4 – Springer, NM

Episode 4: To Start Recognizing Hearts Rather Than Political Positions with Mike Hobbs

Mike Hobbs describes a Great America where we start to recognize hearts rather than political positions.

He is the creator, owner, and operator of Hat Six Cattle Company New Mexico Land and Cattle Incorporated. And a hardworking guy that enjoys his life.

Having traveled the world and experienced many different places and cultures, he would choose to live in this country. He has great love and hope for a unified America that does what rural Americans do: an America where neighbors help each other, no matter what their political beliefs.

Hat Six Cattle Company New Mexico Land and Cattle Incorporated

Springer, NM: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1882-1897

Springer, a town of about a thousand residents in far northern New Mexico, some sixty miles south of the Colorado state line, seems like a small and quiet place where not much happens. Yet, it has a certain charm that continues to attract tourists and retirees. Much of this has to do with a downtown of stately and elegant buildings, in particular the prominent two-story brick courthouse, which speak to a time when the town was more prominent, and had a central role in some of the most momentous events of the nineteenth century southwest.

Springer was the seat of Colfax County in 1882-1897, in the midst of one of the most bitter and violent conflicts of the era. The Colfax County War pitted Hispano and Anglo settlers against the Maxwell Grant and Railroad Company. The area was included in an enormous land grant dating back to Mexican times, which was acquired by the first of a series of groups of foreign investors in 1870. Conflict arose when the new owners attempted to evict the settlers, who were suddenly seen as squatters, even though they themselves understood that they had the right to be there. The Utes and Jicarilla Apaches whose tenure predated everybody else, were not part of the discussion.

The conflict attracted the attention of the Santa Fe Ring, a powerful clique of attorneys and real-estate investors who controlled the Territory, who sided with the Company, bringing the full force of the Government, including the Army, to bear on the settlers. The County Seat was moved to Springer 1882 from a previous location because the railroad and the Company moved its headquarters and the leadership there was seen as more favorable to the Ring.

Factional violence continued to plague the County. One of the most spectacular confrontations occurred in March, 1885, when Sheriff’s deputies loyal to the Company faced a large party of armed settlers led by future U.S. Congressman George Curry on the courthouse lawn in Springer, leaving two settlers dead.

While the conflict seems the stuff of cinema, a movie of the feud would be disappointing. Though figures like legendary gunfighter Clay Allison fell in with the settlers, there was no man on a white horse riding in to lead the humble sodbusters to victory over the villainous corporation. In fact, the Company ultimately won, their ownership of the land confirmed by an 1887 Supreme Court case. Many of the settlers, out-gunned and with no legal recourse, moved on.

By 1897, the railroad had moved its operations to Raton, some forty miles away, and nearby coal mines there had attracted investment and settlers. Furthermore, the local leadership was largely favorable to the Company. Now out-voted, Springer lost the county seat after a bitter political fight.

Some historians say that Springer went into “decline” after losing the seat, but in a southwest littered with ghost towns this does not seem fair. Springer remained a small but vital community. Arguably, the fact that it no longer attracts the attention that it did during its heyday, when it was the focus for major historical events, might be the reason why it retains a picturesque downtown that recalls a colorful past.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

3 – Albuquerque, NM

Episode 3: A Strong Economy Based on Sharing, Love, and Compassion with Christopher Valles

Christopher Valles describes a Great America with “a strong economy based on sharing, on love, on compassion, on humility and on an equal distribution of wealth.”

He is a small business owner from New Mexico, born and raised. Openly gay since he was 16. He is mixed race hispanic from a family with a long heritage in New Mexico.

His connection to nature and people is his refuge during these hard times, helping him stay solid and grounded for his family, friends and broader community. He runs three meetup groups to help others have this connection to each other and nature.

Gay ABQ Funky Bohemian

Albuquerque, NM: The Great America of 2000-2020

Albuquerque, New Mexico, may be unique among the cities discussed in this project because its best times as a community could arguably be our present era. Nearby federal facilities like Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Labs have made the area a magnet for investment in the tech and alternative-energy sector, making for a vibrant and growing economy. New Mexico’s aggressive pursuit of the entertainment industry in the 2000s have made Albuquerque a center for film production, giving the southwestern hinterlands an outsized place in American popular culture. A diverse and forward-looking local political leadership promotes sustainable development, having invested in transit and promoting local arts and culture. It has all contributed to a new sense of civic pride in a community which, unfairly, had been the butt of jokes for decades.

While the city’s prosperity seems inclusive across its diverse population, the current boom time has its discontents. Though Hispanos have long been well-represented in local government, Chicano and Native American activists have long argued that these were just a manifestation of an old landed elite which is often out of touch with the rank and file citizenry. A recent scandal which revealed how Natives and Spanish-surnamed residents were targeted for brutal treatment by local police tended to show that mere representation is not enough to ensure equity and justice from the government, even in a city where Anglos are in the minority.

The way that the city has developed also poses potential long-term problems. The city’s growth has largely passed over the city’s south-western quarter and adjacent unincorporated communities, which still cling to an older economy harkening back to the days when Albuquerque was a transportation hub for agriculture in the Río Grande Valley. These largely Hispano “traditional” communities are losing population to other parts of the city, leaving them hollow and vulnerable to gentrification. Activists in the unincorporated area south of the city are contemplating incorporation as “South Valley” in an effort to have some control over development.

While other cities have experienced similar growing pains, Albuquerque’s unique history and political culture arguably make it well-equipped to deal with these issues. At the very least, its successes as a community show that it should not be easily dismissed as it once was.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

2 – Show Low, AZ

Episode 2: Thinking about others instead of ourselves with Daryl seymore

Daryl Seymore describes a Great America “when we are not thinking about ourselves, but we are starting to think about others.”

He is a long time resident of Show Low. He grew up and stayed to raise his family there. He’s been Mayor for 8 years and on city council for 16 years. Currently elected as County Supervisor of Navaho County.

From his ranching and entrepreneurial family background and being an active part of the community, he feels that America is great because of the opportunities people have to make a good life for themselves and their families.

Show Low, AZ: The Great America of 1950-1970

Show Low, a relatively remote town in the Ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona, had its heyday in the mid-twentieth century, when the harvesting and processing of timber that gave the town and surrounding communities economic vitality, and more importantly, stability. Generations of locals were assured steady jobs with good wages in the timber mills, enabling workers to raise families and build a strong sense of community.

The mills recruited a diverse work force that included African-Americans, Mexicans and Apaches from the nearby Reservation. These workers were initially segregated into separate crews, housing and schools in satellite communities like McNary, separate, but mutually dependent on a common economy.

This relative prosperity could not last. A handful of pioneer families controlled local politics and saw little reason to look toward diversifying the economy. By the 1970s, the industry was slowing down, and the mills began to close and the jobs disappeared. Many families simply moved on to make a life elsewhere. It was a story familiar to many communities in rural Arizona.

With new highway construction, Show Low became a destination for tourists and retirees. Though the town’s population was short of 3000 at the height of the timber industry, it has since blossomed to over 11,000 people with a hospital, chain stores and even a community college branch campus. However, it is a very different community than it used to be, one that is less diverse, less connected, and more dependent on a precarious low-wage service economy.

Special thanks to Clair Thomas, Executive Director of the Show Low Historical Museum for her contributions.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian