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Washington E. Lindsey
By Suzanne Stamatov
Near Armstrong Mills in Belmont County, Ohio, on 20 December 1862, Washington E. Lindsey was born to Robert W. and Julia A. Shipman Lindsey. Lindsey’s great grandfather had been a blacksmith, shoeing horses, in General Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War. During his youth, Lindsey lived on his parents’ farm, attending country schools during four months of the year. Although there were many students in the one room school house, Lindsey became a committed student. As a young adult, he entered Scio College in Harrison County, Ohio. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884, he taught in local country schools and later at West Point and Mahomet in Piatt and Champaign counties, Illinois. He then entered law school at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, graduating with a degree in law in 1891. In October 1892, Lindsey married Deane Haughton of Ohio. The couple moved to Chicago where he practiced law for ten years. They left that city for the southwest in search of a better climate in order to improve Mrs. Lindsey’s health. Lindsey looked forward to the possibilities in the west.
The Lindseys arrived in the New Mexico Territory in 1900. After spending a few weeks in Roswell, they moved to Portales where they settled down, and Lindsey established a law office. Shortly after arriving, Chief Justice Mills of the Territorial Supreme Court named him a United States commissioner, a post he held from 1900 to 1916. As a U.S commissioner, thousands came before him filing homestead applications. Lindsey bought out someone’s homestead claim for a 160-acre tract of land in North Portales. One of his initial business ventures involved selling lots. He and John Brown Sledge formed the Portales Townsite Company, and Lindsey was president and chief promoter of the organization from 1902 to 1911. The company divided a large portion of Lindsey’s 160 acre tract and converted it into town lots. Lindsey also speculated about which areas along the proposed railroad route would make feasible depots and towns and bought land along the proposed route. Many of his business activities paid off and he acquired considerable property and financial holdings.
Lindsey also immersed himself in territorial politics. He became involved with establishing Roosevelt County, preparing the bill for the Territorial Legislature. The population had increased in eastern New Mexico due, in part, to the building of the Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railroad in 1898. At the time the county seat for the area of Portales was in Roswell, a distance of over ninety miles. Lindsey and others reasoned that if Portales could be the county seat, it would bring business to town and eliminate the wearisome travel to Roswell. Governor M. A. Otero signed the bill into law on 28 February 1903, creating Roosevelt County. Lindsey’s involvement in the creation of the county gained him recognition in Santa Fe and led to various political appointments. Appointed by Governor Otero, Lindsey became the first county clerk of Roosevelt County, serving from 1903 to 1905. Between 1905 and 1909, he was appointed assistant district attorney.
After the town of Portales became an incorporated municipality in February 1909, the town’s unanimous choice for mayor was Washington Lindsey. He served as mayor of Portales from 1910 to 1916. Under his guidance, Portales instituted a municipal light, water, and sewer project. Mayor Lindsey also supported prohibition. The county became dry and Portales saloons soon went out of business. Very interested in education, Lindsey was president of the board of education from 1912 to 1916. He advocated conserving school lands as a constant source of revenue and disposing of them only when at a premium.
As a leader of Roosevelt County, he was elected as a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1910. At the convention, he was a leader of the progressive wing of the Republican Party. He fought to include such measures as the initiative, the referendum, the recall, woman’s suffrage, the direct primary, and a large number of elective offices but a majority of his fellow republican delegates opposed such measures, and Lindsey failed to achieve his goals. By proposing compromises, however, he was able to institute a number of progressive elements into the constitution. He fought for a workable referendum, a larger number of elective rather than appointive state offices, and the right of women to hold school offices and participate in school elections.
At the Republican convention of 1916, the Republican Party nominated him as candidate for the office of lieutenant governor. Elected lieutenant governor in November 1916, Lindsey did not fill the post for long. Governor Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca was dying in the St. Vincent’s Sanitarium in Santa Fe. When Lindsey visited the governor, he grasped his hand and warmly said: “My name is Lindsey. I want to assure you of my heartiest cooperation and assistance in the discharge of the duties of your high office.” The governor replied with equal warmth: “Thank you, governor. You also will have my cordial support in your own office.” After Cabeza de Baca died on 18 February 1917, Washington E. Lindsey became the third governor of the state of New Mexico.
Lindsey’s tenure in office was profoundly marked by World War I. After President Wilson declared war against Germany, Governor Lindsey called a special session of the legislature to meet on 1 May 1917. In a message to both houses, he asked for wider powers and for the power to appoint a war committee to aid in the recruitment of soldiers and in the production of food. He concluded his message saying: “Let me therefore, in conclusion, urge that in this great crisis, in this even tragic time, we shall all, forgetting self and political bias, labor earnestly to serve most efficiently our state and our nation. This it seems to me, is our supreme privilege, as no less, it is our supreme duty.”
