2-3 Most important events since statehood
SANTA FE – What were the most important events of New Mexico's first 100 years? I'll start the bidding by suggesting my Top Ten. I've listed them in chronological order. Ranking them may be the next step.
Pancho Villa's 1916 raid of Columbus marked one of the few times the United States has been attacked by an outside force. The subsequent Punitive Expedition into Mexico, led by Gen. "Black Jack" Pershing, provided an opportunity to improve U.S. battle readiness for World War I.
In 1917, wealthy heiress Mabel Dodge Luhan moved to Taos and fell in love with its fledging art community. She enticed many of her artist and writer friends in Europe to join her. Those friends, in turn, lured many more. The colony spread and Santa Fe now is one of the top three art centers in the nation.
In 1926, Route 66 was designated through New Mexico. It captured the imagination of the nation and became known as the "Mother Road."
Oil was discovered at Hobbs in 1928. It soon became New Mexico's leading industry in terms of revenue generated and is the major contributor to our state budget.
In the summer of 1941, the New Mexico National Guard was activated to help defend the Philippines and slow Japan's advance through the Pacific to Australia. Its valiant defense of the Bataan Peninsula gave the United States and its allies time to mobilize.
In 1942, Dr. Robert Openheimer convinced Gen. Leslie Groves to locate the Manhattan Project at a boys' school Oppenheimer had once attended in the Jemez Mountains of Northern New Mexico. The world's first atom bomb was exploded at Trinity Site, between San Antonio and Carrizozo, in July 1945. Sandia Base, in Albuquerque, puts nuclear weapons together and stores them. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad, stores the nuclear waste. Among them, they are the largest employer in the state.
In the spring of 1945, our government decided to continue holding land it took from ranchers for the Alamogordo Bombing Range and convert it into the White Sands Missile Range, where captured German scientists were brought to continue their work on the V-2 and other rockets. WSMR has remained the nation's top area for military space research. It is no accident that New Mexico and its chief tenant, Virgin Galactic, have located Spaceport America adjacent to the missile range.
In July 1947, the Roswell Army Air Force Base issued a news release stating that it had captured a flying saucer. The following day, the story changed to a weather balloon and 50 years later to a spy balloon. Whatever it was, it captured the world's attention. Ufologists say there are better UFO stories than this but Roswell has become the UFO capital of the world.
The 1949 murder of Cricket Coogler, a Las Cruces waitress, wasn't like any other murder. It involved numerous state and local elected and appointed officials, a pro football player and the mafia. A courageous local grand jury swept aside law enforcement officials and judges until it was satisfied it had some who weren't corrupt to pursue the case. The murderer was never found but corrupt officials went to prison, government was cleaned up at the top levels and the mob quietly slipped out of town before making New Mexico the gambling capital it was convinced Nevada never would be.
In 1955, Ernie and Rhoda Blake opened the Taos Ski Valley on Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in the state, at 13,161. The operation still is managed by the Blake family. Since 1955, eight other ski areas have opened around the state, making New Mexico a top destination for skiers. The Taos ski school is the highest rated in North America.
Notice that five of these top 10 events occurred in the 1940s. It gets my nomination for our top decade, which also included tremendous post-war population growth.
Let me know what you think.