THE FABULOUS FRONTIER, 1846-1912
Facsimile of the Original 1962 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.
PREFACE TO THIS EDITION
Michael L. Keleher
William A. Keleher observed first hand the changing circumstances of people and places of New Mexico until his death December 18, 1972, surrounded by family. He was born in Lawrence, Kansas November 7, 1886, and arrived in Albuquerque two years later, with his parents and two older brothers. The older brothers died of diphtheria within a few weeks of their arrival. One quickly observes from his writings, and writings about him, he lived a fruitful and exemplary life. He was recognized as a successful attorney, being honored by the New Mexico State Bar as one of the outstanding Attorneys of the Twentieth Century. His knowledge and understanding of humankind is evidenced by his quote attributed to Sir Thomas Browne, 1686, and printed after the title page in Turmoil in New Mexico:
The iniquity of oblivion scattereth her poppy and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit and perpetuity…who knows whether the best of men be known, or whether there be not more remarkable men forgot, than any that stand remembered in the known account of time.
An insight to his character and religious belief is indicated by the last paragraph of the Foreword to his Memoirs, First Edition:
The writing of this book has afforded me an opportunity for study and reflection while attempting to recall what was said or done by people in the long ago, many of whose voices are stilled forever. During this time, I have experienced a renewed consciousness of the significance and vital importance of recognition of God’s eternal verity.
His dedication and love of family and New Mexico is shown by the concluding paragraph of Memoirs by which he bequeaths his “respect for the law and my love for New Mexico” to his children, grandchildren and nephew.
His great joy seemed to be to have someone call at his house or stop him on the street and ask him to autograph one of his books, which he did gracefully, with a twinkle in his eye and some individual remembrance or personal comment after a short visit with the admirer. On more than one occasion he remarked the changing circumstances of people and places he knew would be forgotten forever. It became his single-minded purpose to record his observations of persons and circumstances so they would not be forgotten, and avoid the “iniquity of oblivion”.
Anyone who reads his books will enjoy an increased awareness of people and places of New Mexico, and they too will become an heir to his respect for the law and love for New Mexico.