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Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo
By Suzanne Stamatov
Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo, son of Don Octaviano and Doña Donaciana Corral de Larrazolo, was born on 7 December 1859 in El Valle de San Bartolo (later known as Allende) in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. His father Don Octaviano was a prosperous landowner. At the age of eleven, in 1870, Octaviano came to Arizona under the tutelage of Bishop Salpointe. Initially intending to become a priest, he studied in schools in both Arizona and New Mexico. He finished his studies at St. Michael’s College in Santa Fe, graduating in 1876. The following year, at the age of eighteen, he taught school in Tucson, Arizona. He then accepted a position as principal of schools in El Paso County, Texas. He subsequently studied law and after serving as a clerk in the Texas courts for several terms, he was admitted to the Texas bar in 1888. Later, Larrazolo returned to New Mexico, settling in Las Vegas, where he practiced law. He became active in territorial politics, actively concerning himself with the political and civil rights of Hispanics who comprised two-thirds of the territory’s population. Elected as governor in 1919, he served one term. He died in Albuquerque on 7 April 1930.
During Larrazolo’s tenure in Texas, he became actively involved in politics. In 1890, Larrazolo ran for district attorney for the thirty fourth judicial district. He won his re-election bid in 1892 without opposition. After serving out his term, he moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1895 and continued his political career. In 1900, 1906, and 1908, he received the Democratic nomination for delegate in Congress, but was defeated each time. He had received more votes, however, than any other Democratic nominee.
Larrazolo’s involvement in politics in New Mexico had lasting effects on the state’s constitution. He insisted that the 1910 document safeguard the rights of Spanish-speaking New Mexicans. When writing the articles on the Bill of Rights, Education and the Elective Franchise, Larrazolo and others deemed it essential to guarantee the political, civil, and religious rights of those of Spanish and Mexican descent. The resulting constitution made it unique among the American states. The Bill of Rights, (II., Section 5), stated that “The rights, privileges and immunities, civil, political and religious, guaranteed to the people of New Mexico by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo shall be preserved inviolate.” The Education Article, (XII., Section 8), gave the legislature authority to provide training for teachers in public schools so that “they may become proficient in both the English and Spanish languages, to qualify them to teach Spanish-speaking pupils. . .” Section ten of the article assured the right of children of Spanish decent to attend public education institutions and prohibited the establishment of separate schools.
The Elective Franchise included the right to hold office and to vote whether one could speak, read, or write English or Spanish. These rights did not extend to women and Native Americans, however. To ensure the education and franchise rights, the Convention declared that these articles could only be amended by a three-quarters majority vote in the state and a two-thirds majority of those voting on the amendment in each county.
It was during the constitutional convention, that Larrazolo decided to leave the Democratic Party. He did not approve of the Democratic delegates plan to block ratification of the constitution. He joined the Republican Party and remained a Republican throughout his life.
Octaviano Larrazolo was elected governor of New Mexico in 1918. Throughout his administration, Larrazolo made his decisions based on principle rather than on partisan politics. Labor activists strongly criticized his declaration of martial law at the time of a coal miners’ strike. On the other hand, corporations roundly criticized him for supporting a stronger state income tax law. In another instance, he vetoed a Republican resolution passed by the state legislature which condemned the League of Nations. This defiance angered the dominant members of his party. In addition, he vigorously supported the ratification of the nineteenth amendment even though his core constituency of Spanish-speaking New Mexicans opposed women’s suffrage.
Governor Larrazolo’s pardon of the Villistas also proved controversial. In the early morning of 9 March 1916, a detachment of Mexican soldiers under the command of General Francisco Villa attacked the town of Columbus in Luna County, New Mexico. A pitched battle occurred between the Mexican soldiers and U.S. soldiers. In the engagement, several people suffered wounds and many were killed. The Mexican detachment fled, returning to Mexico. On 10 March 1916, General John J. Pershing led his U.S. troops into Mexican territory in pursuit of the assailants. During this year-long expedition, the troops captured several men who had taken part in the attack on Columbus. In the district court of Luna County, the government tried the Mexican soldiers and found them guilty of second degree murder.
The governor believed his pardon to be just. One of his many reasons for coming to this conclusion included the opinion that as in scripted soldiers they were following the orders of their commanding officers. Larrazolo wrote that these privates did not intend to carry out the raid and did not have malicious intent. “Can we say that such motives were in the hearts of these men who did not know where they were going, what they were going to do, or why; but who, on the other hand, were simply carrying out the instructions, orders and commands of their superiors, when they well knew that a failure to comply therewith and disobedience to such orders might mean their death.” He stated: “Because of the circumstances under which the killing were done for which these men have been convicted, I am absolutely convinced in my own mind that these men are not guilty of murder in any degree, and that they should no longer be confined in the penitentiary under the sentence imposed upon them; and, so believing, and in the exercise of the authority in me vested by law . . .” the governor granted the sixteen men full, complete and unconditional pardons.
