In 1991, at the suggestion of his wife Peaches, Eddie Gilbert moved to Santa Fe. A man once labeled as the boy-wonder of Wall Street, Gilbert had served two separate prison terms for financial crimes. But he found a less lawless life here, having established the BGK Group, which became the largest holder of commercial real estate in New Mexico. The twice-befallen financier reinvented himself in Santa Fe—the capital city of a state an 1876 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial called “the tag end of all that is objectionable in an imperfect civilization.”
These facts and more are documented in Mark Cross’s Encyclopedia of Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. It’s a regional encyclopedia that also serves as a snappy guide to the area’s gangsters, borrachos, outlaws, criminals, crooked politicians and kooks. “You can put yourself in interesting company for very little money” in Santa Fe, says Cross, himself a transplant from Virginia who works as a proofreader for the New Mexico Legislature. The result is an honest, tantalizing and truly informative history of the City Different that doesn’t read—in Cross’ words—like a real estate brochure.
Gilbert’s entry is just one of the many historical factoids that Cross has gathered as a hobby since his move here in 1996. The encyclopedia is at times informative, but more often it’s entertaining. “I want [readers] to recognize this place is unique,” Cross says. “I tried not to list every mayor or every fiesta queen.”
There’s an entry for the city of Española, the “Lowrider Capital of the World,” and right beneath it an entry for “Española Joke.” (“What do you call a man wearing a suit in Española? The defendant.”) You learn that gunslinger Billy the Kid vowed to “hitch my horse in front of the palace, and put a bullet through [then territorial governor] Lew Wallace” for not pardoning him, but died in a shootout with Sheriff Pat Garrett before he could carry out the threat. Cross included an entry for the West Side Locos, Santa Fe’s “most visible teenage gang,” and calls property crime in Santa Fe “a fact of life.”
Along with linguistic edification, of which there is much, entries include architectural abnormalities (most buildings here are actually faux adobe) local myths (the chupacabras, or “goatsucker,” is said to suck the blood from domestic animals) and food entries (the Five and Dime General Store on the Plaza sells more than 30,000 Frito pies each year).
Cross’ encyclopedia, released in April, hasn’t had nearly as prolific a sales volume, but he’s optimistic about his project, looking to release it in cities like Denver and Houston. Cross’ encyclopedia confirms that the Land of Enchantment might have been partly built on political “movidas” (secret moves). But it’s also a place for eccentrics, misfits and iconoclasts to retreat from the scum and dregs of the eastern establishment.
Gilbert, for instance, rebuilt his fortune and reputation; he ended up a law-abiding businessman who donated to charity.
“He just personifies the idea that you can reinvent yourself in Santa Fe,” Cross says.
This article is amended to reflect the following correction: territorial governor Lew Wallace declined to pardon outlaw Billy the Kid, not "Bill" Wallace, as previously reported.