The Father of Lincoln County

 

From: MORE Tales of Tularosa by Mrs. Tom Charles based on the work compiled by her late husband. Stories gathered for more than 25 yrs. before his death in 1943.  Copyright 1961 

 

CAPTAIN SATURNINO BACA, one of Lincoln County’s most loved citizens, was the Father of the county. As a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1869 he sponsored a bill which created Lincoln County.

The new county comprised seventeen million acres, or well over one—fifth of New Mexico’s total of seventy-eight million acres and was created largely out of Socorro county with portions of eastern Valencia and Doña Ana counties. It was bounded on the north by San Miguel and Valencia counties, on the west by Socorro and on the east and south by the state of Texas. Within these boundaries are the present day counties of Chaves, Curry, Eddy, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and parts of De Baca and Otero.

Captain Baca was born in Cebolleta, Valencia County, November 29, 1830, and attended a private school there. After rounding out a long life filled with stirring events, he passed away at old Lincoln in 1924, at the age of 94.

Captain Baca often related how he managed to get his county division bill through the legislature. Thomas B. Catron, who later served as U. S. Senator from New Mexico, was then a rising young lawyer, living at Mesilla, and had been elected to the legislature from Doña Ana County. Catron had served with the Confederate army through the Civil War, but because he had never taken the oath of allegiance to the United States, he faced opposition in being seated in the legislature.

Knowing Captain Baca’s chief interest in the legislature was to obtain creation of the new county Tom Catron asked him for help in getting himself seated, and promised in return to use his influence in getting the county bill passed.

Baca told Catron to draw up his resolution for membership and that he would introduce it in the legislature. This passed unanimously, the clerk was called and Catron was sworn in immediately as a member.

Catron, in return, introduced the Baca Bill creating Lincoln County, which also passed without opposition. Legislators suggested that it be named Baca County but Captain Baca modestly declined the honor, asking that it be named for the recently martyred President Abraham Lincoln. The county seat also was named for Lincoln. It had been previously known as Placita del Rio Bonito.

Backing and assisting Saturnino Baca in his movement for the new county was a committee of prominent citizens seeking establishment of better law and order in southeastern New Mexico. The group included Lawrence G. Murphy, then post trader at Fort Stanton; William Brady, a retired army Major; Florencio Gonzales, a rancher, and Dr. J. H. Blazer, owner of Blazer’s Mill at Mescalero.

The Governor appointed Major Brady as first sheriff of the new county; Dr. Blazer, Florencio Gonzales and Paul Dowlin as county commissioners; and Saturnino Baca was the first probate judge. There was no superintendent of schools ap­pointed at that time as there were no schools. In addition to his service as probate judge Captain Baca later served four years as sheriff, also as county commissioner, and as a mem­ber of the State Penitentiary Commission.

As a young man, in early Territorial days, Saturnino Baca was sent to Cali­fornia with a party of government surveyors assigned to survey a road through Arizona to California. His task was to count the miles traveled each day.

Soon after his return the Civil War came. Anxious to serve his country, he offered his services to Governor Henry Con­nolly who commissioned him a First Lieutenant in Company E, First New Mexico Cavalry. The regiment was commanded by the famous Indian fighter Col. Christopher (Kit) Carson.

In a short time Baca was promoted to the rank of Captain of the company and was at its head until he resigned from service in 1867. He took part in the Battle of Valverde on the Rio Grande when General Sibley, Confederate commander, defeated the Union forces under General Canby.

 “I was not a captain then, but a sergeant,” Captain Baca related in later years. “I arrived at Valverde at night with two hundred men when Colonel Pino said ‘Sergeant, have you run away?’ I said, ‘No, Colonel, I have stopped the ones that were running away’.”

“In our party we lost 90 men, but the other side lost 300; our men were buried in coffins and the others just placed in trenches; they built trenches and put them there while others were fast falling into the river and remained there. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The water from the river could not be distinguished from blood, it was so red.”

After the Confederates were driven out of New Mexico and the troops were no longer needed to protect the principal towns, they were assigned to various army posts and were sent out after the Apaches and Navajos who were on the warpath in those days.

Captain Baca was stationed at all the important posts in New Mexico, including Fort Stanton, Fort Wingate, Fort Marcy, and Fort Defiance in Arizona. After leaving the army he lived in Santa Fe, then moved to Placita del Rio Bonito as Lincoln was then called. Captain Baca lost his arm during the summer of 1889 when he received a bullet wound in his elbow which necessitated amputation. He was wounded in a dispute over cattle and sheep ranges. Someone fired at night into a tent in which he and another man were sleeping, apparently by someone who opposed Baca’s grazing his sheep on what was claimed to be cattle range.