Archive for the 'History' Category

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Picacho — Forgotten Butterfield Stage Stop

Many who have written about the Butterfield Overland Mail have left out the Picacho stage stop, sometimes called Rancho Picacho, in their accounts. This is a bit surprising as the very first written account of the Butterfield trail mentions the Picacho stop.
Waterman Lilly Ormsby
Waterman Lilly Ormsby, a special correspondent for the New York Herald, took the first stage from St. Louis to San Francisco so he could report on the experience. He was the only passenger with a straight-through ticket. He left St. Louis on September 16, 1858 and arrived in San Francisco 24 days later, the stage having traveled day and night, stopping so passengers could sleep only every second or third night.

During the trip Ormsby wrote 8 articles about the trip, which were published in the Herald.

Mesilla was almost exactly half way between St. Louis and San Francisco.

Here is what Ormsby wrote on leaving Mesilla:

“A few miles from Messilla [Mesilla] we changed our horses for another team of those interminable mules, and started on a dreary ride of 52 miles for Cook’s Spring. This is the commencement of that series of deserts without water extending from the Rio Grande to the Gila – one of the most tedious portions of the route.

Our road lay through what was called the Pecatch [Picacho] Pass, and, as I walked nearly all the way through it, it seemed to me rather mountainous. It was about 2 miles long and had some very bad hills. In comparison with other passes and canyons on the route, it was not very bad, though quite bad enough and all uphill. When, however, we reached the summit, we were upon the border of a broad and level plain extending as far away as the eye could reach. At our backs were the ranges of the Oregon [Organ] Mountains, the debris of the Rocky Mountains, forming the Eastern boundary of the Messilla [Mesilla] Valley. In front we could just see in the distance Cooke’s peak, rising from the plain in bold prominence from among the surrounding hills.”

The stop where the stage changed from horses to mules was the Picacho stop. Mules were used when the road was rough and mountainous. Mules could handle rougher terrain, but were slower than horses, so the Picacho stop was important, else mules would have had to be put on in Mesilla, making it a tough pull to reach the first stage stop after Picacho, Rough and Ready.

As noted in this post and confirmed by the Ormsby quote above, the stage went north of Picacho peak, not south as almost all writers have it. There was a southern road that stayed on the plains, which horse riders often took, but the water necessary for animals pulling a stage was available only on the mountainous route.

The last remains of the stage stop in Picacho were torn down in 1954, but here is the location today in the old village of Picacho:
Picacho Station
Below is a Google satellite image with the location of the Picacho station marked (white square). The GPS is 32.32459, -106.84989. The black line shows the route the stage took through Picacho.
Picacho Butterfield Stage Station Map
Here is an old adobe in Picacho probably built in the 1890s.
Picacho Old Adobe

See also:
Picacho Cemetery
Picacho — A Brief History
Picacho Peak
Rough and Ready — Butterfield Stage Stop
Trip to Mason’s Ranch

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Monday, August 8th, 2011

Mesilla Duel — Legal Considerations

As noted in the post Colt’s Six-Shooters at 15 Paces, Jose Manuel Gallegos and Judge John S. Watts fought a duel “near the Mexican line” on September 10, 1859. Neither man was injured, although they each fired five bullets using what were then advanced, modern weapons.

Why did they choose to fight “near the Mexican line?”

They did so because the legal sanctions against dueling in New Mexico at the time were severe.

Section 20 of Chapter 11 of the Territorial laws in 1859 stated:

“Every person who shall by previous engagement or appointment fight a duel within the jurisdiction of this Territory, and in so doing shall inflict a wound upon any person, whereof the person so injured shall die, shall be deemed guilty of murder in the second degree.”

The punishment provided in the same statues for second degree murder  if premeditation was involved was life in prison.

It was also against the law to fight a duel even if no one was wounded or killed:

“Every person who shall engage in a duel with any deadly weapon, although no homicide ensues, or shall challenge another to fight such duel, or shall send or deliver any written or verbal message purporting or intending to be such challenge, although no duel ensues, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail or territorial prison not less than one year, or shall be fined in any sum not leas than two hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars.”

But it wasn’t just duelers who faced extreme legal liability. Their seconds also could be charged with murder:

“Every person who shall be the second of either party in such duel as is mentioned in the preceding section, and shall be present when such wound shall be inflicted, whereof death shall ensue, shall be deemed to be an accessory before the fact to the crime of murder in the fifth degree.”

