Saturday, February 23, 2013

Paraje de Fra Cristobal Historical Marker: Socorro County

Paraje de Fra (a variant of "Friar") Cristobal is named for Friar Cristobal de Salazar, a member of Oñate's 1598 expedition that founded the Camino Real.

It was said by members of the expedition that the mountain range to the east resembled the friars profile.

This particular paraje, Spanish for "stopping place," was one of the more important stops on the entire Camino Real, which spanned from Mexico City to Santa Fe, some 1400 miles. What made this stop so important is that it was the northern entry or exit point of the Jornada del Muerto (see my post on the Jornada del Muerto marker for more information on this deadly journey by clicking HERE). 100 miles to the south was Paraje San Diego (see my post on that marker HERE for more information). Between these two markers lie the journey of the dead man, a 100 mile trek through open desert with no permanent water source.

This marker sits at a rest stop in sourthern Socorro County about 40 miles south of Socorro (which you can see on a map HERE). There are three other markers at this rest stop that I will be discussing soon, Fort Craig, Vasquez de Coronado's Route, and Women of the Camino Real.

Paraje San Diego Historical Marker: Doña Ana County

On the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro road that was a heavily used trade trail between Mexico City and Santa Fe (and is responsible for many of the settlements in this area, including Santa Fe itself), there were many parajes, a Spanish word for "stopping place." Back then, travelers could expect to move between 20-40 miles per day, sometimes less depending upon the terrain. Here in present day northern Doña Ana County, the Camino Real deviated from the safety of the Rio Grande and crossed open desert. This journey was known as the Jornada del Muerto. I previously visited that marker, which is actually located right behind this marker. The post for that marker is titled Jornada del Muerto Historical Marker: Doña Ana County.

Paraje San Diego was the final stop before the Joranda del Muerto, a 100 mile journey with no water source that needed to be completed in the shortest amount of time possible due to the dire circumstances. On the other end was Paraje Fra Cristobal. This paraje is considered significant for that reason.

If you'd like to learn more about El Camino Real, please visit my post on that titled Jornada del Muerto Historical Marker: Doña Ana County, there are some resources at the bottom of that posting.

There is also this brochure from the Camino Real Heritage Center.

Check out this marker mapped out HERE.
This last photo looks out east from the rest stop on I-25 where this marker is located. The view is of the beginnings of the Jornada del Muerto journey. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jornada del Muerto Historical Marker: Doña Ana County

Before I begin telling about the Jornada del Muerto, it's important to discuss the history of the Camino Real. There are other "Camino Real" roads, the one I am referring to in this case and in the case of New Mexico history is El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, Spanish for "The Royal Road of the Interior Land". This heavily used road ran from Mexico City to Santa Fe from 1598 to 1882. This trail, which was in use locally prior to 1598, became the major trade route between the Mexican Capital and Santa Fe, the most important settlement in the northern lands, when Don Juan de Oñate's expedition came through. The Camino Real is responsible for much of the settlements along the route, including El Paso, Las Cruces, Mesilla, Albuquerque, Durango (Mexico), Chihuahua, Juarez, and of course, Santa Fe.

Along the Camino Real were rest stops, where travelers could get water, trade for food, rest, etc. Sometimes there were actual towns and villages to stop at, get water and food, and rest. Other stops, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, were known as "paraje," and there are many of these that have been marked off with historical markers, in fact, the site of this marker is also the site of Paraje San Diego (click the link to be taken to the post for that marker). Paraje San Diego was the last stop before leaving the safety of the Rio Grande River.

The danger of leaving the river was being away from water. However, at this point, some 10 miles north of Las Cruces, the route along the Rio Grande was full of dangerous cliffs and other perils. So the Camino Real stretched off to the west, and for 100 miles, leading up to Paraje Fra Cristobal (click the link to be taken to the post for that marker), had no reliable water source. This stretch of the trail, a "jornada", a dangerous trail between parajes that must be traveled in a single day due to lack of water, became infamously known as the Jornada del Muerto, or "Journey of the Dead Man."

