“We are always on the lookout for little-known rarities,” wrote Leon C. Metz in the 1968 summer issue of U.T. El Paso’s NOVA magazine. Mr. Metz, a native of West Virginia, became the University of Texas at El Paso’s first archivist in 1967. He soon after claimed that “The University of Texas at El Paso should have the finest archives collection this side of the Mississippi in a few years.” Leon Metz was not only an archivist, but an author as well. He wrote works like Turning Points in El Paso, Texas (1985), John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas (1996), and John Selman: Texas Gunfighter, a book he published in 1966, prior to becoming the university’s archivist. Leon Metz first became acquainted with El Paso and the Southwest while he was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed at Biggs Field in the early 1950s. He quickly came to like the Southwest and after his discharge in 1953 he began attending night classes at Texas Western College (now UTEP) while also working for the Standard Oil Refining Company. After being offered the position of becoming archives librarian in 1967, Mr. Metz played an important role in developing and organizing U.T. El Paso’s Special Collections Department, located in the university library.
In 1968, Leon Metz also stated in NOVA magazine that “No doubt our future reputation will hinge on the amount of Southwestern material we manage to collect. An archives is only as good as the material filed therein. In this respect I would like for every reader to consider himself an honorary U.T. El Paso archivist. In your lifetime you have happened across records, papers that were being lost and destroyed through neglect and indifference.” During his time at U.T. El Paso, Metz wrote dozens of articles, conducted many interviews, and helped collect valuable information about the American Southwest, El Paso, and the university. He traveled extensively throughout the El Paso region and Mexico in search of the “little-known rarities” he felt were so important to the school’s archives. Metz’s work on John Selman won the Texas Writers League book award, and until recent years, he maintained a weekly column in the El Paso Times, which were about Southwestern and borderlands history.
For a closer look regarding interviews and speeches conducted by Leon C. Metz, see these two pieces offered from UTEP’s Institute of Oral History: http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/interviews/41/ and http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/interviews/10005/
[Sources: The Prospector, October 22, 1968; and NOVA: The University of Texas at El Paso Magazine, Summer, 1968, Vol. 3, No. 4.]
Bryan Winter is an assistant in the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. He earned a BS in Geography from New Mexico State University, and is currently in his final year as an MA student in History at UTEP.