From The Ethics Alarms Archives: Remembering The Amazing Elfego Baca

The previous post was discussing the topic of great Americans, and commenter valkygrrl asked about the statuary in the Capitol, where each state is allotted two statues to honor its past notables. This, in turn reminded me of my favorite New Mexican historical figure (who is not honored in the Capitol) and one of my favorite figures of the Old West, Elfego Baca (February 10, 1865 – August 27, 1945). There’s a post about him (with 11,621 and counting, there’s a post here about just about everything), and I decided that this was a good time to re-visit it, and him.

Baca is not only a Mexican-American, it could be argued that he’d be a more worthy member of the President’s Garden than a number of the “heroes” currently on the list…more fun, definitely.

Here’s the lightly edited post from 2013…Meet Elfego!

As frequent readers of Ethics Alarms know, I fervently believe that history is important, and that we all have a duty to remember and honor the remarkable Americans who have gone before us, their exploits, triumphs, struggles and achievements, both for our sake—for we can learn much from them—and theirs. I am constantly discouraged by the inspirational stories and fascinating historical figures who have nearly been forgotten. The schools don’t teach our children about them, and popular culture ignores them. This weakens the flavor and the power of our shared culture: it is wrong, that’s all.

I want to do my part to help keep alive the name and the story of a Mexican-American who may have faded from memory because the events of his life seem more fictional than real. Indeed, for most of my life, until a couple of years ago, I thought Elfego Baca was a creation of Walt Disney’s creative staff, who wrote a ten episode mini-series  called “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca” for the “Disneyland” show (“Now…from Frontierland!”) in 1958. I loved that series, but it never occurred to me that the tales of a gunslinging, lawyer-sheriff in Old New Mexico could possibly have any connection to reality.

But they did. The real Elfego Baca was, if anything, even more improbable than his fictionalized counterpart, portrayed by a very young and athletic Robert Loggia, who is best known as the toy magnate who plays “Chopsticks” on the giant keyboard with Tom Hanks in “Big.” Loggia was one of my favorite character actors; he was also the drug lord killed by Tony Montana in “Scarface,” and the tough general in “Independence Day,” among many other memorable roles in a long career

Elfego Baca was born in Socorro, New Mexico in 1865. Elfego’s father was a gunfighter, and he wanted to be one too, though on the side of the law, so he would be less likely to go to jail, like his father did, for winning gunfights. The New Mexico territory was soon in the middle of a silver rush, bringing many outsiders into the region, a lot of them pretty wild. Baca acquired a sheriff’s badge through a mail-order house, and also bought two six-guns, which he taught himself to use with deadly precision.

A cowboy named Charley McCarty got drunk in the town where Baca was working as a store clerk, and did all the things you remember from old Westerns: whooping it up, shooting in the air, breaking windows, harassing townspeople, and bullying Mexicans by making them “dance” as he shot at their boots. Elfego Baca, then 19 years old, deputized himself by pinning on his fake badge and by the authority invested in himself, by himself, arrested McCarty at gunpoint. Continue reading

Your National Hispanic Heritage Month Assignment: Remember The Amazing Elfago Baca (February 10, 1865 – August 27, 1945)

Baca statue

As frequent readers of Ethics Alarms know, I fervently believe that history is important, and that we all have a duty to remember and honor the remarkable Americans who have gone before us, their exploits, triumphs, struggles and achievements, both for our sakes—for we can learn much from them—and theirs. I am constantly discouraged by the inspirational stories and fascinating historical figures who have nearly been forgotten. The schools don’t teach our children about them, and popular culture ignores them. This weakens the flavor and the power of our shared culture: it is wrong, that’s all.

Today, as I realized we were in the midst of National Hispanic Heritage Month ( September 15-October 15), I want to do my part to help keep alive the name and the story of a Mexican-American who may have faded from memory because the events of his life seem more fictional than real. Indeed, for most of my life, until a couple of years ago, I thought Elfago Baca was a creation of Walt Disney’s creative staff, who wrote a ten episode mini-series about him called “The Nine Lives of Elfago Baca” for the “Disneyland” show (“Now…from Frontierland!”) in 1958. I loved that series, but it never occurred to me that the series’ tales of a gunslinging, lawyer-sheriff in Old New Mexico could possibly have any connection to reality.

But they did. The real Elfago was, if anything, even more improbable than his fictionalized counterpart, portrayed by a very young and athletic Robert Loggia, who is best known as the toy magnate who plays “Chopsticks” on the giant keyboard with Tom Hanks in “Big.” Continue reading