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Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca
By Anselmo F. Arellano
Many times during the historical course of a society, leaders emerge to represent their people and assist them in societal concerns. Much of the history of a people is thus manifest in the types, number and charisma of its leaders. The case of the Hispano in Las Vegas is no exception, since numerous political, civic and other popular leaders worthy of historical mention appeared on the scene throughout the early history of the community. Their neglect from history does not detract from their importance.
The following historical sketch will present one of Las Vegas' eminent historical leaders at the turn of the century, Don Ezequiel C. de Baca. His determination to dedicate much of his life's work originated in Las Vegas, and later on it extended to New Mexico and all New Mexicans, resulting in a successful twenty-six year career as a community advocate and political leader. Ezequiel C. De Baca, who became New Mexico's first Lieutenant Governor in 1912 and its second Governor in 1917, remained the only native-born Hispano to hold the governorship until much later when Jerry Apodaca held the coveted position in 1974.
The name Cabeza de Baca needs little introduction in New Mexico as it takes us back to the first Spaniard to enter this area of the Southwest, Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca. The exact relationship between Ezequiel C. de Baca and Alvar Núnez is unknown since the latter returned to Spain following his nomadic exploits in the New World. At one time Ezequiel commented on his family saying "it is generally accepted that we are descendants of Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca, a member of the Narváez expedition which was wrecked in the coast of Florida in 1527, who, in 1536 while on his way across the continent passed through New Mexico. It is presumed that sometime afterwards some descendant of his or of the same family came to New Mexico and settled here.
Ezequiel’s great-grandfather, Luis María Cabeza de Baca, and his family were the first settlers of the Las Vegas Land Grant in 1821, coming from Peña Blanca to San Miguel del Bado sometime prior to 1821. At San Miguel, C. de Baca heard about the excellent grazing lands lying further north on the banks of the Gallinas River. One day he ventured north to observe the unsettled land he had heard about, and being very pleased with it, he promptly returned to petition the Spanish governor for the new tract of land known as Las Vegas Grandes (The Large Meadows). The governor had first conceded the grant to C. De Baca and eight other men from San Miguel del Bado in 1820, but they never took formal possession of the land. On January 16, Luis María again requested the land--this time for himself and seventeen male children. Sometime after this they settled on the land grant.
Extensive historical research has failed to reveal the complete nature or extent of the C. de Baca settlement effort at Las Vegas. It was reported through land grant testimony when the land grant was being confirmed that the C. de Bacas never actually farmed the land and used it for grazing purposes only. It is thus highly probable that Luis María and his sons only made sporadic excursions to the Las Vegas area to graze their large herds. They did, however, suffer continual losses to marauding bands of Indians who throughout the course of time made off with their livestock and other possessions totaling an incredible $36,000. After they could no longer endure the Indian attacks on their property, the family returned to San Miguel del Bado and soon after, back to Peña Blanca. The C. De Baca family did eventually return to Las Vegas, but this did not occur until after the permanent settlement effort of the Las Vegas community initiated by the San Miguel del Bado residents in 1835.
Ezequiel's parents were Tomás C. de Baca and Estefanita Delgado. Tomás' parents were Juan Antonio C. de Baca, one of Luis María's oldest sons, and Josefa Gallegos. Estefanita Delgado's parents were Manuel Salustiano Delgado and María de la Luz Baca y Ortiz from El Real de Delores near Santa Fe. Ezequiel’s father, Tomás, was born in Peña Blanca in 1830. He came to Las Vegas a few years after the families from San Miguel del Vado had resettled the area. During his earlier years in Las Vegas he contributed much to its development with his progressive ideas and money. While in Las Vegas, Don Tomás had been a businessman, but he later gave it up to become a farmer and rancher in La Liendre, a small community about fifteen miles southeast of Las Vegas, where he spent the remainder of his life. In the political arena Tomás had been a representative from San Miguel County in the Territorial Legislature in 1870 and again in 1880. In 1882 he was elected Probate Judge for the County.
Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca was born on a ranch in the Las Vegas vicinity on November 11, 1864. He attended the parochial elementary schools during his adolescence and later received a higher education at the Jesuit College of Las Vegas. After leaving the college his early employment was related to different mercantile stores around Las Vegas. Afterwards he taught for two years at La Cuesta, one of the rural schools close to Las Vegas. After La Cuesta, young Ezequiel associated himself as a postal clerk with the Santa Fe Railroad in the mail routes between El Paso and Los Angeles and Silver City and Rinc6n, New Mexico. Following five years of lonely solitude in a mail car and the monotony of riding over endless miles of track, Ezequiel began to long for Las Vegas. He had not been married long, and he wanted to find a job where he would be with his family more often. He had also heard about the new political movement in San Miguel County and understood that politics was playing a major role in resolving people's problems. Ezequiel finally left his job with the railroad in 1891 and returned to Las Vegas. In Las Vegas he was soon employed on the editorial staff of La Voz del Pueblo by Félix Martinez. The newspaper had been seeking journalists who were determined and had the ability to preserve the cherished language and cultural heritage of the native Hispano, el castellano.
