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Holm O. Bursum House

Located at the end of a residential block and surrounded by a white picket fence, this house on Church Street in Socorro, with its red brick construction, gabled roof and Victorian details, looks out of place on a street of low slung, adobe-like residences.  In its Eastern trappings, the house expresses the ambitions of its two most prominent occupants — Candelario Garcia, a territorial-era Socorro County politician, and Holm O. Bursum, a transplant and leader of the Republican Party at statehood.

The house first announces itself by its height: its two stories of pointing gables stick out on a block of predominantly one-story homes. Its composition is different as well — the main part of the house, a long narrow rectangle terminated with gable ends is trimmed with a full-length veranda. But the real distinction comes with the encyclopedia of Victorian woodwork decorating the veranda and gable ends. This includes finials and filigree insets on the main gable ends; turned posts and spindlework across the porch; and up until recently, decorative railing along the roof’s ridgeline.

This house of local distinction came as a result of the ambitions of its first owner, Candelario Garcia, a prominent land owner and Socorro County politician of the territorial period. Between 1855 and 1878, Garcia, according to the nomination, became “one of the most frequently elected members of the Territorial legislature, serving nine terms in the House of Representatives and two terms in the Council or Upper House.”

Born circa 1827, the 1860 federal census lists Garcia as a merchant living in Valverde at the north end of the Jornado del Muerto. He later moved to the county seat of Socorro, just as the town began experiencing a boom from the nearby silver mining district. This house was one of two he owned in town. In 1892, in a court of private land claims session in Santa Fe, Garcia and the City of Socorro were named co-trustees of the Town of Socorro Land Grant, a grant measuring four square Spanish leagues and encompassing most of present-day Socorro. In 1899, Garcia sold his Socorro properties, moving his holdings to Bosquecito near the town of San Antonio.

Purchasing his Church Street property was another man with political ambitions, Holm O. Bursum, a thirty-two year-old newcomer to New Mexico, who by the time of statehood emerged as a staunch member of the Old Guard Republicans.

Holm Olaf Bursum was born in Dodge, Iowa in 1867 to parents who had immigrated to the United States from Norway just two years prior. He spent his first eleven years on a farm, enjoying only two years of public education. At 13, he left Iowa and found his way to Raton, just as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe made its way into New Mexico. He settled in San Antonio, New Mexico, where he worked A. H. Hilton’s Hilton Mercantile Company between 1884 and 1886, a year before the town’s most famous citizen — Conrad Hilton — was born.

In 1890, at age 23, he secured a freighting contract with federal government at Fort Wingate. With his earnings, he returned to San Antonio in 1894 and embarked on multiple enterprises, including mining, sheep raising and ranching. During the same year he launched his political career, elected for two consecutive terms sheriff of Socorro County. In 1899, the year he purchased the Church Street house, Bursum won a seat in the upper house in the Territorial legislature representing Sierra and Socorro counties. That same year, Governor Miguel A. Otero appointed him superintendent of the Territorial Penitentiary in Santa Fe. The home with its decorated gables suited this rising political star.

In 1904, Bursum played his most noteworthy role in New Mexico politics, being elected chairman of the Republican Party Territorial Central Committee; a position he held until 1911. In this position, Bursum played a critical role in promoting statehood and crafting the 1910 Constitution — albeit always representing the conservative aims of the Old Guard Republicans.

His first influence came about as Arizona and New Mexico were joined together in a second bill to turn both territories into a combined state. Though backed by President Roosevelt, leaders of both territories despised the so-called jointure bill by for different reasons. The New Mexico Republican Party machine, led by Bursum, decided to support the bill   hoping the president would replace the territory’s progressive governor, Herbert J. Hagerman, in return, and as historian Howard R. Lamar wrote, “let the conservative Republicans of New Mexico continue undisturbed in power.”

While cynical in its aims, the Republican Party backed statehood, with Bursum as it primary cheerleader. Robert K. Dean, managing editor of the New Mexican, has documented exchanges between Bursum and Max Frost, the editor of the newspaper in the later territorial period. In 1906, while the jointure bill circled around Congress, Bursum wrote Frost, encouraging him to publish pieces “favoring statehood.” Frost replied in a letter to Bursum that he “doctor[ed] interviews to make them as favorable as possible to joint statehood.” Despite their efforts, the joint bill died in 1906.

With Congress finally — after 64 years of sustained effort to gain statehood — approving the Enabling Act on June, 20 1910, New Mexico held a state constitutional convention that fall in Santa Fe.

Bursum and the Old Guard Republicans, including Thomas B. Catron, Charles Springer, Albert B. Fall dominated the  convention of 100 delegates. The Republicans delegates outnumbered the Democrats 71 to 28. And as result, the draft constitution reflected their conservative values, denying the right for women to vote, evading the prohibition question and not including many of the Progressive ideals of the day. The draft document, as could be expected, favored protection for railroads, mines and cattle and sheep ranching.

Triumphant at the convention, Bursum a year later received a major setback, when Herbert J. Hagerman, the reviled former governor, worked to defeat Bursum’s run for governor under the Republican ticket. Another run for governor in 1916 failed. Bursum gained political ground again in 1920, when appointed a member of Republican Party National Committee, which he served on until 1924. In 1921, Governor Merritt C. Mechem appointed Bursum to fill a U.S. Senate seat vacated by Albert B. Fall; though he failed to win a second term for the seat in 1925.

Bursum came to national attention in 1922, when he penned a controversial Indian land bill that attempted to settle longstanding title disputes over ancestral Pueblo lands. Taos-area artists, led by poet John Collier, and Pueblo Indians potentially to be affected by it, crushed the bill. Bursum later served on the Republican Executive and State Central Committees from 1928 to 1942, and during the Hoover administration, on a public lands commission to study the issue of ownership of public lands in the West.

While not officially holding office, Bursum remained active in politics through the 1930s, frequently showing up at the state legislature, to give his opinion. “Senator H. O. Bursum had so controlled Socorro County for years that no opportunity was given republicans who would not do his bidding to run for or hold office,” stated an article in Albuquerque Journal in 1930. The great Socorro powerbroker, Senator Holm O. Bursum, died August 7, 1953.

Today his home, also the home of earlier Socorro County boss Candelario Garcia, is for sale. Used as a rental property for years, some of its Victorian exuberance is beginning to fade. Locals have placed it on the city’s walking tour and would like to see it preserved, in honor to the men who once ruled the county.