The town of Socorro to the north of the Jornada got its name because of the sad state of many Pueblo travelers once they reached it (Socorro means "help" or "assistance" in Spanish). During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Spanish refugees retreated across the Jornada, losing over 800 of their group to the elements.

Today the Jornada del Muerto lives as a testament to the difficult conditions that our ancestors in the area endured to survive, and to show us the resolve they had to reach their destinations.

If you'd like to learn more about the Jornada del Muerto or the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, please check out the following links, my sources for this post:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jumbo Nuclear Bomb Containment Device Historical Marker: Socorro County

In the small town of Socorro, in West Central New Mexico on Interstate 25 lies an interesting historical find. If you exit the interstate and head a few blocks into town, you will find the quaint central plaza area that is so distinctive in many New Mexico towns that grew to prominence in the 1800's. While in Socorro, I was delighted to come across some World War II history (you can see this location mapped HERE).

Socorro is known for being fairly close in location to the Trinity Site, the testing site for the first atomic bomb, which was developed 150 or so miles further north in Los Alamos. The final testing site for the Manhattan Project was originally intended to include a large steel structure that would house the bomb.
This was going to be done due to the possibility of a misfire of the nuclear core of the bomb, which would result in plutonium being thrown all over the area for many miles.

As the years went by, the scientists involved decided to scrap the containment device, which became known as "Jumbo." By this time, the device, to much effort, had already been delivered. So they decided to suspend it on a tower some 800 feet from the epicenter of the blast and see what happened.

Nothing happened actually, the 8 to 16 inch thick steel casing survived the blast fully intact, unfortunately its tower did not survive.

Eventually the US Army attempted to destroy Jumbo by placing 500 pounds of explosives inside. All the explosives managed to do was blow out the ends of Jumbo. It was then buried in the New Mexico desert. The majority of it now stands at the entrance to the Trinity Site, with this small (I use that term lightly because this piece has to weigh a few tons) piece placed near the central plaza in downtown Socorro. It's a delightfully dark story for such an interesting piece of American history.

If you're interested in hearing more about Jumbo, please check out my sources for this post:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rio Grande Historical Marker in Doña Ana County

This particular historical marker is located on Highway 70 as it intersects the Rio Grande River in west Las Cruces (map this location HERE). I'm sure there are other Rio Grande markers throughout the state, but this is the one that is nearest my home.

The Rio Grande has had an historically significant impact on the settlement and growth of the Mesilla Valley, and much of New Mexico (and west/south Texas as well). The old flow of the river took it through the village of Mesilla and immediately west of the settlement of Tortugas in south Las Cruces. Of course now the river flows further out to the west, about three miles further west than it did 100 years ago. This is due to the Elephant Butte river dam system.

Now the river sits dry for a good portion of the year, primarily during the fall and winter months. But even at its peak, this isn't a river that would be familiar to many back east. Even when it's flowing in all of its majesty, it's a shallow, muddy river. I've canoed the rio and have gotten out of the canoe in the middle of the river and usually found that I'm only in water up to my knees.

No matter the state of the river, it's always had an impact on our area, and people are always quick to mention their favorite memories of being out on the river, be it wading in it as a child, participating in the areas rafting challenges, or driving dune buggies in it during the dry months.

Friday, February 1, 2013

San Augustin Pass Historical Marker

San Augustin Pass sits on US Highway 70 about 10 miles east of Las Cruces, immediately east of the village of Organ. The pass, classified as a gap, sits between the Organ Mountains to the south and the San Augustin Mountains, a sub range of the San Andres Mountains, to the north. The pass peaks at 5,710 feet, and offers sweeping views of the White Sands Missile Range to the east, with the ability to even see the western slopes of the Sacramento Mountains some 40 miles across the basin floor. To the north, the world famous White Sands can be seen. To the west, views of Las Cruces all the way to the Gila National Forest, including the Robledo Mountains, Doña Ana Mountains, Picacho Peak, "A" (or Tortugas) Mountain, and even as far as the Portillo Mountains further off to the west on a clear day.

