Erna was born to a wealthy and well-known family. Her mother was Clara Mary Huning, the daughter of a very successful merchant by the name of Franz Huning. He was an investor of real estate and owned and operated a downtown mercantile store and flourmill. Erna Fergusson’s father was Harvey Butler Fergusson, a prominent lawyer in White Oaks, New Mexico. It was later in 1883 that he moved to Albuquerque, where he became friends with Franz Huning. Four years later in 1887 Clara Mary Huning and Harvey Fergusson were married.
Erna, the eldest of four children, grew up in La Glorieta, which was her primary residence in New Mexico. However, between 1897 and 1899 Erna spent her formative years in Washington, D.C. when her father served as a delegate to the United States. In 1906 Erna graduated from Central High School in Albuquerque. Prior to graduating, she did preparatory work at the University of New Mexico (1904) and the Collegiate School in Los Angeles (1905). She began teaching in the Albuquerque public schools while at the same time furthering her education. In 1912 she graduated from UNM with a Bachelor of Pedagogy Degree. A year later Erna completed her Masters in History from Columbia University in New York. After teaching a while in Chatham hall in Virginia she decided to return home and continue teaching in Albuquerque.
Throughout her years Erna had various other occupations. During World War II she took a job with the Red Cross as the home service secretary and State Supervisor for New Mexico. After the war she became a reporter for the Albuquerque Herald, writing various articles regarding her hometown. She was commissioned in 1926 by Century Magazine to write “Redskins to Railroads” and “From Rodeo to Rotary” two of her pieces, which many years later along with other short works became published. While at the Herald, Erna also began a touring company alongside friend Ethel Hickey. The touring company, Koshare Tours, provided guests with tours of the southwest, introducing them to native cultures. Koshare Tours were so successful that Fred Harvey, a famous and well to do western hotel and restaurateur, bought the touring company and hired Erna Fergusson to direct the new endeavor—Indian Detour Service.
In 1931 Erna Fergusson published her first book Dancing Gods, which was about Indian ceremonials. Several histories and numerous travel books followed after her success with Dancing Gods.In her 1934 book, "Mexican Cookbook", Fergusson was perhaps the first to correct the English-speakers notion that "frijoles refritos" meant "refried beans", but the correction never reached the popular consciousness.
In 1942 Erna Fergusson helped found the Albuquerque Historical Society. The year after she was awarded as an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of New Mexico. She died in Albuquerque in 1964.
Erna Fergusson can be best depicted as a New Mexico writer of the 1930s, honing the two techniques of oral interview and conversational prose style; she was a part of the Southwestern Renaissance, and greatly contributed to the history of New Mexico.
- Dancing Gods (1931)
- Fiesta in Mexico (1934)
- Mexican Cookbook (1934)
- Guatemala (1937)
- Venezuela (1939)
- Our Southwest (1940)
- Our Hawaii (1942)
- Chili (1943)
- Cuba (1946)
- Murder & Mystery in New Mexico (1948)
- Hawaiian Islands (1950)
- Hawaii (1950)
- New Mexico: A Pageant of Three Peoples (1951)
- Mexico Revisited (1955)
- Remely, D. (1969) "Erna Fergusson", Austin, Texas: Stech-Vaughn Company.
- Sullivan, M.A. (2004). "Erna Fergusson", New Mexico Office of the State Historian. http://www.newmexicohistory.org/filedetails.php?fileID=546
- Gish, Robert Franklin (1996). Beautiful swift fox : Erna Fergusson and the modern southwest. College Station: Texas A & M University Press. ISBN 9780890967195. OCLC 44964640.
- Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lbghar-Friedman] 1999 (p. 268)
- "Dancing Gods: Erna Fergusson's Travels Toward Exoticism". (1992), American Indian Quarterly, 16,13.
- Steinberg, David (Nov 23, 2003). "A new chapter: [Final Edition]". Albuquerque Journal.