During the special session, the legislature enacted the Public Defense Act which created the Council of Defense of New Mexico consisting of nine members to be appointed by the governor. It also gave the governor $750,000 to spend as he saw fit to achieve the goals of the council. After the governor appointed the nine members, the council set to work with the support of the governor. In order to provide foodstuffs to the enlisted, the council wished to increase the production of food crops. Working with the Extension Service of New Mexico College of Agriculture, the council recognized the need to educate farmers about proper soil treatment and cultivation and the planting of crops suitable to the particular soils and climatic conditions. Governor Lindsey authorized the expenditure of $35,000 to employ agricultural agents to visit all New Mexican counties. The council also implemented a seed program. Within a year, production increased dramatically.
The council also turned to the recruitment of soldiers. Initially the War Department undertook recruitment, but the results of the department’s efforts proved so dismal that it considered abandoning the process. Governor Lindsey decided that the state should take over recruitment and ordered Adjutant General James Baca to undertake the work, authorizing the payment for the expenses of recruitment and mobilization. Once Baca’s efforts succeeded, the governor and the council had to consider how to train the new recruits. At the time, the national government’s training camps were not prepared to train recruits. Governor Lindsey authorized the council to construct and equip a complete training camp at Albuquerque. This first battery of New Mexicans left for Camp Greene, North Carolina after four and one-half months of training in Albuquerque. Soon after arriving at Camp Greene, the battery left for France where it played a prominent role in the allied offensive known as the second battle of Marne.
Towards the end of his administration, Lindsey heard complaints that various New Mexican soldiers at Camp Kearney and at Camp Cody had suffered discrimination. Governor Lindsey visited the camps and demanded that every New Mexican should receive proper treatment whether he could speak English or not. After commanding an investigation, Major General Strong wrote the governor: “I am glad to say that the Spanish Americans are now happily situated. When we began to arrange for transfers, much to our surprise and delight we found that commanding officers did not want to give them up. I shall take a personal interest in looking after these men, who, from the fact that they cannot speak English, are at a disadvantage.” The visit to both camps resulted in improved conditions for the New Mexican soldiers and the establishment of English language classes.
In addition to supporting the war effort, Governor Lindsey and the legislature passed other measures including Article XXIII of the Constitution. This article prohibited the manufacture and importation of alcoholic liquors for sale, barter, or gift from and after 1 October 1918. They also passed laws for a secret ballot, workmen’s compensation, and the consolidation of rural schools. Although the Albuquerque Journal stated that there was more advancement in the legislative session than in any others, Governor Lindsey was disappointed that many of his recommendations had failed to pass. In particular, the legislature chose not to adopt an amendment providing for women’s suffrage.
Lindsey failed to get the Republican re-nomination for governor in 1918. One of the leading causes for this failure was due to the split and animosity between the progressive governor and the “Old Guard” Republicans. The Old Guard had not supported the governor’s progressive legislative agenda. Moreover, the Republican leaders felt that a Spanish-American candidate was necessary to insure a complete victory in the November election. Instead of Lindsey, the Republicans chose Octaviano A. Larrazolo. His failure to be re-nominated greatly grieved Lindsey. He felt that the Republicans had failed to support him because he had not catered to the bosses of the party. As a supporter of direct elections, Lindsey felt that he would have won the nomination in a primary election.
After serving his term as governor, Lindsey returned to Portales and practiced law. He also looked after his business and farming interests. Once again, he became president of the local school board. He also remained active in Republican politics and was a delegate from New Mexico to the Republican national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1924. He committed suicide on 5 April 1926, shooting himself through the heart with an automatic pistol. He had been in ill health for several months and had felt despondent. He was survived by his three children, Howard W., Helen, and Michael Roosevelt. He was also survived by his second wife. His first wife had died on 23 December 1923.
Coan, Charles F. A History of New Mexico, Vol. II. Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1925.
Danburg, Walter M. “New Mexico in the Great War.” New Mexico Historical Review 1 (April 1926): 103-120.
Ihde, Ira C. “Governor W. E. Lindsey: A Progressive Frontiersman.” Dargan Historical Essays, University of New Mexico Publications in History (1952): 101-107.
Ihde, Ira. “Washington Ellsworth Lindsey.” New Mexico Historical Review 26 (July 1951): 177-196 and New Mexico Historical Review 26 (October 1951): 302-324.
Roberts, Frank H.H. “New Mexico in the Great War.” New Mexico Historical Review 1 (January 1926): 3-22.
The Santa Fe New Mexican, 5 April 1926.