The Uranium Capital
What do carrots, uranium, and Route 66 have in common? Well, they’re all things the town of Grants, New Mexico is known for. Last week, I visited Grants to meet with members of the community to discuss the influence of Route 66 on the Hispanic population. The town was first established as a railroad depot by the Grant brothers in the 1880’s, but it was settled long beforehand by the Laguna, Acoma, Zuni, and Navajo indigenous groups as well as Spanish settlers. The railroad and lumber industries would bring in the Anglo population from other parts of the United States, cementing this place as one of New Mexico’s most tri-cultural areas. Grants was once known as “the carrot capital of the world” – however, after Navajo shepherd Paddy Martinez discovered uranium in the area in 1950, the town because known for the 30-year uranium boom that followed.
The first step of my research in Grants was to visit the Mother Whiteside Public Library to speak with librarian Dixie Diaz and search through local histories. Diaz’s grandmother had built a house and business along Route 66 herself in the 20th century, and Dixie herself still lives there today. My supervisor Angelica and I – with Dixie’s help, of course – were able to write down a list of Hispanic names that were tied to commerce along Route 66 in Grants or to the town’s most powerful families. We discovered that while some of these families were more recent immigrants from Mexico, many of them were part of the Spanish Cebolleta Land Grant, issued long before New Mexico became a territory of the United States. It was fascinating to see how families who had occupied the area for hundreds of years were able to use developments like mining, the railroad, and Route 66 to advance their family’s position through a new way of life.
After leaving the public library, Angelica and I visited the New Mexico State University-Grants library to check out city directories from the years when Route 66 was active. I have been using these directories to complete data tables listing Hispanic business owners on the route throughout the years. Eventually, enough data will be able to tell us which families were most influential over time. As the last part of our visit, we spoke with Paul Milan, the Board Chairman of the Grants State Bank and member of the Cibola County Historical Society. At one point, his grandfather was one of the most prominent property owners in New Mexico and would go on to found the town of Milan, another Route 66 stopping point three miles away from Grants city limits. Milan was able to give us more names, as well as clarify which families were related to each other through years of inter-marriage. Overall, it was a very successful visit.