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Chasing the Santa Fe Ring

Power and Privilege in Territorial New Mexico

David L. Caffey

Publication Year: 2014

Anyone who has even a casual acquaintance with the history of New Mexico in the nineteenth century has heard of the Santa Fe Ring—seekers of power and wealth in the post–Civil War period famous for public corruption and for dispossessing land holders. Surprisingly, however, scholars have alluded to the Ring but never really described this shadowy entity, which to this day remains a kind of black hole in New Mexico’s territorial history. David Caffey looks beyond myth and symbol to explore its history. Who were its supposed members, and what did they do to deserve their unsavory reputation? Were their actions illegal or unethical? What were the roles of leading figures like Stephen B. Elkins and Thomas B. Catron? What was their influence on New Mexico’s struggle for statehood?

Caffey’s book tells the story of the rise and fall of this remarkably durable alliance.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: What Do You Know of Its Existence?

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pp. xiii-xvi

In the autumn of 1875, the peace of New Mexico’s northern mountains was shattered by the assassination of a young preacher who dared to challenge the prevailing social and political order. Then a series of vengeful murders took more lives and threatened to throw the region into a state...

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1: The Gilded Age, East and West

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pp. 1-16

Samuel Langhorne Clemens and Charles Dudley Warner did not invent the syndrome of values and aspirations that characterized the period between the Civil War and the turn of the century, but in a satiric novel of contemporary society, they gave it a name: The Gilded Age. In truth...

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2: A Ring Is Formed

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pp. 17-38

The word ‘ring’ conjures up images of Tammany Hall—of an efficiently oiled political machine dispensing favors, extorting bribes, and swiftly punishing honesty and other treachery,” wrote Joel Jacobsen, who did not see any such structure or efficiency in the Santa Fe Ring. Said...

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3: Colfax County and the Maxwell Land Grant

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pp. 39-60

Describing the area around Cimarron’s old plaza in 1970, a local writer pointed to piles of refuse, deserted streets, abandoned buildings, and the decaying hulks of junked automobiles, and lamented a forgotten past, barely discernible in this “dirty, neglected old village.”1 The town, he...

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4: The Lincoln County War

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pp. 61-84

Throughout the decade of the 1870s, men commonly identified with the Santa Fe Ring seemingly had fingers in every pie. Their economic interests included land, mining, ranching, railroad building, banking, wholesale and retail merchandising, and government contracts. Their...

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5: The Firm of Elkins and Catron

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pp. 85-104

In exposing allegations concerning a corrupt territorial ring in July 1875, a writer for the New York Sun proposed to introduce readers to “the law firm of Elkins & Catron and their co-ringmasters.”1 The reference was to a joint law practice that lasted barely two years, but a larger partnership...

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6: The Business of Land

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pp. 105-130

As a contentious struggle over the Maxwell land grant was heating up in 1882, the antigrant Raton Guard declared, “The curse of New Mexico is the old Spanish and Mexican land grants that are spread all over the northern and central part of the territory.”1 The problem, said the...

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7: A Progressive and Enterprising Spirit

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pp. 131-152

In 1891, the Hillsborough Advocate ventured to explain a persistent topic of speculation for the edification of its readers: “For the benefit of an inquisitive subscriber the Advocate will say that the Santa Fe Ring is an organization existing under the laws of New Mexico with a capital stock of...

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8: Fracture in the Ranks

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pp. 153-168

As the year 1883 drew to a close, the men said to oversee the Santa Fe Ring were riding high and looking to 1884, an election year, with optimism and confidence. The nation was at the midpoint between two crippling financial crises. The Panic of 1873 was a distant memory, and...

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9: A Territory or a State?

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pp. 169-188

New Mexico’s path to statehood was long and often rocky, made more difficult by the prejudices and political considerations that influenced sitting members of Congress, as well as by differences of opinion among residents of the territory that precluded presentation of a...

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10: The End of an Epoch

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pp. 189-206

The end of the Santa Fe Ring was proclaimed repeatedly during the extended period of its dominance in territorial politics and business affairs. Declarations of the Ring’s imminent demise were usually premature and grounded more in hope than in fact. An early opponent of the...

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11: The Myth of the Ring

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pp. 207-222

In September 1878, the Santa Fe Weekly New Mexican addressed recent criticism of the territory’s political elite, commenting, “We have had a surfeit of howling about a mythical ring and of vague and uncertain general charges of fraud, robbery, oppression and wrong.”1 The New Mexican...

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12: Conquest and Consequence: Reflections on the Ring

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pp. 223-234

In 1884, the Boston Herald passed this intelligence from the Southwest: “Few people not directly interested in the affairs of the Territory have any conception of the power and extent of the land ring that owns and governs New Mexico. It is an association unorganized, but with a perfect...

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Appendix A: Who Was in the Santa Fe Ring?

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pp. 235-240

The following table displays a tabulation of persons identified in association with the Santa Fe Ring from a perusal of thirty sources, including contemporaneous and historical accounts. In few cases were the writers who named Ring members doing so in a comprehensive way...

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Appendix B: Profiles of Alleged Ring Participants

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pp. 241-258

The following profiles provide vital facts and a brief indication of the rationale for a person’s having been identified as being a part of, or closely associated with, the Santa Fe Ring. This summary of core, secondary, and peripheral or doubtful participants includes persons named by...


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pp. 259-290


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pp. 291-306


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pp. 307-320

Back Cover

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pp. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826354433
E-ISBN-10: 0826354432
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826354426

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 869735864
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chasing the Santa Fe Ring

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • New Mexico -- Politics and government -- 1848-1950.
  • New Mexico -- Economic conditions -- 19th century.
  • Land grants -- New Mexico -- History -- 19th century.
  • Land speculation -- New Mexico -- History -- 19th century.
  • Power (Social sciences) -- New Mexico -- History -- 19th century.
  • Political corruption -- New Mexico -- History -- 19th century.
  • Societies -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe -- History -- 19th century.
  • Political culture -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe -- History -- 19th century.
  • Businessmen -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe -- History -- 19th century.
  • Politicians -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe -- History -- 19th century.
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