By John LeMay
Historian for the Historical Archives for Southeast New Mexico
Everyone at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico is deeply saddened at the loss of our dear friend Elvis Fleming, who I had the pleasure to know for the past 10 years.
I wanted to take a moment to express just what a wonderful man Elvis was. As many of you know, I wrote the photo history “Images of America: Roswell” back in 2008 for Arcadia Publishing. In truth, Elvis should have written Arcadia’s “Images of America: Roswell.” The only reason he didn’t was probably because the publisher didn’t know of his existence and vice versa. The only reason I got the offer was because I knew an author, Mike Smith, who had done a book for Arcadia in the past — who told me they wanted a Roswell book — so I jumped at the opportunity. Even more ironic, I truthfully didn’t know a thing about Roswell history when I started. For instance, I didn’t even know that Lea Street was named after the Father of Roswell, Captain J.C. Lea — at the time, I even lived in a strange locale literally known as the Lea Pitt, also named for the captain.
I had a connection to the museum through one of the docents, Madonna Darland, who introduced me to Roger Burnett (then the director) and Elvis Fleming, both of whom were very generous when it came to my burgeoning project, which would require a great deal of images from the archive building. What I’m building up to is that people working in any field of expertise can come with a fair share of territorialism, and Elvis was the definitive expert on Roswell history. Elvis could have been territorial when it came to helping me, but he was nothing but generous. I’m sure he was somewhat skeptical, and frankly, if he was, he had every right to be. I was only 22 with no real history experience, but Elvis never questioned my methods or intentions, he only offered his help, and in fact, it was he who scanned most of the photos for the Roswell book — as I wasn’t officially connected to the museum then, I had no business using the archive computers.
Having volunteered for some time now at the archives, I realize how Elvis certainly had other things to do, but he chose to help me with my project, which, as I said, really should have been a project given to him rather than an upstart like me. The man was a true pillar of good Christian values and decency.
Furthermore, in terms of Arcadia’s photo history books, it’s the author’s responsibility to pay for photos, not the publisher’s. Of course, if Elvis had actually charged me full price for every single photo in the book, I couldn’t have afforded it — publication fees for a single photo ran around $15, which was reasonable and fair, but remember, my book had more than 200 images. Elvis very kindly gave me a highly reduced price/lump sum for the high amount of photos I was using. Otherwise, the whole book would have been an impossibility, a fact he realized without me ever having to tell him. I never even had to ask him to reduce the fees, or, in other words, he gave me a very fair price without me even having to ask.
The next year, I was honored that, when it came to my second book, “Chaves County,” Elvis trusted me enough to have free reign and to use his computer in the archives at my leisure. As the years progressed, I got to know him better and better, and he often found more ways to help me financially with my books. For “Towns of Lincoln County,” he agreed to waive the image obtainment fee in return for me going through all the photo boxes and checking off which photos were missing or misfiled. Elvis knew full well I would be scouring every single box for Lincoln County photos anyways. In other words, he found a way to help me out for doing something I was going to do either way. I’m also very honored by the fact that Elvis wrote a foreword for “Tall Tales and Half Truths of Billy the Kid” for me, and I’m proud to have his name on the cover of that title along with my own.
There’s plenty more I could say about Elvis Fleming, but I’ll wrap it up by simply saying, “Thank you, Elvis. We will miss you, and we at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico will be forever grateful for all you’ve done.”