What Would Las Cruces be without the Amador Family? - LasCruces.com
Family photo of the Amador family

From the fourth floor of New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Branson Library, the home of a very special archive collection, or looking west from downtown along Amador Avenue, one of the city’s busiest streets, you can see more than 150 years into the storied past of Las Cruces and one of its most important
founding families.

When Martín Amador came to the area from El Paseo del Norte (later renamed Ciudad Juárez) as a young boy in the late 1840s, Las Cruces was still a part of the Republic of Mexico. As an entrepreneur, business owner, lawman, government official, and visionary with deep roots on both sides of the international border, Martín and his family would help drive the growth and development of a small Southern New Mexico town into the vibrant city of 112,000 that it is today.

Martín and Refugio Amador de Ruiz’s youngest daughter, Clotilde Amador de Terrazas, in the family home in Las Cruces. A photo of Martín Amador is on the wall behind her.
Martín and Refugio Amador de Ruiz’s youngest daughter, Clotilde Amador de Terrazas, in the family home in Las Cruces. A photo of Martín Amador is on the wall behind her.

“Much of why Las Cruces is the second-largest city in New Mexico is due to Martín Amador,” said Deborah Dennis, Ph.D., vice president and founding member of the nonprofit Amador Hotel Foundation and executive director of the nonprofit Human Systems Research, Inc.
The foundation was created in 2007 to preserve and restore the historic Amador Hotel, which Martín Amador built in the 1870s at the corner of Amador Avenue and Water Street on the western edge of downtown Las Cruces.

Across from the hotel on Water Street, in what is today the Doña Ana Arts Council’s parking lot, stood the Amador family home (named “Casa de Jardin” for its extensive gardens), which, like the hotel, was built by Martín Amador. The house was razed not long after the death in 1960 of Martín and Refugio Amador de Ruiz’s youngest daughter, Clotilde Amador de Terrazas.

By 1962, family records and documents that had been preserved in the house, including more than 15,000 pieces of correspondence and thousands of photographs and other artifacts, were transferred into the care of NMSU Archives and Special Collections. Hundreds of family relics are now housed in the NMSU Museum in Kent Hall, including clothing and textiles, children’s toys and dolls, and housewares, according to the NMSU Museum website.

Because it preserves “the history of Mexican people in the U.S.,” the Amador collection is an archive of not only regional but national significance, said NMSU Archives and Special Collections Department Head Dennis Daily. “They were here at that historic moment when the [United States] border took a great leap south,” NMSU Professor Emeritus David Villa said during a presentation about the Amadors at the New Mexico-Arizona History Convention in Las Cruces in April 2022.

The collection records how Amador family members negotiated their change in citizenship — retaining their Mexican identity, values, and culture (including their cuisine) while adapting to and thriving in American society, culture, politics, and education.

Documents on from the Amador Family from the NMSU Library of Archives and Special Collections
Documents on from the Amador Family from the NMSU Library of Archives and Special Collections

The Amador collection is “the largest collection from a single Hispanic family in the entire country,” Dr. Dennis said. The Amador archive includes personal letters (the earliest, from Martín Amador to his mother, is dated November 13, 1861) exchanged by family members on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border detailing every aspect of family life — and death.

There are also business records, including original drawings of the feet of Albert Fountain and others who were fitted for handmade shoes at the family store; an 1876 mercantile order that included a dozen mule collars, oysters, and gunpowder; and an 1880s hotel menu featuring ham and eggs or brains and eggs for 25 cents, a Spanish omelet for 20 cents, mackerel for 40 cents, and waffles or hotcakes for 10 – 15 cents.

The collection also includes hair samples preserved from Refugio Amador shortly before her death and from several Amador grandchildren who died in infancy; Martín Amador’s political speeches (he was a local probate judge and deputy marshal); children’s school records, including the 1895 commencement at Loretto Academy in Las Cruces; and even adivinanzas (riddles), jokes, and poetry.
Refugio Amador in particular “maintained kinship across the border,” said Dr. Katherine Massoth, assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico, speaking at the history convention. Family letters “preserved really close ties,” Dr. Massoth said, noting family members would chide one another, “You didn’t write to me yesterday.”

“It’s a remarkable trove of historical material,” Dr. Dennis said, and “a lot of what we know about Las Cruces” came from thousands of editions of 15 regional Spanish-language newspapers published 1870 – 1920 that are also part of the Amador collection. The collection also includes about 100 broadsides (large posters) promoting late 19th- and early 20th-century theater, opera, bullfights, and circuses in Las Cruces and Juárez.

One of Martín Amador’s most important gifts to Las Cruces was 100 acres of land he and his friend Nestor Armijo (patriarch of another Las Cruces founding family) donated for a depot that led to the 1881 arrival of the railroad in Las Cruces. That changed history, said Dr. Dennis. “All of a sudden, there were all kinds of possibilities.”

The Amador family helped “in making Las Cruces a transportation, business, agriculture, and education center,” Terry R. Reynolds, Ph.D., ethnohistorian and retired curator of the University Museum at NMSU, said in a 2016 lecture. Amador built the first courthouse and post office in Las Cruces and had a livery stable as part of a freighting business that connected Las Cruces to Santa Fe, Mexico City, and St. Louis.

projection of how the Amador Hotel will look when it is done being renovated
Rendering of how the restored Amador Hotel in downtown Las Cruces is expected to look.

The Amador Hotel is the oldest public building in Las Cruces and reflects Martín Amador’s “ingenuity, vision, and forward thinking,” Dr. Dennis said. Amador Hotel Foundation president and founding member Heather Pollard agreed, stating, “The Amador Hotel is one of the few remaining historical buildings downtown, and its rich history has contributed to the cultural aspects of Las Cruces. When restored, the building will have great appeal to tourists and locals alike. The Amador Hotel will contain office space, be available for conferences, and serve as an event center for weddings, reunions, and other celebrations. The restoration will have a huge impact on downtown revitalization.”

Our elected officials agree that the significance of the Amador family can’t be overstated. “They were some of the founders of Las Cruces,” Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said of the Amadors. The Amadors are revered for “the vision that they had in making Las Cruces what it is today,” Mayor Pro Tempore Kasandra Gandara added, noting that the preservation of the Amador Hotel “has always been an important issue” and a “priority for the City of Las Cruces.”

In more recent history, in 1953, Clotilde Amador de Terrazas oversaw construction of an Amador family mausoleum in the San Jose Cemetery in Las Cruces. Martín Amador’s grandson, Martin “Marty” Campbell, restored the stone structure in 2018, and Bishop Oscar Cantu led a blessing of the gravesite that same year, Dr. Dennis said. Inside the mausoleum are Martín Amador (1836 – 1903), his wife, Refugio (1848 – 1907), daughter, Clotilde Amador de Terrazas (1880 – 1960), son, Martín Amador Jr. (1868 – 89) and daughter, Corina Amador de Campbell (1882 –1932). In the family plot outside are Martín Amador’s mother, Gregoria Amador de Rodela (1800 – 82); Amador’s daughter and wife of famed NMSU horticulturalist Fabián García, Julieta Amador de García (1882 – 1920); José García, Julieta and Fabián’s baby who died as an infant in 1909; Martín and Refugio’s eldest child, Emilia Amador de Garcia (1863 – 1942); and her husband, Jesús S. Garcia (1850 –1929). There is also the grave of an unknown person.


Story and photography by Mike Cook
Additional photos courtesy
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2022

Posted by LasCruces.com

Featured Businesses