The pass is the primary route between Alamogordo and Las Cruces. Anyone traveling the pass may notice that the historical marker reads SAN AUGUSTIN PASS, while many other area signs read SAN AGUSTIN PASS. San Agustin is the Spanish translation for Saint Augustine, the namesake of the pass.

There are references in history of the gap being used by the Spanish and Natives to the area as far back as the 1500's. The pass in its current form has been utilized since the area grew in population in the mid-1800's. It was then, and still is today, the primary route between Las Cruces / Mesilla and Lincoln County, a prominent and important area in the 1800's.

If you're ever in the area, I recommend a drive to the top, it's the best view in the area, hands down. At 5,710 feet, it's not the highest point in the New Mexico highway system (the highest point is in northern New Mexico, and is almost twice as high), but it does stand nearly 2,000 feet above the valley floor, making the views quite impressive.

Here are the pages I referred to trying to find more history on the pass (it wasn't easy, there's not much out there):

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Doña Ana County Courthouse Historical Marker

Today I'm posting about the old Doña Ana County Courthouse, located in central Las Cruces in between Amador and Lohman Drive between the intersections of Main Street and Alameda Avenue (see it in the map HERE). The courthouse opened in 1937 and was the county courthouse until 2008, when county business moved less than a mile to the south to the new, state of the art courthouse.

The building, which was partially funded by the Works Progress Administration, was the sixth county courthouse to be utilized in Doña Ana County (founded in 1851), and is listed on the National Historical Registry.

The building is in the revival adobe style with exposed vigas and adobe style structure all around. Sadly, the building, which has been "under renovation" since its closing in 2008, doesn't look too great these days. The building itself is said to be in solid shape, but the area is already showing major signs of neglect. I had fun walking around with my son, but did get that creepy alone even though I was in the center of town surrounded by traffic feeling.

The photo to the right shows the building in its early days. Even though it sits alone now, it is a great example of the architecture of the area, and is a great piece of history for those living in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County. If learning about courthouses is your thing, you can find out a little more about this courthouse (there's not much out there) at:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bartlett-Garcia Continental Survey Point Historical Marker

Today I wanted to share with everyone the Bartlett Garcia Continental Survey Point, located immediately west of the village of Doña Ana at the corner of Doña Ana Rd. and Thorpe Rd. (NM-320) (click HERE to see it on my custom historical markers map).

On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, formally ending the Mexican War. As part of the treaty, Texas was annexed to the United States (the war was fought over Texas to begin with, so annexation was the main result of the treaty).

When land is annexed, it must be surveyed in order to set the actual political border. This was easy for the majority of the southern borders of Texas, as they either bordered the Gulf of Mexico, or the Rio Grande. This became a little less clear north of El Paso, where the Rio Grande crossed into the New Mexico Territory.

Well, as luck would have it, the map used in the treaty was slightly flawed. Most importantly, El Paso was misplaced by 40 miles, and the Rio Grande was off by 2 degrees to the west. This resulted in New Mexico having a pretty valid complaint about its southern border.

Sooooo, John Bartlett was US Boundary Commissioner, and General Pedro Conde was the Mexican Boundary Commissioner, and they needed to do something about this new brewing dispute. On April 24, 1851, using astronomical observations, the two settled on the new New (enough news?) Mexico / Mexico border, which was located exactly (more or less) where this sign is now posted.

The border held, although it was hotly disputed, until the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 moved the border to its present location, some 40 miles south of the Bartlett-Garcia Survey Point.

If you'd like to learn more, check out the following links:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Doña Ana Historical Marker: Historic Woman Marker

The Doña Ana historical marker located on Thorpe Rd. (NM-320, the Doña Ana exit on I-25, see it on the map HERE) is one of 19 "Historic Women Marker Initiative" markers, added in 2005 (see my post about this special series of markers, including the back side of this marker, by clicking the link). Some people are confused as to why there are two "Doña Ana" markers, this one and one about a mile to the east. Well, the reason for that is that the other marker is specifically about the village of Doña Ana, this one is about the woman Doña Ana Robledo. 

