Inside the Capitol

Thursday, January 22, 2009

1-28 The West Comes to Santa Fe

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- If you come to Santa Fe during this legislative session, you may see something you'd never expect. A replica of an 1860s stagecoach now takes visitors through the streets of downtown Santa Fe.
Wild West is not the first thing that comes to people's minds when thinking about Santa Fe. With a Spanish heritage that goes back 400 years and an Indian heritage going back over a thousand years, a 150-year Western heritage doesn't get any attention in the City Different.
But Santa Fe has a Wild West history that would be the envy of most any other community in the West. Billy the Kid has his footprints all over town. The notorious Santa Fe Ring that owned and ran the state for decades had its headquarters on the entire block east of the plaza. And numerous desperados hung out here.
Allowing a stagecoach to be pulled through streets near the newly redone Santa Fe Railyard is at least a gesture from the city toward recognizing a third culture that took hold after New Mexico became a territory of the United States.
The stagecoach, drawn by two horses, offers 30-minute rides through a limited downtown area. The ride is preceded by a 10-minute talk about the history of the area.
I haven't gotten to hear the history presentation yet but my hope is that it concentrates on the area's Western heritage. There are plenty of places to hear about Santa Fe's Indian and Spanish history. At this point, the carriages run Tuesday through Saturday and cost $25 a person.
Following are some of the Wild West stops a Santa Fe stagecoach tour could take visitors. Locals also would enjoy it because far less than one percent of Santa Feans know anything about these historical sights.
Presbyterian Church where Billy the Kid's mother and step father were married. Billy and his brother stood with them. Building on Canyon Road where Billy went to grammar school. Jail, where Billy was held years later, awaiting Mesilla trial for killing Sheriff Brady.
It was from this jail that Billy wrote his famous letters beseeching Gov. Lew Wallace to pardon him. Wallace had promised the pardon in return for Billy's testimony against a suspect in another murder trial.
Billy upheld his end of the bargain. Wallace would only have had to walk a few blocks from the Palace of the Governors to talk with Billy who was being held near the corner of Galisteo and Water streets.
Diagonally across from Wallace's office and residence in the Palace of the Governors is the Catron Building with large engraved letters saying "Catron Block."
At that time, lawyer Thomas Benton Catron owned the entire block, which served as headquarters of the Santa Fe Ring, which owned and ran much of the state and its politics.
The Santa Fe Ring backed the crooked merchants and politicians in Lincoln County that were being opposed by a new group for which Billy worked.
That group was headed by lawyer Alexander McSween and English rancher John Tunstall, who were introduced to each other while dining at the Exchange Hotel, which was located where the La Fonda Hotel not sits.
This may be too broad an area for a horse drawn stage amongst erratic traffic. Maybe a motorized tram modified to look much like a stage could complete this circuit and venture out farther to include Fairview Cemetery and the Odd Fellows Cemetery to see the mausoleum of Thomas Catron and the gravesites of Sam Ketchum and other notorious outlaws of the time.
A few years ago, the Western Outlaw and Lawmen Association met in Santa Fe. They were aware of Santa Fe's Western heritage and wanted to see the various sites but they haven't been preserved and the ones that still exist aren't being showcased.
The one plaque purporting to commemorate Santa Fe's Western history is on a building at 208 W. San Francisco. Unfortunately it is incorrect. Santa Fe can do better.
WED, 12-28-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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