Old West Saviors

Remember the Baca-Cowboy War?

Henry Martinez fights for an Elfego Baca museum.

Henry Martinez fights for an Elfego Baca museum.

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For most of his life, Henry Martinez had no idea he was part of history.

He grew up in the western New Mexico town of Reserve, population 336 today, where he thought not much important had ever happened. Like most kids, he left when he finished high school in 1964.

First the Air Force called to him, then he spent 25 years with the Social Security office in Phoenix, where he met and married Lori. They brought their two kids “home” to Reserve when he retired in 1992.

Henry ran a café for awhile and still owns and operates a gas station. He spent a lot of his time caring for Mom, who died last February, and Dad who is now 94 and needs a lot of help.

Henry had no idea his sleepy little town had been the centerpiece of one of the West’s most incredible gunfights. Or that the legendary story included a man named Epitacio Martinez who just happens to be Henry’s ancestor.

One day, New Mexico writer Howard Bryan came into the café and started talking about the book he was writing, The Incredible Elfego Baca; Henry was fascinated by the story he told. Then True West’s own Bob Boze Bell stopped by to chat, and he was all aflutter that Reserve didn’t have anything—not a plaque, not a hand-painted sign, not a spit on the floor—to mark the gun battle that took place there the last two days of October 1884.

Henry was not only sitting on a great big piece of Western history, but also his own family was part of it. So he began a seven-year quest to make sure everyone knows about Baca and the remarkable...

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