Doña Ana Robledo died near the modern day village of Doña Ana, located immediately north of Las Cruces on I-25. Legend says that Doña Ana was well known for her acts of charity and kindness. There are other tales of a woman taken by the Apache Indians and never seen again. Considering that this happened in the 17th century, the history isn't clear, and the stories have all been passed down as part of the oral folklore of the Mesilla Valley. Interestingly enough, after her death, she was reportedly buried near Paraje de Robledo (another historical marker that I will visit eventually), the site of her grandfather's (Pablo Robledo) unmarked grave. Her grandfather was the first death of the Don Juan de Oñate expedition, which began in 1598 in modern day El Paso, and ended with the conquest of New Mexico's indigenous people, gaining Oñate the reputation as a murderer and tyrant in the eyes of many local descendants of the conquered natives (more on that when I discover more at those historical markers).

The mountains overlooking the gravesites of Pablo and Doña Ana are known as the Robledo Mountains. This majestic chain of hills sits north of Las Cruces. I have a great view of the Robledo's from my front yard, they really are a great site, especially when it snows or there are low hanging clouds.

Doña Ana is said by some to look over travelers of the area. A few years ago I was on a field trip with my students to the Las Cruces District Court, and saw this wonderful mural by local artist Tony Pennock, famous for painting murals on the water towers around Las Cruces. 

Although I couldn't find any confirmation online, I was told by someone there at the courthouse that the mural depicts Doña Ana looking over travelers in the hills outside of Las Cruces. Someone else told me they thought it was Doña Ana looking over Colonel Albert Fountain and his son shortly before their murders. But again, I couldn't find confirmation of this anywhere, so I apologize if I'm way off base here. 

I did most of my research for this entry at:

Shalam Colony Historical Marker: Doña Ana County

Is it possible to live within a few miles of a historical site and have absolutely no idea that it ever existed? Well, of course it is, but let me rephrase that. Is it possible to be interested in the history of your area, and to even claim to be an expert on a few historical topics in your area, and have no idea about a historical site just five miles from your front door? I would have to say the answer to that is YES.

Shalam Colony (which you can see located on my custom map HERE) is part of what my wife referred to as the "dark history" of Las Cruces. Every town has its own oddball history according to her, and this is definitely true as it relates to the Las Cruces area of central Doña Ana County in south central New Mexico.

It's not so much that Shalam Colony is a dark place, but it does give me the creeps going out there and poking around.

Shalam Colony was started north of Las Cruces in 1884 by Dr. John Ballou Newbrough, a dentist from New York. The Land of Shalam was named after The Book of Shalam, a chapter in Oahspe, a new bible written by Newbrough, one that he claimed was not a sacred text, but rather a history of religion going back over 24,000 years.

The religious principles that led Newbrough and his followers, called "Faithists," to start Shalam Colony, included gathering the orphaned children of the world and raising them according to their strict principles.

It is claimed that the people of the village of Doña Ana, located 3 miles to the east, helped the Faithists survive their first year in New Mexico, until they were able to establish housing and crops of their own. New Mexico is known for its mild winters, thankfully for the Faithists, for if that winter was harsh, they might not have survived.

The colony grew, but had financial difficulty, and health issues, including the death of Newbrough from influenza. All of these issues led to the closing of the colony in 1901. The children living there were sent to orphanages in Dallas and Denver. When I first read about Shalam, I thought it had the makings for a very scary horror story, but the reality is much more pedestrian.

When I walked around in the area near the original colony, on Shalam Colony Trail near the Rio Grande, I enjoyed how quiet it was, but also how sinister the wind sounded blowing through the dormant pecan trees.

If you take the time to visit the Shalam historical marker, located on NM Route 185 (also known as Valley Drive if you're in Las Cruces, or the Old Hatch Highway if you're traveling North), it's worth your time to drive two miles to the west down Shalam Colony Trail, and turn off onto Rocky Acres Trail (right after the Rio Grande River). Go up about 200 yards, and there's a dirt road. Follow that dirt road about half a mile up to the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. It's well worth the hiking, and is one of the premiere fossilized footprint trackways in the world.

