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New Mexico License Plates Registered to

Famous People

(& a few Notorious People)


 When thinking of famous New Mexicans, the state’s governors naturally come to mind but there are other candidates for this title who are arguably even more famous than any of her governors. (But please see the Governor page for photos of many of their plates.)

Illustrated below are plates that were registered to a few of New Mexico’s very famous citizens, as well as the license plate registration information for other people whose license plates are found in the registration records but for which the plates themselves have not yet been found.

Conrad Hilton

Photographed at his new hotel in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1969

Conrad Nicholson Hilton, Sr., arguably the world’s most famous and successful hotelier, was born December 25, 1887, in San Antonio, New Mexico Territory, to Augustus Halvorsen Hilton, a Norwegian immigrant, and Mary Genevieve Laufersweiler of Fort Dodge, Iowa. Augustus established the A.H. Hilton Mercantile in San Antonio, a combination general store and 10-room hotel where Conrad worked for his father before moving to and buying the first hotel of his own in Cisco, Texas in 1919.

Below are examples from New Mexico’s early motor vehicle registration records showing automobiles registered to Conrad and to the mercantile business. None of the associated license plates are known to survive today, but there is always the chance that one or more of them may eventually surface.

Year    Plate    Description
1912      887     Hilton, C. N., San Antonio, Ford touring car, s/n 157773
1913      887     Hilton, C. N., San Antonio, Ford touring car, s/n 157773
1914      537     Hilton, C. N., San Antonio, Ford touring car, s/n 224220
1914      628     Hilton Mercantile Co., San Antonio, Ford touring car, s/n 224223
1915    1451     A.H. Hilton Mercantile Co., San Antonio, Ford touring car, s/n 224226
1915    1635     A.H. Hilton Mercantile Co., San Antonio, Ford touring car, s/n 224214
1915    4619     A.H. Hilton Mercantile Co., San Antonio, Dodge touring car, s/n 26612
1916    3844     A.H. Hilton Mercantile Co., San Antonio, Ford touring car, s/n 224226
1918    2550     A.H. Hilton Merc. Co., San Antonio, 59720, Dodge
1918  11849     A.H. Hilton, Socorro, s/n 616196864(?), Ford.
1920    1388     Dodge touring car, s/n 59720, A.H. Hilton Merc. Co., San Antonio
1923    1388 (plate) 15220 (tab) 1916 Dodge touring car, s/n 59720, A. H. Hilton Merc., Co., San Antonio.

For more on Conrad Hilton, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conrad_Hilton

and his autobiography:

Be My Guest, Prentice Hall, 1958

 

Mabel Sterne

Carl Van Vechten photo, 1934

Mabel Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (née Ganson), February 26, 1879 – August 13, 1962, was a wealthy and four-times-married philanthropist and patron of the arts and literature. Sterne was best known for her support of the art colony at Taos, New Mexico. She was recently divorced from her third husband, Maurice Sterne, when in 1922 she first registered her new 1922 Buick touring car (serial #4803299) and received the license plate #31933 illustrated here, albeit with a 1922 registration seal (tab) on it. The plate is shown in this photo after the car’s registration was renewed in 1923, receiving the 1923 renewal seal #7542. The registration is recorded on p. 280 of New Mexico’s 1923 motor vehicle registration records, a portion of which is shown in the accompanying photo below.


For more information on Mabel Sterne, see:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabel_Dodge_Luhan
https://biography.yourdictionary.com/mabel-dodge-luhan
and her four-volume autobiography, Intimate Memories, published serially 1933-1937.

 

1923 license plate of Mabel Sterne

 

Closeup of 1923 Revalidation Tab on Mabel Sterne’s license plate.

 

Portion of p. 280 of the 1923 New Mexico motor vehicle registration records showing registration of the above license plate #31933 and it's 1923 seal (tab) #7542

 

 

Georgia O'Keeffe

next to rear window of what is believed to be her Model A Ford




Famed artist Georgia O’Keeffe first came to New Mexico in about 1929, spending part of each year here before moving to the state permanently in 1949. During the twenty years that she was a part-time visitor she frequently stayed with Mabel Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (see above). Reports from the time state that she explored the state in a Ford Model A, in search of scenery which she would incorporate into her paintings. As yet we have not found her name in any of the New Mexico motor vehicle registration records of the time, but unless the vehicle belonged to another person it would have had to have been registered here, even if already registered in another state. If you know of any photographs showing her car and license plate(s), please contact us.

