The Famous Feet Folio

Our collection of Amador family papers is one of the most frequently consulted resources in the NMSU Library Archives. The papers, which span the years 1860-1940, came from one of Las Cruces’ most significant families. As a boy, Martin Amador came with his widowed mother from Paso del Norte (today Ciudad Juárez) to the fledgling Mexican farming community of Doña Ana. This was around 1845, just before the invasion of Doña Ana by the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). With intelligence and hard work, he rose from his humble beginnings to become one of the region’s leading entrepreneurs, with business interests, as well as family and cultural ties, that straddled the U.S.-Mexico border. Beyond his many business enterprises – freighting, mercantile store, hotel, carriage and coach service, mail service – Martin Amador was a community leader, involved in politics, education and social life. Martin, his wife Refugio (Cuca), and their eight children (one son died at an early age) were at the center of Las Cruces society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Amador family portrait

Amador family, ca. 1900 (image 00040004)

The Amador family papers contain countless treasures of unique, primary information about the border region and the Mexican experience here. To name but a few: about 15,000 pages of personal correspondence from the 1860s to 1940s; records, store ledgers and correspondence for the many Amador business enterprises; broadsides advertising cultural and political events in Cd. Juárez, Las Cruces, El Paso and other communities; around 5,000 period catalogs of every imaginable type of merchandise; thousands of editions of English and Spanish language newspapers from the Mesilla Valley and surrounding region dating from the 1860s to 1940s; extensive examples of patent medicine ephemera; thousands of original photographs and postcards; and the list goes on and on. It is a deep ocean of historical resources critical for the study of the New Mexico borderlands.

Image of box with book inside

Amador family papers, Ms0004, box 7, shoe measurement book, early 1890s

One of my favorite items from the collection pertains to the Amador’s mercantile store, where they sold a huge variety of goods and necessities. It is a sketch book containing the tracings of people’s feet, used for custom-fit shoe and boot orders. It appears that the customer would stand on a page in the book in their stocking feet and the merchant (perhaps Martin or one of his children) would trace the outline of the foot in pencil, then add the measurements and information about the price, style and material of the footwear. This would be cool enough on its own, but what really makes the book unique are the names of the customers. A who’s who of Mesilla Valley personalities placed their feet on those pages and felt the tickle of the pencil outline the shape and size of their tootsies, including: renowned Western author Eugene Manlove Rhodes; attorney, judge, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall; attorney, Civil War veteran, politician and newspaper publisher Albert Jennings Fountain; judge and one of the founders of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NMSU) Simon B. Newcomb; professor and second president of the NMCA&MA Samuel P. McCrea; Mesilla saloon keeper and first sheriff of Doña Ana County Sam Bean; and other regional notables.

Some famous feet:

 

The pages in the book do not have dates but judging from the names contained in it, the tracings probably were done during the early 1890s. One researcher recently remarked about the thrill of touching the actual pages where these legendary figures had pressed their feet more than a century ago. Items like this can make experiencing history a visceral, contemporary and personal encounter. If you’re interested in experiencing history in this first-hand (or first-foot) way, come by our research room in Branson Library, Monday through Friday, 9am-4pm.


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