Candy Moulton: Reading the West 7-16-12
New Mexico celebrates its centennial this year with a string of activities and events. You can learn more about this state and the people who have called it home for past centuries by reading “Santa Fe Tales and More” by Howard Bryan. A newsman, Bryan, who passed away last year, spent his career capturing the tales of contemporary people in New Mexico, and in researching the stories of people, places and events that happened long ago.
Many of the tales in his newest book have their roots in the archives of 19th century newspapers, although Howard spent considerable time and effort over his career in interviewing the old-timers who had their own remembrances of events.
Bryan has authored many other books including “True Tales of the American Southwest,” “Wildest of the Wild West,” “Robbers, Rogues and Ruffians” and a biography, “Incredible Elfago Baca,” which won him a Spur award from Western Writers of America.
His newest “Santa Fe Trails and More” starts with the inciteful “Bogus Birthday Bash” wherein he uncovered the detail that when Santa Fe celebrated its Tertio-Millennial birthday … or celebration of one-third of a thousand years — 333 years. Someone miscalculated and the party was six years too early! Possibly. It’s said Santa Fe is the oldest seat of government in America, and that may be the case, but exactly when it was settled is not 100 percent certain.
Digging through the archival records, Bryan explains the early development of Santa Fe and connections to explore Juan de Onate as well as early New Mexico Governor Juan Bautists de Anza.
This little tale is just the first of many that provide context for New Mexican history, as well as introduce you to a cast of interesting characters.
Bryan writes the well-known people in New Mexico such as Cochise, Victorio, Captain Jack Crawford, Billy the Kid and Governor Lew Wallace. But he was a master at finding interesting stories to tell about the lesser-known events, like duels held in Santa Fe, artist J. D. Howland who lived and worked in Santa Fe in the 1870s painting wildlife and portraits, railroad accidents and ghost sightings.
If you have watched any national election coverage over the past decade or so, you will know that New Mexico is one of those states often in the news as the pundits debate whether the state will vote for the Republican candidate for president or the Democrat. That kind of political division has been long-standing in New Mexico as Bryan outlines the events of “The 1871 Mesilla Riot: Republican vs Democrats.”
That year the two political parties announced plans to hold rallies in Mesilla. No big news there, but the rallies were to be the same day, and in the same small town. The Democrats, who had told of their plans first, gathered in the plaza, while the Republicans convened in the home of John Lemon, one of the party leaders.
The candidates for Congress were the Democrat Jose Manuel Gallegos a defrocked Catholic priest from Santa Fe and the Republican J. Francisco Chavez, a lawyer from Albuquerque. (Just that gives you a hint there might be some conflict.)
While the day began in an orderly fashion, after both parties pumped up their candidates, and downed a considerable amount of alcohol to cut their thirst, they began parading around the plaza. As the Democratic band played the Civil War song “Marching Through Georgia” the opposing political parties met head-long and arguments erupted. John Lemon, the Republican, argued with Democrat I. N. Kelly, Apolonio Barela fired a shot into the air, Kelly bonked Lemon on the head with a heavy pick axe handle … and the fight was on.
One can only hope such an event does not recur in Mesilla this year.
There are more tales recounted in this book, and because most appeared in Bryan’s newspaper column, they are detailed, yet concise making for perfect summertime reading. ❖