Enchanting People of New Mexico - Albert Bacon Fall

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Episode 18 - Albert Bacon Fall

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. You know today is National Green and Red Chile Day. That day starts January 1st and runs through December 31st each and every year. Every Monday and Friday I do Historical and Cultural New Mexico Podcasts. Wednesdays, I celebrate people.

All of the people I do in the Wednesday podcasts are interesting people in New Mexico, so it is with great pleasure that I present one of the most interesting people in New Mexico of all time. Do you know of any U. S. Senator who also was known to have had a gunfight on main street in Las Cruces? Who also was the first American U. S. Cabinet member to go to prison for taking a bribe from someone who was found innocent of giving a bribe? Our person of the week is Albert Bacon Fall, best known as A.B. Fall. He was all of the above and even more.

A. B. Fall was born in 1861, in the first year of the Civil War in Frankfort, Kentucky, the son and nephew of Confederate Army Officers. Educated a couple years in Nashville, Tennessee, at age eleven he was put to work in a cotton factory which caused him a lifetime of respiratory problems. The solution at age 15 was to move west to find a dryer and cleaner area to live. That sort of worked in Oklahoma and Texas as a cowboy doing ranch work by handling the horses, being the camp cook on a cattle drive and then something that stayed with him his entire life.

Before I tell you where he went next, I want to describe something else that stayed with him his entire life: self-education. Over a number of years, he taught himself to read. Which was good since his next change was to go to Mexico as a hard-rock miner. Nothing to do with Hard-Rock café today. While in Mexico for several years he became adept at reading and speaking both English and Spanish. His ability in Spanish was a cornerstone of his popularity in politics in New Mexico. Yes, he was headed to New Mexico. With his ability as a hard-rock miner he was employed in the Kingston mines in Southern New Mexico located eight miles west of Hillsboro, New Mexico. This was around 1885. During his ranch time in Texas, he married Emma Morgan and had several children, two of whom died in the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak.

He and his wife and children moved to Las Cruces in 1887. They all moved into a house at 311 South Miranda Street in Las Cruces which I understand still stands 136 years later. Everything he had done so far was building character which served him well over the years. First thing he did in Las Cruces was he opened a stationery store and helped to organize the Las Cruces Building and Loan Association. As a Southern born Democrat, he worked to revive the Democrat party which in Las Cruces at that time was not very active. The Republican Party controlled the state and Las Cruces. A. B. Fall studied law and was admitted to the New Mexico Territorial Bar after which he then ran for office in 1888 in the only political race that he lost.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

Today I am talking about a fascinating New Mexican, A. B. Fall, that’s Albert Bacon Fall who in 1888 ran against Albert Fountain for the Territorial House seat. What was said to be a sure thing race for Albert Fountain who came to New Mexico with the California Column of soldiers in 1862 was a nail-biter that Fountain eventually won. Two years later, in 1890, A. B. Fall won and continued to win. Perhaps it was good that Fountain won that race because he was selected as Speaker of the House and shepherded through the Legislature the Bernard Rodey Bill, February 28, 1889, which established Las Cruces as the site of the Agricultural and Mechanical Arts College. That’s today’s New Mexico State University. It also created what is now the University of New Mexico which is why there is a Rodey Hall at UNM in appreciation.

There were lots of battles over the next few years between Republicans and Democrats that centered on A. B. Fall. Now Fall was a Southerner which put him in the camp of others like Alamogordo area Oliver Lee and cowboys from that area. In 1892 the vote was going to be close and Fall telegraphed Lee that he needed help. Oliver Lee and a group of his cowboys rode all night from near Alamogordo and arrived in Las Cruces the next morning. The cowboys lined up across from the polling place at the Martin Lohman general store. Republicans Major Llewellyn and Captain Thomas Branigan marched with a company of militia up Main Street to be at the polls which looked like shooting was about the happen. Right then Albert Fall stepped into the street and said, “Llewellyn, get out of here with that militia within two minutes or I will have you all killed.” Major Llewellyn and Captain Branigan conferred for less than a minute and then marched back down the street. Fall did win the election as he was expected to do.