Much has been written about Georgia O’Keeffe and a good place to start is here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_O%27Keeffe

 

 

License Plates Registered to Other Famous (and Infamous) New Mexicans

 

Albert Bacon Fall

Dept. of Interior photo.

 

Owner of a ranch at Three Rivers, New Mexico, Albert Fall became one of New Mexico’s first two U.S. Senators shortly after statehood was achieved in 1912. He was subsequently reelected in 1918, but resigned in March 1921 to accept appointment as U.S. Secretary of the Interior in the Warren G. Harding administration. During his tenure he became embroiled in what came to be known as the Teapot Dome Scandal, when it was revealed that he had granted oil drilling leases to two of his friends, enabling them to extract huge amounts of oil from the strategic Naval Petroleum Reserves at Elk Hills and Buena Vista, California, and Teapot Dome, Wyoming. In exchange for granting the leases, Fall received bribes in the amount of $385,000, equivalent to about $5,875,000 today. Fall was charged with bribery but not until 1929 was he tried, convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.

Listed below are the vehicles registered to Fall and his wife before and after he took the bribes, showing them driving a Franklin, Ford and Dodge before taking the bribes, and a pair of Cadillacs after pocketing the money. None of these license plates are known to survive today but it wouldn’t be surprising to find some of them in the hands of collectors who have no idea of their provenance.

For more about Albert B. Fall, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_B._Fall
and the following books:
Tempest over Teapot Dome, David H. Straton, 1998.
The Teapot Dome Scandal, Laton McCartney, 2008.

Year  Plate  Description
1920: 13100 Franklin touring car, s/n F33901 Mrs. A.B. Fall, Three Rivers.
1920: 15701 Ford touring car, s/n 3728407 Albert B. Fall, Three Rivers.
1922: 33125 1920 Dodge touring car, s/n 755155, Albert B. Fall, Three Rivers.
1924: 21115 Mrs. A. B. Fall, Three Rivers, 1924 Cadillac, s/n 63B1252
1924: 27969 Albert B. Fall, Three Rivers. 1923 Cadillac touring car, s/n 63A266.
1926: 30307 Albert B. Fall, Three Rivers, 1923 Cadillac touring car, s/n 63A266, 4280 lbs.
1926: 30308 Mrs. A. B. Fall. Three Rivers, 1923 Cadillac sedan, s/n 63B1252, 4480 lbs.
1926: 40249 Albert B. Fall, Three Rivers, 1926 Dodge sedan, s/n A585660, 2811 lbs.
1927: 24479 Mrs. A. B. Fall, Three Rivers, 1923 Cadillac sedan, s/n 63B1252, 4480 lbs.
1927: 27685 A. B. Fall, Three Rivers, 1923 Cadillac touring car, s/n 63A266, 4280 lbs.
1927: 27686 A. B. Fall, Three Rivers, 1926 Dodge sedan, s/n A585660, 2811 lbs.

 

Oliver M. Lee



Courtesy David L. Minton.



Oliver Lee, an associate of Albert B. Fall, was a rancher who lived in the vicinity of Alamogordo and was notorious for cattle rustling, and as many said, murder. After he was charged with the killing of Henry Fountain, the young son of Albert Jennings Fountain of Las Cruces, Albert Fall became his defense attorney and secured Lee’s acquittal.

Two motor vehicle registrations are found associated with Lee. It is not clear from the registration records if Lee and Lee, Jr. are the same person, or if Jr. is a son:

Year
Plate  Description

1920 14888 Oliver Lee, Jr., Alamogordo, s/n 247819, Buick Speedster.
1923 38065 1922 Buick roadster, s/n 945146, Oliver Lee, Alamogordo.


More about Lee can be found at the following link, which also references several books with more exhaustive histories:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Lee_(New_Mexico_gunfighter)

 

 

Elfego Baca 

Born in Socorro, New Mexico in 1865, Elfego Baca, at the age of 20 became a self-appointed lawman, and later an officially appointed peace officer serving as sheriff of Socorro County. But he was also described by many as a notorious extrajudicial gunman. Admitted to the bar at the age of 29, he practiced law for a number of years before turning to politics. His long and storied life has been documented in books and film, a partial bibliography of which will be found in a Wikipedia article at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elfego_Baca

While Baca is a common family name, his given name Elfego is quite the opposite. Nonetheless, between 1914 and 1938 we find a surprising number of vehicle owners in the state records under the name of Elfego Baca. In the list below we have eliminated those which we believe cannot possibly be Elfego the lawman and kept the remainder.

