Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sierra Blanca Historical Marker: Otero County

The Sierra Blanca historical marker is placed in the perfect location for a stunning view of the mountain. The text of the marker says it all:
Sierra Blanca, a complex ancient volcano, rises more than 7,300 feet above Tularosa Basin to peak at 12,003 feet. Vertical geologic movement between ranges and basin is about 2 miles. San Andres Mountains on the west side of Tularosa Basin are uplifted on east side and tilted westward. Elevation 4,670 feet.
As non-poetic as that is, it really does tell the story of Sierra Blanca. The Tularosa Basin that lies to the west is part of the larger Rio Grande Rift, which formed many millions of years ago as the land in what is now central New Mexico was ripped apart along a fault line. The Sacramento Mountains, of which Sierra Blanca is the highest peak, make up the eastern uplifting of the Tularosa Basin, with the San Andres Mountain range making up the western uplifting about 50 miles away. The mountain itself is a heavily eroded volcano that was active up to about 26 million years ago.

Sierra Blanca is the highest mountain in southern New Mexico and the highest mountain in the state not located in the Sangre de Cristos. Sierra Blanca does have the highest prominence in the state. Prominence is the distance from the lowest point around the mountain to its highest peak. Its name means "White Mountain," and it is home to a popular ski destination known as "Ski Apache" which is run by the Mescalero Tribe.

I grew up 5 miles north of Carlsbad, and could see Sierra Blanca off in the distance from my front yard, although it was a 150 mile drive away (not as the bird flies of course).

I didn't have to refer to any sources outside of Wikipedia (to get a few statistics and other facts). 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blazer's Mill Historical Marker: Lincoln County

I'll begin this post by quoting the text of the historical marker itself:
An early fight in the Lincoln County War occurred near this sawmill on April 5, 1878, when several men of the McSween faction, including Dick Brewer and Billy the Kid, attempted to arrest Buckshot Roberts. Roberts and Brewer were killed, and two others wounded, in the battle that followed.
Blazer's Mill is primarily known as the site of Buckshot Roberts death, and has been immortalized on paper and in film. In what was one of the best scenes from the 1988 movie Young Guns, the depiction of Roberts death set the stage for the legend of Billy the Kid. And although there are allegations that the entire story has been embellished, it makes for a great tale.
On February 18, 1878, John Tunstall was murdered by members of the Dolan-Murphy faction at the onset of the Lincoln County War. Tunstall factions members immediately assumed Buckshot Roberts was party to the murder due to his close connections to the Dolan faction. Roberts, however, wanted nothing to do with the conflict, and put his ranch up for sale. Roberts stayed at Blazer's Mill on his way out of town, where he was confronted by the Regulators on April 4, 1878, including Dick Brewer, who led the group, and of course, William H. "Billy the Kid" Bonney, the most famous participant in the Lincoln County War.
A few different stories about why Roberts was at Blazer's Mill exist, but the two prevalent ones are, first, the one I told above, about him leaving town after selling his land, and the second, almost as plausible, was that he went to the mill to collect some money owed to him. Whatever the truth was, he was ambushed by the Regulators, being shot at from both sides. 
Frank Coe of the Regulators had asked Buckshot to give up his weapons, and when he refused, he was ambushed from behind. Roberts returned fire on the twelve or thirteen men, initially wounding two and, had the gun not misfired, could have shot Billy the Kid. Charlie Bowdre wounded Roberts, who then retreated into the house. 
At this point, Dick Brewer, leader of the Regulators, made a move at Roberts, creeping his way up to the house. Buckshot saw Brewer hiding behind a pile of logs, and with one well timed fire, shot through Brewer's eye and took the top of his head off. At this point, de facto leader Billy the Kid ordered the retreat. 
Buckshot Roberts died the following day in a great deal of pain. Later, the distances of shots and the stories seemed verified through independent investigation. According to historical sources, Buckshot Roberts was later found to have had nothing to do with John Tunstall's murder.

Blazer's Mill now exists as old adobe ruins, and the historical marker sits on US Highway 70 about 2.5 miles south of Mescalero, between Mescalero and Tularosa near a village called Bent, New Mexico. It's a great bit of Americana and New Mexico history.

My sources for this post are as follows:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Atlas Missile Silos Historical Marker: Chaves County

During the height of the Cold War, the United States developed a series of intercontinental ballistic warheads called Atlas Missiles. The missiles were made in series, the primary series of deployment were D, E, and F. The Atlas D missiles were housed in various silos through 3 main locations.
Series E missiles were also housed in 3 main locations run by different bases of operations. Then came the final series, series F. The Series F of the Atlas Missiles were housed in silos out of 6 bases. First, there was Schilling AFB in Kansas. Next up, Lincoln AFB in Nebraska, Altus AFB in Oklahoma, Dyess AFB in Texas, Plattsburgh AFB in New York, and finally, Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico. Each of these bases would have various silos spread throughout the surrounding country side.

