- Elfego Baca
Elfego Baca (
February 10, 1865– August 27, 1945) was a legendary lawman, lawyer, and politician in the closing days of the American wild west. Baca was born in Socorro, New Mexicojust before the end of the American Civil Warto Francisco and Juana Maria Baca. His family later moved to Topeka, Kansaswhen he was a young child. Upon his mother’s death in 1880, Baca returned with his father to Belen, New Mexicowhere his father became a marshal.
In 1884, at age 19, Baca stole some guns, bought a mail-order
sheriff’s badge, and more or less appointed himself deputy sheriff in Socorro County, New Mexico.
His goal in life was to be a
peace officer. He wanted, he said, “the outlaws to hear my steps a block away.” Southwestern New Mexico at the time was still relatively sparsely settled cattle ranching country. Cowboys roamed the land and did as they pleased. They might come into a town, drink at the saloon, harass the local Mexican-Americans, and then shoot up the town out of boredom. Baca meant to put an end to that.
The Frisco Shootout
December 1, 1884, in the town of Upper San Francisco Plaza (now Reserve), Elfego Baca arrested a carousing cowboywho had shot at him. The man’s companions demanded the cowboy's release, but Baca refused. Following threats from the cowboys, Baca took refuge in the house of Geronimo Armijo. A standoff with the cowboys ensued and some 80 cowboys gathered to attack the house. Allegedly, the cowboys fired more than 4,000 shots into the house, until the adobe building looked like Swiss cheese. Incredibly, not one of the bullets struck Baca. (The floor of the home is said to have been slightly lower than ground level; thus Baca was able to escape injury.) During the siege, Baca shot and killed four of his attackers and wounded eight others. After about 36 hours, the battle ended when the cowboys ran out of ammunition. When they had left, Baca walked out of the house unharmed.
In May 1885, Baca was charged with murder for the death of the one of the cowboys killed in the attack on the cabin. He was jailed to await his trial. In August 1885, Baca was acquitted after the door of Armijo’s house was entered as evidence. It had more than 400 bullet holes in it. The incident became known as the
Law and Order
Baca officially became the sheriff of Socorro County and secured indictments for the arrest of the area's lawbreakers. Instead of ordering his deputies to pursue the wanted men, he sent each of the accused a letter. It said, "I have a warrant here for your arrest. Please come in by March 15 and give yourself up. If you don’t, I’ll know you intend to resist arrest, and I will feel justified in shooting you on sight when I come after you." Most of the offenders turned themselves in voluntarily.
In 1888, Baca became a U.S. Marshal. He served for two years and then began studying law. In December 1894, he was admitted to the bar and joined a Socorro law firm. He practiced law on San Antonio Street in El Paso between 1902 and 1904.
Baca held a succession of public offices, including county clerk, mayor and school superintendent of Socorro County, and district attorney for Socorro and Sierra Counties. In his book "The Shooters", Leon Metz writes that “most reports say he was the best peace officer Socorro ever had.”
From 1913 to 1916, Baca served as the official representative in the U.S. of
Victoriano Huerta's government during the Mexican Revolution, a post which earned Baca an indictmentfor criminal conspiracy when Mexican general José Inés Salazarescaped from prison. Successfully defended by the New Mexican lawyer and politician Octaviano Larrazolo, Baca's reputation grew among Southwestern residents.
When New Mexico became a state in 1912, Baca unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican. Nevertheless, he remained a valued political figure because of his ability to turn out the vote among the
Hispanicpopulation. Working at times as a private detective, Baca also took a job as a bouncer in a casino across the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Baca worked closely with New Mexico’s longtime Senator
Bronson Cuttingas a political investigator and wrote a weekly column in Spanish praising Cutting’s work on behalf of local Hispanics. Baca considered running for governor despite his declining health, but he failed to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination for district attorney in 1944.
Metz, his biographer, wrote: “Elfego was, and is, controversial. He drank too much; talked too much ... he had a weakness for wild women. He was often arrogant and, of course, he showed no compunction about killing people.” On his 75th birthday, Baca told the "Albuquerque Tribune" that as a lawyer he had defended 30 people charged with murder, and only one went to the penitentiary.
In July 1936, several years before his death, Janet Smith conducted an interview with Elfego Baca. Her notes can be found in the
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, WPA Federal Writers’ Project Collection. Baca told Smith, “I never wanted to kill anybody, but if a man had it in his mind to kill me, I made it my business to get him first.”
Many legends surround the life of Elfego Baca. One tall tale concerns his mother, Juanita. As the story goes, his mother, while pregnant with Elfego, was playing a softball game at "Las Iglesias". When she went up for a fly ball, out came Elfego and he entered the game!
Another legend says that Baca stole a pistol from
Pancho Villa, and the angry Villa put a price of $30,000 on Baca’s head. Obviously, it was never collected.
One often told story says that once when he was practicing law in
Albuquerque, Baca received a telegram from a client in El Paso, Texas. "Need you at once," it said, "Have just been charged with murder." To which Baca is supposed to have responded with a telegram saying, "Leaving at once with three eyewitnesses." [ Howard Bryan, 'Incredible Elfego Baca' 1993, pg 3 ]
Elfego Baca lived a remarkable life. Though he died quietly in his bed in 1945 at age 80, he had more brushes with death than most men of any time.
Walt Disney Television Series
Walt DisneyStudios released a television miniseries titled "The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca" and starring Robert Loggiain the title role. Episodes of the series were later edited into a movie titled "Elfego Baca: Six Gun Law", which was released in 1962.
Baca Family of New Mexico
*imdb title |id=0561046|title=The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca
* [http://www.ultimatedisney.com/legendaryheroes-elfego.html UltimateDisney.com's Show/DVD Review of "Elfego Baca"]
* [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r104:E10MY5-53: Tribute to Elfego Baca in the U.S. House of Representatives, May 10, 1995]
* [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/wpa/20040209.html Interview with Elfego (Library of Congress)]
* [http://www.epcc.edu/nwlibrary/borderlands/22_elfego_baca.htm Borderlands]
* [http://www.genordell.com/stores/western/ElfegoBaca.htm Elfego Baca at 'Readers of The Purple Sage']
* [http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/nm/frisco.html Frisco, New Mexico] , GhostTowns.com entry by Samuel W McWhorter.
* [http://www.legendsofamerica.com/WE-ElfegoBaca.html Elfego Baca & The “Frisco War”] . Legends of America website.
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