The Birth of the Mesa

Our Summer Tony Hillerman post was written by Daejin Kim, the 2017-2018 Tony Hillerman Fellow. He has been working on scanning a posting a variety of Tony's magazine artcles this year, and did an excellent review of a work Hillerman published in the February, 1964 issue of New Mexico Magazine...

There have been major updates on the Tony Hillerman Portal with newly uploaded published works, informational resources, manuscripts, and photography collections. Thanks to the donations from Ms. Anne Hillerman and Jemez Springs Public Library, portal visitors can enjoy reading a variety of Tony Hillerman’s magazine articles ( including some of his early short stories and travel diaries, as well as reminiscences of his World War II experiences.

His fine-tuned description of Native American history and creativity in his ingenious Navajo mysteries originated from his comprehensive observation on the people and the landscape where they belong. One of his early magazine articles is titled “Birthday for a College,” published in the February, 1964 issue of New Mexico Magazine ( His description of the institution’s legendary history includes both broad and detailed observations, from the architecture to the political struggle for 75 years.

Hillerman described that the birth of the university was definitely not prosperous; the land was poor, the population was insufficient, and of course there were no teachers. The public school system was not organized since New Mexico was at that time only a territory of the United States. Before the legislative bill creating the university the only occupants of the land that UNM would eventually occupy were prairie dogs, coyotes and cows; a wagon trail led from Albuquerque to where “the center of learning with the center of civilization” emerged. Hillerman praises a number of the university’s founders: Bernard Rodey for his vision arguing the necessity of the institution, Dr. William George Tight for his design of the campus landscape, and other former presidents’ efforts to build the university system. He makes particular mention of Dr. Tight laboring on campus as a carpenter and mason. Also Dr. Zimmerman’s inspiration to bring rapid growth and expansion of the university, resulting in the great Zimmerman Library.

Hillerman’s words on the birth of the university are not merely information of how the university came to exist, but an appreciation for the people who dedicated themselves to a university which will stand for centuries. The lofty views of those who have contributed to the UNM have established a ground for people with academic excellence and developed inspiration as found in Hillerman’s imaginative novels as well as other academic works published here at UNM. In light of their achievements, how do we describe ourselves being at the university and working for academic careers? Hillerman himself wondered how Bernard Shannon Rodey might feel about the result of his efforts if he could stand at the top of Zimmerman library fifty-four years ago. What would Tony Hillerman think of the university if he could stand at the top of the Zimmerman library and tell us how it looks to him today?

Photo Credit – Hillerman, Tony. "Birthday for a College." New Mexico Magazine 42, no. 2 (1964): 2-7, 31.