If you'd like to read more about Shalam Colony, please check out the following links (the source of my research):

Pat Garrett Murder Site Historical Marker

There are many sites in Southern New Mexico that are famous for their parts in the Lincoln County War. Lincoln County itself is located about 80 miles to the East of Las Cruces, and is a beautiful place to visit. The village of Lincoln itself is quaint, and full of history. My brother was married at a small church there, and the sense of history and of being in a place frozen in time is something that anyone interested in New Mexico history has to experience.

 Most history buffs are familiar with the most famous of tales to come out of this conflict, and that is the tale of Billy the Kid. Billy the Kid is a famous figure in Doña Ana County due to the fact that he resided from time to time in the village of Mesilla. He even famously escaped from the Mesilla Courthouse, and was a fugitive on the run for the rest of his short life.

The other side of the "Kid" saga is Pat Garrett. Garrett was born in Alabama, and grew up in the South. In 1880, Garrett became sheriff of Lincoln County, and was charged with tracking Billy the Kid. On July 14, 1881, Garrett tracked Billy to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where he shot and killed the famous outlaw.

Pat Garrett worked primarily in southern New Mexico until 1896, when Colonel Albert Fountain of Mesilla went missing (the murder remains a mystery to this day, and the stories that are told about it can be quite entertaining and terrifying). In response, Garrett was named the sheriff of Doña Ana County. The story of Garrett tracking and arresting those who he thought responsible for Fountain's disappearance is quite interesting. The men were acquitted at trial.

Garrett spent his final years as a personal friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, who appointed Pat as a customs collector in El Paso, Texas.

Garrett settled in and owned land north east of Las Cruces near present day Highway 70. An eventual land dispute with a nearby land owner, Jesse Wayne Brazel, who was grazing goats on Garrett's land, led to Garrett being shot by Brazel, once in the stomach and once in the head.

The actual site of Garrett's murder is not where the historical marker is located. The marker is located in the parking lot of a daycare center, easily seen when traveling east on US Highway 70 (you can see this location marked on the map HERE).

The Friends of Pat Garrett has been hard at work trying to secure the actual spot of Garrett's murder for preservation now that suburban sprawl has started on the East Mesa of Las Cruces (I should know, I live up on the East Mesa). You can also learn a little more about the actual murder site of Garrett at Photography on the Net.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

La Mesilla Historical Marker

La Mesilla, New Mexico (you can see it in a custom map HERE) is home to the first of what will be many New Mexico Historical Markers. This marker, located in Central Doña Ana County, sits in the middle of Mesilla Plaza. Mesilla Plaza is a historical site that is popular with tourists. It is home to San Albino Basilica, one of two basilicas in the state of New Mexico. The plaza is also home to a building that once housed Billy the Kid as he awaited hanging, an old courthouse he escaped from.

Mesilla has a long and storied history that you can learn more about at Old

This marker has personal significance for me because I work in Mesilla, and have grown close to the people of this wonderful community.

Mesilla is a wonderful and quiet community located immediately west of Las Cruces (you can't tell that it's a separate place, Las Cruces has swallowed it up). It can be reached easily from I-10 (exit Avenida de Mesilla). It's about 1 mile up the road, you can't miss it. Grab a bite to eat at La Posta (great, not-so-spicy Mexican food in an unbeatable atmosphere), or Andele's (home to probably the greatest enchiladas on the planet Earth).

Welcome To Historical Markers of New Mexico

Yesterday I took my family into the Robledo Mountains near my house in Las Cruces, beautiful rolling hills that I can see out of the front windows of my house, beautiful rolling hills I had never been to. This great place for family hiking is five miles from my house, and I'd never been.

So we made the short journey out there, on the Hatch Highway. When we got out there, I drove past a few historical markers that I had never heard of before. As someone who loves learning about the local history of the Mesilla Valley, I was shocked that this had gone unnoticed. It gave me an idea, and the idea centered around the thought that this can't happen again.

So I have  new goal, and that goal is to visit as many of the states 545 (and growing) historical markers. Using New Mexico Historical as a guide, I will start my journey close to home by covering the 34 that exist in Doña Ana County. So I hope you'll check back and join me on a journey to learn more about the rich history of New Mexico!