Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

9-12 Our Smallest County: Still Fighting


Syndicated Columnist


      SANTA FE -- We visited Harding County last week to take the ashes of my wife's mother, Genevieve Duncan, to her final resting place in the Roy Cemetery.

      Things haven't changed much over the years. The grazing land was a beautiful green around Wagon Mound where we turned off I-25. It remained that way until we climbed out of the Canadian River Canyon and made our way into Roy past much drier fields.

      As we prepared to place the gravestone, a light rain began to fall. Soon lightening and a heavy rain sent us scurrying to our vehicles. Maybe it was a good omen. Genevieve always had a way of making things happen.

      Back in town, we stopped by the village clerk's office to visit Mary Helen Menapace who knew both Genevieve and her husband Wayne when they taught school in the 1930s.

      That was during the beginning of a long decline for the county. Only a decade earlier, in 1921, Harding County had been created out of parts of Union and Mora counties. The region was a bustling part of the Eastern Plains Homestead Area and had a population of nearly 5,000.

      In the 1920 elections, residents of the area flexed their political muscle and through hard work elected both members of the state House of Representatives from Mora County and both representatives from Union County. And they elected the one senator from Union County.

      Bolstered by a delegation composed of five of the six legislators representing the two counties that would have to give up territory, residents of the proposed new county hit Santa Fe with arm-twisting enthusiasm.

      Genevieve's father, Roy Brock, got himself appointed to the County and County Lines Committee and the Reapportionment Committee. That helped pave the way for successful House passage of legislation creating a new county.

      A majority of the delegation was Republican, in a Republican-controlled Legislature. Gov. Merritt Mechem also was a Republican. With the added advantage of proposing their county be named after the newly-elected Republican President Warren G. Harding, success was theirs.

      Unfortunately for Brock, subsequent events started going south quickly. Dry land farming methods that had been successful in Iowa, didn't work in arid New Mexico. Like so many other farmers in the area, Brock couldn't prove up his homestead and lost his land at Mills. He moved in to Roy and reactivated his pharmacist license. But then he lost his bid for re-election from his new county.

      Harding County was having its problems too. The unified effort that brought it into existence evaporated when it came time to choose a county seat. Roy and Mosquero, the two largest towns in the county were competitors on all fronts. Mosquero succeeded in becoming the county seat but the two fight about it to this day.

      Symptomatic of that split, Genevieve's father is buried in the Mosquero cemetery. That meant Genevieve had to chose between being buried next to her father in Mosquero or her mother in Roy, where her grandfather also is buried.

      Scarcely 10 years after Harding County's birth, the Great Depression, followed by the Dust Bowl, knocked the county into a tailspin from which it still is trying to recover. Large numbers saw their livelihoods blow away during the '30s.

      Each decade since the 1930s has seen Harding County lose 500 to 1,000 residents. Its population in 2000 was 810. A 2005 estimate puts it at 740, our state's smallest county. But Harding County is still kicking, despite occasional reported efforts by Union County to get it back.

      An early warning of hard times ahead for the county might have been the rapid fall from grace of its namesake, President Harding. Soon after attaining office in 1921, Harding's immense popularity began to plummet.

   He was the victim, not of his political enemies, but of the greedy friends whom he appointed to office. One of these was Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, one of New Mexico's first two senators.

WED, 9-12-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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