New Mexico Statehood: Working early and working late

Bill Gallacher in 1908 while at college
On this statehood day plus 101 years I think of William Gallacher. When he died at 98, he was the last surviving member from the NMSU class of 1908. From living in White Oaks, N.M. before the turn of the century and before the railroad came, he lived to see the landing of the space shuttle 60 miles from his ranch. He was 35 miles away from the first atomic explosion at Trinity Site, July 16, 1945. On February 29, 1908, five miles from the NMSU campus Pat Garrett was killed in a gunfight, ending New Mexico’s frontier era. He was also one of the few who could look up in the sky and say, “Halley’s Comet, what do you know, there it is again.”
I drove out to his ranch one time in 1978 to ask him about the day New Mexico became a state, January 6, 1912. Since Bill was four years out of college by then he would be a perfect person to ask. I pictured writing a story about people firing guns in the air, firecrackers going off, dogs barking, people toasting statehood at the local bar and speeches being made about, "Our date with destiny and our place in the sun."
New Mexico spent 60 years trying to become a state with one thing or another stalling our chances. Finally on August 21, 1911, President Taft signed the resolution admitting New Mexico as the 47th state in the union. The first election was on November 7, 1911. Bill Gallacher’s neighbor back then, William C. McDonald was New Mexico’s first elected governor, and owner of the famous Bar W ranch north of Carrizozo.
Bill greeted me warmly and we sat over coffee at the kitchen table. He was the kind of person to always look right at you when he spoke. You knew right away what he thought. We started off by discussing the happenings of the day. Bill was like that, more interested in today than yesterday. After a while we had run through all of the available topic so I finally got a chance to ask about statehood and told him my perception about the celebrations of January 6, 1912. In fact, I told him that I felt sure that there must have been real big celebrations in Lincoln County since the first elected governor of New Mexico was William C. McDonald from the Bar W.
He thought a moment and then leaned closer, as a school master would a student who was a slow learner, “Celebrations?” He remember back all of those years and didn’t smile.
“On the day we became a state I got up about an hour before dawn, had a little breakfast and at first light went out to tend to sick animals, kill coyotes and do all of chores that used up the entire day so that about an hour after sunset I came back and had a little supper and went to bed. I was cold, tired and hungry. I would not have gone into town for a celebration.
“The truth is we never even noticed statehood for the first 25 years or so. Most of us were too busy just trying to stay alive, to feed ourselves and to carve out a place that would become our home to notice any politicians, or even a fine cattleman like McDonald. Every day I got up early and worked late. I had no other energy and didn’t come in off of the range sometimes for months at a time.”
He noticed my lack of comprehension so he continued, “Politicians and celebrations were a luxury most of us then could not afford. For 30 years on this land I worked with all of my energy. It wasn’t a 40 hour a week, it was seven days a week or we just wouldn’t have made it. Only after the ranch was on solid footing did I notice the government and in fact became part of it as a member of the Lincoln County Commission and the school board.”
I was thankful that Bill brought me back to reality before I wrote something silly about the celebrations the citizens all had when New Mexico became a state. It was a hard time back then, more so than most of us can even realize. And January 6, 1912 was, for most of the citizens of New Mexico, just one more working day. The way to celebrate the anniversary correctly is by going to work early and working late.