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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: April 28, 2003
Volume 38, Number 19

Keleher family donates archive

By Carolyn Gonzales

Four Keleher family donors recently met with UNM General Library Dean Camila Alire. From left, James W. Rogers, Jr., William B. Keleher, Ann Rogers Rothman, Alire and Michael L. Keleher. Photo by Carolyn Gonzales.

Several months ago, the paperwork was signed, and the final box was removed from the Keleher home, leaving behind empty shelves, spaces and files.  New Mexico attorney and historian William A. Keleher’s collection of books and archival materials are now part of collections held by the UNM General Library. 

His widow, former UNM faculty member Loretta Barrett Keleher, died July 31, 2000, and the collection became available. His four sons, William, Michael, John and Thomas Keleher, and the children of his daughter Mary Ann Keleher Rogers: James W. Rogers, Jr., Susan Rogers Schenkelberg, Ann Rogers Rothman and Michael W. Rogers, decided they wanted the collection to stay together and remain in New Mexico.

The solution was to donate it to UNM. 

“We believe this to have been the best private library on Southwestern Americana available,” said Jan Dodson Barnhart, who is in charge of the library donor programming. Barnhart worked closely with Keleher’s heirs to acquire the collection for the UNM library.

From Dropout to Distinction

William A. Keleher (1886-1972), was the child of David and Mary Ann Gorry Keleher who married in San Felipe Church, Albuquerque, in 1882.  He opened his law practice in 1915, and founded one of the largest law firms in the state, Keleher & McLeod, P.A.  Three of Keleher’s sons, William, Michael and Thomas, still practice law at the firm.

William A. Keleher had not completed the eighth grade when family needs compelled him to drop out of school and work to help support his family. Years later, he was accepted by Washington & Lee University as a special student to study law and he graduated two year later with his law degree. He then returned to Albuquerque to practice law. 

In 2000, the New Mexico Bar Association named Keleher one of the Outstanding Lawyers of the Century for the 1920s. 

Keleher authored some of the premier works on the Southwest: “Maxwell Land Grant,” 1942; “Fabulous Frontier,” 1945; “Turmoil in New Mexico, 1846-1968,” 1952; “Violence in Lincoln County,” 1957; and “Memoirs” 1969. “Memoirs” was republished as “New Mexicans I Knew,” in the early 1980s when UNM Press reissued all his earlier books.

That Keleher’s collection would find a home at UNM is not difficult to understand. All five of his children hold degrees from UNM as do several of his grandchildren. He received an honorary degree from the UNM Law School in 1968. He gave the birthday speech at the Alumni Chapel dedication on Feb. 28, 1962.

Rare Finds

The collection itself is represented in three parts. The first is primarily Southwestern history books and publications on New Mexico’s territorial era.  A leather bound copy of the original edition of “The Fabulous Frontier” is among the vast library of books.

The second part of the collection is Keleher’s correspondence, letters and files relating to his research interests, as well as the galley proofs for his books. 
“The history of the Maxwell Land Grand is outlined in those documents, complete with verifying statements and amplification,” William B. Keleher said.
A map of the land grant, produced in Denver in 1889 and measuring 24 inches by 30 inches, is also included.

The rest of the collection is an assortment of records, memorabilia, photographs, newspapers, pamphlets and more.

A scrapbook of Albuquerque business cards, advertising notions, dance cards and brochures from 1883-1903 are but a few of the rare items found in the collection. Included in the collections are invitations to social functions in Albuquerque in the 1930s and 40s, said Barnhart.

“A dinner menu from the 1939 opening of the Hilton Hotel and a thank-you letter from Elizabeth Taylor for a wedding gift are among the treasures,” she said.

After her retirement, Katherine McMahon, Southwest librarian for the Albuquerque Public Library for many years, catalogued many of the books. She told the family the collection was unique in that Keleher saved pamphlets and other publications that are usually pitched. A number of years ago, his widow hired Donald R. Lavash, retired historian and archivist with the New Mexico State Archives to process portions of the collection. 

William B. Keleher spent days following his mother’s death going through boxes identifying things that Lavash was unable to. Although Lavash thought the books and other materials could stand alone as a private collection, the heirs decided the solution was to have the collection placed centrally, at UNM.

Family Tales

Not only was the family surrounded by the mementos of their father’s connections and collections, but they also have some of the best stories to tell. More than one anecdote features the colorful New Mexico figure Elfego Baca (1865-1945). Baca was deputy and sheriff of Socorro County, practiced law, operated a detective agency and speculated in mining and real estate, among other ventures. Keleher was his attorney.

“One Sunday morning Elfego Baca came to the house demanding to see my father who was sick in bed,” recalled William B. Keleher. “Mom told him he was sick. Baca replied, ‘It’s important! It’s about Mrs. Baca [his wife].’” “Mom said, ‘Mr. Baca, I don’t see how that could be. You’ve killed several men. How could you be so intimidated?’ Mr. Baca shook his head and said, ‘You don’t know Mrs. Baca.’”

Five postcards signed by Baca, as well as Baca’s briefcase are part of the archive.

Now that the collection is at UNM, members of the Keleher family plan to spend more time reviewing the material. “Being available locally makes it accessible to family members,” said Keleher.

The children and the grandchildren aren’t particularly interested in the material now, but they will be later, said Keleher.

The history of the family and the state are connected through this archival collection. Keleher’s contributions will continue to be revealed as historians use the archive to develop a greater understanding of the history and the man.