Year Plate  Description
1918 11444 Elfego Baca, Socorro, s/n 14873, Cole.
1920   9467 Ford touring car, s/n 122917 Elfego Baca, Box X, Socorro.
1920 17214 Saxon roadster, Elfego Baca, Socorro.
1934   9759 Elfego Baca, Albuquerque, 1925 Ford sedan, s/n11077087, Min
1936 62389 Elfego Baca, Albuquerque, 1929 Whippet sedan, s/n 96A385578, Min
1938 68389 Elfego Baca, Albuquerque, 1934 Chevrolet coach, s/n M120544, 2515 lbs.  

    

Peter Hurd

American painter Peter Hurd, widely known for his paintings of vast New Mexico landscapes, was born in Roswell, New Mexico Territory, in 1904. After graduating from New Mexico Military Institute in 1921 he received an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point, but resigned after two years to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Upon completion of his studies he spent several years as a student of painter N.C. Wyeth in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and ultimately married Wyeth’s daughter Henriette in 1929. Not long thereafter Peter and Henriette moved to San Patricio, New Mexico, about 50 miles west of Roswell, where they spent the remainder of their lives, both of them as accomplished and renowned painters.

A brief but informative biography of Hurd can be found at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Hurd

Several of Hurd’s vehicles are found in the registration records from 1935 to 1938. It is unclear why the 1936 Dodge truck is shown with an address of San Patricio in 1936 and 1938, but with an address of Chadds Ford (Pennsylvania) in 1937.
 
Year Plate  Description
1935 67475 Pete Hurd, Roswell, 1931 Chevrolet pheaton, s/n 2935119, 2610 lbs.
1936 36250 Peter Hurd, Roswell, 1931 Chevrolet, pheaton, s/n 293511.9, 2610 lbs.
1936 20679 Peter Hurd, San Patricio, 1936 Dodge truck, s/n T1211560, 1935 lbs.
1937 19915 Peter Hurd, Chadds Ford, 1936 Dodge, truck, s/n T1211560, 1935 lbs.
1938     841 Peter Hurd, San Patricio, 1936 Dodge truck, s/n T1211560, 1935 lbs.
1938 24665 Peter Hurd, San Patricio, 1938 Chevrolet Suburban truck, s/n K1401428, 2200 lbs.  

   

Dr. Romano Trotsky

aka Dr. Romano Lukian

Austin, Texas Police Department photo


In April 2021 NMplates was contacted by an individual hoping to find a solution to a 1938 cold case double homicide wherein a California socialite and her adult daughter were murdered near Van Horn, Texas, as they were traveling by car to visit relatives on the east coast. Several persons were considered suspects, but Dr. Romano Trotsky of Las Cruces was seen as the primary one. Trotsky was a Russian who was in the U.S. illegally, passing himself off as a doctor who had graduated from medical school in Russia. U.S. authorities, however, believed he was a charlatan and a quack. Several times arrested and several times deported, Trotsky was known to have gone by more than twenty aliases, most frequently using the name Romano Lukian. He also had a particular fondness for Cadillacs, having owned several of them, all either stolen or bought with hot checks.

The 1938 case file on the murders (which still exists) contains a witness statement that a Cadillac bearing 1938 New Mexico license plate #4371 was seen near the murder scene at about the time the women went missing. Some months earlier an individual by the name of Dr. George Hill Hodel had placed an ad in the Albuquerque Journal to sell his 1932 Cadillac V12 convertible coupe. The questions being asked were (1) was Dr. Hodel (who was believed to be acquainted with Trotsky) involved in the murders?, (2) did Trotsky buy Hodel’s 1932 Cadillac?, (3) to whom was the 1938 license plate #4371 registered?

The following entries were found in the 1938 Registration records:
Year Plate   Description
1938      73   G. Hill Hodel, Gallup, 1932 Cadillac coupe, s/n 1301524, 5125 lbs.
1938  4371   James Constant, Santa Fe, 1937 Pontiac coach, s/n 6602160, weight 3265 lbs.
1938 43718  Romano Lukian, Las Cruces, 1929 Cadillac roadster, s/n 336814, 4625 lbs.
 
From this information we see that the Cadillac that Hodel had for sale was registered with 1938 plate #73. At that time, the plate went with the car when sold, which would eliminate it as the one spotted near the scene of the crime.

