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Las Cruces in the 1950s: Jim Flanagan’s photo archive


Nestled away in the New Mexico State University Archives and Special Collections are more than 10,000 photographs shot by the late Jim Flanagan, who was a long-time Las Cruces resident.

Flanagan was born Aug. 20, 1912, in Junction City, Kansas, according to a report filed by Jim Eckles in White Sands Missile Range’s Hands “Across History” newsletter, Flanagan worked as a Geary County deputy sheriff in Junction City until he moved to Las Cruces in 1937. Flanagan worked briefly for the New Mexico National Guard and in 1938 married Amelia Moya, with whom he had four sons. Flanagan served with the 45th Infantry Division as a warrant officer during World War II and saw combat in Sicily, Italy, Eckles reported. Flanagan was seriously wounded in combat near Lauf, Germany, when the tank in which he was riding struck a mine. Everyone else aboard was killed.

Flanagan ran a Las Cruces gas station from, 1946-47, Eckles said. He served as a deputy in the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department 1949-59 and was chief deputy from 1955 until his resignation in September 1959. Flanagan served briefly as chief of the Las Cruces Police Department but resigned in February 1961 in a dispute over department pay, Eckles reported.

Flanagan was a competitive shooter, Eckles said, and for several years was rated the best all-around marksman in New Mexico and twice was national small-bore champion. He later ran a gun store in Las Cruces, Eckles said, served as consultant to an ammunition manufacturer and, in 1974, ran unsuccessfully for county sheriff.

Flanagan died in 1983 at age 71.

“I have fond memories of the gun store when I was a little kid,” said Las Cruces native and Bulletin Editor Jess Williams. “My dad used to take me down there for hours each Saturday, where Mr. Flanagan would hold court with a lot of the local gun enthusiasts, including my dad. I remember John Van Horn, Joe Mott, Pardner Tellyer, Frank Conway and others would congregate and swap stories. All these years later, if I get a whiff of Hoppe’s Number 9 Gun Oil, the first flashback is to that little gun shop on South Main Street, before the urban-renewal project.”

The photographs made by Flanagan offer “an incredible glimpse into the decade of the 1950s in Las Cruces,” said NMSU Archives and Special Collections Department Head Dennis Daily, who is curating the series for the Bulletin.

“The photographs are black and white and reminiscent of the film noir detective movies of that era – except these depict the real events,” Daily said. “He was a real proponent of the use of photography in police work.”

Flanagan also photographed a wide range of social and cultural activities throughout the area, including weddings, school pageants, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, parades, sporting events and portraits.

Flanagan made photographs of many local businesses, such as cafes, motels and gas stations, for advertisements that appeared in area newspapers.

“These photographs document our region’s vernacular architecture and constitute an interesting inventory of businesses operating here in the 1950s,” Daily said. Hundreds of aerial photographs show the development of Las Cruces.

Daly said he and his staff have scanned about 4,500 of Flanagan’s photographs, and about 1,500 are viewable online at www.lib.nmsu.edu/archives/rghc.html. Click on the “Search Photograph Collections” tab and enter “Flanagan” in the search box.