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New Mexico State Archives Groundbreaking

State Records Center and Archives Ground Breaking: By Robert Torrez

On 15 May 1996 the State of New Mexico held a ground breaking for the construction of a long awaited State Records Center and Archives building in Santa Fe. The event marked the culmination of a lengthy struggle by a great many people to build a secure repository in which to house and make accessible to the public one of New Mexico's most valuable resources—the documentary patrimony and New Mexico legacy contained in its Spanish and Mexican Archives.

To appreciate the significance of the Records Center and Archives, it is important to look back and reflect on the struggle New Mexico has endured to assure the survival of the historical records that document nearly four centuries of its history. There exists worldwide a substantial body of documentation which testifies that the Spanish were great records producers. The survival of this vast documentary resource can be partially credited to the Spanish propensity for the reports and investigations they required to maintain contact with and control over their far-flung empire-and New Mexico was one of the most remote of the Spanish provinces. 

The New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe currently houses more than 100,000 documents from the Spanish Colonial and Mexican periods (1621-1846). This number may seem insignificant compared to the number of such records held in Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación or in other world renowned archival repositories, but in retrospect, it may be considered somewhat miraculous that even this much of New Mexico's documentary heritage has survived the nearly four centuries since don Juan de Oñate established New Mexico's first Spanish settlement at the Tewa village of Ohkay in 1598.

The first major blow to New Mexico's documentary heritage occurred in 1680. That year, the Pueblos along the Rio Grande banded together and drove the Spanish from the province. During the twelve years it took the Spanish to organize and carry out the re-conquest of New Mexico, most vestiges of Spanish material culture were obliterated, including virtually every record and document left behind during the hasty Spanish retreat : A mere four documents in New Mexico's archives pre-date the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Consequently, the vast majority of extant Spanish documents in New Mexico's archives cover the period 1680 to 1821.

Because of the nearly complete destruction of New Mexico’s records for the period 1598 through 1679, we can only assume that the manner in which records were kept was similar to other Spanish Colonial entities. As with the other provinces of New Spain which were under the authority of the viceroy New Mexico was administered by an appointed governor who as gobernador y capítán general had both civil and military authority over the non-ecclesiastic affairs of the province.

The governor was assisted in his administrative, judicial, fiscal and military tasks by a number of local officials not the least of which were the alcaldes who administered Spanish government at the local level. The reports, petitions, civil and criminal judicial proceedings, and correspondence of these officials, as well as those sent to New Mexico by governmental officials in Mexico were placed in a central archive at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. “Que se archive” is a fairly common notation placed on documents of the period by the governor or other appropriate official when the purpose of a document was completed.

These records were maintained by the governor’s principal administrative assistant, the secretario de gobierno y guerra. The importance of the archives and the manner in which the secretario and other governmental officials were to care for them are reflected by a 1712 auto, or proclamation, of Governor Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón. The document reminds Santa Fe cabildo officials that failure to maintain certain record books that document “standards of good government” could result in the substantial fine of 500 pesos.[1]

A number of eighteenth-century documents make it clear that the manner in which the archives were to be maintained and accessed was an important concern. At least one document of the period reviews the process by which archives could be withdrawn. More than a dozen inventories show the eventual accumulation of a substantial body of documents in New Mexico’s governmental offices by the time of Mexican independence in 1821.[2]

Certainly by the late 1820s this accumulation of records prompted Governor Manuel Armijo to complain that the secretario de gobierno had to conduct his business in a small, crowded room in which also were stored the documents of nearly a century and a half of Spanish and Mexican administration in New Mexico. Several sources estimate that at the time of the American occupation in 1846 these archives consisted of approximately 168,000 documents.[3]

Following General Stephen Watts Kearny's occupation of New Mexico in 1846 the men he appointed to establish a civil government under American rule were confronted with more than the basic problem of maintaining the records of a new government. They also had to decide what to do with the thousands of documents accumulated during the previous two and a half centuries of Spanish and Mexican rule.

After American troops occupied New Mexico in 1846 nominal protection of these documents was assigned to various individuals. The 1850 Enabling Act, under which New Mexico's territorial government was established, assigned the responsibility for government records to the Secretary of the Territory. The law does not specify whether this responsibility extended to the care of the old archives which had been left by Mexican authorities in the governmental offices they abandoned in 1846. Consequently early Territorial Governors, beginning with James S. Calhoun in 1851, frequently commented about the inadequate conditions under which these old documents were being stored and the minimal care they received.[4]

One of the earliest efforts at care and arrangement of New Mexico's Spanish and Mexican archives can be attributed to Donaciano Vigil, who was appointed territorial secretary by General Kearny on 22 September 1846. By late 1848 it is evident Vigil had undertaken the task of organizing and describing the records assigned to his care. Through most of 1849 Vigil kept Domingo Fernández and Antonio Vigil busy with the "arrangement of the ancient archives."[5] This work culminated in what is commonly referred to as the Vigil Index, a listing and description of more than ten thousand individual items and document groupings.[6]

John Grenier, appointed territorial secretary on 30 August 1852, also took steps to protect the old archives. One of the first tasks he undertook was to devote time to "wrapping up old documents...for preservation and having them cleaned."[7]

W.W.H. Davis, who served as territorial secretary from 1854 to 1857, gave us the earliest account, providing more than a general description of where and under what conditions these archives were kept. In his book, El Gringo, Davis describes an 1854 tour of the Palace of the Governors and its various offices. He noted that the Territorial Secretary occupied an office which consisted of two rooms. One was an outer office where the Secretary transacted his daily business, and the other was, “an ante-room and a storeroom...divided by a cotton curtain...into two compartments, one of which is stored with the old manuscript records of the territory which have been accumulating for nearly three hundred years.”[8] The records Davis observed were probably the bulk of the Spanish and Mexican archives currently maintained by the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives.

The process by which these records made their way from the Palace of the Governors in 1854 to the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives a century later requires us to follow the development of two separate record groups which evolved from the documents Davis described. The first of these is the record group known as the Spanish Archives of New Mexico, 1621-1821, which is often referred to as the Spanish Archives of New Mexico II, or SANM II. The SANM II appellation has come about because these documents were originally listed and described by Ralph Emerson Twitchell in volume two of The Spanish Archives of New Mexico. Initially, these records also included the collection now known as the Mexican Archives of New Mexico.

The second grouping of New Mexico’s archives is the records known as the Spanish Archives of New Mexico, Series I, or SANM I. The Series I refers to their inventory and description by Twitchell in volume one of The Spanish Archives of New Mexico. This essay will first trace the history of SANM I, or, as they are more commonly called, the land grant records.

When General Stephen Watts Kearny occupied New Mexico in 1846 one of the first things he did was to assure the residents of this newly acquired territory that their rights to property would be respected by the United States government. It also quickly became apparent that the precepts held by the United States as to what constituted legal title to land were quite different from those of the Spanish and Mexican governments it had replaced. Determination of who had legal title to land in New Mexico depended on an understanding of the process by which these previous governments had issued land to individuals and groups, and the key to this lay in the documents housed in the office of the Territorial Secretary.

In order to investigate claims of property ownership in New Mexico and report to Congress on the validity of land claims the General Land Office appointed William Pelham as Surveyor General for New Mexico in 1854. Pelham was ordered to proceed immediately to Santa Fe and secure from the Territorial Governor "such of the archives as relate to grants of land by the former authority of the country." He also was to do everything necessary to protect these records from fire and other hazards.[9]

In late December 1854 Pelham informed Territorial Governor David Meriwether that he was going to call on the governor for whatever records were in the archives pertaining to land grants and property.[10] Details are sketchy, but apparently Meriwether protested that he had neither the funds nor the authority to hire anyone to review thousands of documents in order to identify and separate those related to property from those pertaining to general administrative and judicial matters. The governor, however, did allow Pelham to examine the archives. Pelham reported he reviewed one hundred sixty eight bundles of records, which he estimated contained 168,000 documents. From these he selected and withdrew papers related to 1,715 "grants, conveyances..., to land."[11]

The process by which Pelham completed this task is not clear. His correspondence does not specify if anyone other than his two clerks assisted him with what must have been a monumental undertaking. It is possible, however, that Pelham's task may have been simplified by the Vigil Index noted earlier, which had been prepared between 1848 and 1849 under the direction of Donaciano Vigil.

The Vigil Index is, for practical purposes, more an inventory than an index and consists of a chronological list of 9,938 items pertaining to general administrative and judicial matters and a separate listing of several hundred land-grant related documents.[12] Vigil's list may have simplified Pelham's task, but it is probable that neither Meriwether nor Pelham were aware of it. It is also likely that between 1849 and 1854 the archives had undergone random or calculated pilfering and rummaging, and consequently the documents Pelham reviewed were in no readily discernible order.

Nevertheless, Pelham proceeded to take into his custody all the documents he could identify as being related to land conveyances and transactions. He completed this task and took actual possession of the records 31 July 1855.[13] It would be more than a century before these records were reunited with the Spanish and Mexican documents which remained in the custody of New Mexico's territorial officials.

Once Pelham acquired the property records he set about establishing the administrative apparatus through which individuals and communities could apply for Congressional confirmation of their land titles. As he did so, he began taking the first documented steps towards providing these irreplaceable documents the physical protection and care they required.

In April 1856 Pelham wrote to the Commissioner of the General Land office in Washington D.C. and requested a $1,000 appropriation to construct a stone vault for the safekeeping of the land records he had acquired. Pelham explained that all buildings in Santa Fe were constructed of "sundried bricks," which could be easily breached by anyone determined to do so.[14]

Pelham's concerns for the security of the documents had been expressed before by public officials in Santa Fe. Governor James S. Calhoun had earlier suggested to the Territorial Legislature that if they could not provide funds for a safe repository for New Mexico's archives, they should at least consider hiring a night watchman to prevent break-ins.[15]

In May 1856 Pelham once again wrote to the commissioner to inform him that several buildings in Santa Fe had been broken into during the past month and to repeat the urgency of his request for funds to construct a vault.[16] Four months later, Pelham was still trying to justify his original request. In response to questions from Washington, he argued that it was not feasible to purchase an iron safe large enough to hold the documents. Such an item could be found only "in the states," he noted, and it would have to be shipped to New Mexico at a cost more than twice the amount of his original request. He also noted that it would not be practical to locate them elsewhere in the territory.

