BERNALILLO —It’s all there, you just need to know where to look.
Or who to ask. That would be Martha Liebert.
In this case, when you’re talking about the colorful history of Sandoval County, the DeLavy House probably contains the answers to your questions about the glorious history of one of New Mexico’s largest counties.
Liebert, who founded the Town of Bernalillo’s library in 1965, either knows the answer off the top of her head or can find it in the DeLavy House, once the home of artist Edmond DeLavy, who left the home to the society in his will.
Liebert lives in a home built in 1892 by famed Bernalillo merchant Nathan Bibo (1844-1927).
She oozes history, especially that which happened in the Bernalillo area.
Also sharing Liebert’s passion for the past is Sandoval County Historical Society President Lorraine Dominguez-Stubblefield, on hand for a recent tour of the DeLavy House.
"Together we make up the past and future," Liebert quipped.
Dominguez-Stubblefield, who has lived in Rio Rancho for more than three decades, also keeps Bernalillo close to her heart: She graduated from Bernalillo High School in 1967, when her interest in history began. "Tell me more," she remembers thinking during her days as a Spartan. "I was always intrigued."
She’s also proud to have been the first Sandoval County commissioner from the City of Vision, and later served the county for eight years as its assessor, and then eight years as its treasurer.
DeLavy House "is a people’s museum," Liebert said, meaning it’s not a museum containing display cases, it’s mostly a reference library. Sure, there are some paintings, "family trees" and historical items on its walls, but to really dig into the county’s history, you need to know where to look.
Bernalillo, dubbing itself Town of Coronado, is one of America’s oldest Spanish-American towns , given that "town" status in1696, more than 150 years after Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado marched through the Rio Grande Valley, seeking the "Seven Cities of Gold."
Liebert, the former librarian who worked her first eight years for free — the town library is officially the Martha Liebert Library — is the one who knows where to find everything in that building.
She was in on the ground floor when the Sandoval County Historical Society became incorporated as a non-profit corporation in 1977.
DeLavy (1916-89), also a philanthropist, willed his home and 2½ acres to the historical society. Born in Maine, he was a cowboy at heart, a U.S. military veteran who first visited New Mexico, driving his new Chevrolet, in 1947. He met famed author John Sinclair, curator at what is now the Coronado Historic Site, and Sinclair encouraged DeLavy to acquire nearby property under the Homestead Act and build there.
"In 1990, we got the house — it was a wonderful gift," Liebert said.
Since then, organizing exhibits and historical items and mementoes has "been a labor of love for a lot of people," Liebert said, adding that membership has grown to about 425 people.
She’s a native of North Dakota, with some New Mexican roots: "My husband’s grandfather was a merchant in Taos during the Civil War; he ran the meat supply to Elizabethtown," long a ghost town in northern New Mexico.
After all, not many people can speak authoritatively about Sandoval County, especially when it comes to a few ABCs:
• Albemarle: Gold and silver bullion bricks, valued at $3,000 each, were cast every six days in the late 1890s and hauled to Domingo, and from there shipped by rail to the U.S. Mint in Denver.
• Bland: Two lost prospectors discovered gold here in 1894, when the town was initially called Eagle. Bland, now a ghost town with not much left, was in a steep and narrow canyon. The town name became Bland in honor of "Silver Dick" Bland, a Democratic nominee for U.S. president in 1896. By 1900, Bland was a wild, raw hardworking town where 1,500 men were employed by the mines, mills and sawmills. The town had two banks and its own newspaper, the Bland Herald.
• Cabezon: Spanish Colonial settlers enjoyed decades of good farming, until driven out of the valley in 1768 by the Navajos. The Montoya family re-established Cabezon, west of Rio Rancho and south of Cuba (you can see Cabezon Peak from here) in 1872, and sheep became the most-profitable "crop." Cabezon, which had a stage coach stop nearby, at one time had four stores, four saloons and three dance halls, plus a church, school and a post office.
Despite the rich history of the county, Liebert and Dominguez-Stubblefield are proudest of the newest society project, the pictorial memorial hanging in the county courthouse.
Officially dedicated in late May, the memorial — two years in the making — features more than 5,700 names and more than 1,500 photos of Sandoval County residents who served in the military from the Civil War through Vietnam.
That memorial includes who are believed to be the nation’s first "G.I. Janes," Native American women (from the area of Torreon and Ojo Encino) Mexicana Chiquito and Muchacha, who in 1866 served as U.S. Army scouts — early day Special Forces — a finding recently certified by the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Liebert and Dominguez-Stubblefield were grateful to the county commission for some financial help and permission for the exhibit to be in the atrium of the courthouse.
The society continues to collect and tell stories through its exhibits, monthly lectures, books, workshops, maps, photos of the last 100 years, drawings and pictorials of families’ genealogies, and anyone wishing to contribute such items should call Liebert at 867-2755.
• Sandoval County Historical Society meetings are held the second Sunday of each month, except for July and August.
• Coronado Historic Site meetings are held the third Sunday of each month.
For more information, visit sandovalhistory.org.