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history of the first weatherman

by Raymond (Skip) Theiler
WSTO, Albuquerque, NM

In the high tech world of today's weatherman, we don't normally think of a Colt six-shooter or a Winchester rifle as being tools of the trade. In the life and times of John P. Clum, New Mexico's first weatherman, they were needed as much as an AFOS keyboard is today.

Here is a brief historical insight into the life of this interesting man who was to establish New Mexico's first weather station. Though his tenure as a government weatherman was brief -- about two years -- he was the first in New Mexico. From weatherman, he went on to wear the hats of newspaper founder and publisher, Indian agent, town mayor, school master, and postal inspector. He was to become involved in many of the important events on the southwestern frontier of the United States -- events that today are the subject matter for movies and television.

John Clum was born September 1, 1851, in the Hudson Valley of New York. At age 16, he was enrolled in the Hudson River Institute as a cadet. The skills in military science and drill that he acquired would one day be put to use in a faraway land. When he was 16 he entered Rutgers College. Rutgers was one of the first colleges to adopt football; and when Rutgers played Princeton, it was the beginning of intercollegiate football. Clum was a member of the Rutger's team and a participant in this first college football game.

After a year in college, and broke, he decided to go west. Reading in a newspaper that the War Department in Washington was about to organize a nationwide Meteorological Service (later to evolve into the U.S. Weather Bureau, then the National Weather Service), he applied for a job. Successfully passing an examination he was appointed as an Observer-Sergeant in the U.S. Signal Corps, and was directed to proceed to Sante Fe. He rode the railroad to the end of the rails at Kit Carson, Colorado, then made the remainder of the trip to Santa Fe by stagecoach.
photo of
Ed Englestadt, Wyatt Earp and John Clum (right)
Nome, Alaska in 1900

He established New Mexico's first weather station in a building close to the Palace of the Governors on the Plaza. The office is described in the 1872 Annual Report of the Chief Signal-Officer to the Secretary of War: "The office is on the upper floor of a two story building known as Johnson's Building on a street without name or number. The roof is flat and affords a good exposure for the Windvane, Anemometer and Rain Gauge and also the Instrument Shelter . . . ." On November 15, 1871, the first official weather observation was made in New Mexico.

Recording atmospheric conditions did not require all of his time, so he started a private school. In a short time he had enrolled 15 students in one of the first English speaking schools in Santa Fe.

He continued in his dual position as weather observer and school master until late in 1873 when he was offered the job of Indian Agent at the large San Carlos Reservation in central Arizona.

Motivated by lofty idealism, and with a profound empathy for the Apache, Clum entered into this new phase of his life with the purpose of righting some of the wrongs done to the Indian. As one of the first advocates of self determination for the Indians, he organized an Apache police force and a Tribal Court. He also introduced the Apache to agriculture and ranching.

In any society, there are always a few nonconformists. In the world of the Apache, one of these was a short, powerfully built warrior known to the Southwest as Geronimo. Not a hereditary chief, he led his followers through force of personality and his physical strength.

In early 1876, Geronimo and his renegades were reported to be in New Mexico at the Ojo Caliente Indian Agency just to the northwest of present day Truth or Consequences. Clum was instructed by his superiors in the Indian Service to take his Indian police and arrest Geronimo. In one of the legendary events of the southwestern frontier he led his Apache policemen into New Mexico to what 11 troops of the U.S. Cavalry had thus far been unable to accomplish. Having read Greek history, Clum decided to reenact the trick of the Trojan horse.

Arriving at the Ojo Caliente Agency late at night, he concealed most of his force in some agency buildings and nearby ravines. He sent a scout to Geronimo requesting a conference. With only six visible policemen, he waited at the agency for his answer; at dawn he had it. Believing they had the advantage in numbers, Geronimo and his Lieutenants rode boldly forward. After a verbal confrontation in which Geronimo related that he had no intention of living at San Carlos, and that furthermore he was not amused by this meeting, Clum gave a prearranged signal. At Clum's signal, the concealed policemen quickly formed a circle around the hostiles with their rifles leveled and Geronimo was a prisoner. All in all not a bad day's work for a former weatherman. In the military campaigns ahead, Geronimo would on more than one occasion surrender to the Army, but this was to be the first and only time he was to be captured.

By July 1877 having become disillusioned by the bureaucratic sluggishness of the Indian Service, Clum resigned as agent. However, for the rest of his life he would remain an advocate of Indian rights.

The next major act of Clum's life would be played out in Tombstone, Arizona. Like many of the boom and bust mining towns of the old West, Tombstone went from sagebrush and Jackrabbits to a population in the thousands in just a few months. Included in these thousands were all segments of society -- some good and some not so good -- but the common denominator was the fast buck. By early 1881 the town had become divided by competing political and economic factions. Popular history has given us Wyatt Earp, Inc., as the champion of law and order and the Clanton-McLowery gang as the champions of unlaw and disorder.

Never one to sit out a good fight, as Mayor of Tombstone and editor of The Tombstone Epitaph, Clum was solidly aligned with the Wyatt Earp-Doc Holliday faction and against the Clanton-McLowery faction. Just what side, if any, wore the white hats in this political and economic power struggle is still debated by latter day historians. Anyway, the point became moot after the October 26, 1881, gunfight at the OK Corral, as the Clantons and McLowerys became residents of Boothill, and the Earps left Tombstone never to return.

*****he was briefly an Assistant Editor for The Los Angeles Examiner.******

In 1891 Glum went to Washington to start a 20-year career as a Postal Inspector. This service would take him to all parts of the United States, and in 1898 to the Territory of Alaska where he organized the Territorial Postal System. He retired from the Postal Service in 1910, and spent the remainder of his years in Los Angeles.

On May 2, 1932, at the age of 81, John Clum rode his last long trail to the land from which no man ever returns.


Woodworth Clum, Apache Agent, University of Nebraska Press.

*****Dan T. Thrapp,, University of Oklahoma Press.*****
Britton Davis,The Truth About Geronimo, University of Nebraska Press.

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Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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