Among the people of Las Vegas, Ezequiel did not waste any time in becoming involved with different community organizations and citizens groups. He joined the Sociedad Literaria y de Ayuda Mutua (Spanish Literary and Mutual Aid Society) and continued as a member for twenty-six years until his death. The Sociedad was an educational circle comprised of the most illustrious and ambitious young men in the community. Their main objective was to promote and sustain educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged children in Las Vegas. As an active member, Ezequiel engaged in many customary debates and discourses with his colleagues covering innumerable literary issues. Their library was excellent covering the best Spanish, French, Latin, German and English authors to be found anywhere. All the works in their library were made up of volumes translated to Spanish. The continued success of the Sociedad Literaria was attributed to the strict rules of the society and their enforcement. They included a complete exclusion of politics. Ezequiel held different positions with the sociedad and was librarian when he died.
In 1895 Ezequiel also participated in the organization of the Sociedad Por la Protectión de Educación (Society for the Protection of Education). The main purpose of the membership of this group was to assist in the development of education, seeking alternatives for all children. The members sought methods to assist poor parents with the educational needs of their children by providing clothing, books, and tuition. Their other purpose was to support the Christian Brothers' school so that it could become a first class educational institution. Ezequiel was elected Recording Secretary for the society when it was first established. Other members and officers were Hilario Romero, Charles Blanchard, O. A. Larrazolo, Dr. F. Marrón y Alonso and Antonio Lucero.
Ezequiel C. de Baca was also a member of the local labor assembly of the Caballeros de Labor (Knights of labor) after it was established in Las Vegas. He was also admitted as a member of the Prensa Asociada Hispano-Americana, or Spanish-American Associated Press on August 9, 1892. During the same time he was also a member of the Fraternal Aid Union where he was president of the local lodge in Las Vegas and a member of the Supreme lodge in El Paso. Despite all his involvement in these groups, Ezequiel also found time to participate in dramatic presentations of La Sociedad Dramática Hispano-Americana and also presentations of El Club Dramático de Las Vegas.
Ezequiel C. de Baca was married on December 14, 1889, to Margarita C. de Baca at Peña Blanca. Her parents were Amado C. de Baca and María de Jesús Stephens from Albuquerque. Fourteen children were born to the C. de Baca union, Adolfo, Margarita, Horacio, Celia, Hortencia, Alfonso, Natalia, Adelina, and Alicia, and five who preceded Ezequiel in death, Alvar Núñez, Horacio Virgilio, José, María Juana and Ezequiel.
When Ezequiel accepted employment with Félix Martínez on La Voz, little did he know that this would turn out to be the turning point in his life. He was in essence beginning a twenty-six year demanding but rewarding career as a journalist, politician and advocate of his people. The exploited, the oppressed and the ethnic stereotyped and ridiculed would long remember the man who stood beside them in their struggle to be recognized, respected and treated as equal citizens in a distraught society controlled by the mandates of affluent political bosses.
After spending eight years with La Voz del Pueblo, Ezequiel participated in the reorganization of the newspaper and the formation of the Martinez Publishing Company. The newspaper already had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the Territory of New Mexico, daily or weekly, Spanish or English. The three thousand copies, which were sold weekly, reached all of New Mexico, parts of Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, California and Northern Mexico. Proud to be among the Southwest's newspapers which were publishing a newspaper in Cervantes' language, La Voz del Pueblo reported:
It has always been our philosophy that the best remedy for adversity is comfort, well New Mexico, more than any other area of North America has been a victim of misfortune, not only in its rights and claims to citizenship but also in achieving its material privileges and furthermore, her people and children have suffered a constant agitation of reproach against their dignity.
In spite of all the adversities Hispanos had faced, Ezequiel C. de Baca and his associates felt comforted and satisfied that they were the vehicle, which was reestablishing and preserving their native language. They were also participating in the preservation of nobility and just pride among their people. It was during this early tenure with the newspaper that Ezequiel became involved in County and Territorial politics. It was 1892, and he was still a young man at twenty-eight years of age. He was a member of the Democratic Party as well as the Partido del Pueblo Unido (United People's Party), and he participated as an interpreter, along with Nestor Montoya, at both the County and Territorial Conventions. He was also chosen as an alternate delegate to the Territorial Convention that same year. Quite surprisingly, in view of his popularity, reputation and stature as a strong leader and politician for almost a twenty-year period, Ezequiel was never elected to public office either at the County or Territorial level until he became New Mexico's first elected Lieutenant Governor. He never held any public office from 1891 to 1912, but his role in political sessions and citizen's meetings was always one of making sure that the people were being informed of their rights, that they understood the issues, and that they were given ample opportunity to determine their needs and make decisions.