Roswell and Walker Air Force Base was home to the 579th Strategic Missile Squadron (579th SMS for short). The 579th SMS consisted of 12 Atlas F complexes spread throughout the countryside of Chaves County surrounding Roswell.

These silos were 180 feet deep, and housed missiles capable of reaching over 9,000 miles and dropping nuclear payloads. These silos were a major player in the tensions of the Cold War, and the nuclear threat posed by the United States.

The Atlas Program was phased out in 1965. Walker Air Force Base in Roswell was closed due to funding cutbacks during the Vietnam War in 1967.

The interesting thing here is that these silos are still out there, either shuddered permanently by the government, or are owned privately. The silos that have been sealed are inaccessible due to their sealing by massive concrete doors (check out some very cool photos of a now closed silo outside of Roswell at The Military Standard photo gallery HERE).

The historical marker is located at a rest stop approximately 15 miles west of Roswell on US Highway 70 headed to Ruidoso. It's hard to imagine when driving through these rolling hills that such a sinister and interesting past exists in those hills, a past that held the power to forever change the face of the planet.

I recommend the following sources if you'd like to pursue more information on the Atlas Missile Program, the silos, or the history of the program overall. These are also the sources I consulted for this post:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fort Stanton Historical Marker: Lincoln County

I'm going to start off by saying that Fort Stanton is one of my favorite historical sites in all of New Mexico. This place is accessible, remote (but not too remote), creepy at night, and has a rich, interesting, little known history.

Fort Stanton got its start in 1855, when it was founded as a fort and a base of operations against the raiding Mescalero Apaches of the area. The namesake for the fort was Captain Henry W. Stanton, who was killed near present day Mayhill (about 50 miles south east of Fort Stanton) fighting the Mescalero Apaches. 

In 1861, the fort was taken by the Confederate Army until the Confederacy moved their base of operations further west to Mesilla, when it was abandoned.
During the occupation, the Mescalero Apaches were finally pacified. An odd little bit of side history is that the fort was used as a reservation for those same Mescalero Apaches when they were being relocated to Bosque Redondo, and was part of the infamous "Long Walk of the Navajo" (you can read more on that at Native American Legends).

Fort Stanton continued to find use, through smaller campaigns like the Chiracahua Campaigns, various disturbances with the Mescalero, and is known for various reasons. New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace stayed at Fort Stanton while successfully negotiating for peace to end the Lincoln County War. Later on, General John J. Pershing was stationed at Fort Stanton, years before becoming America's first five star general following World War I.

By 1890, the need for Fort Stanton had been exhausted, and it was shut down. The story obviously does not end here...

From 1899 until 1953, Fort Stanton was run by the US Public Health Service, and served as a tuberculosis hospital for the Merchant Marine. Fresh air and sunshine were the only known cures for TB, and the climate of this part of New Mexico was perfect. Visitors to Fort Stanton today will pass the Merchant Marine cemetery 1/4 of a mile east of Fort Stanton on Highway 220. Over 1,500 are buried in this cemetery.

Fort Stanton had a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work camp during the Great Depression, and, more famously, as an internment camp for German marines, prisoners of war, and even Japanese-American families threatened by American mobs during World War II. The German's being held in Fort Stanton, during their time there, seriously upgraded the grounds, installing a pool, gardens, and a recreation hall. Although the pool no longer exists there, remnants of it do, and you can see many of the facilities built by them still standing.

After World War II, the Fort was used primarily as a hospital for the developmentally handicapped until the early 1990s. Finally, in 2007, the site was made a monument, and a museum is now run on site (it's actually a very nice museum, full with a gift shop and educational video that I recommend sitting through if you go).

In being a little more candid, I can also say that Fort Stanton can be a very creepy place to visit, especially at night (I'm not openly recommending this because people live there and they probably don't like people snooping around at night, but I've done it).

I highly recommend this visit if you happen to be in Ruidoso, as it's near the airport, which is located about 20 miles north of Ruidoso. It's a beautiful drive with a stunning view of the Capitan Mountains (origin of Smokey the Bear as well). The road is well maintained, and you're never too far off the beaten path. The Fort itself is well maintained, and museum hours can vary by season (check them out HERE).

I consulted the following sites for information on this post, and give credit to much of the information to them:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

San Antonio on the Camino Real Historical Marker: Socorro County

San Antonio, New Mexico is a small village that lies 10 miles south of Socorro, right off of Interstate 25. San Antonio is so sparsely populated that its population isn't easy to get a fix on because of its status as an unincorporated community, although some estimates put its population at around 175 people.

What made San Antonio important for a time was the fact that it was the final outpost on the El Camino Real before reaching the Mesilla Valley, well over 100 miles to the south. This made it an important stop point for almost every traveler on the road. (for more on the El Camino Real, see my post on the Jornada del Muerto Historical Marker, it has some great links, and you can also check out my tag: Camino Real, which links to all my posts involving the Royal Road).