Plate #4371 belonged to James Constant of Santa Fe for a 1937 Pontiac coach, and there is no reason to believe that this person or his car were in any way involved. (From other sources it was learned that Constant was employed as a surveyor.)

But now we come to Romano Lukian, Trotsky’s main alias, in Las Cruces and owning a 1929 Cadillac roadster. Moreover, the license plate number is 43718, identical to that in the witness statement except for one extra digit at the end. The odds of this being a coincidence are one in 10,000. From this we can conclude that there may have been a transcription error when taking the witness statement, or perhaps the witness failed to recall the last digit, and that Trotsky’s, aka Lukian’s, Cadillac was likely the one seen by the witness.

This does not solve the cold case, but it does heap even more suspicion on Trotsky.

There are two very detailed books on the case, which come to different conclusions as to who the murderer was:

Fetch the Devil, Clint Richmond, 2014
In the Mesquite, Steve Hodel, 2019  

 

Bob Martin

Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands, late 1940s
Courtesy Ana Pacheco

Robert H. “Bob” Martin, 1921-2005, studied photography at Chicago’s Institute of Design and the Winona School of Professional Photography in Indiana before becoming an official photographer for the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in 1946. In this capacity he photographed and documented countless nuclear tests in the Pacific and other locations around the world for the government, with his work also appearing in National Geographic and other magazines. 


The battered 1951 license plate shown here, said to have been issued to Martin for his automobile in that year, was donated to the New Mexico Transportation History Project in the early 2000s.

Read more about Bob Martin at:

https://historyinsantafe.com/robert-h-martin-manhattan-project-photographer

and:

https://www.genlookups.com/nm/webbbs_config.pl/noframes/read/227 (scroll down) 

    

  

John W. McHugh
(1918-1995)

Though not as widely known as Georgia O’Keeffe and her contemporaries, John McHugh was an accomplished artist and architect based in Santa Fe, and is perhaps best remembered for designing the Santa Fe Opera House. His 1955 Studebaker station wagon had been registered from 1961, and continuing through 1962, with license plate #1-16665. We don’t have a photo of either the Studebaker or its license plate, but we do have his 1962 registration certificate and accompanying 1962 validation sticker which, for reasons unknown, was never put on the plate.

    

 

Fern Sawyer



1985 photo, age 68. Courtesy David L. Minton.

In the tiny settlement of Buchanan, New Mexico, not far from the only slightly larger burg of Yeso, Fern Sawyer was born on May 17, 1917 to Uyless Devoe Sawyer and Dessie Lewis Sawyer. Soon thereafter the family moved to Crossroads, NM, where they established what was to become the 25,000 acre S-rafter-W ranch. Working cattle alongside professional ranch hands, Fern developed into an expert cowgirl before she was a teenager and began participating in the professional rodeo circuit. She amassed countless cutting horse, calf roping and other championships, not just in New Mexico, but throughout the U.S. At the age of 21 she was named the 1938 World Champion All Around Cowgirl at Madison Square Garden in New York City, with many more accolades awarded over the coming years. She was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (1976), National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum (1976), National Cutting Horse Association Members Hall of Fame (1985), National Rodeo Hall of Fame (1991), and the Western Heritage Museum & Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame (1995). Fern Sawyer, one of the most famous rodeo cowgirls of all time died unexpectedly on October 16, 1993, at the age of 76 while visiting friends at Blanco, Texas. See more information about Fern Sawyer on the Vanity and Car Photos pages. On the latter page, click on the 1993 link.

 

1973 plate courtesy National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, TX. All rights reserved.


Two of Fern Sawyer’s several vanity plates bearing her name that were registered to her car in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

 

Harrison Schmitt

NASA photo.

Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt from Silver City, New Mexico, was a NASA astronaut and geologist who on December 11, 1972, landed on the Moon with Astronaut Eugene Cernan. Of the three days their Lunar Module was on the Moon, they spent a total of 22 hours outside, exploring the surface on an electrically powered rover that carried them a total of 19 miles while traveling from each exploration site to the next.

Schmitt resigned from NASA on August 30, 1975, to begin a campaign for election as a Republican candidate to represent New Mexico in the United States Senate. Upon election he served one term, from 1976 to 1982. After leaving the Senate he autographed his 1982 N.M. United States Senator license plate and gave it to long-time ALPCA member Michael Wiener.

For more about Harrison Schmitt, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Schmitt

Harrison Schmitt's autographed 1982 New Mexico U.S. Senator license plate.

 

 

   

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