VIOLENCE IN LINCOLN COUNTY, 1869-1881
Facsimile of the Original 1957 Edition
FOREWORD TO THIS EDITION
It has been my privilege over many years to meet quite a few of the Southwest's leading historians. I first began seeking them out when I was in elementary school and took the measure of each one, to see what I could learn from them about the history craft.
On November 19, 1966, I visited William A. Keleher at his home not far from downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. We sat in his living room for an hour or so, talking about New Mexico's golden past and he inscribed a couple of his books I'd brought along. After more than 40 years, the specifics of our conversation that day have dimmed. But I do recall coming away with the firm impression that I had been fortunate to spend a bit of time with a master historian.
In fact, Will Keleher spent most of his adult life as a practicing attorney and a civic leader. Yet on the side, he managed to publish four major books about 19th century New Mexico, plus a volume of his memoirs that began in 1892 and extended to the end of the 1960s. In my own Albuquerque, A Narrative History (1983), I relied heavily on Keleher's recollections to capture the spirit and flavor of life in the city that he had known intimately at the turn of the century.
Born in Lawrence, Kansas, William was only two years old when his family moved to Albuquerque in 1888. That was just eight years after arrival of the railroad and the founding of New Albuquerque at trackside. Thus, the boy and the town grew up together.
In 1900 at age 14, Will was hired as a Western Union messenger to deliver telegrams by bicycle throughout the business district. On his own, he began studying Morse Code and soon was able to send and receive telegrams.
"At that time," Keleher would declare later, "Albuquerque was a genuine Wild West town." Gambling was wide open and the municipal government paid its expenses by collecting
fines from madams in the red light district. Hangings, legal and otherwise, were not uncommon, while fires and floods regularly troubled the community. Will Keleher saw it all growing up, and it left him with a sense of being a part of history.
In 1907 he took a job as a reporter on the Journal and a few years later became city editor for the old Albuquerque Herald. The experience gained as a journalist would stand him in good stead when down the road he began writing history. Before that, however, he acted upon what he called "a long cherished wish to attend law school.” The school was Washington & Lee in Virginia. Returning to Albuquerque with his degree in 1915, he practiced law there for much of the remainder of his life.
So what was it that turned Attorney William Keleher toward a parallel career as a New Mexico historian? Clearly, several things contributed to that end. One was his association with many frontier figures, beginning with an aging former Santa Fe Trail trader Franz Huning, to whom he had delivered telegrams as a boy, and through his long friendship with famed gunfighter Elfego Baca.
Other factors mentioned by Keleher himself were his newspaper reporting and his legal training. Owing to those things, he said, "it was only natural that the time would come when I would have the urge to write."
His first book, Maxwell Land Grant (1942), was published by Santa Fe's then prestigious Rydal Press. In it, Keleher led the way in sorting out the long and confusing history of that enormous grant in northeast New Mexico. His research led him to the conclusion that each one of the old Spanish and Mexican land grants had a human interest story connected with it.
Maxwell Land Grant was followed by The Fabulous Frontier in 1945 (revised in 1962), containing robust sketches of men like Thomas B. Catron, Sheriff Pat Garrett, rancher John Chisum, and Senator Albert B. Fall. Each left a strong imprint on New Mexico's history in the years before statehood.
Book three in Keleher's quartet of histories was Turmoil in New Mexico, 1846-1868 (1952). In vivid and precise detail, he carved out explosive stories of the American conquest of New Mexico, the Confederate invasion during the Civil War, and the saga of the last great Navajo war that led to the tribe's exile on the Pecos river.
And finally, Keleher brought out his Violence in Lincoln County (1957), adding much new information on the troublous times there in the long period from 1869 to 1881.
To the dedication and self-discipline necessary for such large production must be added the reminder that William Keleher, in the midst of his scholarly labors, carried on his very active law career. He even found time to serve a term as president of the New Mexico State University board of regents.
Honored as one of the state's foremost historians, William A. Keleher died on December 18, 1972.
Sunstone Press by bringing Keleher's books back into print in its highly acclaimed Southwest Heritage Series gives a new generation of readers access to these valuable works of regional history. The author's legacy deserves to be preserved.