CCHS Annual Meeting
Saturday April 26 was the annual membership meeting of the CCHS held at the Community Center in Datil. Most members enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Eagle Guest Ranch before heading over to the Community Center to peruse tables of silent auction items and have coffee and dessert. Our guest speaker was Bryan Turo who is finishing his PhD dissertation on Thomas Benton Catron for University of New Mexico and so has been living and breathing Catron’s life for the last few years.
Brimming with energy, Bryan took us down the torturous path that was Thomas Catron’s life, leaving it up to the audience to decide if he had been demonized by his political opponents or quite deserved some of the opprobrium visited upon him. Thomas Catron was born in Lexington, Missouri in 1840, and read the law at the University of Missouri with his best friend Stephen Elkins, who later became his brother-in-law. When the Civil War erupted, Catron enlisted in the Confederate Army and Elkins in the Union. Catron was in the Confederate Army for four years, twice captured, and eventually released upon his parole that he would not rejoin the Confederates, a promise he never intended to keep. He saw some of the war’s worst action, and after it was over he and Elkins decided to move to New Mexico together where they were original founders of the Santa Fe Ring, a powerful circle of overlapping political and business interests. Elkins went on to become Secretary of War under President Harrison.
Thomas Catron became active in Republican politics and was elected Mayor of Santa Fe. Some of the buildings around Santa Fe’s Plaza were constructed by him, and he had his fingers in many local industries. He understood the Spanish Land Grant process and managed to acquire almost four million acres of land by means that were mostly nefarious. As he and his cronies like Elkins controlled the courts, government, and local businesses there were none to successfully oppose them. The Santa Fe Ring was even accused of having several opponents murdered though no formal charges were ever brought.
On the positive side of the ledger, Thomas Catron tirelessly promoted the cause of statehood for New Mexico and when in 1912 it finally came to pass he was elected as one of the first two senators from this state. Bryan did a marvelous job of unraveling Catron’s many complicated business dealings and making them intelligible and entertaining in the retelling, no easy feat. Bryan illustrated his talks with pictures of original documents, buildings and people from Catron’s time and by the time he concluded his lively presentation we all felt well introduced to a complicated character of many shades of gray whose name is on New Mexico’s largest county.