Pelham also advised his superiors in Washington that roofs in New Mexico tended to leak under the best of conditions, and the documents that had been placed under his care were in danger of becoming wet every time it rained. He further emphasized that the documents which he had been assigned to safeguard were irreplaceable, and that any loss would be considered "very great."[17]

Despite his efforts Pelham never got his stone vault. His actions, however, demonstrate a genuine concern for the safety and security of the records placed under his care. It may be said that although the survival of New Mexico's archives often can be attributed to interventions of “divine favor,” credit for the survival of the land grant records also can be attributed to timely intervention by the federal government.

In this manner a portion of New Mexico's Spanish and Mexican archives were removed from the custody of territorial officials. The land records Pelham withdrew from the Palace of the Governors remained in federal custody for more than a hundred years. They did, however, remain in New Mexico.

Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century various officials expressed their concerns about the historical documents which remained in territorial offices at the Palace. During the mid-1850s responsibility for these archives fell to the territorial librarian whose primary duty was to maintain the Law Library.[18] Men who held this position continually commented on the lack of facilities and the primitive conditions under which they operated. In 1867, incumbent Librarian José María Alarid complained that his predecessor had refused to provide him a current inventory of the books in the library and that he had found all the books simply piled on the dirt floor of the library in no discernible order.[19] Alarid's report had a familiar ring to it, since his own predecessor had complained of these same problems two years earlier.[20]

Notwithstanding the abuses which the Spanish and Mexican archives endured during the first quarter century of American government in New Mexico, the ultimate disgrace to this documentary patrimony and New Mexico legacy was yet to come. In late summer 1869 New Mexico welcomed William A. Pile as its new territorial governor. A few days after his inauguration, Governor Pile appointed Ira M. Bond territorial librarian.[21] Almost as soon as they assumed their duties of office, these men initiated a series of actions which resulted in the dumping of a large number of the Spanish and Mexican archives and their sale as scrap paper.

Governor Pile, like most of his predecessors, found office space at a premium in the ancient Palace of the Governors. He shared the sprawling and dilapidated compound with the territorial legislature, an assortment of territorial and federal officials, as well as an occasional squatter. The generally accepted story is that Pile decided he needed the room in which the old archives were stored and ordered them removed.

According to several sources, Librarian Bond consulted with a number of "old timers," including two former territorial secretaries. Following a cursory examination of the papers, Bond concluded they were, in his words, "refuse material and worthless," and pitched them out a window onto the street. He sold some of the documents to Santa Fe businessmen, who used them for packing and wrapping, and many others were carted off by assorted individuals.

When Bond's actions became publicly known, a storm of protest forced him and Governor Pile to take prompt steps to recover all they could. Fortunately for posterity, a large portion of the paper had apparently been carted off by Eluterio Barela, a wood hauler from nearby Agua Fría, who soon returned most of what he had carried away. Other documents found their way back to their dusty repository in 1872 and as late as 1886,[22] Barela returned some two hundred additional documents he had kept.[23]

Despite Bond's assurances that all the records had been recovered, most sources agree this was a dark moment for New Mexico's archives and that an undetermined portion of these documents were indeed used as packing paper, to start fires, or as one observer noted, "to put up tea in."[24]

Not much is noted about the archives during the decade following this disaster. However, judging by the conditions under which Lew Wallace found them when he assumed New Mexico's governorship in 1878 the storm of indignation over Ira Bond's actions must have subsided quickly. When Governor Wallace and his family took up residence at the Palace Susan Wallace's inspection of their new home found her at the entrance of a storage room. When she opened the door, a "swarm of mice" scattered in all directions, and the "deathlike smell of mildew and decay" escaped the room. Here, stuffed into barrels and boxes, laying about in moist piles, were the archives which documented more than two centuries of New Mexico's history.[25]

Governor Wallace immediately recognized the vital importance of these documents and made several urgent requests to both the Territorial Legislature and the United States Congress for funds to hire someone with the expertise to inspect, arrange, and care for the archives. Wallace failed to acquire funding for this purpose, so he, just as his predecessors had done, was forced to delegate this responsibility to the territorial Librarian.

