In 1898, Melvin W. Mills established the town of Mills. There were two different town sites for the town. The first was on the Canadian River. This site was wiped out by a flood in 1904. The second site is the present on NM Highway 39. This site was settled after the 1904 flood. At one time, Mills, NM was quite a place. It had a population of 3000 people. Mills was established in the late 1890's when the land was opened to the homesteader whose main crops were wheat, beans, corn, and feed. There was also a depot for the Poly Train, which traveled from Dawson to Tucumcari. The Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the closing of the railway all contributed to the downfall for the town. In the early 1940s, the school closed, Students began attending school in Roy.
The town of Mills, at its present location was established in 1913, when Mr. Cress and Mr. Pelphey gave 40 acres for a town site. At this time, the Wilson Company from New York came and built a large store, and elevator, bean house, stock pens, lumberyard, hotel and 14 resident houses for their employees.
By 1913, Mills had 3 stores, 5 hotels, a theater, dance hall, 4 doctors, a hospital, barber shop, Turo implement sheds, a bank, 2 saloons, 3 churches, a school with grades 1-12, a dry goods store, 3 gas stations, a boarding house and a jail built out of concrete.
Mills High School was a two-story brick building. The school had a gymnasium with a large stage. The original high school burned down in the 1920's and a new one was built next to the grain towers in the middle of town. This school was torn down in the early 1980's. The foundation is the only thing left.
The school had a basketball team called the Mills Bobcats. They played for 16 years. Mills high school had the best boys basketball team in the state in 1940. They went the entire season without a loss. "The coach of Mills, Aubrey Newton, was so confident with his team's ability; he gave the first team a break in the quarterfinal round. He sent his first team to the local 'Pool Hall' and played his second team against Springer. The second team had already beaten Springer earlier in the year by more than 20 points. Springer was winning at the end of the third quarter so Coach Newton ran down to the pool hall and gathered up his first team at the start of the fourth quarter. As they returned to the gym, the game had just ended. Springer won by one point." James Fischer, Shine Griffith and Corey and Henry Case were the stars on this team. Information about the basketball teams comes from a book by Steve Flores - Ghost Town Basketball.
Today, there are three residences, a few buildings, the U.S. Post Office, numerous foundations, and the grain elevators. The Mills Post Office was first erected in 1898. To be accurate, a man by the name of Henry Lebert had the first Hotel in Mills and he would meet the Southern Pacific train, as it ran from Tucumcari to Dawson every day. He would take the mail to the Hotel and distribute it. As more settlers were coming to homestead, the need for a Post Office Building was urgent. A family built a home in the Crest Addition with living quarters and a Post Office in front. This building was used for the Post Office from that time until 1944. In 1944 The Post Office was moved to the Old Citizens State Bank Building on Wilson Avenue.
The community of Mills was named after Melvin Mills who lived down in the canyon by the Canadian River. Mills was a rancher, farmer, attorney, Senator, Judge, and Governor. he was an accomplished fruit grower and had a large orchard consisting of 2500 peach, 500 pear, 200 apple, 1000 quince, mulberry, plum, grape vines and almond trees. The water was carried by flume from the river several miles upstream and poured into ditches to water everything. Mill's projects were his orchard, fields, garden, and livestock. He had a garden house where fruit was cooled and crated. He transported fresh produce to Springer and Wagon Mound. This all ended in 1903 when a flood leveled the land, destroying thriving communities. Small and large dwellings disappeared along the Canadian River.
Mills Canyon was a stagecoach stop along the route from Kansas to Santa Fe. There are lots of stories about eastern girls that were held as prisoners. Also, the stage stop was the site of much gambling. A tunnel was said to exist leading from the house to the river, for purpose of escape. If the tunnel exists, the secret entrance is well hidden. For years, many people have searched the grounds of the house and riverbanks for clues.
The county has had its share of strange weather phenomenon; an earthquake on August 3, 1924; windstorms in February 1908; dust bowl wind storms of the 1930's; snow blizzards in 1911; extremely cold temperatures in January 1917; freak snow storms in the 1970's; and floods in 1903 and 1965.
Today, Mills Canyon Recreation area has excellent fishing sites for sportsmen in the Canadian River. The hunters have deer, antelope, Barbary sheep and ibex. There are also small rodents, birds and smaller animals of many different varieties. There are good hiking trails, and a public campground. If you are in the Mills, New Mexico area, stop and visit the canyon.
Much of this information came from an article in the New Mexico Magazine - April 1999 - written and photographed by Clay Martin. Quoted with permission.