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Erna Fergusson Papers

Identifier: MSS-45-BC

Scope and Content

The Erna Fergusson Papers consist of personal papers, including journals, notebooks, scrapbooks, correspondence, and business and family records; literary and professional correspondence (correspondence is also found with related manuscript materials); lectures and travel notes; manuscript and published materials; research materials; and scrapbooks. Of particular interest are the research materials relevant to Albuquerque and New Mexico, particularly concerning individuals and families as well as history and tourism. The five series comprising the collection are described further described below:


  • 1846-1964


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.


Erna Fergusson, noted journalist, author and lecturer, was born into a family of distinguished ancestry in Albuquerque, NM on January 10, 1888. Although she traveled widely, she maintained a permanent residence in Albuquerque, and she passed away in that city on July 30, 1964. She always felt a strong commitment to her native state; thus her contributions to New Mexico and to its people were significant and enduring.

Fergusson's mother was Clara Mary Huning, a daughter of Franz and Ernestine Huning. (Although she later shortened her name, Erna was named after her grandmother.) Her grandfather, Franz Huning, had arrived in New Mexico in 1853. He settled in the Rio Grande Valley, making Albuquerque his permanent home, and he participated in the development of the area, particularly after the coming of the railroad in 1880. Erna's father, Harvey Butler Fergusson, was the son of a Confederate Army officer who had served on the staff of General Robert E. Lee. Fergusson came to New Mexico in 1882 as a young lawyer representing a client of his Wheeling, West Virginia firm. Clara Huning and Harvey Fergusson were married in 1887.

Erna Fergusson spent her childhood days in and out of the Huning Castle built on her grandfather's 700-acre tract of land. A part of her childhood was also spent in Washington, D.C., where her father was a delegate to Congress. He had been elected from New Mexico to the Fifty-Fifth Congress, in which he served from March 1897 until March 1899. (He was successful in obtaining the passage on June 21, 1898, of the Fergusson Act, an important statute which granted to New Mexico four million acres of public domain in trust for the use and benefit in perpetuity of the common schools of New Mexico.) He also later served, from January 1912 until March 1915, as a member of the Sixty-Second Congress.

After having completed one year of preparatory work at both the University of New Mexico (1904) and the Collegiate School in Los Angeles (1905), Erna Fergusson was graduated in 1906 from Central (Albuquerque) High School. She then embarked on a teaching career in the Albuquerque Public Schools. She returned to the University of New Mexico, where she obtained a Bachelor of Pedagogy degree in 1912. After receiving a master's degree from Columbia University in 1913, she taught school in Chatham Hall, Virginia and again in the Albuquerque Public Schools.

With the advent of World War I, Fergusson joined the American Red Cross as Home Service Secretary and Staff Supervisor for New Mexico. In that capacity, she traveled all over New Mexico by train, automobile, horseback, and on foot during 1918 and 1919. With the war at an end, Erna did not return to teaching, but instead went to work as a reporter for The Albuquerque Herald.

While working on the Herald, Fergusson formed a partnership in the "dude wrangling business" with Ethel Hickey, at one time a faculty member of the University of New Mexico. From 1922 to 1927 the two women operated a tour company known as "Koshare Tours," which guided tourists to the Indian Pueblos in New Mexico and to the Navajo and Hopi reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. Later on, when the Santa Fe Railway began its Indian Detour Service, Fergusson was employed to organize and direct the Detour couriers. During this period of time, Fergusson, already steeped in the lore New Mexico through reading Bandelier, Lummis, and others, began a serious study of the three cultures--Indian, Spanish, and Anglo--which would later be reflected in her writings.

In 1925 Witter Bynner, the poet, introduced Fergusson to Alfred Knopf, a New York publisher. Interested in Fergusson's conversation about Indians and Indian dances, Knopf encouraged her to write a book about her experiences. As a result, Dancing Gods was published by Knopf in 1931. Her book was so successful that it brought Fergusson national recognition as an authority on the Southwest, and it was republished in 1957 by the University of New Mexico Press.

During the next thirty years, Erna Fergusson wrote a number of books reflecting her travels in the Southwest and in Latin America. Several were published by Knopf and others by Armitage Editions and the University of New Mexico Press. After Dancing Gods, she turned her attention to Latin America with Fiesta in Mexico (1934), Guatemala (1937), and Venezuela (1939). A book about the local region, Our Southwest (1940), was followed within the decade by Our Hawaii (1942), Chile (1943), Cuba (1946), Albuquerque (1947), and Murder and Mystery in New Mexico (1948). The latter, which contained illustrations by Peter Hurd, was dedicated to Erna's father, Harvey B. Fergusson. Published in the 1950s were the children's books, Let's Read About Hawaiian Islands (1950) and Hawaii (1950) as well as a second book on Mexico, Mexico Revisited (1955). New Mexico: A Pageant of Three Peoples, first published in 1951, was reissued in 1964. Her Mexican Cookbook (1934), a book of New Mexican recipes, was revised in 1940 and has gone through several printings.

Fergusson's books and articles reveal her ability to write on a wide range of subjects related to the Southwest and to Latin America. She was a hard-working journalist; she read widely before traveling to the places she wrote about, although her material was basically what she saw and heard. Her last book on the Southwest, New Mexico: A Pegeant of Three Peoples, stands as one of her best. It represents the culmination of a lifetime of living in, traveling about, and studying her home state with an affectionate but often critical mind.

Erna Fergusson's contributions to the community were many. She participated actively in civic projects that spanned environmental concerns to the preservation of New Mexico's cultural heritage. Throughout the years, she also demonstrated her loyalty and support for programs and activities at the University of New Mexico. That institution awarded her an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in 1943.


14 boxes + 93 scrapbooks + oversize folder


Arranged in six series.
  1. Personal Papers (correspondence, journals, notebooks, card files, household records and receipts, and business and family records (Boxes 1 - 4)
  2. Literary and Professional Correspondence (Box 5)
  3. Lectures and Travel Notes (Box 6)
  4. Research and Manuscript Materials (Boxes 7 - 14)
  5. Scrapbooks, inclusive dates 1871-1960 (93 volumes)
  6. Oversize

Detailed Finding Aid

An earlier, more detailed finding aid to the Erna Fergusson papers is also available for browsing.

Related Material

Harvey Butler Fergusson Papers Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Huning-Fergusson Family Papers Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico T. M. Pearce Papers Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Women in New Mexico Collection Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Albuquerque and New Mexico Pamphlet Collection Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Southwest Travel Literature Collection Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Ernie Pyle Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Haniel Long Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Robert Gish Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Albuquerque Historical Society Records Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico William A. Keleher Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico

Separated Material

Photographs have been transferred to the Erna Fergusson Photograph Collection.

Relevant Secondary Sources

  • Fergusson, Harvey, Home in the West: An Inquiry into My Origins. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1945.
  • Fisher, Irene, "Erna Fergusson," Albuquerque Review (February 8, 1962).
  • Keleher, William A., "Erna Fergusson," The Historical Society of New Mexico Hall of Fame Essays (Albuquerque, 1965).
  • Powell, Lawrence Clark, "First Lady of Letters," New Mexico Magazine, XL (March 1962).
  • Remley, David A., Erna Fergusson. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn Co., 1969.
  • Woodward, Dorothy, "Erna Fergusson," New Mexico Quarterly, XXII (Spring 1952).
Finding Aid of the Erna Fergusson Papers, 1846-1964
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Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 45 BC::Erna Fergusson Papers)//EN" "nmu1mss45bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131