New Mexico's

"Home on the Range"


Wanderings in New Mexico


By Art Pike - Wanderings in New Mexico

The northeast corner of New Mexico has vast unpopulated distances, many railroad towns and some older villages, some old churches, frontier forts and other historic places. Counties include San Miguel, Harding County, Quay, Colfax, Union, and Mora. Some places are Las Vegas, Watrous, Wagon Mound and Roy. It's the country the Santa Fe Trail crossed before railroads arrived.

The Santa Fe Trail was a mercantile route opened by Missouri merchants selling goods into Mexico. The value of these goods passing over the Trail grew to over a million dollars a year--meaning a lot of needles, nails and other common items went south to Mexico and a lot of Mexican silver coins, mules, and raw materials came back to Missouri.

Here is part of a manuscript written by James A. Burns, December 5, 1936, about northeast New Mexico. Mr. Burns was an author working for the WPA Writers' Project. His manuscript is now archived at the Library of Congress.

Mr. Burns wrote in 1936:

"Almost a century has now passed since the American invasion of northeast New Mexico and the almost bloodless conquest of the Territory by General Kearney and his troops. A bloodless entry into Las Vegas, a small battle near Glorieta, and skirmishes with unorganized mountaineers along the Santa Fe Trail, and Kearney's dragoons entered Santa Fe, and found things so quiet that the commanding officer, tired after a hard day ride, went to bed in the old Palace of the Governors putting off until the next day the formal ceremonies of taking possession of the city.

There can be no question of the patriotism and love of country of the Spanish-American people of Santa Fe and northeast New Mexico and New Mexico, generally, whose ancestors had lived in the country for a hundred and fifty years following the reconquest in 1692. And some of whom had been here even earlier, before the Indian rebellion.

But in the short space of a quarter of a century, they had become so disgusted with the gross incompetence and monumental grafting of the officials of the Mexican Republic that they were ready to submit to the rule of a people, alien in blood, laws and customs, to say nothing of religion.

Also, contributing to the peaceful conquest was that the Santa Fe Trail had been opened at about the same time as the Mexican Revolution; they had begun to do their trading with St. Louis instead of Chihuahua in old Mexico.

There was besides the hatred and fear of those invaders from the southeast, the Tejanos, or Texans, with whom Governor Armijo had had several battles in the years 1840 to 1845 just before the American entry.

Like soldiers in other campaigns since Caesar's Gallic wars, and even following the example of their Spanish predecessors in the army of De Vargas, some of the American soldiers, whether from choice or the exigency of their military duties, instead of following Kearney to California, remained in New Mexico, married Spanish women, and raised families of children, who while loyal to the flag that flew over them, drew in with their mother's milk the intense local patriotism and love of their native New Mexico, which distinguish the Spanish-American people. "

Pioneer story about Mr. Whitehall's trip along the Santa Fe Trail and other trails on his way to Grant County in southwest New Mexico. These remembrances were originally told to H. A. Bruce in the early 1900's. Mrs. Frances Totty, an author working for the WPA Writers' Project, interviewed Mr. Bruce on June 16, 1937. The manuscript Mrs. Totty, of Silver City, New Mexico, wrote after her interview is now archived at the Library of Congress.

Mr. Bruce remembered that Mr. Whitehall had told him:

"I first passed through this country with my father, Uncle Bob and John Shackleford, who afterward died on Duck Creek in the summer of 1849. The caravan was mostly southerners.

"We outfitted in Westom, Montana, and came up the Platte and to Denver, a city then only in name, and then on to Santa Fe, where a part of our original party left us.

"Santa Fe was then in the zenith of her glory. Great freight teams were arriving and departing daily. It seemed to be general headquarters for the whole western country, and there was no end of its gambling and wealth.

"Our captain left us there. Thirty-nine of us came on down to Socorro, New Mexico, where we made a slight halt to rest our team. Under the guidance of some friendly Indians we came on across the country to Santa Rita, following an old Indian trail to a place now known as Camp Villines. There were no Mexicans at Santa Rita, they having long since been driven out of the country by the Indians.

"The old dumps still appear just about as they are today, but the kneeling nun was fully as high as the main cliff. From there we passed on down the Whitewater to Hudson's Springs where we camped for two weeks. The country was literally full of wild horses and cattle, and antelope and deer could be seen in any direction. Hudson's Springs used to be called 'Ojo Toro', or bull spring, deriving its name from the large number of wild bulls that drank there daily.

"The warm springs now owned by Head and Hearst's were called Ojo Bernado, 'deer springs', while the spring still further to the southwest was called Ojo Vaca, 'cow springs'--a name which is retained to this day.

"It seemed to me the water of Hudson Spring's was much warmer than it is today. I remember that we would kill and draw a rabbit, fill it with a little bacon and salt, shove it far down in the springs, and in an hour or so it was well cooked. The boy's never built a fire to make their coffee or tea--the water was warm enough for that.

"Tens of thousands of quail and rabbits came in every evening to get water and you bet we lived fat while we were there.

"One fellow who was a sort of a wag suggested that when the country settled up we could come back and organize the 'Toro Soup Co'. He said it would be such an easy matter to throw in some cattle and pipe the soup out over the plains. Poor fellow--he famished a few days after that for water on the plains south of where Lordsburg now stands.

"Our Indians would go no farther than Hudson, but put us on the trail to Ojo Vaca, but the country was so badly cut up by cattle trails that we missed the springs and for two-and-a-half days and two nights we traveled on and on without water. He who has not been there cannot imagine the extreme torture of thirst.

"Well, we finally arrived at Santa Domingo ranch, now known as Cloverdale. Two of our men and thirty-seven head of horses perished on the trip. There was no one living there then, but there were the remains of a corral and some peach trees. The Indians had driven the people away or killed them. We found the water by watching the wild cattle."

Informant was Mr. H. Whitehall, first Sheriff of Grant County--as originally told to H. A. Bruce in the 1900's.


1895 Map Before Harding County Was Created