A. B. Fall had a good career as a lawyer, claiming he represented defendants in hundreds of cases of rustling without suffering a single conviction and the same for murder suspects where only one was actually convicted. He had a style in front of juries that worked.

And there was a gunfight on Main Street Las Cruces. Fall defended cowboys against charges of rustling and Fountain brought those charges. The confrontation occurred in 1895. Albert Fountain and Constable Ben Williams came upon Albert Fall and his brother-in-law Joe Morgan. Despite many eyewitnesses there still is no definitive report of who fired first. It seemed as soon as they were in the same proximity that both sides started shooting. Morgan and Williams were slightly injured, and peace returned. A grand jury investigated the shooting and did not return an indictment against A. B. Fall and his brother-in-law. Instead, Fountain and Williams were charged but a judge dismissed all charges.

Now here is the funny part. A. B. Fall partially owned a newspaper which had an account from him that explained, “I had simply succumbed to a personal dislike of Williams and had decided to take a shot at him for wasn’t that any free born New Mexican’s right and privilege?”

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

A. B. Fall was a legislative leader in the fight for Statehood and upon becoming a state Fall became a Republican and joined forces with Republican powerhouse Thomas Catron. Yes, Catron County named for him and the two of them were voted as U. S. Senators. This moved Albert Fall into a much larger arena where his understanding of Mexico was a real plus.

I am leaving out a couple of data points involving Fall defending two men charged with killing Albert Fountain and much later one man charged with killing Pat Garrett. Fall won both cases.

Anyway, we are now to the point where many people in New Mexico and in our country know Albert’s name and they connect it was something called the Teapot Dome Scandal. It is not as it seems, and I will try to clear up some of the facts.

In the election of 1920, Republican Warren G. Harding was victorious and in selecting his cabinet he appointed A. B. Fall the Secretary of the Interior. Fall contacted The Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby and wanted to take over the control of the Naval Oil Reserves in California and at Teapot Dome, Wyoming. Oil was being stored just in case war broke out and we couldn’t get oil from Indonesia as was the case twenty years later.

The corruption was that selecting the lease holders was valuable and Fall was set to receive money for selecting the lease holders instead of having an open bid. The Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company got leases to drill without open bidding.

There was $385,000 dollars either given or loaned to A. B. Fall which equals about 7 million dollars in today’s currency. In April 1922 The Wall Street Journal broke the story that Mammoth Oil Corporation and Pan-American Petroleum and Transport were given a sweetheart deal, and the investigation called the Teapot Dome Scandal was front and center in America. Fall was convicted and jailed for one year, the first former cabinet officer to be put into prison as a result of misconduct. He was convicted of taking a bribe from Edward Doheny, but, get this, Edward Doheny was found not guilty of giving Fall a bribe. In fact, his company foreclosed on Fall large Ranch in Three Rivers, New Mexico for not repaying the loan which was called by the government a bribe.

After serving his time in prison, A. B. Fall was not quite in poverty but was financially not all that well but got by. He died November 30, 1944 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso. He contended in his trial that his push to get oil into the three oil reserves was because he was afraid America would get into a war in the Pacific without access to the oil needed to fight that war. And friends, he was exactly correct as to the value of the oil reserve. His cutting corners and perhaps either getting a loan or bribe, well, that is all on him.

Albert Bacon Fall was an interesting part of our robust New Mexico history. Let me tell you about some products at the Fresh Chile Company that I find wonderful. We have a mild Green Chile, best for people who love the Chile flavor but do not really want too much taste heat. Varietal Special Reserve Machete Hatch chopped Green Chile is only made with 1" thickly chopped Machete Chile. Machete has a heat level below average compared to other types of Hatch Chile.

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Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something or someone you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com

Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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