Janet Yagoda Shagam
Tammy Horn, in the introduction to her book Bees in America, states that “interactions between the beekeepers themselves” is a neglected area of research and the one she finds most intriguing. Like Horn, I too am fascinated with the ways everyday people can Mesilla Valley resident is an interesting example of a community-minded beekeeper.
Why Spatcier (1818-1898), who was born in Alsace-Lorraine, a region straddling the French/German border, settled in southern New Mexico is a mystery. But whatever the reasons may have been, it is apparent he was a welcomed and respected citizen, horticulturist and farmer.
Some of the first evidence that places Spatcier in the Mesilla Valley is a truly charming account of a discussion between a Las Cruces Sun Times reporter and Mr. Spatcier. In response to the reporter’s insistence that merely “N. Spatcier, Las Cruces” is not the most advantageous way to advertise the opening of “Spatcier’s General
Merchandise” store, Spatcier retorts, “Mr. Grand Mogal, I know every lady in the Mesilla Valley and I have kissed all – well, their babies.” On a different page, Spatcier is listed as one of several signatories on a petition to establish a new school district. So in addition to kissing – babies – he was a civic-minded individual.
La Flor del Valle, Spatcier’s 250- acre demonstration farm located about 35 miles west of Las Cruces, must have been a sight to behold as well as a honeybee heaven. In a first-hand account, the farm is described as having at least 100 acres sown in alfalfa with the remainder planted with approximately 6,000 grape vines, 2,000 fruit trees, as well as with assorted vegetables and herbs.
Spatcier’s ingenious irrigation system, one in which piped-in water replaced traditional flood irrigation methods, contributed to making La Flor de Valle an agricultural showpiece. This photograph of Spatcier in his apiary shows that, in addition to efficient irrigation practices, honeybees also contributed the farm’s success.
According to the Las Cruces Sun Times, the origins of Spatcier’s apiary were two hives he received from a Mr. Shirley. The reporter goes on to say that “the bees are said to be Italians and that the honey is said to be good.” This apparent neighborly relationship acknowledges the presence of other local beekeepers.
The statement, “the bees were said to be Italians,” is an interesting one. One would expect that beekeepers living in or near Las Cruces, by many standards a frontier town, would use feral queens to repopulate their hives. And of course, local honey tastes good!
Spatcier’s reputation extended far beyond the Mesilla Valley. Each year, his fruits and vegetables were prize-winning entries in the Territorial Fair held
in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1893, four varieties of Spatcier’s grapes took first place at the World’s Chicago-Columbian Exposition. The following year, he brought an exhibit of Mexican and Native American medicinal herbs to the New Orleans Exposition. As reported in the Las Cruces Sun Times, “all were labeled with their name and use – thus making the exhibit of interest to “eastern medical men.”
In 1890, Spatcier traveled to Washington DC to get permission from the United States Department of Agriculture to import five date palms from Egypt. Although it’s tempting to say that Spatcier introduced date palms to Las Cruces, we do not know if permission was granted or if the imported palms flourished in their new location. The trees we now see in and around Las Cruces are the desert fan palm – the only palm tree native to western North America.
In the twelve-plus years that Spatcier lived in Las Cruces, he proved himself to be a respected – though somewhat rakish – citizen, as well as a remarkable horticulturist and farmer. His demonstration farm introduced local farmers to new and improved agricultural practices, developed the local economy, and brought national recognition to the Mesilla Valley. Without question, Nathan Spatcier was a quiet hero whose dedication and efforts enriched the lives of the people living throughout the Mesilla Valley.
Janet Yagoda Shagam is a freelance medical and science writer as well as an avid beekeeper. She lives in Albuquerque with her husband and several cats. Be sure to ask about her grandchildren.
References: Various articles published in the Albuquerque Citizen, Las Cruces Sun Times and the Lordsberg Western Liberal between the years 1882 and 1898.
Article can be found in the NMBKA March 2015 Newletter