Janet Yagoda
Tales of New Mexico outlaws such as Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett paint territorial New Mexico (1850-1912) as a wild and untamed place. However, research shows that many territory of New Mexico pioneers were law-abiding citizens. In particular, beekeepers were required to abide by a strict code enforced not by a sheriff, but by the bee inspector.
In 1907, the 37th Legislative Assemble of the Territory of New Mexico approved House Bill Number 105 (H.B. No.105), to establish the Office of the Inspector of Bees as well as laws to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, such as foulbrood, between apiaries. An applicant seeking to become one of New Mexico’s five bee inspectors presented a written request to the chairman of their local Board of County Commissioners. To be considered, an applicant had to be an “actual” beekeeper as well as able to produce a list containing the names of the beekeepers living in his precinct.
Beekeepers who were aware of foulbrood either in their own or other apiaries were required to report the disease immediately. A conviction for failure to do so resulted in a fine of five dollars plus any other costs. According to historical economic data website MeasuringWorth, in today’s dollars that would be the same as receiving a $674 fine!
The responsibilities of the bee inspector were clearly delineated. Upon receiving notification of infected hives, he had to inspect each colony and hive as well as the honey, tools and other supplies for evidence of disease, and give the owner a written report of his findings. The owner was then required to carry out the inspector’s requirements within five days. This usually involved burning the hives and tools, as well as the equipment used to gather and process honey. The final step was to bury the charred remains at least two feet underground. Should beekeepers refuse to comply, constables, sworn in by a justice of the peace, could enter the property and, under the direction of the inspector, carry out these infection control practices.
However, before constables could destroy the apiary, they either read or sent a copy of an early 20th century version of today’s “Miranda Rights” to the offending beekeeper.
It is interesting to note that bee inspectors had to disinfect themselves, their clothing, and any implements before going to another apiary. During the mid-19th and early-20th century, many doctors and surgeons refused to wash their hands or use chemical disinfection – even in Vienna, then the epicenter of medical innovation. It is therefore remarkable that American territory pioneers 5,000 miles away from Vienna knew these simple precautions reduced the likelihood of spreading contagious disease. Consistent with contemporary public health standards, beekeepers could not sell, trade, or give away diseased hives, queens, or honey. Violators were subject to a fine of $50 to $100 ($6,749 to $13,480 in today’s money) or one to two months’ imprisonment in the county jail. Imagine the public outcry and lawsuits if similar legislation were passed today!
H.B. No. 105 also prevented beekeepers from resuming beekeeping activities until a bee yard was declared free of disease. Failure to wait until the final inspection resulted in a fine of $20 ($2,700) to $50 ($6,749) or one to two months’ imprisonment. Compare that to the ways many people today routinely try to circumvent various inspections!
More consistent with modern- day practices was the paperwork. Territory bee inspectors were required to submit an annual report to the Board of County Commissioners that included the number of colonies they inspected, the number of diseased colonies, the number of colonies destroyed by fire, and the amount paid to them for services and expenses for the preceding year. At least when it comes to bureaucracy, we can say with a sigh or a groan, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”


Originally posted in the NMBKA Newsletter, December 2014

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