May 16, 1921: Letter From John W. Weeks to Honorable Merrit C. Mechem

Victoria Castillo
5 min readMar 12, 2021

After applying the PAPER method of evaluating primary sources to the informational letter from Secretary of War John W. Weeks to the 1921 Governor of New Mexico, Merrit C. Mechem, I identified the following elements:


The author is John W. Weeks, the Secretary of War for the president’s cabinet at the time. That position was actually abolished in 1947 and we now have a Secretary of Defense which has similar responsibilities.

The purpose of the document was to inform the governor of the medical findings in regard to the drug tests given to the soldiers of the 24th Infantry. These drug test were administered due to a claim that the soldiers of color were abusing illegal drugs. This would obviously be an issue if the claim were true because the soldiers would then be engaging in illegal activities which is grounds for discharge and possible legal repercussions.

The thesis, the theory being proved, can be summed up in the opening sentence. That sentence is actually the only sentence written by the author personally.


The text is trying to inform the governor of the medical findings that came from the Surgeon of the Station Hospital at Columbus, New Mexico. The statement made by the Surgeon indicates that the claims made against the 24th Infantry are incorrect for the majority of the soldiers. Less than .001% of the soldiers actually tested positively for illegal drugs and evidence showed they had actually been using before enlistment, according to the Surgeon’s statement. The text makes it’s case by getting the statement of a medical professional and his interpretation of medical data.

The intended audience is the Governor of New Mexico in 1921 and the New Mexico government by proxy.

A concern that the author does not clearly state in this document is the strain between the people of color in Columbus, New Mexico, specifically the people of color associated with the 24th Infantry, and the caucasian members of town there. I can draw that conclusion based on the very nature of the situation the letter is addressing, illegal drug use among the soldiers of color, which would naturally be a concerning scenario for members of a town with visitors. That conclusion can also be drawn from the information in the accompanying documents.

One would assume that the author is credible due to his position in society. That does not go without saying that members of a countries government are immune to being corrupt. Assuming Weeks is maintaining his professional bearing, I would find the author to have credibility.


The values and ideas of the author, with my limited knowledge, seem to be that he was in support of the troop in the infantry. When the integrity of the unit was in question, Weeks would respond in a supportive manner toward the 24th Infantry. The addressed party, Governor Mechem, seems to have prejudice ideas in regard to people of color, specifically the soldiers of the 24th Infantry. In the letter, Weeks clearly states that it was the governors belief that the soldiers were using drugs. Based on the other documents written by Mechem personally one can conclude he had an extremely negative view toward the soldiers. His requests to remove the infantry often involved words with very strong, negative connotations toward the people of color in the town.


Going back to the “Argument” section, the unspoken information revealed in the text is of the tension between the people of color in Columbus, New Mexico and the caucasian population there.


A reoccurring theme throughout the readings is the biased held by the caucasian citizens of Columbus, New Mexico toward the new population of people of color. At that time, prejudice was much more widespread and accepted.

The main theme in the events captured by the documents was the struggle between the Governor and the United States government in his effort to remove the troops of the 24th Infantry. He wished for the removal due to his own belief that the people of color, brought in by the newly stationed troops, were causing a disruption in the city. Based on my limited knowledge, I can draw the conclusion that the 24th Infantry was not an actual threat to the safety of the town. Racial prejudice has been around for most of history, unfortunately, and seems to be the reasonable conclusion for all of the upset. It is more likely that a small number of the soldiers were engaging in illegal activity, just as that happens in any large group of individuals, rather than the whole unit of soldiers.

The 24th Infantry was the victim of racial profiling on an enormous scale. In many of the letters/reports, the collective innocence of the troops was proven time and time again; with the exception of the two soldiers who tested positively for illegal drugs. Again, I will point out that those two soldiers account for less than .001% of the whole unit, which is hardly the situation that was being described in the transcripts asking for the removal of the infantry.

I faced quite a few obstacles when attempting to create a narrative history from the documents provided. The socioeconomic, political, and general background of the people listed would have been helpful to better judge their characters. That would have helped me form my own opinion on the individuals to better analyze their contributions to the provided documents. Knowing if someone is known to be untruthful, racist, honest, or any other traits along those lines helps the reader to better interpret their statements/writings.

Another helpful piece of information would have been statements given by the citizens of Columbus that were not associated with the government. That would have helped to fill in the gaps of the overall feeling the town had toward the soldiers.

I found myself constantly rooting for John W. Weeks in the documents provided. His faith in the troops never seemed to waiver. He appeared to defend them at every instance Governor Mechem was negatively accusational toward the 24th Infantry. With that being said, a perspective that I can NOT identify with is that of Governor Mechem. In many documents from the governor the soldiers are painted in a poor light with, what seems to be, untrue claims. This is obviously based upon my small view into the situation that was happening to Columbus, New Mexico in the year 1921.

This exercise helped me to understand the many dimensions of historical analytical reading. There are so many different layers to consider when looking at primary sources and every layer has several more sub-layers. After analyzing everything I also learned that archival research is left up to some interpretation which should be considered carefully. In order to make an accurate interpretation, one must actively study the limited information provided. In conclusion, working on this assignment was very helpful in getting my mind accustomed to historical analytical reading.