Nuestra Historia - New Mexico by any other name — Arizona?

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By Jesus Lopez

Even New Mexico’s name was offensive to Washington, and during the long quest for statehood, several attempts were made to change her age-old identity.

As early as 1869, a Congressional bill proposing statehood required that New Mexico’s name be changed to Lincoln. In 1888, New Mexico’s admission was proposed in Congress under the name Montezuma. Even these attempts at statehood having failed, a name change was never actually required —  until 1906.

That year there was a great push in Washington for admission of the Oklahoma Territory as a state, to be combined with Indian Territory. (Indian Territory was roughly the eastern half of present-day Oklahoma, the area where Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River were forcibly removed by the United States beginning in the 1830s.)

As Oklahoma’s admission gained support in Congress, statehood for New Mexico was also revived. Again, however, Sen. Albert Beveridge intervened to prevent admission. Still chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, Beveridge concocted a nefarious scheme to render futile any attempt for New Mexico’s statehood.

Beveridge would not oppose statehood for Oklahoma, but only if those also supporting New Mexico’s admission, would agree that New Mexico be consolidated with Arizona, and that the two territories be admitted as one state, to be known as Arizona. Not wanting to jeopardize Oklahoma’s admission, all agreed to the Beveridge ultimatum.

Knowing it was highly unlikely that Arizona would consent to joinder, Beveridge also required that the people of both New Mexico and Arizona vote to approve “jointure” under the name of Arizona. It was of no consequence to Beveridge that New Mexico and Arizona had a lack of cohesion and community of interest, and that nature itself seemed to have separated the two large territories. (The Continental Divide runs between Arizona and New Mexico, the rivers of New Mexico flowing eastward or southward to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, and those of Arizona flowing westward to the Gulf of California and the Pacific.)

The Beveridge amendment prevailed, and in 1906 the question of jointure under the name of Arizona was placed on the ballot in both Territories. No such referendum applied to Oklahoma, which was admitted as the 46th state in 1907. (The land mass which is Arizona was always part of New Mexico and did not exist separately until 1863, when it was carved out of New Mexico and made a separate territory under the name Arizona, enlarged to include land purchased by the U.S. from Mexico under the Gadsden Treaty of 1853.)

The referendum was preceded by much debate and antagonism, especially in Arizona, where Anglo officials and citizens generally, voiced frenzied opposition to any attachment to New Mexico. Arizona territorial governor Joseph H. Kibbey even declared that “the proposed union is regarded by our people as a menace to the property and progress of the Territory.”

Other leaders in Arizona also protested, wanting nothing to do with New Mexico. They included E.E. Morrison, who said “We object to this amalgamation, and object to being dominated by people whom we do not think should be mixed up with us at all.”

Another Arizona politician, W. S. Sturges, said, “We would rather see Arizona a Territory to all eternity than joined to New Mexico.”

Even during the Congressional hearings on jointure, Arizona’s officials had expressed opposition, its delegation in Washington pleading that “in the name of all that is just and right, do not try to force us into this unnatural, inharmonious, unholy and un-American wedlock.”

At the time of the proposed jointure, New Mexico’s heavily Hispanic population far exceeded Arizona’s entire populace. Opposition to jointure, therefore, was not as widespread here, the consensus being that New Mexico would dominate any new state government. (New Mexico’s population was about 200,000, compared to 123,000 in Arizona.)

Against this general consensus, however, some resolute New Mexico leaders did ardently oppose jointure. Notable among them was the powerful Romero family in Las Vegas. In a resolution proposed by Secundino Romero and signed by his father, Don Eugenio Romero (as chairman of the Republican Party), the ever-prescient family declared that New Mexico should not be “re-baptized,” and that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed separate statehood “without surrendering our name or institutions to the Territory of Arizona.”

Arizona turned down joint statehood by an overwhelming margin, 16,265 against, and 3,141 in favor. The always-accommodating people of New Mexico, however, approved jointure by a substantial majority, 26,195 in favor, and 14,735 against.

The proposition having failed in Arizona — as surmised by Beveridge — New Mexico was again denied admission, even after consenting to the loss of her name and identity.

Ironically, New Mexico’s ancient character and venerable name were saved by the very people who found her so objectionable, and statehood was just around the corner.

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