Rosalea Barker: New Mexico
“Land with its bright manana, Coming through weal and woe; State of esperanza, Is Nuevo Mejico.” So goes one of the verses of the 47th state’s official state song, written by the blind daughter of Billy the Kid’s nemesis, Pat Garrett. (Or did BTK actually die of old age with his boots on?) No matter—the world is alight with controversy over New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson’s plan to pardon The Kid before 2010 is done.
You can hear an insipid instrumental version of the state song and read the full text of its lyrics on YouTube here, but the more interesting version is John Philip Sousa’s march, which ends with the O Fair New Mexico melody after it’s been through his usual martial rah-rahing, then an uncharacteristic inclusion of what sounds like native drums and flutes, a cavalry summons, and some Spanish ornamentation. “Some might call it camp”, says the writer of this article on the Library of Congress website.
The march was written in 1928 and rather neatly encapsulates the various streams of New Mexico settlement, even if the cavalry should have come after the Spanish rather than the Indians. If the history of Anglo-America is written east to west, that of the Spanish is writ large south-north, and begins much earlier. Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors is the oldest public building still in continuous use in the United States. It’s a museum now, but it was originally the home of the governors of the Spanish province of New Mexico. In 1680, local Indians successfully drove the Spanish out of the area for a dozen years—by the simple expedient of cutting off their water supply—but the Spanish provincial government returned and stayed there until 1821 when Mexico became an independent nation and laid claim to the province of New Mexico.
The Mexican tenure lasted just 25 years, and on August 18, 1846 Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny occupied the palace in the name of the American Republic. New Mexico remained a territory of the US until January 6, 1912 when it attained statehood. A new state capitol, built in 1966, is also unique: It is the only state capitol in the US that is round, its design having been based on the Native American Zia sun symbol (which is also on the state flag). New Mexico see its history as unifying rather than dividing its diverse population, by recognizing Native American, Hispanic, and “Western” heritage.
Aside from the puzzlement that is Roswell (what other Chamber of Commerce has a UFO and an “All-America City” badge side by side on its website?) and the scariness that is Los Alamos National Laboratory (birthplace of the atomic bomb), the most intriguing site in New Mexico is the Chaco Culture National Historic Park in the northwest of the state. Buildings and wide roads (for what—the people who created them had no draft animals or wheeled vehicles) occupy a long stretch of the Chaco Canyon, and it is just as much a mystery why they were suddenly abandoned as why they were built.
And here’s a little mystery for you, dear reader. New Mexico has an official State Question—to what does it refer? “Red or green?” is the question. Here’s a hint about the answer—if you have it on the tip of your tongue, your brow is probably breaking out into a sweat right now.