Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Myra Ellen Jenkins



Honored June, 1986

Myra Ellen Jenkins

As state historian, teacher, scholar and friend, Myra Ellen Jenkins was an independent-thinking individual whose forthright opinions and feisty wit made an unforgettable impact on all those she met.

From 1960 until her retirement in 1980, she served as state archivist and as New Mexico's first state historian, making her reputation as the final authority on New Mexico history. Governor Bruce King called her "the most knowledgeable person in New Mexico about the state's history."

No ivory tower historian, "Dr. J." frequently served as expert historical witness who brought her knowledge of land grants into disputes on complex land and water rights issues entangled in three centuries of Spanish, Mexican, and American documents. Her 1974 book, A Brief History of New Mexico, co-authored with Al Schroeder, is still considered the most complete introduction to the state's history. A great defender and protector of New Mexico's heritage, she was responsible for keeping many documents within the state.

Born in 1916 and reared on a ranch in the Black Forest area near Colorado Springs, she earned two degrees in European history at the University of Colorado, then taught history in the public schools of Pueblo for ten years.

"I can't remember when I wasn't interested in history of some sort," she said. "My grandfather had brought across from England a set of English history books. I used to sit upstairs at the farm and pore through them by the hour." After earning her Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico's Latin American Institute, she worked for the Museum of New Mexico. In 1960 it fell to her to order the chaos of state historical documents. She rescued such priceless papers as the 1695 journals of Don Diego de Vargas, which had suffered water damage under a leaky roof in the Palace of the Governors.

"The first job was to clear out every cubbyhole, nook, and cranny of the old Roundhouse," she said. "Many documents had been put out for wastepaper."

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes