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About Thomas Benton Catron
Thomas Benton Catron (October 6, 1840 – May 15, 1921) was an American politician and lawyer who was influential in the establishment of the U.S. state of New Mexico. He later represented the state in the United States Senate.
Catron was born near Lexington, Missouri, and was named after Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton. He was educated in Lexington's public schools, and at the Masonic College in Lexington. He graduated with a degree in law from the University of Missouri in 1860 .
During the American Civil War, Catron served four years in the Confederate Army. With his home in Missouri destroyed, he sought to move west after the end of the war. Following other Confederate veterans, he arrived in the Territory of New Mexico in 1866, and settled in Las Cruces.
Move to New Mexico
Catron decided to pursue his original career choice, law, and was admitted to the bar in 1867 . Due to the area's lack of lawyers, he quickly became District Attorney for the territory's third judicial district (1867–1868), and was appointed New Mexico's Attorney General in 1869 . He resigned the post to take the position of United States attorney, to which he had been appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Early political career
After getting involved in territorial politics in the 1870s, he impressed the Republican Party. He was a member of every New Mexico Territorial council from 1884 to 1909, and was an unsuccessful candidate for election as New Mexico's Congressional Delegate in 1892 . He was elected to the office in 1894, but was defeated for re-election in 1896 .
Catron was a lawyer familiar with Mexican land grants and through a variety of measures he gained an interest or clear title in 34 grants totalling 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2). He became an influential member of a group of land speculators known as 'The Santa Fe Ring' and was the largest single land owner in New Mexico and one of the largest land owners in the United States.
Advocate for statehood
Catron was an early advocate for New Mexico's statehood. Many credit him as the single driving force within the territorial Republican Party which brought together all the necessary people and resources to call for the national Republican Party to push for the admission of New Mexico as a state. Though he was not actively involved in politics from 1897 to 1910, he was the go-to for Republicans in the territory on almost every issue, and even moved his law practice to the territorial capital of Santa Fe to be closer to his friends in the legislature.
Upon New Mexico's 1912 entry to the union as the 47th state, Catron was elected the state's first senator by a wide margin on the merit of his efforts to admit the state. He was sworn in on March 27, 1912.
The governor, accompanied by James Dolan and associate John Riley, proved hostile to the faction now headed by McSween. Thus, the Regulators "went from lawmen to outlaws". Notably, Axtell refused to acknowledge the existence of the so-called "Santa Fe Ring", a group of corrupt politicians and business leaders led by U.S. Attorney Thomas Benton Catron. Catron cooperated closely with the Murphy-Dolan faction, which was perceived as part of the notorious "ring".
Alliance with Fall
Perhaps more than any other person, Catron is responsible for the Republican Party's dominance during New Mexico's first decade of statehood. However, he made one mistake that would inevitably sink his career, and the entire New Mexico Republican Party. He made a personal alliance with a good friend, Albert Fall, to ensure Fall the state's other senate seat.
Fall would go on to be one of the most corrupt individuals in Congress, and was utterly despised by the New Mexico Republican Party. In 1916, the party, ashamed with Catron's actions in helping Fall, asked him not to run again. He acquiesced, and retired to Santa Fe.
He died in May 1921, long enough to see Fall appointed as U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Three years later, Fall was involved in the Teapot Dome scandal which inevitably sunk the Republican Party in New Mexico Catron had painstakingly shaped. Notably, Axtell refused to acknowledge the existence of the so-called "Santa Fe Ring", a group of corrupt politicians and business leaders led by U.S. Attorney Thomas Benton Catron. Catron cooperated closely with the Murphy-Dolan faction, which was perceived as part of the notorious "ring".
Monuments and memorials
Catron County, New Mexico is named in his honor.