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Nuestra Historia - Gov. Ezequiel C de Baca of Las Vegas

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Our Centennial series would be incomplete if we did not recount the life of Ezequiel C de Baca, New Mexico’s second governor and first lieutenant governor — and one of the great sons of Las Vegas.

In 1916, from his modest home in Old Town, C de Baca waged his successful campaign to become New Mexico’s second governor. Tragically, he would die on the 49th day of his governorship — administering the affairs of state from his hospital bed in Santa Fe.

As he lay in state at the capitol, powerful and humble alike made their way to Santa Fe to pay their last respects to the beloved chief executive, whose state funeral was the first in New Mexico. When the governor’s train and entourage arrived in Las Vegas, it was greeted by an outpouring of friends and neighbors from throughout San Miguel County, as the massive funeral procession made its way to Mount Calvary.

Within weeks of his death, the nation would honor New Mexico’s second governor, as his daughter Margarita was welcomed in New York to christen the newly-commissioned USS battleship New Mexico.

As Nuestra Historia recounts the life of Ezequiel C de Baca, readers will be inspired by his courage, good will and humility — and his story will at once bring joy, sadness and reflection to all New Mexicans.

Our second governor was born in 1864 in La Liendre, just south of Las Vegas, in an area still known as Los Valles de San Agustín. His great-grandfather was Luis María Cabeza de Baca, who in 1820 was the first to settle Las Vegas, and in 1823 received as his private grant, the half million acres known as the Las Vegas Land Grant.     

In 1835, the same grant was made to the 36 colonists who settled Las Vegas in that year, resulting in a decades-long legal struggle between the C de Baca family and the 1835 grantees. The United States finally determined that both grants were legal, and Congress made a separate and equal grant of land to Luis Maria’s heirs, who in turn gave up their claim to the Las Vegas Land Grant. (The story of the original settlement of Las Vegas by Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca, and the competing grants,  is recounted in Nuestra Historia on Jan. 28, 2011.)

Ezequiel grew up at the family ranch in La Liendre, and on the Old Town Plaza in Las Vegas, about where the Parish Hall is today, where his parents Tomás and Estefanita (Delgado) also made their home. Tomás was active in both the business and political affairs of Las Vegas, and was elected to the Territorial assembly in 1870.

As Ezequiel reached  his formative years, the Jesuit College was thriving on South Gonzales Street, only blocks from the family home. There, together with such other future luminaries as Maximiliano Luna, Secundino Romero and Antonio Lucero, he received a rigorous classical education. (The history of the Italian Jesuits and their Las Vegas College is recounted in Nuestra Historia on June 10 and 17, 2011.)

In the 1880s, after completing his studies with the Jesuits, C de Baca embarked on varied pursuits, as a mercantile clerk in Las Vegas, teaching school in Villanueva, and as a railroad postal clerk. He was restless, however, and yearned to become involved in the great issues being debated in Las Vegas, the twin cities then emerging as the most important and bustling place in New Mexico.

The future governor would find his calling in 1891, when  he joined Félix Martínez and Antonio Lucero as a writer and editor at La Voz del Pueblo. Martinez, who was from Peñasco, had recently acquired the newspaper and moved it from Santa Fe to Las Vegas. Seven years older than C de Baca and Lucero, who were both 27, Martinez would become their mentor, as the three began their extraordinary careers in journalism and public affairs.

Both Félix Martinez and Antonio Lucero made their own important mark on New Mexico history, and Nuestra Historia will recount their stories in later columns.

Suffice to say now, that in 1892 Martinez was elected to the Territorial council (senate) from San Miguel County, and sponsored the legislation which created Highlands University. Lucero, from Anton Chico, would become New Mexico’s first secretary of state, and a renowned educator. (In 1983, Félix Martinez was finally honored as the founder of Highlands University, and the Student Services building at Eighth and University Avenue was named in his honor.)

Each well educated and profoundly literate in both Spanish and English, Félix, Ezequiel and Antonio formed an enlightened and courageous triumvirate, and they would make La Voz New Mexico’s leading Spanish language newspaper. Their crusading periodical would topple the established order in Las Vegas — and begin Ezequiel C de Baca’s ascent to the governorship.

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