By Abe Villarreal
At a dinner earlier this week, I sat next to an American flag that was beautifully lit and framed. Hanging on a wall inside the historic Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House, it gave me that little feeling of patriotism you feel when you hear the beautiful words of America The Beautiful, or see members of our military saluting Old Glory.
This flag had only 46 stars. I quickly started doing the math in my head. I knew that New Mexico became a state in January of 1912 giving the flag its 47th star.
And for only one month, the 47-star flag existed before Arizona gained statehood in February of 1912. So, I started doing some research.
From what I could find, only 10 known 47-star flags are in existence. The flags with this unique star count were not produced in mass. Lawmakers and federal officials understood that Arizona was to be a state within days and the production of 47-star flags was limited. In fact, 47 stars was never an official star count for the American flag.
I would love to see one and run my fingers across those familiar red and white stripes. I’d like to think of those times in 1912, just over a century ago, and wonder what was on the minds of the people that were helping to form a new state.
New Mexico cannot be compared to the other 49 American states. Sure, it became officially part of the American state landscape in 1912, but the people that inhabited this Land of Enchantment have claimed it their home for thousands of years prior.
The Ancient Pueblo peoples built their stone and adobe brick homes here when they existed off of big game hunting thousands of years before Christ.
The Mogollon people took up space in southwestern New Mexico, farming crops and making pottery, which we appreciate more than 2000 years later.
When Francisco Vasquez de Coronado was on his search for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, the trouble-ridden expedition ended with no discovery of precious metals.
Coronado did spend time in the New Mexico area during the mid-16th century, leaving horses behind and the discovery of pueblos that didn’t live up to the grandeur of a golden city.
Juan de Oñate brought in Spanish settlers and the new 17th Century would bring along the appointment of the first governor, Native American revolts, and the combination of cultures, languages, and traditions that we continue to try to understand and celebrate today.
The debate over whether New Mexico should be a state focused on areas of discussion that continue to divide us such as the assimilation of people and the definition of American culture.
If you take a moment and think about the beautiful meaning behind the Zia Sign, or the colors of the New Mexican flag, you begin to realize that the values for which we count as American existed far before statehood in 1912.
I heard that one of those beautiful and rare 47-star flags is displayed in the Palace of Governors in Santa Fe. I think I’ll make a special trip this summer to lay my eyes on this unique American piece of history.
And as I see it, I’ll imagine all the ups and downs that people go through when they are trying to create something new, something that means a lot to them and something for which it is worth fighting.