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Biographical Essay about Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca
By Michael Anne Sullivan
Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca was born on 1 November 1864 in Las Vegas, New Mexico, son of Tomas and Estafanita Delgado. He received his education in the parochial schools of Las Vegas and attended the local Jesuit College. Upon graduating, he began teaching in order to contribute to the family’s finances. After teaching for two years, he worked as a salesman, office clerk and as a railway mail agent. In 1891 he became a staff member of the Spanish-language weekly La Voz del Pueblo. In this role, he championed the rights of the poor. He also promoted education by supporting local civic and drama clubs. He served as deputy clerk for the district court in San Miguel County between 1894 and 1898. After twenty years as a community leader and spokesman, he entered politics, fighting for New Mexico statehood. He served as the first lieutenant governor of the state of New Mexico. In November 1916, he won the race for governor against the republican candidate Holm O. Bursum. He only served the state for a short time dying forty-nine days after taking office.
Cabeza de Baca came of age in a time when education was having a great impact on native Hispanic New Mexicans. The availability of formal education helped shift the society from a mainly oral community to a literate one. The first archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptiste Lamy, made it one of his missions to educate his New Mexican parishioners. He established a school for boys in Santa Fe in 1851. He then brought the Sisters of Loretto from Baltimore to found a school for girls. Over the next two decades the sisters began schools throughout northern New Mexico including Las Vegas in 1869. Lamy also made efforts to foster higher education in New Mexico by recruiting the Christian Brothers to establish a school for young men in Santa Fe and, in 1867, inviting the Jesuits to establish a school outside of Santa Fe. The Reverend Donato M. Gasparri, an Italian Jesuit, opened the Jesuit College in Las Vegas in 1877. It was here that Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca received his higher education.
Many of the men who received higher educations became concerned with the position of the Nuevomexicanos, as they called themselves, in society vis-à-vis the conquering Americans. They felt compelled to speak out in opposition to the suppression of their culture and language and to demand their rights for civic self-representation and for economic opportunities. They also believed that the conquering Americans had misrepresented their history and accomplishments, portraying them as ignorant and lazy. One tool they employed to achieve their goals and to counter the prevailing view of their history was the printing press. They believed that the printed word would bring education to the greater public. In the print media, they would document Nuevomexicanos’ achievements by presenting works by native authors.
As a young man, Cabeza de Baca became actively involved in the publication of La Voz del Pueblo, a Spanish-language, weekly newspaper, working as a reporter and copy editor. Initially established in Santa Fe in 1888, La Voz del Pueblo relocated to Las Vegas in the summer of 1890. The editor of the newspaper, Enrique H. Salazar, decided to move to Las Vegas because he believed that Las Vegas was the city where Nuevomexicanos had to challenge Anglo-American political and cultural hegemony. He wrote: “The well-being of the people of New Mexico and principally of the native population will be at every instance the powerful motive that will impel with great vigor our efforts in the publication of our weekly. We are the foot soldiers of the community, guarding its rights: for this reason, believing that the battle nears, we wish to place our batteries where they are most effective and where they will cause the most damage to our enemies.”
After establishing the newspaper in its new home, Salazar sold the paper to Felix Martínez. In 1891 Martínez hired on two close friends and associates, Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca and Antonio Lucero. The three shared a commitment to report on and to change the social inequities in northern New Mexico. They also supported Las Gorras Blancas and its electoral counterpart, El Partido del Pueblo Unido. The Gorras Blancas, composed of the poorest sectors of Nuevomexicano society, grew in response to the outside encroachment by Anglo-American land companies and speculators on Spanish and Mexican communal land grants held by Nuevomexicanos. The governor’s niece, Fabiola C. de Baca, described her uncle as “a slave to the cause of poor people.”
The future governor also was very interested in encouraging education by using the literary and dramatic arts. He belonged to many civic and educational organizations including La Sociedad Literaria y de Ayuda Mutua (The Literary and Mutual Aid Society) and El Club Dramático de Las Vegas (The Las Vegas Drama Club). Along with Otaviano A. Larrazolo, another future governor of New Mexico, Cabeza de Baca founded La Sociedad por la Protección de la Educación (The Society for the Protection of Education). This association supported improved educational facilities and subsidizing the school expenses of needy children. As governor he said, “Those who know me can testify that I have always been a consistent friend of education and particularly have striven for the up-building of the rural schools of our State.”
Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca entered politics at the age of twenty-eight in 1892. He was a member of the Democratic Party and the Partido del Pueblo Unido. He was present at both the County and Territorial Conventions as an interpreter. He was also chosen as an alternate representative to the Territorial Convention. During the Constitutional Convention of 1910, Cabeza de Baca was a vocal critic of the provisions written to protect the Spanish-speaking population. He argued that these sections were not strong enough. He believed that the provision that guaranteed children of Spanish descent admission to public school should be backed by a provision that assured the punishment of those who violated the constitution. Like many democrats, he wanted to vote down the constitution. The New Mexican electorate, however, supported the new constitution.
Despite his reputation as a strong leader in Las Vegas for almost twenty years, Cabeza de Baca was never elected to public office. When he decided to enter politics, however, his reputation served him well as he won a seat as lieutenant governor. He served as the first lieutenant governor of the state of New Mexico for five years. He presided over three sessions of the Senate and he gained respect from all political parties for his dignified, able and impartial administration.
In the election for governor in November 1916, Cabeza de Baca won the race handily. At the time he assumed the office, however, Governor Cabeza de Baca was very sick. On 1 January 1917 the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court administered the oath of office to Cabeza de Baca in his room at the St Vincent’s Sanatorium. Nevertheless, the governor managed to send the legislature a message outlining the bills he wanted it to consider. These included an inheritance tax, a tax on mining properties, a budget system, a new election law providing for a secret ballot, and a jury system. He began his message speaking with pride of the honor the people of New Mexico had given him. “I can only express to you my deep appreciation of the honor you have conferred upon me, and my profound gratitude for this manifestation of confidence and trust, and my deep realization of the important and responsible duties I am about to assume.” He also spoke of his ideals of government. Referring to the Democratic Party he said:
We are living in an age of great and rapid change, both in economics and in politics. In the last few years we have seen one of the great political parties of the Nation, free itself from the organized power of selfish interest, and become the spokesman and representative of men who refuse to be bound by the traditions and precedents of the past, and have turned their faces toward the rising sun of that American ideal, which conceives of law and Government as the servant of liberty and not of privilege; we have seen this party grow from a minority party into the great progressive party of the nation, and under its great leader, Woodrow Wilson, emerge triumphant from one of the most hotly contested campaigns in the history of the country. As a representative of that party in this state, I am proud to stand before you today and speak to you, not in the spirit of the partisan, but in the name of all those patriotic and liberty loving citizens, who place humanity above personal interest, and I congratulate you upon this triumph of righteousness and humanity over the forces of greed in the Nation.
As governor, he also had the opportunity to voice his support of President Wilson and the president’s actions in response to German aggression. On 31 January 1917, the German government declared that submarines would attack all ships sailing for allied ports. On 3 February 1917 President Wilson severed all relations with Germany. On that same day the Governor sent a wire from Santa Fe to a New York publication: “New Mexico will stand loyally behind the president and hold up his hands. We endorse the action already taken. We believe the avenues of trade on the high seas should be kept open to neutral commerce in accordance with the law of nations and that the armed force of the United States should be used for that purpose, if necessary.”
When Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca died on 18 February 1917, he was survived by his wife and children. He had married Margarita C. de Baca at Peña Blanca on 14 December 1889. The couple had fourteen children, nine who lived to adulthood. At the wake of the governor, his friend and co-worker at La Voz del Pueblo, Antonio Lucero, gave the eulogy. Lucero believed that Ezequiel’s characteristics had been generosity, unselfishness, sincerity, benevolence and loyalty. He said: “The poor have lost a kind hand, one of their most proud and dignified defenders, and New Mexico one of its most deserving sons to figure in its grandeur, being that he has left as a lesson and example: an immaculate memory and a remembrance full of love, and his life, fruitful in merits and high virtues, imposes its influence and prestige on noble and generous hearts.”
Arellano, Anselmo F. “Don Ezequiel C. de Baca and the Politics of San Miguel County.” Masters thesis, New Mexico Highlands University, 1974.
Davis, Ellis Arthur. The Historical Encyclopedia of New Mexico, Vol. I. Albuquerque: New Mexico Historical Association, 1945.
Meléndez, Gabriel A. So All Is Not Lost: The Poetics of Print in Nuevomexicano Communities, 1834-1958. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.
Meyer, Doris. Speaking for Themselves: NeoMexicano Cultural Identity and the Spanish-Language Press, 1880-1920. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
Roberts, Frank H. H. “New Mexico in the Great War.” New Mexico Historical Review 1 (January 1926): 3-22.
Governor Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca Papers, Box 2, folder # 10 at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.