Unfortunately for the archives, however, the position of Territorial Librarian was apparently not very attractive. Robert H. Tomkins, appointed by Governor Wallace to the office on March 16, 1880, resigned two days later. Tomkins' resignation cited the "miserable condition of the library...and the insufficient salary" of $300 a year.[26]

Despite these shortcomings, Governor Wallace persuaded Samuel Ellison to take the job on 18 March 1880, the same day Tomkins resigned.[27] Ellison held the position of territorial librarian until his death in 1889. For nearly a decade, his reports emphasized the historical and legal value of these documents and pleaded with the legislature for adequate funding to elevate the library to a "respectable standing." His early reports to the governor described the territorial library as "a perfect chaotic mess" and "a disgrace to any intelligent or civilized people." According to Ellison, the Spanish and Mexican archives which Governor Wallace inherited from his predecessors consisted of, "a confused mess of old manuscripts and paper, tied up in bundles, without any order or classification and covered with dirt, worm-eaten, and in some instances half-rotted away by their exposure and total lack of any care...”[28]

A similar observation was made by Lieutenant John G. Bourke who toured the Palace with Ellison on 18 April 1881. Bourke visited the "archives room,” which he described as containing "bundles upon bundles of paper, piled high above each other, in an inextricable confusion." He also noted the work Ellison had done to arrange and preserve these documents by sorting them into subject areas and storing them in 144 pasteboard boxes.[29]

During the 1880s New Mexico's archives received national attention when they were utilized by leading historians of the time, particularly Hubert Howe Bancroft and Adolph F. Bandelier. A story is told of how Bancroft proposed to have the entire archive deposited in his personal library in California. An indignant public outcry forced him to abandon this plan, so instead Bancroft "engaged" the territorial librarian to copy documents for him. However, this task quickly became burdensome for Ellison, who "being an old man [and] somewhat averse to labor," agreed to ignore the regulations which prohibited archives from being removed from the library and sent bundles of documents to San Francisco for Bancroft to copy.[30]

Notably, when the 1891 New Mexico Territorial Legislature appropriated $1,200 "to catalogue, number, index, bind, and translate the old Spanish and Mexican archives," Bandelier was hired for the job. Bandelier indicated that he had finished arranging the archives on 25 June 1891, but aside from a list of 1074 documents, a list which is no longer extant, no translations or index have surfaced. Nearly $2000 was appropriated by the legislature in 1891 and 1893 and additional expenses were paid from the Governor's contingency funds for the project.[31]

In 1888 the archives were moved from the Palace of the Governors, where they had been kept for nearly two centuries, to the recently completed Territorial capitol building.[32] There seems to have been a collective sigh of relief from all concerned. New Mexico's archives were at last within a secure building where they would be safe from the elements.

Ironically, after surviving the previous centuries of leaky roofs, neglect, and vandalism, the archives soon came close to being completely destroyed in the one place where all agreed they were safe at last. In 1892, the new capital was destroyed by a fire which has often been described as being "of suspicious origins." Quick action by librarian Facundo Pino and historian Twitchell, as well as others who knew where the archives were being stored, saved them from sure destruction. Books from the library were destroyed, along with a number of Pino's personal possessions, but the Spanish and Mexican archives escaped unharmed and were temporarily stored in a vault at the Santa Fe County Courthouse.[33]

By 1900 the archives had been transferred from the facilities provided by the County of Santa Fe to the second new capitol building, where they were placed in a "fire-proof" vault in the office of the Territorial Secretary.[34] Soon, however, Secretary George H. Wallace complained they were taking up too much space in the vault and suggested that if arrangements for their removal and preservation were not made soon, he would be forced to store them in the basement to make room for current records.[35]

At this time, Territorial Librarian José Segura and Secretary Wallace had noted that in addition to the space they were occupying, the old documents were showing signs of deterioration from frequent use and handling. According to Segura, their condition in 1898 had prompted Professor Elliot Coues of Washington, D.C., to suggest that he be allowed to take the entire collection to Washington. Coues proposed to arrange and translate the documents, after which he would return them to New Mexico along with a hundred copies of the translations. Secretary Wallace noted that such action was prohibited by territorial law but suggested that if the legislature gave their endorsement, Professor Coues's proposal could be a solution to the chronic problem of caring for the archives while still making them available to the public.[36]

The archives and their condition were soon brought to the attention of Herbert Putman, the librarian of Congress. After some preliminary communications with Secretary Wallace, Putman informed the Secretary of Interior that New Mexico had a "mass" of documents from the Spanish period, which he felt were of "absolutely no concern" to anyone in New Mexico, and suggested that the Library of Congress would be an ideal repository for them. Wallace loved the idea, and he suggested to the territorial legislature that Putman's offer might be the best way New Mexico could ensure its archives the protection they deserved.[37]

Subsequently, the 1903 territorial legislature drafted legislation which authorized the librarian to have the archives sent to the Library of Congress. Putman, confident that there would be no obstacles raised to the transfer, personally arranged for the packing of the archives prior to shipment.[38]

Then, in a series of events reminiscent of the reaction to Ira Bond's actions thirty-four years earlier, news of the archives' impending removal to Washington caused a public outcry. The Historical Society of New Mexico reported that, so many "vigorous and patriotic addresses were made...and public sentiment was so aroused," the Legislature was forced to amend the law it had just approved. The amended legislation added stipulations that the archives could be removed only on the condition that Washington agreed in writing that the documents would be properly analyzed, indexed, copies supplied to New Mexico at no charge, and that they would be returned to New Mexico within five years.[39]

The Secretary of Interior, however, found these conditions totally unacceptable. Instead, he curtly ordered Governor Miguel A. Otero to immediately forward the archives to the Library of Congress, and on 9 May 1903, they were summarily placed on the train and shipped to Washington, D.C.[40]