Ezequiel's fervent conviction and commitment to represent primarily the rural poor Hispanos and protect their rights make him one of New Mexico's most unique politicians and public servants. During the earlier period of his career he always appeared as an interpreter or secretary to make sure that the Spanish-speaking understood the events and developments of public issues. As a secretary he would record the results of the meetings he attended and later publish them in the most sincere unbiased way he knew. He did not run for any political office until 1898 when he ran for Probate Clerk on the Partido de la Unión ticket.
Unfortunately for C. de Baca, he was nominated at an unfavorable time. The Partido de la Unión which had been reorganized from the Partido del Pueblo Unido in 1894, had been almost invincible in County politics for eight years. In 1898 the Republicans recovered their previous strength to take all County positions but two. Ezequiel was thus defeated in his first bid for public office.
For the next ten years Ezequiel continued to participate in County politics as well as Territorial, mostly as a facilitator and spokesman while other individuals were seeking nominations to public office. He had lost in his only attempt at political office, but he had not become dismayed. He continued his ardent loyalty to the Democrat Party and carried with him a strong optimism that one day it would wrest the leadership reins from the powerful Republican Party. Ezequiel's popularity and ascension as New Mexico's first Lieutenant Governor was not accomplished through political machinations or a long career as an elected public official. On the contrary, his political background was molded through his continuous presence and participation in political conventions, public meetings and his recognition as a popular journalist.
In 1912 Ezequiel C de Baca was elected New Mexico's first Lieutenant Governor, and accordingly, he became the first State elected official to preside over the Senate in the legislature. During his five-year term he presided over the Senate three different times since it did not convene every year. Since Ezequiel was a Democrat, one of his biggest challenges was being of opposing political faith to the Republican majority in the Senate. It was his staunch determination to work for the betterment of New Mexicans and his strong political abilities and insights enabled him to meet this challenge with dignity and emerge as a popular public servant respected by a substantial majority. He directed his most sincere efforts to working amicably with all individuals in bipartisan politics while presiding in the Senate. One time he commented that he was not sure what to expect from the Legislature. While he approved of individuals, the Republican Party was very much in control. He expected results from the legislature only if individuals would free themselves from the Party's dominance. When he addressed the Senate in 1915, he optimistically stated that he was of the opinion that there would be no disputes. He said:
Sometimes our obligation calls us to war and disputes, but this is only just and legitimate. But when we are called to work together for the welfare of our community and weigh the responsibility of that obligation, there is no reason whatsoever for friction and discord among us. I am confident, gentlemen, by what we have seen in the past, that our future relationships will continue being joyful and cordial as always and confident that whatever good can be achieved through a peaceful and cordial intercourse can always be recorded with pleasure and satisfaction.
The perennial issue of teaching Spanish in the public schools was addressed once again in the 1915 legislature. Ezequiel had insisted that Spanish be taught in the schools. The people clamored for bilingual teachers. First, a complete curriculum in Castilian Spanish at all normal schools had to be established to prepare teachers.
A legislative bill was introduced in 1915 outlining a bilingual educational program for New Mexico. Among the provisions of the bill was the formation of a Board of Examiners, appointed by the Governor to six-year terms, which would review teachers' knowledge of Spanish grammar, reading, diction and ability to speak Spanish before receiving their teaching certificates. The teachers would have to be thoroughly bilingual. The proposed curriculum consisted of bilingual educational materials for children of Spanish descent, and the State Department of Education was to be responsible for developing texts and materials for English-speaking students. The bill proposed mandatory bilingual education in all school districts having fifty percent or more Hispano children. The districts having less than fifty percent enrollment could implement the program through joint petition from teachers and parents. It quickly passed the House of Representatives, but it was held up for weeks in the Senate.
The bilingual education bill passed the Senate at the last minute, but it bore little resemblance to the original bill. The proposed "examining board" had been eliminated completely and bilingual education would be voluntary, its implementation dependent on the discretion of local boards of education. The Republican Senate had given the people a different package from the one they bargained for. Hispanos in the legislature had a majority for the first time in many years and could have dictated the legislation they wanted. Through the editorial columns of La Voz del Pueblo, Ezequiel and his associates correctly stated the results of the proposed bilingual education bill when they reported, "no dieron qato por liebre."
Another education bill, which became law while Ezequiel was the Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico extended the public school term to seven months. It received strong support from Ezequiel. Commenting on it he said:
It will be a blessing for our children to be able to have seven months of school in the rural poor districts. Many of them could not have funds enough for a three months school, which was almost like not having any at all. This really means an opportunity for the poor children of New Mexico.
For many years during his early political career Ezequiel had been involved and deeply committed to the Las Vegas Land Grant struggle [see section on Las Vegas Grant]. The fervent conviction which compelled him to support the people in that issue was rekindled when he was Lieutenant Governor, as he saw the need to help his people with similar problems across the State. He had been receiving many inquiries from people around New Mexico asking about the leasing and purchasing of State land to which he answered, "no se duerman conciudadanos porque ahorita no quedan terrenos." (do not fall asleep fellow citizens for soon there will be no more land.)
