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!