Little else is heard about New Mexico's archives until 1907, when the Territorial House of Representatives asked Governor Herbert J. Hagerman to report on their status. The legislature was particularly interested in knowing whether the conditions under which it had authorized the 1903 transfer had been met and if any archives had been returned to New Mexico.[41]

Governor Hagerman responded bluntly that the archives had not been sent to Washington under the provisions the territorial legislature had established. Instead, he added, the federal government took them under its "alleged dispose in any manner they deemed proper of all official archives and documents acquired...through the acquisition of new territory." As the legislators probably suspected, no archives had been returned, and Hagerman made it clear that he felt the federal government had no intention of returning any of them.[42]

The following year, New Mexico officials attempted to recover the Spanish and Mexican archives. However, in a scathing response to inquiries about their return, Herbert Putman questioned the "value" New Mexicans placed on their archives. Was it not true, Putman asked, that during the past several generations, the archives had been "subjected to notorious neglect, maltreatment, [and] various of the documents ...used as waste and wrapping paper...?"[43]

Putman's response was an unsympathetic review of the many appeals New Mexico had made for appropriations which would have enabled the territory to care for its archives. He placed particular emphasis on an 1854 petition from the territorial legislature, which described the archives as being "in a ruined condition... and in danger of being destroyed." Putman was adamant that their removal had been in the best interests of their preservation and discounted any "claim of sentiment," attachment, or need New Mexicans might have for them.

New Mexico's Spanish and Mexican archives were now entirely in federal hands. As noted above, the land grant records removed by the Surveyor General a half century earlier were under the care and authority of the General Land Office. Yet these, at least, had remained in Santa Fe. The rest of New Mexico’s archives were now in Washington, D.C., where the Library of Congress kept them for two decades.

In the wake of Putman’s attack on the manner in which New Mexico had cared for its archives, the territory began taking steps which eventually proved instrumental in their return. In 1909 the territorial legislature created the Museum of New Mexico in response to a resolution from the Archaeological Institute of America. The institute had offered to establish its School of American Archaeology, the predecessor to the School of American Research, in Santa Fe. This legislation also placed the Palace of the Governors under management of the Museum of New Mexico and provided office and exhibit space for the Historical Society of New Mexico in the venerable old building.[44]

In 1923 Edgar L. Hewett, Director of the Museum of New Mexico and the School of American Research, assured Putman that New Mexico finally had "suitable quarters" for its Spanish and Mexican archives. These assurances finally convinced the Secretary of Interior to agree that they could be returned to New Mexico, and by October 1923 the archives were once again housed in the same Palace where General Kearny and the American army had found them when they marched into Santa Fe in 1846.[45]

In 1927 the state legislature appointed the Historical Society of New Mexico as "official custodian and trustee" for all of New Mexico's public archives.[46] Soon, materials from other private and public sources were being collected and placed into the society's custody, and today's archival collections, which constitute the Spanish, Mexican, and Territorial Archives of New Mexico, began to take shape.

The archives remained in the custody and care of the Historical Society of New Mexico until 1959. That year, they were transferred to the custody of the newly created State Commission of Public Records, and on 21 October 1960, the records were moved from the Palace of the Governors to the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives.

Included in the transfer was the core of New Mexico's current documentary holdings—116 cubic feet of Spanish and Mexican archives and more than 300 cubic feet of territorial period documents, including the surviving papers of several Territorial governors.[47] These have since been considerably augmented by additional collections and discoveries, such as the 136 cubic feet of territorial and statehood governor’s papers found in a basement vault of the capitol building in 1962.[48]

During all this, however, the land grant records, which had been removed from New Mexico' archives in 1855 by the Surveyor General, remained in the custody of the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management office in Santa Fe. These records had come under BLM authority when the General Land Office, of which the surveyor general was a part, became the Bureau of Land Management.

In 1955 the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque was granted permission to microfilm these land records. This long overdue safeguard finally fulfilled a recommendation Twitchell made in 1914 when he suggested that the surveyor general should make photostats of all the records and curtail access to the originals.[49]

The 1955 microfilming set in motion a series of events that was eventually to allow for the return of the documents themselves to the custodianship of the State of New Mexico. After the microfilming was completed by the University of New Mexico, the Bureau of Land Management decided they no longer needed the originals and began negotiations with the National Archives for their disposition. In 1956 the National Archives authorized BLM officials to transfer the records to the Federal Records Center in Denver.[50]

Before this was accomplished, however, the Museum of New Mexico attempted to convince the National Archives that instead of being transferred to Denver, the land grant records should remain in New Mexico and be integrated into the archives from which they had been separated a century earlier. The National Archives expressed interest in this proposal but indicated it would do so only if New Mexico met certain conditions which they believed were necessary to assure adequate protection and care of the documents. No immediate action was taken and for the time being, the land grant records remained at the BLM offices in Santa Fe.[51]

New Mexico continued to express an interest in regaining custody of these land records. As noted earlier, the State Commission of Public Records was created in 1959, and the State Records Center and Archives was established for the purpose of assuming the care and custody of New Mexico's governmental records and archives.[52] With these actions, New Mexico felt it had met the conditions previously outlined by the National Archives.

