Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Mexico's Long Tradition of Violence

WED, 9-05-07


            SANTA FE – Evidently not all animal cruelty is equal. New Mexico received some black eyes for being one of the last two states to ban chicken fighting. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez warned that a governor couldn't get elected president if his state still condoned cockfighting.

            That's debatable, but it's a good bet that if we had been the next to last state to ban dog fighting, Gov. Bill Richardson wouldn't have wanted to show his face nationally. Dogs and chickens are different, even though they both are God's creatures.

And even though New Mexico arguably was the wildest of the Wild West states, dog fighting would never be accepted here any more than in any other state. Chicken fighting likely held on as long as it did because of New Mexico's long tradition of violence.

From the time New Mexico was occupied militarily by the United States in 1846, our tradition of violence has been noted all the way back to the Potomac. Just five months after the U.S. occupation of New Mexico, our first governor, appointed from Washington, lay dead, the result of the Taos uprising that also claimed the lives of other state and local officials.

The revolt was quickly ended by a bloody counterassault. The perpetrators were quickly tried and publicly executed. Word traveled quickly and it was a factor in denying New Mexico statehood for the next 66 years.

New Mexico was the western battleground of the Civil War. Confederate troops fought their way up the Rio Grande until they were defeated near Glorietta in a battle termed the "Gettysburg of the West."

Following that war, Indian wars and range wars attracted the nation's attention. The Lincoln County War attracted gunslingers from throughout the Southwest. But it was one of our local boys who garnered the most publicity. To this day, Billy the Kid is the most recognized New Mexican to the rest of the world. And you know the message that delivers.

The Lincoln County War had the entire New Mexico territory in disarray. Nearly all men wore guns. Murder cases in those days often were dismissed with the familiar verdict: "The deceased came to his death accidentally after having given due provocation"

In 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes declared Lincoln County in a state of insurrection. He dismissed Gov. Samuel Axtell and many public officials who were members of the scandalous Santa Fe Ring.

President Hayes prevailed on Gov. Lew Wallace, a respected military officer to take over as governor and bring peace to Lincoln County. Three years later, Wallace left in disgust, saying his friend Gen. Sherman was right when he suggested we get in another war with Mexico and make her take our state back.

The violence continued. Sheriff Elf ego Baca gained fame when he stood off 80 cowboys for 36 hours. Years later a movie dramatized his exploits.

The Hillsboro trial of the ranchers accused of murdering prominent politician Albert Jennings Fountain in 1895 drew national publicity as a tent city sprang up that rivaled the hoopla surrounding the O.J. trial a century later.

No public official was safe, as New Mexico became known as the only place in America where assassination was an integral part of the political system.

When Teddy Roosevelt formed his Rough Riders, New Mexico was the logical place to recruit the hard charging cowboys who made up over half his regiment.

Statehood didn't end our violent reputation. Pancho Villa came to pick a fight in 1916. In the 1950s, John Prather and other ranchers took up arms to keep the Army from taking their property for White Sands Missile Range. In the '60s, Reies Tijerina and his Alianza shot up the Rio Arriba County Courthouse. And in 1970, our National Guard got carried away putting down an anti-Vietnam demonstration at the University of New Mexico and people got hurt. The 1980 riot at the New Mexico state prison in Santa Fe ranked as the bloodiest penal uprising the nation ever had seen.


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