Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca
By Anselmo F. Arellano
Many times during the historical course of a society, leaders emerge to represent their people and assist them in societal concerns. Much of the history of a people is thus manifest in the types, number and charisma of its leaders. The following historical sketch will present one of Las Vegas’ eminent historical leaders at the turn of the century, Don Ezequiel C. de Baca. His determination to dedicate much of his life’s work originated in Las Vegas, and later on it extended to New Mexico and all New Mexicans, resulting in a successful twenty-six year career as a community advocate and political leader. Ezequiel C. De Baca, who became New Mexico’s first Lieutenant Governor in 1912 and its second Governor in 1917, remained the only native-born Hispano to hold the governorship until much later when Jerry Apodaca held the coveted position in 1974.
The name Cabeza de Baca needs little introduction in New Mexico as it takes us back to the first Spaniard to enter this area of the Southwest, Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca. The exact relationship between Ezequiel C. de Baca and Alvar Núnez is unknown since the latter returned to Spain following his nomadic exploits in the New World. At one time Ezequiel commented on his family saying “it is generally accepted that we are descendants of Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca, a member of the Narváez expedition which was wrecked in the coast of Florida in 1527, who, in 1536 while on his way across the continent passed through New Mexico. It is presumed that sometime afterwards some descendant of his or of the same family came to New Mexico and settled here.
Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca was born on a ranch in the Las Vegas vicinity on November 11, 1864. He attended the parochial elementary schools during his adolescence and later received a higher education at the Jesuit College of Las Vegas. After leaving the college his early employment was related to different mercantile stores around Las Vegas, teaching, serving as a mail carrier and as a newspaper editor.
Among the people of Las Vegas, Ezequiel did not waste any time in becoming involved with different community organizations and citizens groups. He joined the Sociedad Literaria y de Ayuda Mutua (Spanish Literary and Mutual Aid Society) and continued as a member for twenty-six years until his death. The Sociedad was an educational circle comprised of the most illustrious and ambitious young men in the community. Their main objective was to promote and sustain educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged children in Las Vegas. As an active member, Ezequiel engaged in many customary debates and discourses with his colleagues covering innumerable literary issues. The continued success of the Sociedad Literaria was attributed to the strict rules of the society and their enforcement. They included a complete exclusion of politics. Ezequiel held different positions with the sociedad and was librarian when he died.
In 1895 Ezequiel also participated in the organization of the Sociedad Por la Protectión de Educación (Society for the Protection of Education). The main purpose of the membership of this group was to assist in the development of education, seeking alternatives for all children. The members sought methods to assist poor parents with the educational needs of their children by providing clothing, books, and tuition. Their other purpose was to support the Christian Brothers’ school so that it could become a first class educational institution.
Ezequiel C. de Baca was also a member of the local labor assembly of the Caballeros de Labor (Knights of labor) after it was established in Las Vegas. He was also admitted as a member of the Prensa Asociada Hispano-Americana, or Spanish-American Associated Press on August 9, 1892. During the same time he was also a member of the Fraternal Aid Union where he was president of the local lodge in Las Vegas and a member of the Supreme lodge in El Paso. Despite all his involvement in these groups, Ezequiel also found time to participate in dramatic presentations of La Sociedad Dramática Hispano-Americana and also presentations of El Club Dramático de Las Vegas.
Ezequiel C. de Baca was married on December 14, 1889, to Margarita C. de Baca at Peña Blanca. Fourteen children were born to the C. de Baca union, Adolfo, Margarita, Horacio, Celia, Hortencia, Alfonso, Natalia, Adelina, and Alicia, and five who preceded Ezequiel in death, Alvar Núñez, Horacio Virgilio, José, María Juana and Ezequiel.
When Ezequiel accepted employment with Félix Martínez on La Voz, little did he know that this would turn out to be the turning point in his life. He was in essence beginning a twenty-six year demanding but rewarding career as a journalist, politician and advocate of his people. The exploited, the oppressed and the ethnic stereotyped and ridiculed would long remember the man who stood beside them in their struggle to be recognized, respected and treated as equal citizens in a distraught society controlled by the mandates of affluent political bosses.
After spending eight years with La Voz del Pueblo, Ezequiel participated in the reorganization of the newspaper and the formation of the Martinez Publishing Company. Proud to be among the Southwest’s newspapers which were publishing a newspaper in Cervantes’ language, La Voz del Pueblo reported:
It has always been our philosophy that the best remedy for adversity is comfort, well New Mexico, more than any other area of North America has been a victim of misfortune, not only in its rights and claims to citizenship but also in achieving its material privileges and furthermore, her people and children have suffered a constant agitation of reproach against their dignity.
In spite of all the adversities Hispanos had faced, Ezequiel C. de Baca and his associates felt comforted and satisfied that they were the vehicle, which was reestablishing and preserving their native language. They were also participating in the preservation of nobility and just pride among their people. It was during this early tenure with the newspaper that Ezequiel became involved in County and Territorial politics. It was 1892, and he was still a young man at twenty-eight years of age. He was a member of the Democratic Party as well as the Partido del Pueblo Unido (United People’s Party), and he participated as an interpreter, along with Nestor Montoya, at both the County and Territorial Conventions. He was also chosen as an alternate delegate to the Territorial Convention that same year. Quite surprisingly, in view of his popularity, reputation and stature as a strong leader and politician for almost a twenty-year period, Ezequiel was never elected to public office either at the County or Territorial level until he became New Mexico’s first elected Lieutenant Governor. He never held any public office from 1891 to 1912, but his role in political sessions and citizen’s meetings was always one of making sure that the people were being informed of their rights, that they understood the issues, and that they were given ample opportunity to determine their needs and make decisions.