In 1962 New Mexico State Records Center and Archives administrator Joseph F. Halpin initiated new inquiries about acquiring the land grant records still being held by BLM in Santa Fe. In a devastating letter reminiscent of Putman's harangue a half century earlier, Wayne G. Grove, Archivist of the United States, rejected New Mexico's request. Grove concluded that although these records had been created during the Spanish and Mexican periods of New Mexico's history, they had been acquired by the federal government and organized for the purpose of dealing with international obligations imposed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The records therefore had "little or no organic relationship" to New Mexico's extant Spanish and Mexican archives. Grove suggested that instead of trying to acquire the documents themselves, the Commission should acquire a copy of the University of New Mexico microfilm.[53]

Fortunately for New Mexico, the mechanism needed to accomplish the transfer of the land grant records from the BLM office in Santa Fe to the Federal Records Center in Denver moved very slowly, and the records remained in Santa Fe. In 1971 BLM once again announced its intention to transfer the records to Denver, and officials of the New Mexico State Commission of Public Records again protested the impending transfer. They demanded that records of such "historical importance to the people of New Mexico" not be allowed to leave the state.[54]

This time, with the energetic assistance and cooperation of its Congressional delegation, New Mexico's request fell on more sympathetic ears. Citing a federal statute which allowed the National Archives to deposit accessioned records with public or educational institutions when it was in "the public interest" to do so, United States Archivist James B. Rhoads proposed to place the land grant records in the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives on permanent loan.[55]

On 5 January 1972, the commission concurred with Rhoads' proposal and unanimously agreed to accept custody of the land grant records.[56] On 18 February 1972, the BLM officially transferred custody of the documents to the National Archives. Less than a month later, at 10:00 A.M., 10 April 1972, BLM Director Burton W. Silcock, handed New Mexico Governor Bruce King the 1704 last will and testament of New Mexico Spanish Colonial Governor don Diego de Vargas. It was a symbolic gesture which completed the return of a significant portion of New Mexico's documentary patrimony and cultural legacy.[57]

In addition to the documents removed from the Palace of the Governors by the surveyor general in 1855, this remarkable transfer included the records of the Office of the Surveyor General and the Court of Private Land Claims, which contain journals, correspondence, and the case files for specific land grant adjudications.

During the 1960s, several incidents sparked a renewed interest in land grant research, and the University of New Mexico microfilm began to show signs of severe wear and deterioration. In 1982, financed by a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant, and with the permission of the National Archives, the New Mexico Records Center and Archives began re-microfilming the land grant records. The 63 roll Microfilm Edition of the Land Records of New Mexico, which includes a detailed calendar and guide to the records, was completed in 1983.[58]

When combined with the other Spanish, Mexican, Territorial, and private collections at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, these land grant records open a rich field for research and provide a detailed and fascinating insight into the social, personal, economic, and religious lives of a people we are now only beginning to understand.

These records may also help us gain a renewed and much deserved respect for those individuals who, at times against enormous odds, made possible the survival of this documentary heritage. Our own concerns about leaky roofs, structural weaknesses, and inadequate appropriations seem trivial and mundane compared to the problems faced by our predecessors who labored to preserve our common documentary heritage. We should acknowledge and appreciate the dedication of the men and women who saved for New Mexico a vital part of its history.




[1] Governor Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, Order, 21 October 1712.” Spanish Archives of New Mexico 1621-1821. Roll 4, 708 (Twitchell # 182).

[2] Calendar to the Microfilm Edition of the Land Records of New Mexico: Spanish Archives of New Mexico, Series I. 1987. Roll 6, 292 (1713); Roll 5, 1537 (1715) #1097; Roll 6, 394 (1736); Roll 6, 909 (1749); SANM II, Roll 10,  613 (1769); also “Index of Governor's Archives, 1834,” Calendar of the Microfilm Edition of the Mexican Archives of New Mexico, 1821 -1846. SRCA, 1970: Roll 18, 2, and Governor' Papers, 1845, Roll 38, 954, MANM; David J. Weber, "The New Mexico Archives in 1827," New Mexico Historical Review, v.61(January 1986): 53-61.

[3] “Manuel Armijo to Comisario de Substituta, 26 June 1827.” SANM I, Roll 6, 193, #1121; “William Pelham to Commissioner, General Land Office, 30 September 1855.” Surveyor General Letters Sent, Vol. 1. SANM I, Roll 56. Also see Ralph Emerson Twitchell, The Spanish Archives of New Mexico, 2 vols. (Cedar Rapids: Torch Press, 1914) I:xi.

[4] “Address of Governor James S. Calhoun to New Mexico Legislature, 3 December 1851.” Records of the Secretary of the Territory: Second Legislative Assembly. Microfilm Edition of the Territorial Archives of New Mexico, 1974. Roll 1.

[5] “Records of the Territorial Auditor: Territorial Warrants for Service, 1849.” Records of Territorial Treasurer: Receipt and Disbursement Journal, 1847 -1851. TANM Roll 46.

[6] SANM I: Vigil Index, Roll 10.

[7] “Governor's Executive Record, 1 September 1852.” TANM  Roll 21.

