Swickard: The real statehood day in New Mexico

Bottom right, William Gallacher
© 2016 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.  Today I am thinking of New Mexico Statehood Day, January 6th, 1912. Also I'm thinking of William Gallacher, the last surviving member from the New Mexico State University Class of 1908. He died at age ninety-eight a few years ago. He was living in New Mexico on statehood day so I asked him about it.
            From living in White Oaks, N.M. before the turn of the twentieth century and before the railroads came; he lived to see the landing of the space shuttle sixty miles from his ranch. He was thirty-five miles away from the first atomic explosion at Trinity Site, July 16, 1945.
            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 in 1978 to ask him about the day New Mexico became a state. January 6, 1912 was the day that President Taft signed the official paperwork.
            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 sixty years trying to become a state with one thing or another stalling our chances. In 1912 we made it. Gallacher’s neighbor, William 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 topics so I told him my perception that there must have been a big celebration in Lincoln County since the first elected governor was a local rancher.
            He thought a moment and then leaned closer, as a school master would a student who was a slow learner, "Celebrations?" He remembered back all of those years and did not 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 the chores that used up an entire day. About an hour after sunset I came back in and had a little supper then went to bed.
            "I was cold, tired and hungry. I would not have gone into town for any celebration. We hardly noticed statehood the first few years. 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, not even a fine cattleman like McDonald.
            "Every day I got up early and worked late. I had no other energy and did not come in off of the range sometimes for months at a time."
            He noticed my lack of comprehension so continued, "Politicians and celebrations were a luxury most of us then could not afford. For thirty years on this land I worked with all of my energy. It was not a forty hours a week job, it was dawn to dark seven days a week or we would not have made it. Only after the ranch was on solid footing did I notice the government. I served on 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.