CCHS An­nual Meet­ing

Catron Courier - - News - By Lisa Bless­ing

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.

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