent poor health, due to some unexplained ailment.
Never a man of wealth or material pursuits, since becoming lieutenant governor in 1912, C de Baca had struggled to keep La Voz del Pueblo afloat and to support his large family, which included his wife Margarita and their 14 children. As for his health, in June 1916, C de Baca had sought medical attention in St. Louis, while heading New Mexico’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention.
Nonetheless, the modest man from West Las Vegas was nominated for governor, by acclamation, at the Democratic convention in August 1916 —his friends and party leaders assuring him they would provide the necessary funds for an effective campaign. For lieutenant governor, Democrats nominated outgoing governor William C. McDonald, deciding to continue with the same team, in reverse roles.
Though never having held public office before becoming New Mexico’s first lieutenant governor, C de Baca always attracted enthusiastic support, despite his unassuming and studious manner. While lieutenant governor, he was even the Democratic choice to be one of New Mexico’s first U.S. senators, losing to Albert B. Fall in the Republican dominated state legislature by a vote of 43 to 23.
So it was that in the fall of 1916, from his modest home at 600 W. National Ave., Ezequiel C de Baca mounted his bid to become New Mexico’s second governor. He continued to feel poorly, however, and remained in Las Vegas during most of the campaign. (Located at the northwest corner of W. National and New Mexico Avenues, the home became the residence of Ezequiel’s daughter Margarita until her death in 1969, and later served as the law offices of Governor C de Baca’s grandson, Donaldo A. “Tiny” Martinez.)
Despite rumors about his health, and every day confronting the most prevalent campaign aspersion against him — that an Hispanic was not possibly qualified to be governor of the nascent 47th American state — C de Baca defeated Holm O. Bursum, who was again the Republican candidate. (C de Baca lost San Miguel County by 86 votes, his Republican Romero cousins denying him a victory in his home county.)
Outgoing governor McDonald, however, lost to Republican Washington Lindsay for lieutenant governor, and this event may have advanced C de Baca’s early demise. (Until 1962, when the law was changed to provide for their joint election, nominees for governor and lieutenant governor were voted for separately, and could be elected from opposing political parties.)
After the election, C de Baca continued to be in ill health. His physicians recommended treatment in San Francisco or Los Angeles, and the governor-elect soon departed for California, seeking a cure for his debilitating illness. However, as the new year approached, rumors abounded that if C de Baca was not present in New Mexico to assume the governorship on Jan. 1, the Republican controlled legislature would declare the office vacant, and Republican lieutenant governor Washington Lindsay would become chief executive.
Courageously, C de Baca returned to New Mexico, in grave health, his physicians insisting that he remain hospitalized. On Jan. 1, 1917, Ezequiel C de Baca became New Mexico’s second governor, taking the oath of office in his hospital room at the St. Vincent Sanitarium in Santa Fe, just blocks from the capitol.
From St. Vincent’s, Gov. C de Baca administered the affairs of state, assisted by his trusted attorney, Elmer E. Veeder of West Las Vegas. Always the gentleman, C de Baca requested that Lt. Gov. Lindsay deliver his state-of-the-state address to a joint session of the Legislature.
In the following weeks, many legislators made the short walk to St. Vincent’s to donate blood for the governor’s transfusions, but his health continued to deteriorate. On the 49th day of his governorship, Ezequiel C de Baca succumbed, suffering from what was then known as pernicious anemia.
(Within a few years of his death, medical science discovered that pernicious anemia was nothing more than a vitamin B-12 deficiency, easily remedied today with a routine injection.)
In his eulogy, close friend and colleague Antonio Lucero said of the beloved governor: “Men like Ezequiel follow the path of honesty, and their memory is never extinguished. He died poor, but lived in honor.”
A few months later, at the invitation of President Woodrow Wilson, Margarita C de Baca, the governor’s oldest daughter, was welcomed in New York as she christened the USS battleship New Mexico — representing the 47th state with the dignity befitting one of the great sons of Las Vegas.
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.