The strict provisions of the law intended to prevent dueling didn’t end there, however. Both the act of issuing and accepting a challenge were illegal:

“Every person who shall engage in a duel with any deadly weapon, although no homicide ensues, or shall challenge another to fight such duel, or shall send or deliver any written or verbal message purporting or intending to be such challenge, although no duel ensues, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail or territorial prison not less than one year, or shall be fined in any sum not leas than two hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars.”

“Every person who shall accept such challenge, or who shall knowingly carry or deliver any such challenge or message, whether a duel ensues or not; and every person who shall be present at the fighting of a duel with deadly weapons, as an aid, or second, or surgeon, or who shall advise, or encourage, or promote such duel, shall pay a fine of not less than five hundred dollars, nor more than one thousand dollars.”

See also:
Colt’s Six Shooters at 15 Paces

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Monday, February 1st, 2010

Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak, 4959 feet, about 7 miles from Las Cruces. (Click for a larger image.)

The old village of Picacho is located southeast of the peak, at the edge of the Mesilla Valley. Picacho was a stage stop on the , the first stop after Mesilla. From Picacho, the stage climbed the mesa and went around the north side of Picacho Peak through Box Canyon. This lead to a very difficult route through several mountain ranges, but was the only route on which water could be supplied at the stage stops, which were located about one hour of travel time apart.

From Mesilla the stage stops to the Arizona border were: Picacho, Rough and Ready, Goodsight, Cooke’s Springs, Mimbres, Cow Springs, Soldiers’s Farewell, Barney’s, Steins Peak.

The Butterfield Stage began operation on September 15, 1858, with stages leaving San Francisco and St. Louis, the two ends of the line, on that day. Mesilla was located about the middle of the route.

The Butterfield Stage was put out of operation by the start of the Civil War.

See also:
Picacho Cemetery
Picacho — A Brief History

Rough and Ready — Butterfield Stage Stop

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Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Colt’s Six-Shooters at 15 Paces

DUEL NEAR MESILLA — Correspondence dated Mesilla, 10th September, says:

On Sunday (4th September) Otero, the Democratic nominee for Delegate from New Mexico, made a speech in the Plaza in this town. He was answered by Judge [John S.] Watts, a Galligos [Gallegos] stumper. In the course of his remarks he made allusion to the family of Otero in such a manner that Otero gave him the lie. A challenge ensued, and the parties, accompanied by their seconds, surgeons, etc., met yesterday morning, near the Mexican line. Three shots were exchanged. Weapons, Colt’s navy six-shooters; distance, fifteen paces.

After the first fire the seconds endeavored to effect a reconciliation, but were unable to do so. Two more shots were exchanged without effect, when the seconds withdrew their principals from the field. The difficulty still remains unsettled, however. Both parties behaved with especial gallantry and coolness. After the second shot, Otero lighted his cigarito and enjoyed his smoke, while Watts amused himself with whistling.

Source: Sacramento Daily Union (newspaper), October 5, 1859

In the election referred to in this article, Delegate from New Mexico to the legislature of the United States, was defeated by . This was a continuation of a very personal political war between the two men that begin in 1855.

Gallegos and Otero dominated early New Mexico politics.

Jose Manuel Gallegos

Gallegos was born in New Mexico in 1815 while it was still part of Mexico and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1840. When New Mexico became a territory of the United States as a result of the Mexican-American war, Gallegos participated in the planning of a plot to revolt against American authorities and restore New Mexico to Mexican control. As a result of that activity and other conflicts with the Catholic Church, Bishop forced Gallegos’ resignation from the priesthood in 1846.

Always very political, Gallegos had served in the Department of New Mexico Assembly under Mexican rule from 1843 to 1846. Even though he opposed American rule following the Mexican-American war, he evidently decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. Gallegos was elected to the American New Mexico Territorial Council in 1851, and then won election as the Territory’s Delegate to the US Congress in 1853.

In 1855, Gallegos ran against Otero for the first time, and won a second term as Delegate. But Otero alleged massive voter fraud in Mesilla and he eventually prevailed, due primarily to his party’s control of the certification process. Gallegos was forced to give up his position several months before his term ended, and Otero replaced him.

Miguel Antonio Otero

So the 1859 election contest between Gallegos and Otero was a blood match between two men who heartily despised each other. Adding to the open bitterness of the conflict, Bishop Lamy strongly supported Otero, making the election a continuation of his old feud with Gallegos.

