One of the treasured and often-cited sources on the early history of our region is the thesis written by Maude Elizabeth McFie to obtain her bachelor of science degree, in 1903, from the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NMSU). In writing her thesis, “A History of the Mesilla Valley,” Maude McFie relied upon the written records available to her, but also upon the anecdotes and memories of some of the earliest residents of the valley. She was in a unique position to leverage these resources, having grown up in the Mesilla Valley as the daughter of one its most prominent residents, Judge John R. McFie. The family had moved to Las Cruces in 1884, when Maude was four years old. John McFie practiced law and served as a justice in the Territorial Supreme Court for many years, but he also was crucial in establishing the college that would become NMSU, as well as the Museum of New Mexico and the School of American Research (now the School for Advanced Research).
Archives and Special Collections (ASC) holds Maude’s original 1903 thesis, which has served as a resource for countless students and researchers interested in Mesilla Valley history. But recently, through the generosity of her son, John Porter Bloom, a second copy of the thesis was donated to the ASC. This was Maude’s personal copy and is special because it contains extensive edits and marginalia, handwritten in pencil by Maude and her husband Lansing Bloom, one of the pre-eminent historians of early New Mexico. The two met in Las Cruces in 1903 and were married in Santa Fe in 1907. Lansing Bloom was first co-editor of the New Mexico Historical Review, taught history at UNM from 1929 to 1949, and uncovered some of New Mexico’s most important historical documents in the archives of Mexico and Spain. Their son John followed his parents’ path, earning a PhD in history from Emory University.
John lives in Las Cruces and recently donated the second copy of the thesis to NMSU. In addition, he donated a trove of largely unpublished manuscripts also written by his mother. Consisting of several thousand typed pages, the material includes novels, dramas, short fiction, and folklore, all based on historical events and characters of New Mexico – many in the Mesilla Valley. Some of the titles offer tantalizing glimpses at the content of these works of historical fiction: Doña Ana: Historical Romance of the 1840s in Mexico; Shadows in Sam’s Valley: a Biographical Novel of the Mexican-American War and Afterward; Ol’ Man Bean [Sam Bean]; The Viceroy’s Sister: a Historical Romance; Blood Brothers: an Art Drama of Early Life Streams in New Mexico; Spirits of the Ancestors; The White Barbarian: James Kirker; The Cacique’s Message; Los Comanches or the Town of the Broken Promise, among others.
One of the more ambitious manuscripts in the collections is Doña Ana: Historical Romance of the 1840s in Mexico. At 16 chapters, and a bit more than 200 pages, the novel brings together Maude’s love of southern New Mexico history and the Mexican culture, the intimate stories she heard as a young woman growing up in the Mesilla Valley, and her creative imagination. The story centers around the founding, in 1843, and early years of the village of Doña Ana, our region’s first permanent settlement, and events of the Mexican-American War that took place here. Many of the characters and incidents in the novel are taken from the actual history Maude previously had written about in her thesis. Some of the real-life characters in the work include Pablo Melendres, José Maria Costales, priest Ramón Ortíz, Josiah Gregg, James Magoffin and Alexander Doniphan – all names well known in our region. However, the fictional protagonist of the novel is an orphan, raised in the convent of Santa Eulalia, “the very gentle, very beautiful Ana de Prieto.” Doña Ana will go on to inspire Melendres and his group of settlers to name their new colony grant in her honor.
Other works in the collection share this same mix of history and fiction. While Maude did try to publish some of her work during her lifetime, she met with only modest success. Some historical articles were published in the New Mexico Historical Review and some of her fiction was published in McLean’s Magazine. Her drama, Tonita of the Holy Faith, won a competition resulting in its performance at the 1924 Santa Fe Fiesta. Organizers of the Fiesta wrote, “The author, as a result of having lived the greater part of her life close to the people of New Mexico, reproduces in her plays, not only the intimate idiom and manner of expression of the people or ‘gente’ of New Mexico, but reveals their very soul.” Finding their permanent home in the NMSU archives, Maude McFie Bloom’s literary output now will be available for study, use, and potentially future publication.