- Forty-Seventh Star: New Mexico's Struggle for Statehood by David V. Holtby
Southwest historian and retired editor-in-chief of University of New Mexico Press David Holtby provides new insights on the final campaigns for New Mexico statehood in Forty-Seventh Star. Published during the centennial year commemorations, Holtby has produced a widely accessible narrative of the 1890s and 1900s struggles that ended with New Mexico becoming a state on January 6, 1912.
Forty-Seventh Star joins two previous statehood histories developed during the fiftieth and seventy-fifth anniversaries as "go to" works for understanding New Mexico's sixty-two year struggle to achieve statehood. The previous standard bearer has been Robert W. Larson's New Mexico's Quest for Statehood, 1846-1912 (1968), which was an expansion of his 1961 dissertation. Richard Melzer created a simple framework for understanding New Mexico's statehood dilemmas a quarter-century later in "New Mexico in Caricature: Images of the Territory on the Eve of Statehood" (New Mexico Historical Review, October 1987). Rather than treading over the same grounds as Larson or Melzer, Holtby examines the social ideas and attitudes of New Mexicans reacting to the developments in the statehood fight. Using a wide array of local newspapers and written accounts, [End Page 232] Holtby presents the perspectives of several ethnic and economic groups, including the all-important nuevomexicanos, the long-time, native, and often Spanish-speaking residents of the territory.
In contrast to Larson's and Melzer's sixty-plus year overview of the several attempts at statehood, Holtby focuses on the pivotal 1895-1911 period that included the overt campaigns by territorial delegate Thomas Catron and Governor Miguel Otero, the joint New Mexico-Arizona statehood proposal in 1906, and the debates between the 1910 Enabling Act and the August 1911 Flood Amendment that guaranteed New Mexico's quest was complete. Carefully navigating between New Mexico and Washington, D.C., Holtby shows the moves, reactions, and counter-moves as residents and supporters carried statehood forward.
In traditional interpretations of the statehood fight, the antagonist has been Senator Albert Beveridge (R-Indiana), chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories that controlled the destiny of Oklahoma, Indian, Arizona, and New Mexico territories in the early 1900s. Holtby reexamines Beveridge's role and motivations and suggests a new antagonist against New Mexico—Senator Nelson Aldrich (R-Rhode Island), the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Aldrich, Holtby suggests, was very opposed to New Mexico and Arizona statehood and utilized Beveridge for the debate. In addition, Holtby brings needed attention to the role played by Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock, who worked behind the scenes as President William Howard Taft's negotiator in the final developments that led to New Mexico (and Arizona) statehood. Points such as these fundamentally redefine the key players and issues in the statehood saga.
Holtby is highly successful in meeting the objectives he outlines in the preface. In reexamining the foes to statehood through the lens of previously little known supporters and residents, readers will have a better understanding of the tortuous struggle. By examining the origins and beliefs of Anglo Americans, nuevomexicanos, American Indians, African Americans, and Asians, readers will come to understand how these groups used statehood to perpetuate the values and beliefs each believed was most important. These continuities over time ultimately helped New Mexico succeed in its quest.
Holtby utilizes his historian's sense of research and his editor's background to produce a coherent narrative based on specific characters or events that demonstrate the points he advances. Had Forty-Seventh Star been published a year earlier, Holtby's new perspectives could have been incorporated into the exhibits and publications developed for the state's centennial events. With this addition, though, Forty-Seventh Star raises the quality of interpretation and understanding of New Mexico statehood. [End Page 233]