According to the marker, San Antonio was re-occupied by Hispano settlers from the north after the Pueblo Revolt. In my research, I found that original vestiges of the San Antonio de Senecú, including a pueblo along the banks of the Rio Grande, were likely re-settled after the Spanish were driven into Mexico following the Pueblo Revolt, and San Antonio is the remembered name of their original mission, with the farming village of San Antonio, bits and pieces of which can still be seen today, forming up around this original pueblo.

Of course all of this history pales in comparison to San Antonio's connection to pop culture heiress Paris Hilton (forgive me for mentioning her name in the pages of this blog, I promise it will be the only time). Conrad Hilton, patriarch of the Hilton family and founder of Hilton Hotels, was born and raised in San Antonio. His family opened up a small hotel out of their home to serve travelers along the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Conrad worked his first jobs at the family hotel, eventually buying his first hotel in Cisco, Texas. The rest, as we say, is history. Conrad Hilton eventually operated one of the largest and most well known hotel chains in the world.

I referred to the following sites for information on this post:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Disappearances of Albert J. Fountain and his son Henry Historical Marker: Otero County

The mysterious disappearance of Colonel Albert Fountain and his son Henry is one of the most intriguing stories to come out of Southern New Mexico during the tumultuous late 19th century. First, let's start off with a little back history on Colonel Fountain.

The text on a now defunct historical marker about Colonel Albert J. Fountain once read:
Albert Jennings Fountain was a Civil War veteran, New Mexico legislator and prominent lawyer. Colonel Fountain and his young son were presumed murdered near this spot while traveling between Lincoln and Las Cruces on February 1, 1896. Their bodies have never been found. Oliver Lee and James Gilliland were tried for their murder in 1898. Both were acquitted. 
That marker has now been replaced with the current one that focuses on the murder mystery (more on that in a bit).
Albert Jennings Fountain was born in New York, and moved to El Paso, Texas after the Civil War. During the Civil War, he helped retake the New Mexico Territory for the Union. In El Paso, Fountain worked his way up to the Texas Senate. His right leaning Republican views didn't make him very popular in the area. Eventually he decided it was too dangerous to live in El Paso and moved back to his wife's hometown, Mesilla, New Mexico. In Mesilla, Fountain became a lawyer, and founded the Mesilla Valley Independent, a newspaper in Mesilla. 

At the time, cattle rustling and rustler gangs were rampant in the area, particularly along the eastern and western slopes of the Organ Mountains, located approximately 10 miles to the east of Mesilla. 
 Fountain was involved in the prosecution of alleged cattle rustlers and local ranchers Oliver Lee and William McNew. The court hearings were taking place in Lincoln, site of the Grand Jury. Fountain made the trip in a horse drawn carriage along with his nine-year-old son, Henry.

On their return, it is said that there were men, three riders, like specters in the distance, that seemed to be awaiting something. Numerous passers by claimed to witness the men in the distance.

The rest is history. Fountain and his son were never seen again.
The next morning, an anxious Saturnino Barela, at the Chalk Hill crossing on his return trip to Las Cruces and Mesilla, discovered the tracks of Fountain’s waylaid buckboard.  He found the hoof prints of strange horses.  He saw no sign of the carriage, the horses, or Fountain and his son.  He rushed across San Augustine Pass and down the mountain slope to Fountain’s home in Mesilla to alert the family. 
Two search parties, one of them led by Fountain’s son, rushed through the darkness of the icy night to the murder site.  Helped by two Mescalero Apache scouts, they began piecing together the evidence as the sun rose over the Sacramento Mountains, on the eastern horizon.  They found where a man had knelt and fired from behind a growth of shrubs, leaving shell casings on the ground.  They discovered the site where two men had tended three horses.  They followed wagon tracks and discovered a pool of blood.  One man discovered a blood-soaked handkerchief with a nickel and a dime tied carefully in its corner.  They followed the wagon tracks of the buckboard and the hoof tracks of six horses east for some 12 miles, into  sand dunes west of a small and isolated mountain range called the Jarillas.  There, they discovered the carriage, which had been plundered and abandoned.  They tried to follow the tracks of the killers.  One trail led toward one of Oliver Lee’s ranches, where trackers found a threatening reception 
In the days to come, new posses joined the search, hoping the find the bodies of Fountain and his son.  Rumors swirled throughout the desert and across the country.  Newspapers covered the story in detail.  The governor of New Mexico offered a reward for the capture of the killers.  The Republican Party and the regional cattlemen mourned Fountain’s passing. 
 (quoted text taken verbatim from , written by Jay W. Sharp)
So all that was ever found was a blood-soaked handkerchief, some tracks, and tracker based evidence of a gunfight, or massacre.

The legacy of the Fountain family lives on. The Fountain Theater, founded in 1905, is New Mexico's oldest theater building and current home of the Mesilla Valley Film Society, of which my wife is a board member. The theater was begun by Albert Fountain Jr., who purchased the building and turned it into a theater. Murals inside the building painted in 1914 (or 1917, the history is unreliable) by Fountain Jr. depict Colonel Fountain's arrival in the Mesilla Valley.

I referred to the following websites for information on this article: