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Pardoning Breadwinners, Constructing Masculinities

In the Christmas Day pardon of Macario Leyba in 1907, Territorial New Mexico’s Governor George Curry explained that the custom of granting what he called “Holiday Pardons” to deserving inmates of the Territorial Penitentiary in Santa Fe had been found to have “excellent moral effect in that institution.”

Gender, Language, and Class in Territorial Penitentiary Pardons, 1907-1910
By Sabrina Sanchez

In the Christmas Day pardon of Macario Leyba in 1907, Territorial New Mexico’s Governor George Curry explained that the custom of granting what he called “Holiday Pardons” to deserving inmates of the Territorial Penitentiary in Santa Fe had been found to have “excellent moral effect in that institution.”[1] Throughout Curry’s three years as Governor from 1907 to 1910, Territorial Penitentiary inmates and their supporters claimed entitlement to these holiday pardons by writing letters and circulating petitions.  By analyzing the letters and petitions of inmates and their supporters, a striking pattern emerges.  These men, men with professions as varied as rancher, carpenter, tailor, and United States Express worker and men convicted of crimes that ranged  from murder to watch theft, utilized a gendered rhetoric that evoked the familial responsibilities of white, working-class breadwinners who needed to leave the Penitentiary in order to care for dependent parents, pregnant wives, and children. 

The five most prevalent uses of this gendered language included tying the right to a pardon to the inmate’s need and right to perform five gendered stages of life: the need to be husbands, the need to be fathers, the need to be sons, the need to be workers, and the need to mature from boys into men.  However, this performance of working-class masculinity was a collaborative construction.  By granting pardons admittedly not based upon the reformation or rehabilitation of the criminal, but, rather, on the persuasiveness of this gendered language—Governor Curry and other Territorial government officials affirmed the validity of this specific performance of masculinity in Territorial New Mexico.

When inmates evoked what they referred to as “husbandly duties” in letters to Governor Curry, they declared an understanding and definition of the responsibilities of husbands and fathers in Territorial New Mexico.  If these men merely evoked these responsibilities as a strategy to obtain a pardon, they at least believed that these were the standards of husbandly responsibilities that Governor Curry and other Territorial Officials expected them to fulfill. 

Writing from the county jail in Old Albuquerque in May 1909, George Miller, a self-described “hard-working rancher” sentenced to five months for check fraud just two months earlier, defended his right to a pardon because his pregnant 17-year-old wife was about to give birth alone on his ranch.  According to Miller, “It is but the duty of the husband to be at his wife’s side in this hour of need…Give me a chance to go to my wife in this hour of need and the crisis that she is to pass.” Miller referred to childbirth as a “coming hour of trouble and sickness,” and wished to be pardoned because he understood the risks associated with first-time mothers giving birth alone in 1909.  Eight members of Miller’s family signed a note to Governor Curry attesting to his wife’s pregnancy and her financial needs.[2]

Miller persistently pleaded with the Governor, primarily emphasizing his impending fatherhood and appealing to what Miller assumed was Curry’s own sense of duty as a husband and father.  In Miller’s series of letters to Curry, he only mentioned his desire to fulfill what he believed was his responsibility as a husband, his wife’s pregnancy, and his reliability as a worker.  In just one out of five letters did Miller mention that this conviction for check fraud was his first offense.  Miller relied, instead, on an assumption that the two men—one a “hard-working rancher” and one a Territorial Governor—shared a common understanding about the importance of husbands assisting their wives in childbirth.  After stating that it would break his heart if his young wife died while he was incarcerated, this “hard-working rancher” reminded Governor Curry “I am making the appeal of a father to [a] father greater than I am, the dispenser of good.”[3]  Miller would not see the birth of his child, as Curry denied his pardon in July of 1909, one month after Miller’s 17-year-old wife presumably gave birth to their first child.  Despite Governor Curry’s denial, Miller’s attempts for a pardon demonstrate the way this inmate explicitly defined his “duty” as a husband to being physically present to assist his pregnant wife and witness the birth of their child.

