History ETDs


Bryan W. Turo

Publication Date



An Empire of Dust' follows New Mexico's economic history from the arrival of merchant capitalism in the early nineteenth century to the maturation of a modern, state-oriented, capitalist economy by the 1920s. Within this scope, I investigate the economic life of Anglo-Missourian-turned-New-Mexico-robber-baron Thomas Benton Catron as well as the rise and then collapse of his land-based entrepreneurial empire. Catron was a lawyer, banker, businessman, and party politician, who entered the Territory of New Mexico in 1866, and who became entangled in its fate until his death in 1921. During the Gilded Age, Catron and his cohort employed the tools of the U.S. territorial system, the legal system, and corporate enterprise to consolidate and control millions of acres of New Mexico's private and communal land grants as well as vast stretches of the public domain. In the process, they alienated the majority population of Nuevomexicanos from their land and economic power base. But in the end, New Mexico land grants were poor investments. The speculators who bet on great profits from the monopolization of these properties generally met a red bottom line. Indeed, the failure of capitalists like Catron illuminates how and why much of New Mexico never transformed into the modern industrial landscape they desired. In this history of capitalism in the Hispano Borderlands of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, I scrutinize the modes of financial and corporate capitalism that powerfully transformed the region and then consider how and why Catron's particularly aggressive and speculative approach failed to impart prolonged development or a sustainable economy. Instead, New Mexico's story of economic modernization is one of dispossession, stagnation, and exploitation, propped up then, as now, by a federal landscape. 'An Empire of Dust,' therefore, directs scholarly attention toward an alternative story of American economic development in which failure, perhaps even more so than success, directed the local relationships with capitalism as it unfolded across the American Southwest.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Ball, Durwood

Second Committee Member

Smith, Jason Scott

Third Committee Member

Gonzales, Phillip B.



Document Type