[8] W.W.H. Davis, El Gringo; or, New Mexico and Her People (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1857), 169. In 1913, Demetrio Pérez indicated the two rooms used by the Territorial Secretary were the same rooms as those used by the Secretario de Govierno under Mexican rule, and the same where the archives had been kept for many years. Demetrio Perez to L. Bradford Prince, 10 February 1913. History file # 157.

[9] “Initial Instructions from Commissioner, GLO, to Surveyor General, 21 August 1854.” Surveyor General Letters Sent, Vol. 1. SANM I, Roll 56.

[10] “William Pelham to Governor David Meriwether, 29 December 1854.” SG/LS, Vol. 1. SANM I, Roll 56.

[11] “Pelham to Commissioner, GLO,” 30 September 1855. SG/LS, Vol. 1. SANM I, Roll 56.

[12] SANM I, Roll 10.

[13] “Pelham to GLO, 30 September 1855.” SG/LS, Vol. 1. SANM I, Roll 56.

[14] “Pelham to Thomas Hendricks, 30 April 1856.” SG/LS, Vol. 1. SANM I, Roll 56.

[15] Henry Rutney Beers, Spanish and Mexican Records of the American Southwest (Tucson: University of Arizona, 1979) 10.

[16] “Pelham to GLO, 30 May 1856.” SG/LS, Vol. 1. SANM I, Roll 56.

[17] “Pelham to GLO, 30 September 1856.” SG/LS, Vol. 1. SANM I, Roll 56. In 1876, the Surveyor General still had no access to a vault or safe for the land records. That year, Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson noted his efforts to acquire a safe from the United States Depository so he could "assure the papers and records of the office against fire." H. M. Atkinson to J.A. Williamson, 2 September 1876. SG/LS Vol. III. SANM I, Roll 57.

[18] See Laws of New Mexico, 1862 -1863. Also see Arie Poldervaart, "The New Mexico Law Library: ‘A History’" New Mexico Historical Review, v. XXI (January 1846), 47 -59. The earliest record of a Territorial Librarian shows John Ward serving in that capacity from at least February 14, 1853. Record Book of Oaths and Bonds of Territorial Officials, August 11, 1851-29 July 1867. TANM Roll 35.

[19] “Report of José María Alarid, Territorial Librarian, 15 November 1867.” Records of the Territorial Governors: Robert B. Mitchell, Reports to the Governor, 1867. TANM Roll 98.

[20] “Report of Territorial Librarian Trinidad Alarid, 1866.” Records of the Secretary of the Territory: Legislative Assembly, 1866 -1867, Letters and Petitions. TANM Roll 3.

[21] “Governor’s Executive Record, 12 August 1869 and 16 August 1869.” Executive Record Books, TANM Roll 21.

[22] “Letter of J. C. McKenzie,” Weekly New Mexican, 17 September 1872.

[23]  Daily New Mexican, 4 March 1886.

[24] John Ayers, "A Soldier's Experience in New Mexico," NMHR, v. XXIV (October, 1949): 264. Particulars of this incident are pieced together from Beers, 12; Oakah L. Jones, "Lew Wallace: Hoosier Governor of Territorial New Mexico, 1878 -1881," NMHR 60 (April, 1985): 142; J. Manuel Espinosa," Memoir of A Kentuckian in New Mexico, 1848 -1884," NMHR XII (January 1938): 10 -11; Arie Poldervaart, "The New Mexico Law Library—‘A History," NMHR XXI (January 1946): 50 -51; The Daily New Mexican, 6 April 1870; Weekly New Mexican, 4 October 1870; Santa Fe New Mexican, 4 March 1886; Destruction of Spanish and Mexican Archives in New Mexico by United States Officials, no date, reprint of extract from Santa Fe Weekly Post, 30 April 1870. Eugene A. Fiske Papers, Folder #1. A leading dissenter to this interpretation is Ralph Emerson Twitchell, who admits Bond may have thrown away documents, but rationalizes that little valuable information was lost because "whatever disappeared at that time had already been combed over by various historians..." Twitchell, Leading Facts of New Mexican History, 5 Vol. (Cedar Rapids: Torch, 1912), I:x.

[25] Susan E. Wallace, The Land of the Pueblos (New York: Nims and Wright, 1889) 109.

[26] R. H. Tompkins to Governor Lew Wallace, 18 March 1880. “Records of the Territorial Governors: Lew Wallace, Appointments.” TANM Roll 99; Governor’s Executive Record, March 16 and March 18, 1880. TANM Roll 21.

[27] Governor’s Executive Record, 18 March 1880. TANM Roll 21.

[28] “Report of Territorial Librarian, 1881-1882.” Records of Territorial Governors: Lionel Sheldon, Reports to the Governor. TANM Roll 99.

[29] Lansing B. Bloom, ed., "Bourke on the Southwest VII," NMHR, v. X (October 1935): 317; Report of Samuel Ellison, Librarian of the Territory of New Mexico, 1882 -1883. Records of Territorial Governors: Lionel Sheldon, Reports to the Governor. TANM Roll 99.