Just two years earlier, evoking the responsibilities of fatherhood held clout for Governor Curry.  Thirty-six-year-old Tomas Barela, sentenced to one year in prison on Valentine’s Day in 1907 for forcibly entering a saloon on a Sunday in Torrance County, defended his need for a Holiday Pardon based upon the welfare of his 15-year-old daughter and on his wife’s failure to safeguard the “girl growing into womanhood” by living with their daughter at the San Pedro mining camp in Santa Fe.  Twenty-nine people signed his petition for clemency, with 11 petitioners sharing Barela’s last name.  These supporters claimed this “very timid and ignorant man” needed to be released because they had recently learned Tomas Barela’s unnamed wife “is not living a very exemplary life for her child.”[4] District Attorney Frank Clancy recommended clemency in a separate letter of support to Governor Curry by explaining that Barela’s unnamed 15-year-old daughter needed his “care and protection.”[5] Curry pardoned Clancy in 1907, citing “a family dependent upon him for support” and the high number of people requesting clemency “on behalf of the family.”[6]

The “protection” District Attorney Clancy and Barela’s supporters referred to may have had much to do with an expectation that, once released, Barela would remove the child they referred to as a “girl growing into womanhood” from the mining camp where her mother had been raising her.  This is an instance where one of Governor Curry’s pardons was based less on the inmate and more on the “protection” of the reputation and safety of his nameless daughter and what Curry judged as the inability of an inmate’s wife to be a suitable guardian during the father’s incarceration.

Occasionally, the children of inmates—or adults writing letters as them—communicated directly with Governor Curry and his predecessors to request Holiday Pardons for their fathers.  The letter of Miss Dulcinea Patron of Espanola arrived on the desk of Governor Hagerman just days before Christmas 1905.  Dulcinea wrote to “His Excellence, H.J. Hagerman, the Governor of New Mexico, Sir: May I ask a favor of you, with the hope that you will be able to grant it?  My father is in the penitentiary for last nine years, and I have a most pressing need for him.  I am a little girl of 12 years old, I have my mother and we are poor. I think you could oblige me.  If you give me my father at Christmas Day.”[7] Dulcinea’s father, Ramon Patron had been sentenced to life in prison, but his daughter did not mention the nature of his conviction or his record as an inmate.  Dulcinea’s Christmas wish would come true two years later, when Secretary of the Territory Nathan Jaffa, Acting Governor of New Mexico during one of Governor Curry’s absences, pardoned Ramon Patron in January 1908.  Citing that “it appears that the said prisoner has a family in needy circumstances, dependent upon him for support, and that he has rendered valuable service to the territory in laboring upon its public highways.”[8] The case of Ramon Patron is unique for the inclusion of physical, manual labor as a rationale in the official clemency order.  Jaffa reinforced the value of manual labor for the Territory as a whole.  While many inmates made claims of industriousness and the potential to be industrious once released, here a representative of the Territorial government validated manual labor as important for the development of the Territory of New Mexico.

Inmates frequently evoked what they referred to as “industriousness” and claimed to be “more than a common laborer” in letters to Governor Curry.  With the exception of Ramon Patron, when a working-class inmate found success by claiming “industriousness,” Curry did not explicitly recognize the contribution of an inmate’s labor to the Territory as a whole.  Rather, Curry implicitly validated the place of husbands to provide for their families by noting the financially-destitute status of an inmate’s wife and children on the clemency order. 

In letters written to Governor Curry, inmates most frequently portrayed their wives as ill, pregnant, or dependent on the inmate for financial or child-rearing support.  However, Territorial officials and supporters of inmates paid close attention to characteristics besides this destitute status.  References to wives of inmates often included descriptions such as she “evidences culture and refinement,”[9] she is “a very respectful lady,”[10] or he married “a very worthy young woman.”[11] Whether these descriptors referred to class status, education, or individual attributes is unclear.

What is clear, however, is the strong role that women played in persuading the Governor for an inmate’s pardon by emphasizing how their influence could keep inmates out of trouble once released. This influence extended to women besides the wives and mothers of inmates.  The National Women’s Christian Temperance Union, for example, helped secure a Thanksgiving Day 1909 Pardon for Miles Adams, a tubercular tin shop worker who served only nine months on a 10-year murder sentence.  Superintendent of the Department of Proportionate and Systematic Giving, Mrs. Katherine Patterson, sent Curry an official endorsement promising that the women of the organization would “look after him and do all in our power to get him started in the right road to become a useful and honored citizen.”[12] On the official clemency form, Curry attributed this Thanksgiving Pardon to Miles Adams’ hard and faithful labor in prison, his tuberculosis, and the promise of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union to secure him “honorable employment.”[13] In publishing this rationale for Miles Adams, Governor Curry makes it clear that this Holiday Pardon of a convicted murderer was admittedly granted not based on innocence but on medical disability, danger to the health of the territorial inmates as a whole, and the intervention of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Women occasionally appeared in Curry’s Holiday Pardons not as supporters or dependents of inmates, but as inmates themselves.  Nevertheless, the language that surrounds female inmates portrayed them in a similar manner to the wives of inmates: young, ill, and in need of government interference.  This language associated the incarceration of ill women, young women, or mothers as being against “justice” and “humanity.” In one instance, attorneys for Martina Segura described this 14-year-old from SanMiguelCounty as a “female little child” clothed in “knee dresses” and emphasized her only family as a poor, blind, alcoholic mother from Las Vegas who spent her time with women of “questionable reputation.” Curry pardoned 14-year-old Martina Segura in 1908, citing that, although she had been sentenced for assault, the people of SanMiguelCounty convinced him to pardon her “for the purpose of preventing a gross miscarriage of justice.”[14]

Associating the imprisonment of female inmates as “injustices” or against “humanity” would, again, be raised in letters of support and Curry’s pardon orders for Dolores Nolen in 1907, convicted of murder but in need of a hysterectomy, and Delfina Garcia in 1909, sentenced to 10 days in a jail that had “no fit place to keep a woman.”[15]

Mothers of inmates appeared in letters to Governor Curry alongside an image of heartbreak, elderly status, illness, and a desperate dependence on their imprisoned sons’ income.  One ill and elderly mother writing from a distance, Maria McFarland of Chicago, contacted Curry to persuade him to release her son Charles, an inmate sentenced to two years in 1907 and ordered to pay the costs of court of $24.95.  McFarland understood the value of having political or community connections in New Mexico.  In what she referred to as her “most earnest request” to Curry, McFarland explained that since her son had only recently arrived in the Territory, “I, his mother, will try and do what she can.”  This 70-year-old widow was aware that requests could be quickly dismissed by busy politicians when she begged Curry to do what he could “for the poor widow’s son and your name shall ever be honored.  Hoping that you will not throw this aside I beg to remain Yours respectfully.”[16]  Maria McFarland was persistent and courteous in her persistence. 

Three months after her original letter, in October 1908, McFarland wrote to Governor Curry to make sure he had not overlooked her son’s case.  McFarland used the recommendations of her son’s trial judge and the Prosecuting Attorney from GuadalupeCounty in order to offer proof of her son’s good character.  She included no information about the criminal record of her “poor wayward boy,” or even of his ability to provide for her.  Instead, McFarland spoke only about her age with a rhetorical style that placed her at the whim of Governor Curry’s sympathy and mercy by closing her final letter with the following passage: “Now won’t you please try and do something for him at once…If you do not take any interest in his case may God help my poor wayward boy.  Have pity on my old grey head and do what you can is the cry that comes from his mother’s heart.”  The Territorial Governor did have pity on Maria McFarland’s “old grey head,” and granted Charles McFarland clemency in December 1908.[17]

Parents frequently wrote to Governor Curry by framing their sons as “boys” at the time of their crime, vulnerable, and under the influence of older criminals.  Governor Curry included errors of boyhood as legitimate reasons for pardons in the official clemency documents of a number of inmates.  Referring to an inmate as a “young man,” “led on by older criminals,” or noting “he was merely a boy then,” or “there is a good prospect that they may become useful men and good citizens” framed young men as incapable of committing crimes on their own accord.[18] Supporters often referred to crimes as boyhood mistakes and emphasized the potential that pardons offered boys to develop into men.

Mothers who defended the vulnerability of “boys” who fell under the influence of older men included widow Zelina Held, the mother of Clifford Hastings, an inmate from BernalilloCounty sentenced to two years in 1907.  She wrote to both Governor Curry and her son’s prosecutor, Frank Clancy, from the Hotel de Paris-Montreux in Switzerland to explain that she was on her deathbed, dependent upon her children for support, and wished to “only have my son before the end comes.” [19] Held blamed the company her son kept for leading him astray and explained that she had raised him well.  Held also believed that her illness and sadness had a power to reform her son, thus reinforcing her understanding of the power of mothers to alter the behavior of their children in general.  According to Held, when Clifford Hastings “sees his mother that he loves such a wreck I am quite sure he will live a good honest life.”[20]

Zelina Held persuaded her son’s prosecutor Frank Clancy to endorse Clifford Hasting’s pardon with a rationale that confirms the effectiveness of portraying oneself as an ill mother and the persuasiveness of the appearance of class.  Clancy called the mother’s letter a “touching appeal” and, although Clancy had previously refused all pardon requests from Hastings because he found nothing in the case or the “personality” of Hastings to warrant commuting his sentence, Clancy told Curry in a 1908 letter that he “cannot resist the appeal made by his mother, whose letter indicates that she is a woman of education and refinement.”  He “most earnestly” recommended release, but only if Hastings guaranteed to “immediately go to his mother in Switzerland.”[21]

Zelina Held’s return address in Switzerland may have had more to do with the appearance of refinement than any information she disclosed in her actual writing.  Held never mentioned finances, the business of her late husband, her social standing, but only that she was a widow and dependent on her children.  She did, however, refer to Curry and Frank Clancy as “my dear” in the greeting of her letter, used correct grammar, and closed her letter with “Thank you for your trouble for which kindly pardon my giving you.”[22] Acting Governor Nathan Jaffa pardoned Clifford Hastings in December 1908, yet his mother, Zelina Held, disappeared entirely from the executive clemency form.  Despite her obvious influence in persuading Prosecuting Attorney Frank Clancy, Acting Governor Jaffa only mentioned Clancy’s endorsement as the rationale for Hasting’s pardon.

The case of Samuel Morrow, an inmate from Roswell, encapsulates the themes of husbandly duties, youth, and industriousness so prevalent in pardon requests to Governor Curry.  According to Samuel Morrow’s supporters, when “only about” 17 or 18 years old, Morrow, “only a mere boy,” became involved with an older crowd of men who pressured him to steal a horse in 1899.  His supporters dismissed this crime committed in boyhood.  After his indictment, Morrow escaped jail for eight years, only to be apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to one year in jail in 1907.  His petitioners described Morrow at the time of the incident and in 1907 as a “young man” or “young Morrow” five times throughout the 360-word petition to Governor Curry.[23] His petitioners included members of the jury that convicted him and other Chaves County residents who claimed to have known “young Morrow” since he was about 10 or 12 years old, the age when he began working at “daily labor” in Roswell to support his widowed mother and family.[24] Thus, Morrow’s requests were not without the ubiquitous image of a son performing labor for the benefit of a financially-dependent mother.

Members of Morrow’s jury encouraged Governor Curry to consider Morrow’s industrious life when deciding upon the pardon.  They claimed that since his original arrest in 1899, Morrow “learned the carpenter’s trade, has a nice little home paid for, has married and his wife is about to be confined…Therefore, we join the jurymen and recommend that you pardon him at once and let him go to his wife.”[25] “Young” Morrow’s supporters described his pregnant wife as “a refined lady and a woman of nervous temperament and delicate health,” and “that the presence of young Morrow at the bedside of his wife is required by all the dictates of humanity.”[26] Like so many other pardon requests sent to Governor Curry, Morrow’s supporters made an explicit connection between the responsibilities of husbands and the image of a pregnant, ill wife. 

Roswell District Attorney and Judges seemed more concerned, however, in making sure Governor Curry considered the costs of Morrow’s trial when considering the pardon request.  They reminded Curry that Morrow’s trial cost the County between $600 and $800 and that “the defendant should receive some punishment.”[27] Curry waited only three months before granting Morrow a New Years Day Pardon in 1908, only citing that the Sheriff of Chaves County and other prominent citizens recommended clemency.[28]

The pervasiveness of the inmates’ gendered rhetoric co-existed with the financial challenges of the Territorial Penitentiary and County prisons. Residents of Roswell, in particular, frequently pushed Curry for pardons because of the costs incurred by housing inmates.  Section 832 of the Complied Laws of the Territory allowed inmates who could not pay the costs of court to pay their fine by serving extra time in jail at a rate of $1 per day.  Arch Parker, for example, was ordered to pay court costs of $340.40 in 1907, but chose to serve 340 more days in jail.  The Chairman of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners indignantly requested Curry pardon Parker for the sole reason that Parker and his family could not pay the $340 and it cost Chaves County 50 cents for every day an inmate stayed in jail.  The Chairman complained that instead of getting any part of the costs back the County would have to pay what he described as “$170.00 to $200 good money” and argued that pardoning Parker would be “like charitable justice shown to our tax-paying people.”[29] Governor Curry pardoned Parker on Thanksgiving 1907, noting on the clemency form that “his detention in jail to serve out the time required to effect the fine and costs would be a burden to the county.”[30]

