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Fabián García, Biographical Sketch

By Rick Hendricks

Fabián García was born in Chihuahua on 20 January 1871 to Ricardo García and Refugio Romero de García. [1] Orphaned of both parents soon after his birth, García moved to the Mimbres Valley in southwestern New Mexico with his paternal grandmother, Jacoba García, when he was two years old. Jacoba found work in the home of George Wilson and his wife of San Lorenzo in Grant County.[2]  They later moved to the home of Mr. and Mrs. R. J. White in Georgetown, near Santa Rita. There he received his first schooling. He came to the Mesilla Valley in 1885 with his grandmother who found employ with the Thomas Casad family. The Casads provided the opportunity and financial support for García to further his education through formal schooling. The fact that the Casad Orchard was one of the largest fruit-growing enterprises in the Mesilla Valley offered García practical experience working with orchard crops and the pests associated with them. Evidence of this experience is clear in his research and writing. When Las Cruces College opened in 1888, García was said to have appeared with his McGuffey Reader in hand and sought admission.[3]

García became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1889 when he was eighteen years old and began coursework at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1890. He was a member of the first graduating class in 1894, earning a bachelor´s of science degree. Although a slight young man, García also played on the New Mexico A&M football team.[4] García participated in the first Farmer’s Institute, held in Las Cruces on 2-4 January 1896, where he gave a paper on meteorology. Upon graduating with his bachelor’s degree, García became assistant in agriculture. García did special graduate study at Cornell University during the 1899-1900 school year. Among the classes he took there were: Animal Industry, Dairy Husbandry, Evolution of Cultured Plants, Literature of Horticulture, and Propagation of Plants.[5]

A lifetime member of the American Pomological Society, García was awarded a bronze Wilder Medal at the Twenty-Ninth Biennial Session meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1905.[6] Marshall P. Wilder, long-serving president of the society, established the Wilder Medals to recognize objects of special merit. García was awarded a medal for “a very interesting collection of grapes, apples, and peaches.”

In 1906 he earned a M. S. A. at New Mexico A&M. After earning his master’s, García was named professor of horticulture and horticulturalist at the experiment station. In his early years as an educator, García taught landscape gardening, olericulture, and pomology. Best known for his work in agriculture, García was also a keen entomologist. He often sent specimens to learned institutions around the United States, seeking information or adding to their collections. In 1907 a new American bee was named for him—Nomada (Micronomada) garciana.[7] The habitat of this bee was listed as the College Farm in Mesilla Park, where García had obtained a specimen on 1 May 1907.

Fabián married Julieta J. Amador on 14 August 1907. She was daughter of Martín Amador, one of the most prominent citizens of the Mesilla Valley.[8] In May 1908, García was preparing to build a house on land he owned facing the railroad depot by having a supply of adobes made.[9] As time went by, he acquired numerous pieces of property throughout Las Cruces and Mesilla Park.

García spent the first two weeks of October 1908 with his colleague J. D. Tinsley in Albuquerque where they were in charge of the Doña Ana County exhibit at the New Mexico Territorial Fair.[10] Tinsley was the vice-director of the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station in Las Cruces. García was often called upon to be a judge at such fairs and was frequently involved in preparing exhibits from the college.

When her husband caught the train for the territorial fair, Julieta probably remained behind; she was expecting their first child. She gave birth to a son they named José. Their joy was to be short lived. José was born on 4 May and died on 17 May 1909. He is buried in the San José Cemetery in Las Cruces in the Amador plot on the South side of the mausoleum.

 Beginning in January 1912, García participated with his colleagues at New Mexico A&M in the Cultural Train, a traveling demonstration of exhibits from the school that took a fifteen-day railroad excursion through New Mexico.[11] The aim of the Cultural Train was to promote better farming in New Mexico and to spread the idea that the children of today are the farmers of tomorrow. When the train stopped, farmers gathered to look at the exhibits and listen to lectures on best farming practices. Later in January, García began an investigation into the origins of the old apple trees of Manzano, New Mexico.[12] He hoped to determine whether the trees were grown from seeds or whether young trees were carried from Spain by the first inhabitants of the region.

Another scholarly endeavor to which García dedicated his time and energy was the editorial side of the publishing world. In 1912 he became editor on agriculture and horticulture for The Mid-Continent Magazine, which was based in Denver, Colorado.[13] In the 1920s he was listed as a staff specialist for a newspaper called the Rio Grande Farmer.[14] In addition to his editorial duties, García also contributed articles to both publications.

In 1913 García became director of the experiment station. The promotion made him the first Hispanic in the nation to lead a land-grant agricultural research station. In that year García began the research that culminated in the 1921 release of New Mexico No. 9, historically the most important chile cultivar because it was the first developed at New Mexico A&M and because it introduced a new pod type called New Mexico.[15] García had begun selecting for what would become the New Mexico pod by improving chiles grown locally in the Las Cruces area. Before García initiated his research, growers had no way to predict or control the size or heat of chile pods. García thought that milder chiles would appeal more to non-Hispanics and therefore increase consumption. He also sought to develop a chile characterized by “a fleshy, smooth, tapering, and shoulderless pod.”[16] Such a chile would be easier to peel after roasting and to can. To accomplish his goal, García selected fourteen chile accessions growing in the Las Cruces area and by selection and hybridization began to eliminate lines with less desirable characteristics. After nine years of work during which some crops were largely lost to chile wilt, only New Mexico No. 9 remained. Although not as hot as most improved varieties, García judged New Mexico No. 9 to be hot enough.