Small sheep men in particular had complained that the Land Commissioner was not permitting the sale or lease of land parcels of less than a township. They argued that this was creating a monopoly on lands by large cattle companies. Ezequiel investigated the complaints and responded that the commissioner denied the allegations assuring him that he was willing and ready to rent or sell small parcels of State land of less than a section. The Lieutenant Governor reassured a poor sheep man who had been refused a lease to reapply and that he would personally seek justice for him. On public lands he said that "there is no justice in trying to lay perpetual claim to public lands, and yet what belongs to all belongs to no one in particular, but has to be administered under proper regulations so that equal opportunity is available to all.
Another related land issue Don Ezequiel addressed himself to be caused by restrictions imposed on the people living on the Pecos Forest Reserve by the Forest Service. He wrote to Congressman Harvey B. Fergusson voicing the complaints of the people and requested assistance from his office. Among the complaints he listed was the unwarranted extension of the forest reserve to many miles of untimbered lands. The bulk of the San Miguel del Bado Grant had been included in the reserve, as well as a large section of the prairies west of the Pecos River and the land grant. The Forest Service had raised the price of grazing permits and was now requiring the residents of the reserve to remove their horses, cattle and sheep to different grazing areas, "thereby endangering them to loss by straying away and by being stolen or removed from personal care and watch of their owners," according to Ezequiel.
C. de Baca strongly felt that the people's complaints were just. He could not see of what use the miles and miles of untimbered land were to the forest reservation. People were being deprived of pasture and wood in areas where they had lived for generations. Inspectors were making the people pay for the piñón and cedar brush they needed in their homes. The San Miguel del Bado Grant had been ceded to the people by the Spanish government for grazing privileges and wood. The fair and just thing to do, contended Ezequiel, was to open for settlement all timberless lands. The authorities had the people at their mercy forcing many of them to sell their stock. Their unjust actions reminded Ezequiel of a fable:
It was raining outside; an ugly toad came to the door of the small cave of a rabbit and asked to be permitted to enter to protect himself from the rain. The rabbit very kindly invited the toad as his quest. Presently the toad began to swell, and swell until the host finding himself cruelly pushed against the wall remonstrated, to which the toad replied: 'If there is anyone who feels uncomfortable, let such get out.'
The Forest Service had encroached on the people's land, systematically absorbing their grazing privileges. The people who did not agree with the Forest Service's infringement could leave if they wanted. In another comparable situation affecting the people of San Gerónimo, Ezequiel was able to secure for them free permits for timber and grazing within the forest reserve.
While Ezequiel was serving his term as Lieutenant Governor, he was elected to New Mexico's first electoral college during November 1912, with J.H. Latham and S.D. Stennis, Jr. They all cast their votes for Woodrow Wilson for President and Thomas R. Marshall for Vice President of the United States. Oh January of 1913, the Senate and House met in joint session to elect a U.S. Senator. The joint session vote was: Albert Bacon Fall, 43; Ezequiel C. de Baca, 23; and, the remaining five votes were divided among other prominent members of the session.
During the latter part of 1914 Ezequiel entertained the possibility of resigning as Lieutenant Governor to accept the U.S. Marshalship to Puerto Rico. Congressman H.B. Fergusson had written to him earlier asking him if he was interested in an appointment as an U.S. Marshall within the United States, but C. de Baca never received the letter. The appointment had already been made when Fergusson found out why Ezequiel did not answer his letter. Fergusson wrote to him again and asked him if he was interested in the U.S. Marshalship of Puerto Rico. Ezequiel considered the proposition and his family's welfare carefully before making a final decision. His wife felt that she would never see her mother alive again if they moved to Puerto Rico, but she was tired of being poor and having to struggle so hard to take care of her family. The move to Puerto Rico was almost certain as he inquired about the living conditions on the island while his family spoke of their plans for their trip. He was close to accepting the position, until Félix Martínez gave him advice on the matter and made a personal plea to get Ezequiel to remain in New Mexico. Felix told him that it would be a personal disaster and tragedy to him if he left before the next Legislature because the disintegrated Democrat Party needed him and his leadership more than over. While he was Lieutenant Governor Ezequiel substituted for Governor McDonald in 1915 as New Mexico's representative to the Pan American International Exposition in San Diego, California. The Exposition had been established in commemoration of the Panama Canal. At the inaugural celebration Ezequiel addressed the Exposition praising California and San Diego for sponsoring the event. He also spoke of New Mexico and her interests saying that her future was as brilliant and full of expectations as any in the Union.
Félix Martínez' opinion that Ezequiel's leadership was gravely needed by the Democratic Party proved to be correct, as C. de Baca became the leading Democratic candidate for tie 1916 gubernatorial race. The State Democratic Convention met in May 1916 to choose delegates to the National Convention, which was to meet in St. Louis, Missouri. Las Vegan and close friend of C. de Baca, Antonio Lucero was elected President of the State Convention where it was decided that the delegation would be comprised of one half Hispanos and one half Anglos. Ezequiel was among the delegates chosen to the National Convention, and later he was named President of New Mexico's delegation to St. Louis. The State Convention again met on August 30, to nominate candidates for public office throughout the State.