After Gallegos lost as Delegate in 1859, he won election to the New Mexico Territorial legislature in 1860 and served as Speaker of the House.

Gallegos failed again as Delegate candidate in 1862, but in 1871, after switching to the Democratic Party, he succeeded in defeating and becoming Delegate for a third time.

The Gallegos/Chavez contest was the cause of the Mesilla Riot, August 27, 1871, which resulted in at least seven deaths and 30 woundings. More on the Mesilla Riot in a later posting.

Gallegos died April 21, 1875 and is buried in the Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe.

See Also:
Mesilla Duel — Legal Considerations

Hispanic Americans in Congress, Carmen E. Enciso and Tracy North, 1996.
History of New Mexico: From the Spanish Conquest to the Present Time, Helen Haines, 1891.
The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Ralph Emerson Twitchell, 1917.

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Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Mesilla Stage Coach – More

As noted in this prior post, , Louis Cardis had just established a stage coach line from Mesilla to San Antonio/Austin, with rail connections to St. Louis, when he was murdered.

Cardis’ line was called The Texas & California Stage Company. As shown in this, his first of only two advertisements, his line used four-horse .

The one-way cost from Mesilla to St. Louis, which included the train fare, was $107.50. It’s interesting that it was not rounded either up or down.

Mesilla Valley Independent (newspaper), October 13, 1877

His Way Table from the same issue shows the stops from Mesilla to Fort Concho. The average distance between stops is about 30 miles. At each stop the horses would be changed. If the stage broke down between stops, the plan would have been to unsaddle a horse and ride to the nearest stop to obtain what was necessary to repair the coach.

Time was important even in that age. That is why the stage rode night and day for several days before pausing to permit the passengers to sleep a little. Hotel or sleep accommodation charges were not included in the fare.

Meals were available at each stop for 50 cents.

Mesilla Valley Independent (newspaper), October 13, 1877

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Friday, March 6th, 2009

Stage Coach from Mesilla – Unfulfilled Promise

Stage Leaving Town – Library of Congress Photo

“Hon. of El Paso was in town during the early part of the week completing arrangements for starting a line of coaches between Mesilla and El Paso. This line fills the break and gives us a through line of coaches from San Diego, Cal., to San Antonio and Austin Texas. Mr. Cardis is the proprietor of the line of coaches running from El Paso to Fort Davis Texas, from which point there is close connection with other lines of coaches that connect with the railroads. He has now extended his line to Mesilla and Las Cruces, and has succeeded in effecting an arrangement with the other state companies on the route by which through tickets to St. Louis from Silver City, Mesilla, Las Cruces or El Paso are furnished at remarkably low rates.”

“Mr. Cardis has met and overcome many obstacles in bringing about this happy result, obstacles that would have dismayed and discouraged a man of less energy; and he is not only entitled to great credit, but also deserves a liberal support from the traveling public. Under the new arrangement, a person desiring to visit the east from this place can procure a through ticket to St. Louis over this route for $107.50, or a ticket to go and return for $161.25. This is a very great reduction on former rates of fare and is as low as can reasonably be expected. Speaking from personal experience we recommend the Southern route as being far superior to any other; the roads are better, frequent opportunities are afforded to obtain rest and sleep; incidental expenses are less, and the traveler in winter never suffers from the severe cold that is experienced on the northern route.”

“Mr. Cardis’ coach leaves here every Monday* morning at 7 o’clock; at mid-day cottonwood ranche is reached and the traveler can obtain a good meal and an hour’s rest. El Paso is reached the same evening; here the traveler will find good hotel accommodations, and he takes his seat at seven o’clock the next morning in one of Mr. Cardis’ elegant Four Horse Coaches and rolls out of El Paso refreshed by a full night’s sleep.”

Fort Davis – Library of Congress Photo

“Two days takes him to where he again lays over one night and has another opportunity to obtain a good rest, and where he will find persons who will take pleasure in administering to his wants and comfort.”

Fort Concho – Library of Congress Photo

“He starts the next morning for which is reached in three days. Here the traveler will again find comfortable quarters and can rely upon being well cared for. Leaving Fort Concho in a fine concord coach eh arrives at either San Antonio or Austin in two days, and there takes the rail for St. Louis, or New Orleans.”