A theme which marked his political career was support of the Spanish-speakers of New Mexico. Although his political opponents charged him with “race agitation,” Governor Larrazolo worked for the justice of all New Mexicans regardless of their race. At the end of World War I, he gave a speech that showed his pride in the state’s racial legacy.
Of all the states in this Union, in my opinion, New Mexico has particular reasons for entertaining a pardonable pride in view of what its citizens accomplished in that war. I shall not deal here upon the activities of our boys across the seas, while in the trenches of France, in the defense of their country and their flag; these deeds of chivalry and honor are known to all, and shall forever live in the history of our country. But New Mexico, in my opinion, achieved something equally as great, and that is so, because of its unique position among the states of the Union, by reason of the varied origin of its population, composed principally of the descendants of the Spaniard that conquered this soil, and of the AngloSaxon, who came thereafter; this mixed population was particularly fitted to prove by accomplished acts that which possibly no other state in the Union was in a position to do, namely, the magnificent and unequaled superiority of this government of ours. For behold, two races of people absolutely distinct from one another, different in their history, different in their traditions, different in their language, distinctions in customs, different in everything that marks the differences of the various races that compose the great family of nations; we find them side by side, with equal devotion, with equal patriotism and with equal enthusiasm, fighting for one flag, for one government, and together symbolizing one principle, the principle of Free Government! No other state in the union was accorded that opportunity; New Mexico had it and New Mexico proved how well, how completely, the various races of people can weld themselves into one undistinguishable mass of loyal American citizenship. That we have this is a matter of pardonable pride and self gratification.
Known as a gifted orator, Governor Larrazolo often gave commencement speeches to the graduating New Mexican students. In these speeches, he often questioned the “success” of men who had achieved fame and fortune. He believed that many of these men in their race for wealth and distinction used “means and methods of doubtful propriety.” He said these men were “leaving the well beaten and trodden path of honor, to listen to the bewitching song of the Siren who points out to us an easier and shorter way to accomplish our end.” Instead, he implored his young listeners to listen to their consciences.
God in His infinite mercy and love of the creatures that He has sent out into this world, has appointed a guide and guardian for each and everyone of us, who mission it is to lead our doubtful steps through the difficult and intricate paths of life; that sure and reliable guide is called conscience; it is that voice that thunders at the bottom of your heart when you are about to do wrong or go in the wrong course. It is that instinct that raps incessantly and insistently at the innermost recesses of your soul and calls upon you to stop because you are in the wrong path; listen to that voice, stop and heed its injunctions study well your field of action and when finally you have found a course consistent with your sense of duty, take that course and follow it with courage and determination. That course many not always meet with popular favor and approval, in fact it may oftentimes meet with reproof and even condemnation in the popular mind, but so long as you have the inner consciousness that you are performing your duty as God gives it to you to understand, go right ahead regardless of consequences and heedless of popular clamor, and be assured that after your work is done you will find contentment and satisfaction in one thing over and above everything else [in that you followed your conscience.]
In truth, he had lived by these words. He ruled based on his beliefs and eschewed party politics. As in the case of the Villista pardons, he often had to listen to reproof and condemnation, but he stood firm and followed his conscience and looked with pride at the accomplishments of his government. Spurred by the epidemic of influenza that ravaged the world, the state government established a department of public health. Governor Larrazolo also championed educational improvements and reforms. He also believed that federal government should return public lands to the states in which they were located and led the western states in this pursuit. Despite his successes, the Republican Party chose not to re-nominate him in 1920, in essence punishing him for his independent spirit as governor. Nevertheless, he remained active in politics and was elected United States Senator in 1928. At the time, however, his health was failing him. His last endeavor in the Senate was to establish an industrial school for Spanish-speaking youth in New Mexico in an effort to equalize opportunities. He only lived to attend one session of the Senate, dying on 7 April 1930.
He was married twice. He and his first wife, Rosalia Cobos, married in 1881 and had two sons. After her death, he married Maria Garcia of San Elizario, Texas on 4 August 1892. Together they had six children. After his death, many remembered Larrazolo as a family man who was brilliant, honorable, and kind.
Cline, Dorothy I. New Mexico’s 1910 Constitution: A 19th Century Product. Santa Fe: The Lightning Tree, 1985.
Davis, Ellis Arthur, ed. The Historical Encyclopedia of New Mexico. Albuquerque: New Mexico Historical Association, 1945.
Reeve, Frank D. History of New Mexico, Vol. III. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1961.
The Santa Fe New Mexican. 8 April 1930.
The Papers of Governor Octaviano A. Larrazolo at New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Speeches, Official—1919” Box no. 6 folder 117.
“Pardons and Penal Papers—Pardon of Men in Villa Raid, 1920.” Box no. 10 folder 167