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Stories From Socorro: Elfego Baca

July 8, 2013
Elfego Baca (watercolor by a. leon miler)

Elfego Baca (watercolor by a. leon miler)

Socorro, in the 1880’s was a boom town.  The railroad came to town, there were silver mines in nearby Magdalena, and smelters in Socorro.  Likewise, there were a lot of ranches opening up in the surrounding areas.  Both professions brought in a lot of new comers seeking their fortunes.  Before this time, Socorro was a quiet farming community in the Rio Grande valley.  This is the environment that Elfego Baca came of age in.

At 19 years of age, Elfego Baca decided he wanted to be a sheriff. Legend and fact on this and many of the things that followed are sometimes difficult to untangle. Whether he was self appointed or legitimately deputized is unclear. He claims to have purchased his badge at a local store.  The Socorro area at the time saw the opening up of many new ranches along with the arrival of ranch hands; mostly cowboys from Texas & many of them not the most upstanding of citizens. It was the behavior of these cowboys towards the Hispanic citizens that caught Elfego’s attention.  Elfego is reported to have asked the sheriff why he didn’t stop the lawlessness, to which the sheriff responded that if Elfego wanted to do something, to go ahead. So, he did.

In October, 1884 Elfego took his new badge and gun to San Francisco, New Mexico (now Reserve) where he arrested a drunken cowboy at the request of the saloon keeper. It did not take long for his friends to come to his aid and demand his release. Elfego refused. This resulted in the Frisco shootout which lasted over 36 hours. 4000 shots were fired by 80 cowboys against the single Elfego Baca. When it was over, there were 4 dead and 8 wounded.

Elfego agreed to “surrender” to the local justice of the peace. He kept his guns, rode in the back of the wagon, and no one was allowed to get closer than 30 feet, while the “guards” were forced to stay 25 feet in front of the wagon..

Elfego was tried for murder and acquitted after the door to the adobe house he had taken refuge in was entered as evidence, showing 400 bullet holes in it.

Elfago Baca later became the legitimate Sheriff of Socorro County, U. S. Marshal, mayor, lawyer, and prosecuting attorney. He died peacefully at the age of 80 in 1945.

There are many differing elements to this story, some of them fostered by Elfego himself. He was a man of his times. He studied law on his own and passed the bar exam to become a lawyer.

The following link goes to a Library of Congress document of an interview of Elfego Baca done as part of a WPA project in the 1930’s.

Next up:  A Catfish story…

Elfego Baca photo restored by a. leon miler for City of Socorro

Elfego Baca photo restored by a. leon miler for City of Socorro

Elfego Baca Memorial in Reserve, NM

Elfego Baca Memorial in Reserve, New Mexico

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