Ezequiel was flattered and deeply appreciative that so many people around the State had confidence in his ability to serve as New Mexico's Chief Executive, but he modestly replied to all of them that he did not feel he possessed the stature for such a large responsibility. He also admitted that his financial situation was inadequate to comply with his obligation to the campaign committee if he would accept a nomination. He did however, agree with his friend Antonio Lucero that their candidate for Governor should be an Hispano who could convince the Anglo-Americans of the many needs and concerns of native New Mexicans.
Support for Ezequiel's nomination mounted in 1916, but he was still hesitant to accept the nomination due to his poor financial situation. Some Democratic leaders had offered to lend him money, but he would not think of borrowing unless he was absolutely sure he could pay it back. He said he did not want to be subject to a humiliating position by accepting campaign funds from the party. When the Democratic Convention reconvened in August, Ezequiel was nominated to run for Governor by acclamation. Governor McDonald and A.A. Jones, candidate for U.S. Senator, both spoke highly of Ezequiel's character and ability. Due to the unanimous support and encouragement he had received from the Democrats, Ezequiel eventually did accept financial support from the party for his campaign.
Ezequiel was soon campaigning against Holm O. Bursum who had been nominated over Secundino Romero to run for Governor on the Republican ticket. During his five years as Lieutenant Governor, Ezequiel had given impartial, efficient and faithful service to the people being highly deserving of their confidence. He practiced the principles of "equal rights to all, special privileges to none," and he was proud to endorse Woodrow Wilson, who in the midst of serious international strife had kept the United States out of war with Mexico. C. de Baca felt that President Wilson had maintained national honor by not allowing the United States to unjustly oppress our sister republic of Mexico.
During his campaign Ezequiel expressed his feelings that the great prosperity of New Mexico and the nation, especially in farming and stock-raising interests, as well as the increase in private and public wealth and contentment and happiness of the people, in contrast to the horrors of war, should bring the people together to support the Democratic Party which had made that favorable condition possible. If elected, Ezequiel pledged "to give an honest, clean, fair and just administration and to give every citizen equal rights and consideration, regardless of wealth or station.
The Democratic campaign of 1916 charged the Republican legislature for the unjust fencing law, which required fencing by property owners. The law had created problems for some of the small landholders who could not afford fences. Some of the people had been forced to abandon their lands, which had been the sole source of support for their families. Many small landholders were seeking support from Ezequiel since, they knew he was for the working man while his opponent, Holm Bursum represented some of the large business corporations in the State and had support from rich politicians.
The Democratic campaign was also emphasizing the continuing progress in the area of education. During the past five years, the Democratic administration had directed many advances in education despite Republican majorities in the Legislature. As an educator in his earlier career and a strong advocate for better education, Ezequiel understood the conditions of education perfectly, both in rural and larger communities.
One campaign foe of the Democrats stated that if Ezequiel became Governor, more than $5,000,000.00 would be in his hands for the improvement of public roads under the five-year program. He felt that Ezequiel was not qualified for the road-building program because he had "lived a quiet, simple life in an environment not greatly influenced by the swiftly currents of modern life." Ezequiel's political adversaries also charged him with being far too partisan to be a good Governor. He answered by saying that in his native county of San Miguel to be a Democrat was to be a martyr. He further stated that he would continue fighting for the political principles, which sought justice for all.
As the campaign for Governor was coming to a close, Ezequiel was indeed confident of the people's trust in him, but he was bothered by the effects of the money the Republicans were spending in the campaign. He said that they were spending money lavishly against him. He also charged the Republicans with slandering him on the race question. Another campaign concern he had was the vote in the coal mining regions of the State. Bursum had helped pass a law at the last Legislature, which exempted mines from taxation. On the optimistic side, Ezequiel stated that "the Democrats throughout the State are loyal to my candidacy and probably some thousands of the Republicans in the native sections." His campaign had been vigorous, but it had not been as extensive as he had hoped for. He had been suffering from a serious illness since prior to the National Convention in St. Louis, which had prevented him from many campaign stops.
The final election results of 1916 gave Ezequiel and other Democrats a victory over Republican candidates. The Republican Party failed to elect Bursum as Governor, but they did manage to maintain a stronghold in the Legislature as they had done in 1912. W.E. Lindsey, a Progressive Republican, was elected Lieutenant Governor. In San Miguel County, the powerful Republican machine led by Ezequiel's primos, the Romeros, had defeated the new Governor, but only by eighty-five votes.
Ezequiel C. de Baca later admitted that he had feared for his life during his campaign and on election night. The same was true for Antonio Lucero, reelected Secretary of State, who unknowingly many times had a secret escort as he went about the Las Vegas community at night…Antonio Jr. followed his father from a distance to offer protection if it was needed. One of Ezequiel's surviving daughters, Celia Redman, reaffirmed her father's statement: "It was a real martyrdom to be a Democrat in San Miguel County during my father's time."
