LOST TREASURES & OLD MINES
A New Mexico Federal Writers' Project Book
While researching New Deal records at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we discovered a treasure trove of folders labeled “WPA 1936-1939.” Inside were hundreds of manuscripts pecked out on old upright typewriters by New Mexico writers determined to make a buck by their wits while documenting some of the state’s historical highlights. The first book, Outlaws & Desperados: A New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project Book , was published in 2008 to mark the 75th anniversary of the New Deal; the second, Frontier Stories: A New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project Book , followed in 2010. This volume, Lost Treasures & Old Mines, is the third in the series.
Between 1936 and 1940, the writers from the New Deal’s New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project (NMFWP ) collected stories throughout New Mexico describing a time that was beginning to fade into history. The experiences and exploits of settlers and earlier inhabitants of the New Mexico Territory during the territorial days after 1846 gave way to a less isolated and more modern era beginning with statehood in 1912. By the 1930s, NMFWP writers were recording the stories of old-timers reflecting back on New Mexico’s vanishing past.
The stories in this volume offer many colorful first-hand accounts of life on the frontier. It is important to remember, however, that not all perspectives are represented in the WPA archives. The voices of Native Americans, for instance, rarely show up in the New Mexico Writers’ Project interviews, and first-person narratives by women are also rare. Therefore, in the words of former state historian Estévan Rael-Gálvez, readers should be encouraged to “read between the lines.”
With a view towards authenticity, the writers of the New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project attempted to capture each informant’s particular way of speaking; the oral histories in this collection reflect some of the colloquialisms of old Territorial days. As editors, we have tried to stay close to the original manuscripts and have corrected punctuation and spelling only when necessary for readability and clarity. For the most part, the manuscripts stand close to their original archival versions. We hope you enjoy Lost Treasures & Old Mines as a rich expression of New Mexico’s colorful past.
—Ann Lacy and Anne Valley-Fox
Santa Fe, New Mexico
About the New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project
The Great Depression that came on the heels of the stock market crash of 1929 threw the country’s financial institutions into chaos and put many people across the nation out of work. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt inaugurated his New Deal administration, a comprehensive program designed to stimulate the country’s economy while lending a hand to the unemployed. March, 2008, marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New Deal.
At a time when many people were down on their luck during the Great Depression, the New Deal’s New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project (NMFWP) employed writers around the state to record the extraordinary history and lore of New Mexico. The Federal Writers’ Project was one of a number of white-collar relief projects of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that put Americans back to work. In addition to the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), the projects included the Federal Art Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Theater Project and the Historical Records Survey.
The New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project was officially launched on August 2, 1935, under the direction of poet and writer Ina Sizer Cassidy. Between October, 1935, and August, 1939, a cadre of field writers wrote stories, collected articles, conducted interviews and transposed documents for the public record. Although each of the 48 states across the nation launched their own Federal Writers’ Project, New Mexico was seen as geographically and culturally unique. From his office in Washington, DC, the national director of the Federal Writers’ Project, Henry G. Alsberg, urged New Mexico project writers to emphasize the state’s visual, scenic and human interest subjects in the project’s guide, New Mexico: A Guide to the Colorful State. “Try to make the readers see the white midsummer haze, the dust that rises in unpaved New Mexican streets, the slithery red earth roads of winter, the purple shadows of later afternoon . . . ,” he told them.
New Mexico field writers apparently felt a similar enthusiasm, as they created hundreds of documents to preserve the state’s vivid lore, scenic locale and colorful past for future generations. Their subjects ranged from the colonial New Mexico days of the 1600s and 1700s to the beginnings of the 1900s—from horse-drawn cart to car. Their many lively selections included firsthand oral accounts and remembrances by settlers and residents who lived to tell the story of New Mexico’s Territorial days.
In 1939, under the WPA’s reorganization, the New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project became the Writers’ Program. By that time, Aileen O’Bryan Nussbaum had replaced Ina Sizer Cassidy as project director. In Washington, DC, Charles Ethrige Minton supervised the New Mexico Writers Program until its closure in 1943. Through its tenure, the New Mexico program produced Calendar of Events, written by project writers and illustrated by Federal New Mexico Art Project artists, as well as Over the Turquoise Trail and The Turquoise Trail, two anthologies of New Mexican poems, stories, and folklore. A major achievement of the FWP was an American Guide Series publication entitled New Mexico: A Guide to the Colorful State, first published in 1940.
Project writers in New Mexico had a wealth of sources to draw upon and they mined them well. They collected tales from old-timers with a colorful heritage and culture; there were early explorers, diarists and journalists, poets and artists, miners, ranchers and cowboys, farmers and merchants, lawmen and outlaws, anthropologists and folklorists. These are the voices of the many travelers—paso por aquí—who animate New Mexico history.
The efforts of the NMFWP field workers have left us a rich compilation of documents stored in various collections in New Mexico, including the New Mexico State Archives as well as museum and university collections. The Library of Congress in Washington, DC also holds copies of many of the manuscripts. Now, seventy-seven years after FDR launched the New Deal, with the New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project book series a substantial number of these readings have found their way out of archival folders and into print for the public’s enjoyment.