Record Staff Writer
Many states and communities maintain what might be considered funny laws on the books. For example, Roswell used to have an ordinance which set the speed limit for horses and carriages at eight miles an hour. How law enforcement was supposed to clock or enforce this speed limit is not mentioned.
Roswell also had an ordinance that prohibited women from going into any business that served alcohol and allowed gambling. While certain women’s reputations were protected by this ordinance, local historian Elvis Fleming noted that what was then known as bawdy houses were legal and they were taxed. He said it was one-time Roswell Mayor James Hinkle, who served from 1904-1906, who restricted bawdy houses to outside the city limits, which was the southeast corner of Virginia and Alameda, where Roswell’s bawdy house Emma’s Place did business.
These ordinances have been repealed, but on a state level New Mexico maintains some curious laws which remain on the books. It seems the protection of the more tender sex extended to other species.
This particular statute was enacted when New Mexico was still a territory in 1891. It states: “Hereafter it shall be unlawful for any person or persons, company or corporation to turn loose upon any common or public range in this state any she or female cattle unspayed and over the age of nine months without at the same time turning loose and keeping herded with the same, at the rate of at least one good bull, not less than nine months nor more than eight years old, of at least one-half pedigree stock, to every twenty head of such she or female cattle….” It further provides a definition of pedigree bull that omitted Texas or Mexican bulls.
Another statute prohibits “commuting sheep or goats,” meaning sheep or goats cannot be “transferred from New Mexico to some other state with which New Mexico shares a common boundary and back again or from some other state that shares a common boundary with New Mexico, to New Mexico and back again” without paying a fee. The law does have a practical purpose to ensure the health of the animal, but the phrasing brings images to mind of goats and sheep carpooling. Meanwhile, “Owners of commuting sheep or goats shall have them inspected for each movement. … If the owner of commuting sheep or goats transports them for a purpose other than regular commuting they shall, at that time, lose their special character of commuting sheep or goats.”
New Mexico also has laws about conduct offensive to public well-being that covers everything from the condition of cesspools to spitting on the sidewalk or inside any public and private buildings, such as stores, churches and even houses.
Few people will be shocked that getting together as a result of a challenge to a fight with deadly weapons is illegal; but many would be surprised to find that there is a specific law about dueling enacted as late as 1963. Dueling, issuing a challenge to, accepting a challenge, participating and aiding as a second is considered a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico.
To sing only part of the Star-Spangled Banner or Oh Fair New Mexico rather than sing the anthems in their entirety is also illegal and considered petty misdemeanor.
Some laws make one ponder why they became necessary. In 1891, a law was passed that said it was prohibited “to elect or appoint as mayordomo [ditch boss] of acequias or public road supervisor … [people who have] a notable malady, or who are demented or of unsound mind or who are lame either in one leg or both or one arm or both.”