Following the election, Ezequiel's sickness debilitated him so that he was compelled to go to California to recuperate before his inauguration in January. His failing health had been noticeable since the 1915 Legislature. It continued to afflict him after returning to Las Vegas following the legislative session, but not seriously until May of the election year. The sickness was finally diagnosed as "pernicious anemia" while he attended the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis. When he accepted the nomination for Governor, his doctors had told him that they were sure they could cure him. He consented to his nomination only then, after receiving reassurance from his doctors.
The issue of Don Ezequiel's health became topical with the news media. Many said that he was near death, while others reported that he was fully recovering. When he arrived in California, he stated that his condition was worse than at any time during his sickness. However, as time progressed he reported that his health was improving, but he wanted to stay in California longer to fully recover even if it took him beyond January. He would do this long as his chances of qualifying were not jeopardized. This problem centered on some doubt that he might not qualify if he was not in New Mexico on January 1, 1917. Although he was told that it would pose no problem, he worried that the Republicans in the Legislature might enact a special law to disqualify him if he was not back in the State on time.
The anxiety shown by his friends and New Mexicans in general finally obliged him to return to New Mexico by January 1, 1917. He was also determined to keep Lieutenant Governor-Elect Lindsey from presiding over the destinies of New Mexico while the Legislature was in session. "I want the people to be informed that I will be 'Governor of the People'--I mean, the 'People's Servant.' " With these words, Don Ezequiel C. de Baca commenced as New Mexico's second Governor after he was sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice Hanna. The ceremony was held on the second floor of the St. Vincent Sanitarium in Santa Fe, where Ezequiel had been confined. Lieutenant Governor Lindsey and Ezequiel met for the first time that day when they were both sworn into office. A few other State officials including Secretary of State Antonio Lucero also were sworn in at the hospital.
Governor C. de Baca appeared to be much healthier at the inauguration than when he was nominated for Governor in August. His color, actions and expressions were much better; but nevertheless, his doctor and friends were aware that his condition demanded further rest. He would be allowed mostly short visits of vital importance. His appointed legal counsel, Elmer E. Veeder from Las Vegas, took up quarters in the hospital to be in continuous contact with the Governor.
The third legislative session began on January 8, 1917. Lieutenant Governor Lindsey read Ezequiel's message because Doctor Massie would still not allow him to leave the sanitarium. After he had read the message, Lindsey told the Legislature that the Governor expected to assume his administrative responsibilities within a few weeks. In his address, the Governor mentioned that there were certain antiquated laws which he intended to rectify, and many issues which he felt needed legislative attention.
The question regarding prohibition had been an annoyance to the people of New Mexico for a long time. The Governor felt that no one had the moral right to legalize liquor in any community if it was against the wishes of the people. He recommended that the Legislature take steps to submit the prohibition question to a vote as soon as possible. He did not give his personal feelings on the liquor issue, but instead asked the people of New Mexico to decide.
Congress had appropriated approximately $1,170,000.00 for New Mexico for a five-year road building program. New Mexico had to provide fifty-percent in matching funds. Ezequiel strongly urged the Legislature to accept the bill on roads and to designate the manner through which the necessary matching funds could be procured by the State.
C. de Baca felt that the tax laws passed by the last Legislature had been inadequate to cover the State expenditures approved. This had left the State with a deficit of $116,000.00. He said that this necessitated increasing taxation. In order to exercise more stringent controls, the Tax Commission would need more power and a better budget. One of New Mexico's problems had been a weak tax collection system.
The law on contributions paid to the State by the mines was unjust and very unfair to the other taxpayers. Mines were only paying taxes on their net production while business men and farmers were taxed under a different system. Some of the mining companies had thousands of acres with valuable mineral resources, but only paid taxes on the small sections they actually mined. In his message, Ezequiel argued that they should pay taxes on their true assessed property value.
Tax laws in New Mexico were inadequate since they did not stipulate the process, which should be implemented to collect taxes. This many times complicated tax collection enforcement and slowed it down. The Governor said that County Treasurers were paid well enough to do a better job in collecting taxes. He felt that the Tax Commission should have the authority to make sure that the County Treasurers were going out to collect taxes. The Governor urged the adoption of a law, which would establish an inheritance tax. Forty-six of the Union's forty-eight states already had inheritance tax laws. This law could bring considerable revenues to New Mexico. He recommended that if such a law were passed, small legacies could be exempted.
There were several public transportation companies, which did not pay any taxes in New Mexico. The Governor addressed himself to these, and in particular the Pullman coaches. He recommended a law to tax these companies. Ezequiel estimated that an additional $30,000.00 in revenues could be acquired through such a law.
