Heritage, Volume 11, Number 4, Fall 1993 Page: 22
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Elfego Baca: In Life and
Larry D. Ball, Texas Western Press, University
of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas,
Review by R.B. Brown, a research professor
for the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia
e Historia and caretaker of Paquime in Casas
In 1884 the sheriff of Socorro County,
Pedro Simpson, sent Elfego Baca, a freshly
sworn deputy sheriff, to San Francisco Plaza,
now Reserve, New Mexico. It is not clear
if Baca was sent to do some electioneering
for the incumbent sheriff or bring law and
order to a tumultuous town rife with clashes
between the local Hispanics and the newly
introduced Anglo cattle interests. Whatever
the case, he did neither. Depending
upon whom one wishes to believe, he either
participated in, or precipitated, a shootout
and siege. This five-day event has
melodramatically been called "The Mexican
War," "The Shoot-out at Frisco Plaza,"
"The Baca Cowboy War, and "Baca's
Battle," and was even turned into a movie
starring Robert Loggia.
At that time, the expansion of the Santa
Fe Railroad had introduced many new and
rambunctious workers, and "many of the
new arrivals were Texans who held the
locals in low esteem." That is not to say that
the local Hispanics held the Texans in high
esteem. But it is evident that those who
wanted to get along, got along and those
who wanted to drink, caused problems.
It would seem as if Elfego Baca was
sworn in as deputy sheriff on October 26,
1884, and immediately packed off to San
Francisco Plaza. Supposedly he arrived
the next day after a 130-mile journey. At
the time, it would seem that although San
Francisco Plaza only had a total population
of about 300 individuals, divided between
three distinct settlements, it had
more than its fair share of gunfights and
mayhem. Many of the participants in
these activities began their day socializing
in Dan Milligan's store where liquor was
On the morning of October 28, Baca
arrested and fined one Charles McCarthy
for shooting up the store where he had
been drinking. In the afternoon the situation
repeated itself except that McCarthy
successfully evaded arrest until a posse
caught him outside town. At first Milligan
insisted that he be arrested and incarcerated,
only to change his own drunken
mind and insist on McCarthy's immediate
release. A verbal tug-of-war heated tempers
to the boiling point and shots were
fired. At a minimum, the outcome of the
melee was one horse dead and the rider
The cattlemen, feeling put out, dedicated
the next day to gathering a drunken
mob of at least 20 or 30 people.
On October 30, in a tense and antagonistic
atmosphere, McCarthy was arraigned,
convicted, fined, and freed after
paying a fine of five dollars. Uncomfortable
with the tenor of the mob, the novice
lawman Elfego Baca withdrew to the house
of Jeronimo Armijo. A number of people
set out to find Baca, and when a drunken
William B. Hearne tried to knock the door
down, Baca mortally shot him through the
door. After convincing the local Anglo
Justice of the Peace to swear out a warrant,
the cattlemen lay siege to Armijo's house
for the next day or so. After a negotiated
surrender, Baca was taken to the county
seat in Socorro where he was bound over.
Twice he was tried for the murder and
twice he was acquitted. To many traditional
New Mexicans, he had become a
symbol of their resistance to the overwhelming
invasion of Anglo culture.
Now famous, or infamous according to
one's point of view, Baca moved to Albuquerque
and renewed his career in law, law
enforcement, and politics. However, "...
As early as 1892, Baca was reported practicing
law, although he was not formally
admitted to the New Mexico Bar until July
1895." By the turn of the century he was a
member of a prestigious law firm moving
back and forth between their offices in
Socorro and Albuquerque. In 1903 Baca
was elected Mayor of Socorro. In 1905
Baca was appointed district attorney for
Socorro and Sierra counties, not being satisfied
with one salary. And his political star
continued to rise as he became a power in
In 1906 he moved his family back to
Albuquerque, ostensibly alarmed by the
earthquake that shook Socorro, and took
over control of La Opinion Publica, the major
Spanish language newspaper. He continued
his passion for politics and when New
Mexico achieved statehood, Baca sought
and won one of the two Republican
nominations for one of the two statewide
congressional seats. He began his campaign
in October of 1911, but as luck would have
it, Baca came in third in a field of four.
Although notably upset, Baca continued in
the rough and tumble of politics and in
1918 was elected sheriff of Socorro County.
This was the high point in his career. He
was at the trough at last. Baca reveled in
public recognition and intrigue, but he was
not destined for higher office. He had
become a symbol of times past. Although
a player in New Mexico Republican politics,
he never again attained prominence,
no matter how he tried to bluster.
This entertaining book is well-written
and easy to read. It provides a different
vision of New Mexican politics toward the
end of the 20th century. And it leaves us
with many questions concerning the need
to overestimate one's self-worth, if one is
going to enter politics.
William A. Longacre, editor. University of
Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, 1991.
Review by David Hill, a professional archaeologist
who works in the Southwest and specializes
in ceramic studies.
The papers in this volume result from an
advanced seminar held at the School for
American Research, in Santa Fe, New
Mexico. All of the participants have at
some time conducted fieldwork oriented
22 HERITAGE * FALL 1993
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 11, Number 4, Fall 1993, periodical, Autumn 1993; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45417/m1/22/: accessed August 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.