Centennial authors only come around once every hundred years, and it's with great pride, says Rio Rancho author Don Bullis, that he's won acclaim as the state's Centennial author.

"It's a real source of pride for me," Bullis, 72, said.

His just-published "New Mexico Historical Biographies" is a great glimpse of the past and present personalities who have shaped - or even visited - the Land of Enchantment, about to celebrate 100 years of statehood next year.

Rick Hendricks, the New Mexico state historian, said, Bullis's book is "the starting place for many people seeking to make the acquaintance of New Mexicans of yesteryear. I am almost certain everyone who reads it will learn something about New Mexico history."


The book isn't Bullis's first; it won't be his last.

He's come a long way since he decided to become an author, back in the days when he - and others new to the trade - figured, "Write the damn book - the checks will roll in."

While he was a student at Eastern New Mexico University, Bullis was the editor of that school's literary magazine. He later worked as editor of the AAA motorists' magazine, as the editor for the Sandoval County Times and the Gallup Independent. And he was also writing and pitching books.

"I was tacking rejection slips up on a bulletin board," he said, and a friend urged him to discontinue that negativity and emphasize what he was doing that had positive results.

"That's good advice," Bullis said. "I would like to say that I was successful, but I was not," Bullis said, modestly.

Bullis is a genuine New Mexico character, rarely found without cowboy boots on his feet or a cowboy hat on his head; he's someone who's watched as Rio Rancho's short history has been shaped while keeping an eye on developments within Sandoval County and throughout the state.

He's put 20 years of his life into law enforcement, which included a stint as the New Mexico state contact for Interpol.

And, it seems, that old saying, something to the effect of "When one door closes, another one opens" is the best way to sum up Bullis's career.

In the late 1980s, shortly after a failed run for Sandoval County sheriff, Bullis approached the Observer about contributing a regular column, called "Ellos Pasaron Por Aqui" (They Passed By Here).

That column was a favorite of Observer readers, who learned about Billy the Kid, Native Americans, range wars, murders, explorers and much more for about two decades. However, the recent recession caused the Observer to end the column because of its cost.

"After writing for so long, what you accumulate are files - piles and piles of files," he said, speaking last week at the monthly meeting of the New Mexico Book Co-op. "I am not organized; I started a master list of basic information.

"It grew and grew and grew," he said. Bullis met with Paul Rhetts, of Rio Grande Books and the New Mexico Book Co-op, "and asked (him) about a book just about New Mexico biographies."

Rhetts thought it was a good idea: "This is the result of that." Rhetts and Barb Awalt worked hard to find photos for the book to enhance it. His two previous biographical volumes were combined, along with another 400-500 entries, culminating in this 800-page book.

Bullis had some advice for the three-dozen or so New Mexico Book Co-op members eating and listening to him at the Golden Corral, many of whom either had already written books or were in the midst of penning them: "Do an assessment and make sure what your expectations are" and to avoid agents - he'd been burned more than once by shady agents.

What's next, he was asked by an aspiring writer.

Bullis provided the short list: a 4,000-word piece on the first statehood governor of New Mexico, William McDonald (1912-16); a 4,000-word piece on New Mexico law enforcement before 1912; and two books, "Billy's Pals," which he said would contain historical biographies of the players in the Lincoln County War of the 1880s, and another on the eight-year term in office of former Gov. Bill Richardson.

"That story needs to be told," Bullis said.

Bullis's books are available at nmsantos.com.