The Governor also made some recommendations on New Mexico's electoral law. He said that it should be reformed because the existing State government's open voting system did not have any controls. He felt that if the voting rights of the people continued to be violated, the State's system of free government could be threatened. He strongly urged the Legislature to adopt a secret ballot. A voter should be able to cast his own vote without any interference or intimidation from so-called political employees. Rounding up voters and compelling them to vote as the political bosses dictated should be prohibited, subject to severe punishment. He also criticized the system of printing and distribution of ballots which many times created problems between the two parties. The persons in charge of distributing ballots many times had disagreements with persons of opposing parties. He strongly recommended that the Legislature enact a new voting law similar to the Australian secret ballot, with a special ballot, modified and prepared in such a way as to adapt into New Mexico.
Ezequiel C. de Baca said that the law requiring all lands to be fenced to keep out livestock was unjust, because it imposed an unnecessary burden on small farmers who could not afford to fence. He said that the law was so complicated that many times it was almost impossible to comply with it. He further stated that he could cite many instances where the unjust conditions of the fencing law had resulted in violence. Ezequiel strongly recommended that the existing law be abolished and replaced with one fair to both the farmer and the rancher.
The Governor expected good legislation in the area of education. It was of vital importance to him that the State give its youth all educational opportunities possible. Much had been done in education since New Mexico became a State, but there were still many areas in which it was behind. He recommended that the legislative committee meeting on education he given all the power possible to guarantee the diffusion of education in New Mexico.
Don Ezequiel coded his message to Legislature:
"To conclude, permit me to say that you work will be judged more by its quality than its quantity, and you should consider the laws you will be voting on carefully, keeping always in mind that the most possible good for the largest number of persons possible has to be attained."
The message to the Legislature was well received by the majority of the people and news media across the State. The issues of taxation, revenues, and the secret ballot received most comments as being very important and well presented by the Governor. La Voz del Pueblo strongly felt that the issue, which was the most urgent needing legislative attention, was the fencing law, which had caused the small farmer numerous problems.
La Voz del Pueblo reported that all the newspapers throughout New Mexico had lauded Ezequiel's message except the newsletter printed by the State Land Office headed by Commissioner Ervin. The Governor had requested an investigation of the office because he was concerned about its excessive number of employees, its management, and the unfair tax measures it had implemented. Some felt the Governor was justified in calling for the investigation, because the people of Torrance County were already circulating a petition asking that the Governor and the Legislature remedy the injustices committed by Ervin and his office on New Mexico's small farmers and ranchers. The Land Office's system of managing leasing and selling state land favored the large cattle companies.
The Governor's confinement to the hospital somewhat limited him in carrying out his duties. Rumors once again circulated that his health was worsening, whereupon a committee from the Legislature went to visit him and reported that Ezequiel had told them that he felt the crisis of his sickness had passed. Different members from the Legislature donated blood for the transfusions the Governor needed. Although Dr. Massie also felt that Ezequiel's health was improving, he was gradually getting worse.
Early in February Ezequiel wrote to the students at New Mexico Normal University, Las Vegas, the university his friend Félix Martínez had founded. He told them that he had always been a friend of education and had particularly endeavored to build rural schools in the State. He felt the people should concentrate on the rural schools of the State; the higher institutions of learning were faring well by themselves, he stated, but rural schools in particular needed much assistance. To this he quoted the saying: "Take care of the youth, and the geniuses will take care of themselves." He was also looking ahead to the values of cultural and community education when he said:
"I hope that the day is not far distant when every public school house will be made a community center for the benefit of the young as well as the adult population, where our people can assemble to hear lectures and see demonstrations, calculated to create a desire for a betterment of their conditions, and to make them more efficient in their trades."
During the early months of 1917 the United States was on the brink of entering the war with Germany. The Legislature and Governor C. de Baca were in complete accord with President Wilson's position on Germany. Both legislative bodies voted unanimously on resolutions which were drafted to sever diplomatic relations with Germany and on insisting that the United States' rights be respected. The Legislature offered all the State's resources to sustain and defend the freedom and rights of all American citizens.
Ezequiel responded to the eastern press with a telegram:
"New Mexico loyally supports the President, extending her hand. We believe that the commercial trade routes in the ocean should remain open to all neutral countries, in accordance with the law of those countries, and if necessary, the armed forces of the United States should he used to guarantee that end."
Ezequiel did not have an inaugural celebration when he was sworn into office due to his failing health. The executive committee appointed by Governor McDonald in December, 1916, had set a date for the celebration, but they had to postpone it. The celebration would never take place, for the man who so valiantly fought such a difficult battle so that he could continue his role as "public servant," as he had proclaimed, died peacefully on Sunday morning, February 18, 1917, only forty nine days after becoming New Mexico's second Governor. He died at St. Vincent Sanitarium in Santa Fe where he had been confined since his arrival from California on December 30, 1916.