“The traveler over this route will discover that nothing has been left undone to contribute to his comfort. He will find it to be the cheapest, the safest, the most comfortable route by which to reach the States. He will find stations, every few miles between Mesilla and the Railroad, where he can get good meals at 50 cents per meal. On the whole we recommend this route in preference to any other.”

Mesilla Valley Independent, Sept 22, 1877 (newspaper)


This stage line was a promise unfulfilled. 18 days after this article appeared, Cardis was murdered by , one of the many victims of the .

“On… October 10… Cardis entered the store of E. Schutz and Brother, and asked one of the clerks to write a letter for him. He was sitting in a rocker with his back to the door when… Howard enter[ed] the front door with a double-barreled shotgun…. Cardis immediately rose, passed behind the clerk, and took a position back of the desk which concealed the upper part of his body. Howard emptied one barrel into the lower part of [Cardis’] body and legs and as the torso sank into view, the second charge of buckshot penetrated his heart.”The Texas Rangers by Walter Prescott Webb.

On December 12, 1877, Howard went to San Elizario with a guard of Texas Rangers. They were attacked by a enraged mob demanding Howard be surrendered. On December 17, he gave himself up to the mob, which quickly organized a firing squad of Mexicans, to provide the shooters with some legal protection from American consequences:

“After they fired, Jesús Telles ran up and attempted to slash Howard’s face with a machete. He swung his weapon, but Howard twisted away, and Telles cut off two of his own toes instead. The bodies of Howard and two of his agents, also shot by the firing squad, were mutilated and dumped down an old well about a half mile away.”

A Ride You Don’t Want To Take

Stage Coach Hanging – Library of Congress Photo


The Texas Rangers, by Walter Prescott Webb
Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio Grande by Paul Cool

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Sunday, August 31st, 2008

The Telegraph Arrives in Mesilla – Feb 5, 1879

Completion of the Southern Competing
Transcontinental U. S. Mil. Tel-Line
Congratulations to All
Rates Cheaper
Oh! For Southern Competing Railroad


Denison Tex. 5.

Editor NEWS:

Mesilla, compliments of Denison Texas to citizens of Mesilla N. M. congratulations on completion of direct telegraphic communication over United States Military Telegraph lines.



Mesilla N. M. 10:15 a. m. Feb. 5. ’79

To Lt. Tengle and citizens Denison Texas:

In answer to your telegram accept congratulations of THE MESILLA NEWS and citizens of Mesilla Valley to Lieuts. Tengle and Allen and through them to Signal Service War Department, also to citizens of Denison Texas, on completion of through Southern Competing Transcontinental Telegraph line. Now for Southern competing Transcontinental Railroad.

Ira M. Bond


Denison Tex. 2 – 5.



Denison Tex.


Mesilla 5.

Denison Tex.

Will X. — con mucho gusto,



The above were some of our telegrams sent and received on Feb. 5th [1879], the first day the through, Competing, Transcontinental United States Military Telegraph Line commenced working. The great importance of this line to the business interests of, not only the south and west, but of the whole country, for the present and future can hardly be estimated. The only thing that will surpass it will be when we get a southern competing Transcontinental Railroad, which looks now like it will be in the no distance future. Mesilla now has not only an important signal office, but is the important telegraph center of the Great Southwest. The line works like a charm from Mesilla to Denison Tex., a distance of about one thousand miles, each "click" of the instruments being as it were, simultaneous, though the difference in time being nearly an hour.

THE NEWS made proper mention at the time when Lieut. Allen completed his part of this line, 100 miles east of El Paso, so it only remained for Lieut. Tengle to complete his part in order to make a through connection.

Operator White informs us that the automatic repeaters here work to his entire satisfaction only requiring careful attention, while at they work the repeaters with button. A through message from Denison Texas to San Diego Cal. about 1800 miles will work through repeaters at Fort Concho, Mesilla and Tucson A. T. [Arizona Territory]. There are 80 cells now in the battery here, and batteries at Davis, Concho and Denison.

The rates for sending and receiving all telegrams for all places on the U. S. Mil. Tel. line, to the States via Tex. Route, will be about one half that it is via Santa Fe and Pueblo. Even now telegrams from Albuquerque and Santa Fe for the states are sent via Mesilla and Denison Tex.

Lieut. Allen, supt. of the New Mexico division, U. S. Mil. Tel. has now about 700 miles of line under his charge. We hope he could find it to his advantage to move Headquarters to Mesilla, as it would place him near the center of his duties, as also near the center of his line, instead of way off to one end. The work at this office is already increasing quite rapidly, and we would not be surprised if very soon 2 operators and 2 repairmen were not required at this place.