Ezequiel’s fervent conviction and commitment to represent primarily the rural poor Hispanos and protect their rights make him one of New Mexico’s most unique politicians and public servants. During the earlier period of his career he always appeared as an interpreter or secretary to make sure that the Spanish-speaking understood the events and developments of public issues. As a secretary he would record the results of the meetings he attended and later publish them in the most sincere unbiased way he knew. He did not run for any political office until 1898 when he ran for Probate Clerk on the Partido de la Unión ticket.
Unfortunately for C. de Baca, he was nominated at an unfavorable time. The Partido de la Unión which had been reorganized from the Partido del Pueblo Unido in 1894, had been almost invincible in County politics for eight years. In 1898 the Republicans recovered their previous strength to take all County positions but two. Ezequiel was thus defeated in his first bid for public office.
For the next ten years Ezequiel continued to participate in County politics as well as Territorial, mostly as a facilitator and spokesman while other individuals were seeking nominations to public office. He had lost in his only attempt at political office, but he had not become dismayed. He continued his ardent loyalty to the Democrat Party and carried with him a strong optimism that one day it would wrest the leadership reins from the powerful Republican Party. Ezequiel’s popularity and ascension as New Mexico’s first Lieutenant Governor was not accomplished through political machinations or a long career as an elected public official. On the contrary, his political background was molded through his continuous presence and participation in political conventions, public meetings and his recognition as a popular journalist.
In 1912 Ezequiel C de Baca was elected New Mexico’s first Lieutenant Governor, and accordingly, he became the first State elected official to preside over the Senate in the legislature. During his five-year term he presided over the Senate three different times since it did not convene every year. It was his staunch determination to work for the betterment of New Mexicans and his strong political abilities and insights enabled him to meet this challenge with dignity and emerge as a popular public servant respected by a substantial majority. He directed his most sincere efforts to working amicably with all individuals in bipartisan politics while presiding in the Senate. When he addressed the Senate in 1915, he optimistically stated that he was of the opinion that there would be no disputes. He said:
Sometimes our obligation calls us to war and disputes, but this is only just and legitimate. But when we are called to work together for the welfare of our community and weigh the responsibility of that obligation, there is no reason whatsoever for friction and discord among us. I am confident, gentlemen, by what we have seen in the past, that our future relationships will continue being joyful and cordial as always and confident that whatever good can be achieved through a peaceful and cordial intercourse can always be recorded with pleasure and satisfaction.
While Ezequiel was serving his term as Lieutenant Governor, he was elected to New Mexico’s first electoral college during November 1912, and eventually served as President of New Mexico’s delegation during the 1916 election.
Ezequiel was soon campaigning against Holm O. Bursum who had been nominated over Secundino Romero to run for Governor. One campaign foe of the Democrats stated that if Ezequiel became Governor, more than $5,000,000.00 would be in his hands for the improvement of public roads under the five-year program. He felt that Ezequiel was not qualified for the road-building program because he had “lived a quiet, simple life in an environment not greatly influenced by the swiftly currents of modern life.” Ezequiel’s political adversaries also charged him with being far too partisan to be a good Governor. He answered by saying that in his native county of San Miguel to be a Democrat was to be a martyr. He further stated that he would continue fighting for the political principles, which sought justice for all.
The final election results of 1916 gave Ezequiel and other Democrats a victory over Republican candidates. The Republican Party failed to elect Bursum as Governor, but they did manage to maintain a stronghold in the Legislature as they had done in 1912. W.E. Lindsey, a Progressive Republican, was elected Lieutenant Governor. In San Miguel County, the powerful Republican machine led by Ezequiel’s primos, the Romeros, had defeated the new Governor, but only by eighty-five votes.
Ezequiel C. de Baca later admitted that he had feared for his life during his campaign and on election night. The same was true for Antonio Lucero, reelected Secretary of State, who unknowingly many times had a secret escort as he went about the Las Vegas community at night…Antonio Jr. followed his father from a distance to offer protection if it was needed. One of Ezequiel’s surviving daughters, Celia Redman, reaffirmed her father’s statement: “It was a real martyrdom to be a Democrat in San Miguel County during my father’s time.”
Following the election, Ezequiel’s sickness debilitated him so that he was compelled to go to California to recuperate before his inauguration in January. His failing health had been noticeable since the 1915 Legislature. The sickness was finally diagnosed as “pernicious anemia” while he attended the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis.
Governor C. de Baca appeared to be much healthier at the inauguration than when he was nominated for Governor in August. Ezequiel did not have an inaugural celebration when he was sworn into office due to his failing health. The executive committee appointed by Governor McDonald in December, 1916, had set a date for the celebration, but they had to postpone it. The celebration would never take place, for the man who so valiantly fought such a difficult battle so that he could continue his role as “public servant,” as he had proclaimed, died peacefully on Sunday morning, February 18, 1917, only forty nine days after becoming New Mexico’s second Governor. He died at St. Vincent Sanitarium in Santa Fe where he had been confined since his arrival from California on December 30, 1916.
As a journalist and politician, Ezequiel possessed a strong determination to represent his people and help them achieve a more meaningful status as citizens of the United States. Because of this, he emerged as a strong advocate of people’s rights as he continually defended their dignity and supported their concerns. He was seeking alternatives for the native Hispano so that they could survive the progress and changes of Americanization which was gradually absorbing the native’s socioeconomic systems. Since his record revealed a strong devotion towards the educational betterment of his people, one can Safely judge that Ezequiel had found one of the alternatives he was seeking.
Modified from NewMexicoHistory.org
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