It was fitting and proper that Don Ezequiel C. de Baca's most trusted friend, Antonio Lucero, present a eulogy at the wake of the deceased. Ezequiel C. de Baca's virtuous characteristics had been generosity, unselfishness, sincerity, benevolence and loyalty. Speaking about his friend Antonio Lucero said:
"The poor have lost a kind friend, 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. Men like Ezequiel, who fight indefatigably for the good of their people do not die, for their memory is never extinguished.Their names and accomplishments remain engraved for posterity. Antonio ended his words in memory of his friend by saying that Don Ezequiel's last words could have very well been, 'I die poor, but lived in honor.' "
The third Legislature ended its session almost a month after Governor C. de Baca had passed on. He had not signed any legislation enacted by the Legislature, but certain aspects from his measure had been heeded. The Australian ballot law, which originated with the demands of the United Peoples' Party, Partido de Pueblo Unido, in 1890 finally became enacted in 1917. The conscience of the Republicans in the legislature had finally conceded a secret ballot system, which would remove the abuses, manipulations and violation of voters' rights in elections.
A resolution was passed in the Legislature providing for the submission of an article to the state Constitution to establish statewide prohibition. The resolution called or a referendum on November 6, 1917. The Road Act abolished the State Highway Commission as previously constituted and prohibiting the appointment of State and County officials was passed. The act provided for the appointment of County or District road superintendents and increased State levies for roads assenting to the provisions of the Federal Aid Road Act. Other acts which were passed following recommendations from the Governor's message were: one consolidating the rural schools, another on provisions for the workman's compensation, and one making provisions for the management of the budget.
The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Governor C. de Baca's successor, Governor Lindsey, called a special session of the Legislature to draft legislative support for the Nation. The Legislature had time at its special session to pass two other laws which had been proposed by Ezequiel. One of them called for the appropriation of $15,000.00 annually for vocational education to be matched by Federal funds over a two-year period. Another law which would add to the State revenues was one calling for the taxation on property of all private car, sleeping car and express companies operating in New Mexico.
Ezequiel had appointed an equitable number of Hispanos to different State positions; but the Legislature had not approved them before he died. Lindsey appointed a new slate of officials which included only a token number of Hispanos bringing strong criticism that the Republican party, which was made up of two-thirds Hispanos, only used the Spanish-speaking for their vote.
The unjust fence law which C. de Baca was so staunchly opposed to was never amended. The Republican leaders who represented the large cattle companies completely ignored the issue. Even in his waning moments when he had been visited by the legislative committee a week prior to his death, Ezequiel had urged them once again to abrogate the fence law and pass one that would not be unjust to the small farmer and rancher.
Ezequiel's oldest daughter, Margarita, had been selected by Governor McDonald since December, 1916, to christen the New Mexico, a battleship which was being built in the New York shipyards. On April 23, 1917, two months after her father had passed away, Margarita was in New York City carrying out her honor by christening the battleship named after her home state. Since the United States and Germany were already at war, the occasion was not as festive as it would be in normal circumstances. Security measures had been taken and the shipyards were being guarded by marines and police.
During Ezequiel C. de Baca's era, the need to recognize the Hispano and his pressing societal concerns developed in the area of Territorial and later State politics. He was one of many San Miguel County residents who rose to join various popular movements which affected the Spanish-speaking as they adjusted to new roles in American society. When C. de Baca joined La Voz del Pueblo, El Partido del Pueblo Unido and the Caballeros de Labor as a young man, he was showing a true dedication to a cause he felt was just.
As a journalist and politician, Ezequiel possessed a strong determination to represent his people and help them achieve a more meaningful status as citizens of the Unit d States. Because of this, he emerged as a strong advocate of people's rights as he continually defended their dignity and supported their concerns. He was seeking alternatives for the native Hispano so that they could survive the progress and changes of Americanization which was gradually absorbing the native's socioeconomic systems. Since his record revealed a strong devotion towards the educational betterment of his people, one can Safely judge that Ezequiel had found one of the alternatives he was seeking.
His constant concern for education for New Mexicans was primarily directed at the rural villages where the people were unfamiliar with many of their rights. This lack of knowledge and defense many times subjected the people to abuses by land speculators when it came to defending their lands. Ezequiel fully recognized that through education his people stood a better chance of reaching a full potential in challenging the changing trends of the Territory and later the State of New Mexico.
As a politician, Ezequiel never expressed a strong desire to hold public office. He had been in the center of the political arena for twenty years before he chose to run for Lieutenant Governor. Before that he attempted seeking a public position only once. Even when he was nominated to run for Governor, he openly expressed his feelings what he sought no party nomination. One overriding personal characteristic Don Ezequiel C. de Baca appeared to possess was a compulsion to participate in politics as a facilitator among the people rather that to seek public nomination and status as an elected official.
Leaders such as Ezequiel C. de Baca have emerged as dedicated leaders among the constituencies they serve. They continue the struggle of seeking alternatives, fair representation and equality for the citizenship, confronting and challenging those issues which apply to their cultural and economic survival. La Voz del Pueblo, quite appropriately and many times, would address an issue with a simple refrán. When speaking of justice, the newspaper would say: "Sin verdad no hay justicia, y sin justicia no hay nada." Without truth there is no justice, and without justice there is nothing.