[30] Dale L. Morgan and George P. Hammond, eds. A Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Bancroft Library, 2 Volumes (University of California, 1963) I: 6-7; Beers, 15; Bancroft himself credits Ellison only with providing him "every facility for consulting" the archives. Herbert Howe Bancroft, History of Arizona and New Mexico (Albuquerque: Horn and Wallace, 1962), 19.

[31] Charles H. Lange, Carrol L. Riley, and Elizabeth L. Riley, eds., The Southwestern Journals of Adolph F.Bandelier, 1889 -1892 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1984), note 904, 583-584; Twitchell, SANM, I: xvi; Laws of New Mexico, 1891, Chapter 94; Laws of New Mexico, 1893, Chapter 61; Draft contract with Adolph Bandelier, March 1891, L. Bradford Prince Papers: Historical Notes and Events, folder 27; Demetrio Ortiz, Territorial Auditor, to Governor William Thornton, March 1, 1894. Governors Papers, Letters Received, 1894. TANM Roll 125.

[32] “Report of Historical Society of New Mexico, 28 February 1889.” Records of Territorial Governors: Edmund G. Ross, Reports of Agencies and Boards.

[33] The Daily New Mexican, 13-14 May 1889; “Report of Facundo Pino, Territorial Librarian, 9 January 1893.” Records of Territorial Governors: L. Bradford Prince, Reports to the Governor. TANM Roll 121.

[34] “Report of Territorial Secretary George H. Wallace, 1898-1900.” Records of Territorial Governors: Miguel A. Otero, Message to the Legislative Assembly, 21 January 1901. TANM  Roll 150.

[35] “Report of the Secretary of the Territory, 1 January 1903.” Records of Territorial Governors: Miguel A. Otero, Message to Legislative Assembly, 1903. TANM Roll 150.

[36] “Report of Territorial Librarian Jose Segura,” in Message of Governor Miguel A. Otero to the Legislature, 16 January 1899; Wallace report 1898-1900. TANM Roll 150.

[37] “Herbert Putman to Secretary George H. Wallace, 31 May 1900.” Records of the Secretary of the Territory, Letters Received, 1900. TANM 26; “Herbert Putman to Secretary of Interior, 18 December 1902.” Department of Interior Territorial Papers: New Mexico Letters Received, 1901-1907: Misc. Subjects. National Archives Microfilm Roll 9.

[38] “Herbert Putman to Territorial Librarian Lafayette Emmett, 28 February 1903.” Records of Territorial Governors: George Curry, Special Issues, Reports and Investigations: Spanish Archives Report. TANM Roll 178.

[39] “Historical Society of New Mexico Report, 1 December 1904.” Records of Territorial Governors: Miguel A. Otero, Messages of the Governor to Legislature, 1905. TANM Roll 150; Laws of New Mexico, 1903, Chapter 102.

[40] “Thomas Ryan, Acting Secretary of Interior to Governor Miguel A. Otero, 29 April 1903.” Spanish Archives Report. TANM Roll 178; “Governor Herbert J. Hagerman to R. L. Baca, 20 March 1907.” Records of Territorial Governors: Herbert J. Hagerman, Letters Sent. TANM Roll 161.

[41] “House of Representatives Resolution 11,” Laws of New Mexico, 1907.

[42] “Hagerman to Baca,” 20 March 1907.

[43] “Herbert Putman to James R. Garfield, 3 October 1908.” Spanish Archives Report, TANM Roll 178.

[44] Laws of New Mexico, 1909, Chapter 4.

[45] “Report of Director of Museum of New Mexico, 1923.” Records of Statehood Governors: James F Hinkle, Reports to the Governor, 1924; Santa Fe New Mexican, 20 October 1923.

[46] Laws of New Mexico, 1927, Chapter 126.

[47] First Annual Report of New Mexico Commission of Public Records, 1960-1961. 3-4.

[48] Second Annual Report, CPR, 1961 -1962. 5.

[49] Twitchell, SANM I: xx. In 1925, Twitchell repeated his warning that while no documents were ever lost while in the custody of the Surveyor General, "their safety and care in the future demands that photostat copies be made." Old Santa Fe (Chicago: Rio Grande, 1963), 421.

[50] Memorandum, Merritt Barton to State Supervisor, BLM, Santa Fe, 30 August 1956. "SANM I; SG: PLC Transfer 1972." General History Files, Archival Services Division.

[51] The New Mexican, 10 March 1957.

[52] Laws of New Mexico, 1959, Chapter 245.

[53] “Wayne G. Grove to Joseph F. Halpin, 13 April 1962.” General History Files. SRCA.

[54] “Ward Alan Minge to R. Buffington, 1 July 1971;” “Joseph F. Halpin to James B. Rhoads, 30 June 1971.” General History Files. SRCA.

[55] “James B. Rhoads to Joseph F. Halpin, 22 December 1971.” General History Files.

[56] “Halpin to Rhoads, 5 January 1972.” General History Files. Commision of Public Records, Minutes of Special Meeting, 5 January 1972.

[57] “Bureau of Land Management News Release,” 10 April 1972. General History Files; The New Mexican, 10 April 1972.

[58] J. Richard Salazar, "Introduction" SANM I.