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.
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):
- Shalam Colony: A Utopian Experiment: Located at the NMSU Archives, a great source of New Mexico history.
- Shalam Colony on New Mexico History.org
- Information About the Faithist Movement on Wikipedia
- Information pdf on the Shalam Colony Museum in Las Cruces (I haven't been there, but I'm going to make a trip soon)