When Felix Martinez acquired La Voz del Pueblo and moved it from Santa Fe to Las Vegas in 1890, he also brought with him its Santa Fe editor and former owner, Enrique H. Salazar, who helped Martinez get the newspaper off the ground in Las Vegas.
Salazar also penned many of the fiery editorials which first appeared here in La Voz, but he and Martinez soon parted ways, and Salazar would establish another Las Vegas newspaper, El Independiente, which later fell into the hands of political boss Secundino Romero, as will be related in a subsequent column.
After Salazar left La Voz, Felix Martinez hired two young up-starts to help run his newspaper, in what would prove to be another stroke of genius, or serendipity, that always seemed to follow Martinez. How Felix Martinez came to employ the two young men is unknown, but his decision would have far-reaching consequences in Las Vegas and New Mexico, and for the two neophyte journalists whom he would mentor.
They were Ezequiel C de Baca, a bi-speckled former teacher and railroad postal clerk, who was just 26 when Felix Martinez invited him to join La Voz. The other was Antonio Lucero, from Anton Chico in Guadalupe County, who was a year younger than Ezequiel. The two had become close friends while students at the Jesuit College on South Gonzales Street, where they had undergone a rigorous classical education and mastered both the king’s English and the queen’s Spanish.
C de Baca and Lucero were equally modest and obscure, and aside from their eye-opening schooling at the Jesuit College, neither had experienced much beyond a bucolic life on the family farm. Yet Felix Martinez apparently realized their talent and potential, though we will never know whether he could foretell that Ezequiel C de Baca would become governor of New Mexico, and Antonio Lucero its first secretary of state and a renowned educator. What is certain is that Felix Martinez, seven years their senior, became their mentor and benefactor, and together they became a formidable triumvirate that would turn Las Vegas on its head.
As the three amigos came together at La Voz in 1890, great discontent had been wafting in Las Vegas and throughout the county over the future of the Las Vegas Land Grant. A year earlier, in the case of Millheiser v. Padilla, Judge Elisha V. Long, who lived in Las Vegas and was chief justice of the territorial supreme court, had ruled that common lands in the grant could be fenced and claimed privately. The implications of the decision were momentous, and engendered outrage among the “common people” who did not want to lose their communal rights to the land grant.
It was soon after Judge Long’s decision in the Millheiser case that Las Gorras Blancas (White Caps) emerged and began marauding throughout the county, cutting fences and burning farm houses. In one early raid, in April 1889, at a ranch owned by two Englishmen, night riders cut four miles of new barbed wire fence — and as the marauding spread from ranch to ranch, so too did support grow for the clandestine night riders.
Importantly, Las Gorras Blancas did not single-out only Anglo landowners, a point that needs to be appreciated to fully understand how diverse groups would come together in the populist revolt which was to follow — coalesced by the unrelenting support of La Voz del Pueblo. For example, Las Gorras also targeted several Romero holdings, and burned more than 2,000 railroad ties belonging to Don Eugenio Romero, the most powerful of the Hispanic dons, whom they also tried to assassinate, and failed only because he awoke and fired a gunshot, causing the three White Caps to flee.
As their support grew, Las Gorras Blancas became more brazen and overt, and in October 1889, 63 men on horseback wearing long white masks rode around the courthouse. Later, when officials threatened prosecution for their predations, Las Gorras rode to the courthouse, shot guns in the air, and broke windows in the new building. And in March 1890, in a defiant act of intimidation, 200 Gorras Blancas paraded on horseback in New Town.
The Optic and most businessmen and political leaders, Anglo and Hispanic, came out against Las Gorras Blancas, demanding they be brought to justice, and law and order be restored.
So alarmed were the leading citizens, that they called a general meeting on August 17, 1890, and even Gov. L. Bradford Prince came from Santa Fe and urged that the hooded riders be identified so they could be apprehended and charged.
Not so the three ink-stained amigos at La Voz del Pueblo, who embraced the unrest and ran heady editorials blaming the rage and violence on both Anglo land grabbers and wealthy Hispanics — and La Voz would soon spark a populist revolt.
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.