Although García’s professional life was thriving, his personal life was again touched by tragedy. Julieta Amador de García died at the home of her sister, Mrs. A. N. Daguerre, in El Paso on Sunday, 5 December 1920.[17] Although she was suffering from bronchitis and her condition was considered grave, her death came suddenly and unexpectedly. García never remarried, and his involvement in the activities of New Mexico A&M seemed to occupy most of his time.

 In 1927 New Mexico A&M conferred an honorary doctorate of agriculture on García in recognition of his “outstanding work in developing New Mexico agriculture.” [18] The United States Department of Agriculture invited García to participate in a trip to Mexico where he led a lecture course on agricultural education and education. In 1943 he received an honorary doctorate of science from the University of New Mexico.

At their meeting on 24 March 1945 the A&M Board of Regents retired García.[19] Dean John William Branson announced that the action was taken because of García’s failing health. At the time of the regents’ decision, García had been ill for seven months with Parkinson’s Disease and was receiving treatment at McBride Hospital in Las Cruces. When he was retired García was given emeritus status at the college. By formal resolution the experiment station’s horticulture farm was given the name Fabián García Farm.

 Fabián García died on 6 August 1948.[20] He is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces. His will provided $89,000 to pay part of the $400,000 cost of construction of a men’s dormitory provide scholarships to worthy Hispanic students that would enable them to live in the new dormitory. After subtracting the costs of liquidating his estate, the college realized between $84,000 and $85,000.[21] The new dormitory, Fabián García Memorial Hall, was dedicated on Monday, 17 October 1949.

Through his work at the experiment station, García was credited with having added to the economic value of New Mexico agriculture, particularly with his research and development of chile, sweet potatoes, pecans, yellow and white Grano onions, and improved varieties of cotton. He authored twenty experiment station bulletins and coauthored another fifteen with Joseph W. Rigney and Austin B. Fite. In addition to wrote numerous newspaper and magazine articles.

In 2005 the American Society for Horticultural Science Hall posthumously elected Fabián García to its Hall of Fame. His plaque at the society’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, reads "Dr. Fabian Garcia, a man of humble origins, but a gentleman of extraordinary achievements."[22]

 

 

 


[1] “Member of A&M Staff since Graduation 51 Years Ago, Fabián García is Retired,” Las Cruces Sun-News, 22 April 1945.

[2] The census enumerator recorded Fabián as “Fabiano” and mistakenly indicated that he was female, but there is no doubt that the entry refers to him and his grandmother. United States Federal Census, San Lorenzo, Grant County, Territory of New Mexico, 1880; and http://archives.nmsu.edu/rghc/exhibits/garciaexhibit/menu.htm (accessed 7 July 2010).

[3] “Goals at New Mexico A&M High, Writes Noted Author,” Las Cruces Sun-News, 1 March 1849.

[4] Las Cruces Sun-News, 9 October 1949.

[5] http://archives.nmsu.edu/rghc/exhibits/garciaexhibit/menu.htm (accessed 7 July 2010).

[6] Proceedings of the 29th Biennial Session of the American Pomological Society Held in  Kansas City, Mo., September 19-21, 1905([Cleveland: The Society, [1905]), 166.

[7] “New American Bees,” The Entomologist, 40: 535 (December 1907): 265-66.

[8] Julieta was born in Las Cruces on 24 November 1882. “Julieta Amador García,”The Rio Grande Republic, 9 December 1920.

[9] Rio Grande Republic, 23 May 1908.

[10] Rio Grande Republican, 17 October 1908.

[11] “Cultural Train Starts on Its Long Tour of Instruction,” The Rio Grande Republican, 12 January 1912.

[12] “Will Graft Old Apple Tree Scions,” The Rio Grande Republican, 12 January 1912.

[13] Rio Grande Republican, 17 May 1912.

[14] Rio Grande Farmer, 27 March 1922.

[15] Danise Coon, Eric Votava, and Paul W. Bosland, The Chile Cultivars of New Mexico State University, Research Report 763 (Las Cruces: New Mexico State University, 2008), 1.

[16] Fabián García, Improved Variety No. 9 of Native Chile, Bulletin No. 124, February, New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, Agricultural Experiment Station, State College, N. M. (Las Cruces: Rio Grande Republic, 1921), [3].

[17] “Julieta Amador García,” The Rio Grande Republic, 9 December 1920.

[18] “Member of A&M Staff since Graduation 51 Years Ago, Fabián García is Retired,” Las Cruces Sun-News, 22 April 1945.

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Late Fabian Garcia One of Best Loved of A&M Faculty Members,” Las Cruces Sun-News, 9 and 16 October 1949.

[21] “Date is Set for Dedication of Memorial Hall,” Las Cruces Sun-News, 26 July 1949.

[22] David A. Fryxell , “The Red-or-Greening of New Mexico,” http://www.desertexposure.com/200712/200712_garcia_chile.php (accessed 8 July 2010).