The most striking similarity among the pardons granted during 1907 to 1910 is that Governor George Curry did not grant these pardons based upon the rehabilitation of the criminal, new evidence of the inmate’s innocence, or disputes in the interpretation of Territorial law.  Rather, in letters for Holiday Pardons, inmates pleaded their need to care for destitute or pregnant wives, relatives of inmates expressed concern for teenage daughters they believed needed a father in the home if they deemed the inmate’s wife unfit to raise the child, elders portrayed their sons as simply “boys” at the time of their conviction, female supporters promoted their ability to keep the inmate on track when released, working-class men made claims of industriousness, and elderly mothers expressed their need for the financial support and in some cases the emotional strength acquired only through the presence of an incarcerated son.   By taking this gendered rhetoric seriously and writing the necessity to fulfill these responsibilities into the official clemency orders, Governor Curry certified these performances of masculinity and the self-defined rights of incarcerated breadwinners in Territorial New Mexico.

[1] Governor George Curry, Executive Office, 25 December 1908, Territorial Archives of New Mexico (Hereafter TANM), Reel 197: Frame 243.

[2] Petitioners to Governor George Curry, Circa 1909, TANM 179: 960; and Sheriff Klerk to Curry, 4 June 1909, Los Lunas, TANM 179: 962 .

[3] George Miller to George Curry, 12 July 1909, Old Albuquerque, TANM 179: 968-969.

[4] Petitioners to George Curry, 15 August 1907, Santa Fe, TANM 179: 55.

[5] District Attorney Frank Clancy to Governor Curry, 17 August 1907, Albuquerque, TANM 179: 56.

[6] George Curry, Executive Office, 28 August 1907, TANM 179: 58.

[7] Miss Dulcinea Patron to Governor Hagerman, 21 December 1905, TANM 179: 1148.

[8] Nathan Jaffa, Executive Office, 23 January 1908, TANM 179: 1150.

[9] Merle Pettis to George Curry, 19 February 1910, Santa Fe, TANM 179: 893.

[10] Petitioners to George Curry, Circa 1908, TANM 179: 894.

[11] George Curry, Executive Office, 23 January 1909, TANM 179: 550.

[12] Mrs. Katherine Patterson to Governor Curry, 23 November 1909, Santa Fe, TANM 179: 13-14. The judge who sentenced Adams already considered his ill health when granted the convicted murderer a lighter-than-average sentence of only ten years. 

[13] George Curry, Executive Office, 25 November 1909, TANM 179:15.

[14] William Bunker to Curry, 4 June 1908, TANM 179: 645.

[15] Letter to Curry, 1909, TANM 179: 162.  

[16] Maria McFarland to George Curry, 17 July 1908, Chicago, TANM 179: 251.

[17] Mrs. Maria McFarland to George Curry, 10 October 1908, Chicago, TANM 179: 252; and Nathan Jaffa, Executive Office, 2 December 1908, TANM 179: 253.

[18] George Curry, Executive Office, 12 February 1908, TANM 179: 65.

[19] W.H. Andrews to Governor, 31 October 1908, WashingtonD.C., 31 October 1908, TANM 179: 201.

[20] Ms. Zelina Held to W.H. Andrews, 20 October 1908, Montreux, Switzerland, TANM 179: 199.

[21] Frank Clancy to George Curry, 8 November 1908, Albuquerque, TANM 179: 202; Governor Jaffa, Executive Office, 2 December 1908, TANM 179: 206.

[22] Frank Clancy to George Curry, 8 November 1908, Albuquerque, TANM 179: 202; Governor Jaffa, Executive Office, 2 December 1908, TANM 179: 206.

[23] Petitioners for the Pardon of Samuel Morrow to Governor Curry, circa December 1907, TANM 179:501.

[24] Petitioners to George Curry, 7 December 1907, Roswell, TANM 179: 503.

[25] J.S. Lea to Curry, 12 December 1907, Roswell, TANM 179: 507.

[26] Petitioners for the Pardon of Morrow to George Curry, TANM 179: 503.

[27] Fulbon and W.H. Pope to Curry, 19 December 1907, Roswell, TANM 179: 513-515, quote from 515.

[28] George Curry, Executive Office, 1 January 1908, Santa Fe, TANM 179: 517.

[29] Atkinson to Curry, 12 September 1907, TANM 179: 553.

[30] George Curry, Executive Office, 29 November 1907, TANM 179: 558.