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Graduate Students to Present Santa Fe Trail History at Conference

March 8, 2021

photo of Luke Ritter

Luke Ritter

Las Vegas, New Mexico – Three New Mexico Highlands University graduate students will present their research at the 63rd Annual Missouri Conference on History March 12 at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

The three students are part of a virtual panel titled, “Stories from the Santa Fe Trail: Migrants, Jews and Painted Ladies.”

Luke Ritter, a Highlands University American history professor, will chair the Santa Fe Trail history panel at the conference and comment upon the students’ research.

“The students have uncovered exciting stories about the experiences of American migrants, European Jews and prostitutes in towns along the Santa Fe Trail, including Las Vegas, Fort Union, Loma Parda and Santa Fe,” Ritter said. “The papers our students will present are the result of rigorous new research that sheds light upon the era of westward expansion in the Southwest United States in the 19th century.”

The public may register for the history conference, including the March 12 Zoom session for the Santa Fe Trail panel, by using this link: https://mch.shsmo.org There is a $10 fee for those who register as an undergraduate or graduate student.

Laura Gonzales – An M.A. candidate in public affairs, will present a research paper titled, “Caves, Cribs and Cathouses: Frontier Prostitution in the Southwest.”

Ritter said Gonzales’ research explores the complex role of prostitution at Fort Union, a military garrison and the largest supply depot in the Southwest in the 19th century. Gonzales’ research investigates the social hierarchy of the prostitution business, the conditions behind entering the sex trade, and the dangers and hardships that accompanied the work. Fort Union is a national monument north of Las Vegas.

Billie G. Matthews – An M.A. candidate in southwest studies, will present a research paper titled, “Free Land for Missouri Families in Territorial New Mexico.”

Ritter said Matthews research focuses upon a group of Missouri families who pursued the promise of “free land” by moving to Cherryvale in San Miguel County in Territorial New Mexico in the early 1900s. The families came in search of expanding their horizons as farmers. The Homestead Act of 1862 created opportunities to acquire “free land” for dry-land farming and ranching.

Stephen Beauchamp – An M.A. candidate in public affairs, will present a research paper titled, “Jewish Immigrants and the Transformation of Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1849 – 1957.”

Ritter said Beauchamp’s research focuses upon the European Jews who arrived in Las Vegas beginning in the 19th century and became an essential presence until the middle of the 20th century. They influenced the cultural, political and economic development of New Mexico. The Jews who were merchants in Las Vegas in this time frame transformed the small Hispanic town into a hub of commerce.

Ritter joined the Highlands University faculty fall semester 2020. He earned his Ph.D. in history from St. Louis University in Missouri with a focus upon American history.

“I specialize in the history of immigration to the U.S. during the 19th century,” Ritter said.

Ritter is the author of the 2020 book, Inventing America’s First Immigration Crisis: Political Nativism in the Antebellum West.”

“This book  illuminates the cultural, economic, and political issues that originally motivated American nativism – hostility to foreigners – during the mid-19th century. This study offers valuable insight into the history of nativism in U.S. politics and sheds light on present-day concerns about immigration, particularly the role of anti-Islamic appeals in recent elections,” Ritter said.

At Highlands, Ritter teaches courses such as U.S. History Survey, Civil War and Reconstruction Era and American Presidency.