Christmas in the Archives

As 2020 comes to an end, the staff of the NMSU Archives and Special Collections (ASC) wish you a happy holiday season and a much better new year. We have appreciated the support of those who read and follow The Open Stacks blog. If you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or another form of winter holiday festivity, we wish it to be healthy and happy. The cards in this blog post reflect Christmas greetings from as early as 1895.   A quick Google search responded that Hanukkah greeting cards were not commercially produced until the 1940s and Kwanza cards until much later.

long calendar 1895 Firemans Fund

Amador Family Papers Ms 0004

One of the oldest Christmas greetings in our collections is in calendar form. We all get them at the end of the year from our bank, insurance agent, or other business that wants us to remember their name. As an agent for the Fireman’s Fund Insurance company, Henry D. Bowman knew an excellent marketing idea when he saw it. He sent his greeting in an 1895 calendar. One of these calendars ended up in the Amador Family papers. The Amador Family Papers span the years 1859-1949. Two folders of historic calendars from early businesses in the Mesilla Valley are preserved in this well-used collection. Henry Bowman was the son of George D. Bowman, a banker, and landowner, who came to the Mesilla Valley in 1876 as Land Register. Later, in 1884, he and his sons, Henry D. and George R. Bowman founded Bowman and Sons Bank and Trust Company in Las Cruces.

Not everyone thought more prominent was better when it came to Christmas greetings. Most of the greetings in the Charles M. De Bremond papers are small, less than 5 x 4 inches. De Bremond was a native of Switzerland and moved to southeastern

New Mexico in 1891 with a group of Swiss immigrants.

small fold over Christmas card

Rare use of the abbreviation for Christmas on a printed card, most likely due to the small size of this card. Received two weeks after the death of De Bremond. Charles M. De Bremond papers Ms 105

He had a farm in Roswell and was a founding member of Battery A of New Mexico National Guard and commanded it from 1912 until he died in December 1919 to the effects of poison gas inhaled in France during the battle of the Marne in July of 1918.

Era Rentfrow died April 7, 1991, at 93 years old. She was the registrar of New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, later NMSU, for 40 years. She has been reportedly described as the fiancé of Joseph Quesenberry, the first Aggie to die in World War I. However, no documentation can be found to substantiate this relationship. Quesenberry kept a log of outgoing and incoming mail. Only one entry exists for Era. But do not feel sorry for Era, she had other pen pals. She was the recipient of many cards from Frank McClure, an American artist, and printmaker.

B & W print of fireplace and a table nearby with one chair

Era Rentfrow A75-088

His works are collected at the National Collection of Fine Arts, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In all but one of his annual cards, McClure addresses Era as “Honey.” For decades they correspond through annual Christmas cards addressing each other and signing off as “Honey.”

Hand written note inside a christmas card

Frank McClure frequently addressed his cards to Era Rentfrow as “Honey” and signed them as “Honey”. In this card he notes that they have been pen pals for 50 years.

The cards are prints of his famous collected pieces. McClure’s obituary in the Washington Post erroneously lists him as teaching at Texas A&M. However, he was an assistant professor of chemistry at New Mexico A&M in 1921 and 1922. His name does not appear in subsequent yearbooks or college catalogs. After leaving New Mexico, McClure researched and developed early studies on the use of Fluorides to prevent tooth decay. Like Era, he appears to have never married and died with no immediate family in 1979.

Print of B card & W full moon in background with small cabins in snow

Annual card to Era Rentfrow from Frank McClure. Titled Full Moon. A75-088

One of the largest railroads in the United States, Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company (AT&SF) chartered services to Atchison, Kansas, Topeka, Kansas, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The railroad reached the Kansas–Colorado state line in 1873 and Pueblo, Colorado, in 1876. To establish a market for its industry, the railroad launched real estate offices and sold farmland from the land grants that it received from Congress. In addition to Christmas cards, our AT&SF collection contains the records of the railroad’s Agricultural Department in Amarillo, Texas, including agricultural research and promotional programs, correspondence, and business records. Christmas cards sent by the company depicted scenes to promote services to New Mexico.

color card depicting Gallup NM 1880

The AT&SF railroad often promoted New Mexico in their holiday cards. Gallup in the 1880’s. 1942 Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Agriculture Department Amarillo Texas Records. Ms 028

The 1950 scrapbook of S. Omar and Elsa Barker depicts dozens of cowboy and western cards sent to the Barkers. The husband-and-wife team published their literary works in True West, Old West, and other western writer publications. The Christmas Greeting card scrapbook is just a small piece in the papers of the west’s most beloved cowboy poet duo. The S. Omar and Elsa Barker papers also contain draft and final manuscripts of poetry, articles, short stories, and correspondences.

scrapbook pages with cowboy scenery

Scrapbook pages of cards S. Omar and Elsa Barker papers Ms 209

Ernst Steinhoff was among the German rocket scientists (von Braun rocket group) to surrender in 1945 to US military troops. He provided his expertise in rocketry during Operation Paperclip and at Fort Bliss. Later, Steinhoff worked at White Sands Missile Range, focusing on guidance, control, and range instrumentation. He was one of the first to popularize the concept of Mars resource utilization.

Candle sitting on a bough branch

Ernst and Hilde Steinhoff continued correspondence and Christmas card exchange from family and friends in Germany. Ernst August Steinhoff Papers, 1943-1982 Ms 260

Steinhoff and his wife Hilde continued to correspond with their friends and family in Germany. Besides the Christmas greetings, Steinhoff’s collection of papers (1943 to 1982) comprises documentation of his immigration to the United States, professional publications of other authors, his research in space explorations, and correspondence in German and English. Steinhoff lived in Alamogordo, New Mexico until he died in 1987.

In 1900, two years after graduating from New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic  Arts , William A. Sutherland became the head football coach at NMA&M. In the early days of the college, it was not uncommon for a coach to serve only one or two years. He later taught Spanish and Latin classes for the college in 1901 and 1902. Sutherland moved forward and practiced law in Las Cruces for decades. He was a well-known supporter of his alma matter and nicknamed “Mr. Aggie.” He warranted an official NMSU Christmas card with a personal note from then-President Roger Corbett. It was during Corbett’s administration that the college changed its name to New Mexico State University. The name change was a better reflection of its operations. The Sutherland McManus papers include personal papers, correspondence, photographs, memorabilia of Sutherland, and his wife Minnie Newberry Sutherland, his son Admiral W. A Sutherland Jr., and his daughter Constance Sutherland McManus.

card with red door and two potted trees

Holiday card sent from NMSU President Roger Corbett and his wife. Sutherland-McManus Papers Ms 431


These cards document the way people in the community celebrated the holiday and lived their lives. You have the opportunity to do the same, especially those of you who celebrate another holiday season such as Hanukkah or Kwanza. The way we observe will be different this year due to the pandemic. How will your holiday celebration change? Future scholars, historians, scientists, health experts, and students will want to understand how we in 2020 reacted and experienced this pandemic. See this post by Dylan McDonald for information on how you can help us document this historic year.


No matter how you celebrate, we wish you the best!



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