Lunas instrumental to N.M. statehood

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Capt. Maximiliano Luna served as the only Hispanic commissioned soldier in the Spanish-American War. Luna’s service changed attitude’s toward New Mexico, which led to New Mexico becoming a state in 1912.

Colorful, information-filled panels decorate the walls of the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts, describing the rocky road New Mexico traveled to join the United States as the 47th state.

“New Mexico: The Road to Statehood” exhibit, containing a year’s worth of research by Museum Specialist Andrea Chavez, Library and Museum Director Cynthia Shetter, Museum Technician Ricardo Gonzales, Photo Archivist and historian Baldwin G. Burr and local historian John Taylor, will be on display until March 24.

The exhibit takes viewers on a journey beginning in 1521 when Spaniard Hernan Cortés fought the Aztecs for more than three years before defeating them, and conquered Mexico, including New Mexico, for Spain.

The journey expands upon New Mexico’s struggle to statehood, including the 50 bills introduced to Congress in 62 years, beginning in 1850, asking New Mexico be admitted as a state to the United States of America. Congress didn’t grant approval until the last bill was introduced, the Enabling Act of 1910.

Pictures of the state’s historical moments litter the walls, including information about the 1878 Lincoln County War and 1875 Colfax County War.

Among the displays, Burr said two Los Lunas individuals played a hand in New Mexico’s uphill battle to statehood.

A Los Lunas native, Maximiliano Luna, was one of them.

During the Spanish-American War in 1898, Theodore Roosevelt, an assistant secretary of the Navy at the time, asked the War Department to recruit a volunteer regiment of cowboy cavalry from the Southwest.

This was an opportunity for Hispanic citizens, who weren’t a part of the United States, to prove their loyalty to the country by joining Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, Burr said.

About 350 New Mexico residents answered the call to fight for the United States and to win a star on the American flag for New Mexico.

Luna, who lived at the time in the historic Luna Mansion that still stands on Main Street, was one of the volunteer Rough Riders, Burr said, adding that it was important to Luna that he served.

Luna was the “only man of pure Spanish blood” who was commissioned as captain of Troop F in the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry under Roosevelt’s command, according to Roosevelt in one of the museum’s information panels.

Solomon Luna, a Los Lunas native, was the most influential and powerful politician in New Mexico at the turn of the 20th century. He helped to craft the state constitution, and tried to give women the right to vote.

“He demanded the privilege of proving that his people were precisely as loyal Americans as any others. I was glad when it was decided to take him,” he said.

When some of the Rough Riders weren’t sent to fight in Cuba, Luna convinced Col. Leonard Wood and Lt. Col. Roosevelt otherwise. Luna felt he had to prove that New Mexico Hispanic families were loyal to the United States, and that their blood ties meant nothing to them.

Rumors had reached Washington, D.C., that 75 percent of the Spanish-speaking population in New Mexico sided with Spain.

“People in New Mexico could say to the rest of the country, ‘Well see. Here we are in a war with Spain. You think we have more loyalty to Spain than the United States. Well, that’s not true. We just went to war with Spain,’” Burr said, citing Luna as an example of this.

After fighting in Cuba, the Rough Riders traveled to the Philippines to fight in The Boxer Rebellion. Luna, who was promoted to lieutenant, drowned while crossing a flooded river.

“He was a hero and he fought for the United States and there was no question of his loyalty,” Burr said.

The service Luna did for his country caused a nationwide change of attitude about New Mexico.

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the Denver News published articles of Luna’s “gallant service” and suggested Spanish-Americans were just as Americans as their eastern counterparts.

It set the tone that New Mexicans could be trusted, were loyal to the states and paved the way for statehood.

However, New Mexico couldn’t become a state until it had created a state constitution.

On June 20, 1910, Congress passed enabling legislation authorizing New Mexico to call for a Constitutional Convention in preparation for being admitted to the union.

In October of that year, 100 delegates met in Santa Fe to draft the state constitution, which was approved on Jan. 21, 1911.

The single most powerful and influential person throughout the whole process in forming a state constitution was Los Lunas native Solomon Luna, Burr said.

He was a strong advocate for New Mexico’s statehood, and served as a delegate and master strategist for Valencia County to the Constitutional Convention.

During the convention, the delegates sat facing the podium, but Solomon sat on the side of the podium facing the delegates, which was an example of his influence, Burr said.

“When somebody would come up and read an article they wanted to have in the state constitution, the delegates would look at Solomon Luna, and if he (nodded his head yes) that article was in the constitution, but if he (nodded his head no) it wasn’t in the constitution. He was that powerful,” Burr said.

Solomon was a powerful individual, because he was wealthy, had a hand in a number of businesses, was college educated, could speak fluent Spanish and English and was a member of the most powerful party at the time ― the Republicans.

A fellow delegate to the Constitutional Convention said, “Mr. Luna made no speeches, but his words spoken in private were potent.”

Solomon declined the opportunity to serve as the first governor. He was a controlling influence in the selection of the state’s first governor, William McDonald, and in the senate delegation.

Solomon’s most significant contributions to the state constitution were adding the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and in making it “virtually impossible” to change the state constitution.

The treaty guaranteed Hispanics the same rights and privileges as they transitioned from being Spanish, Mexican and United States citizens.

“All of those rights would be intact,” Burr said.

Solomon was afraid that when New Mexico became a state, Anglos would come into the state and change the constitution to favor Anglos and take away the rights of Hispanics.

“When he was crafting the constitution, he made it virtually impossible to change the constitution, and to this day, the constitution of the state of New Mexico is one of the most difficult to change,” Burr said, adding there haven’t been many amendments to the constitution.

The Los Lunas native also tried to add the right for women to vote into the state constitution, but that was defeated, Burr said.

“They kind of did a halfway measure. They said, ‘OK, women can vote in school board elections, but can’t vote in general elections,’ and it was a start. They couldn’t even do that in some states,” the local historian said.

In 1920, Solomon’s niece, Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren, took up the cause and was responsible for women getting the right to vote in the state and country.

“She basically finished the work that Solomon started …,” Burr said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.