Oh! For a southern competing Transcontinental railroad. Where the benefit of the competing telegraph is felt by one, the benefits of the railroad would be felt by a thousand and a thousand fold. Come on with your Railroads from north, south, east and west if you want to carry away our millions of wealth, and give us somewhere on the Rio Grande a grand railroad center.

Mesilla News, Feb 8, 1879 (newspaper)


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Friday, August 29th, 2008

The Spineless Promise

As noted in this post , Luther Burbank , "The Plant Wizard," developed the spineless cactus with the dream of providing unlimited cattle feed in arid lands. His dream excited many cattlemen, but was never realized. Here’s an article from the 1909 Mesilla/Las Cruces newspaper reflecting that hope.

The Thornless Cactus


"Too much value can not be placed on Burbank’s thornless cactus as a fodder for cattle," was the declaration made by Charles J. Welch, who has a great cattle ranch at Los Binos, in southern California.


Mr. Welch last year planted thousands of the Burbank cactus plants and says they are thriving and growing in every way, as Mr. Burbank said they would.


He and other Los Angeles men are arranging for other large shipments of this plant. Southern Pacific land commissioners are also contemplating planting large areas of Burbank cactus on desert lands along their railroad system.


— Rio Grande Republican, September 3, 1909

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Friday, April 25th, 2008

Mesilla Museum Display

The opened this evening with a dedication ceremony featuring the Mayor of Mesilla and many Mesilla citizens. A welcome part of the opening ceremony was a display of some of the materials being collected for the Mesilla Museum, which will emphasize the history of Mesilla, including it’s role in the saga.

Billy the Kid was tried in the courthouse on the Mesilla plaza in April, 1881 for two killings. He was acquitted of the killing of Andrew A. “Buckshot” Roberts, which occurred on April 4, 1878. He was convicted of the killing of Sheriff William Brady, which happened a few days before, on April 1, 1878.

The sentence for the killing of Sheriff Brady was death by hanging, to be carried out May 13, 1881. That didn’t happen, of course, because Billy the Kid escaped from the Lincoln jail 15 days before he was to be hung. The hanging was to be carried out in because that’s where the killing of Sheriff Brady had occurred.

The most intriguing item on display this evening was the barber chair where Billy the Kid was given a haircut before his trial. The chair is privately owned and was being displayed only for the ceremony.

The chair was manufactured in the early 1870s. It was re-covered in the 1980s, before the current owner acquired it. The reupholstering covered up several bullet holes that were in the chair, of unknown origin.

The permanent display in the center includes numerous historical Mesilla photos.

Here’s a photo of the original San Albino church, which was torn down when the current church was constructed in 1908:

Here’s a photo of the consecration of the new San Albino church in 1908:

Here’s a picture of the Mesilla plaza in 1900. The first San Albino can be seen in the distance.

Here’s a picture of the Fountain Theatre taken about 1930:

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See also:
Billy the Kid’s Grave
Did Billy the Kid Stay at La Posta in Mesilla?
Billy the Kid Display – Mesilla
Saving the Pat Garrett Marker
Billy’s DNA
Old Mesilla Courthouse
Billy the Kid
Fountain Theater – History


Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Billy the Kid Display — Mesilla

The Town of Mesilla is hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the J. Paul Taylor Visitor Center Thursday, April 24 at 5:30 p.m.

As part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony there will be display inside the Visitor Center. The display will feature historical photos, information and artifacts pertaining to Mesilla’s past. The subject is the historic period of April 1881, when Billy the Kid was a prisoner in Mesilla and tried and convicted of murder. A team of volunteers has collected names and items for the display. One of the items is the barber chair – built c1870 – in which Billy the Kid had his hair cut before the trial. The chair was once in the Billy the Kid Museum, owned by Dr. George Griggs in the 1930s, which is now La Posta Restaurant. The chair is currently in a private collection. An open house of the museum display will take place from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The visitor center is an extension of the current Mesilla Town Hall, located at 2231 Avenida de Mesilla.

For more information about the ceremony, call Kristie Medina at (575) 524-3262 ext. 116.

See also:
Billy the Kid’s Grave
Did Billy the Kid Stay at La Posta in Mesilla?
Mesilla Museum Display
Saving the Pat Garrett Marker
Billy’s DNA
Old Mesilla Courthouse
Billy the Kid