On Tuesday, September 1, 1903, a fire that lasted a little over an hour destroyed almost all of Elizabethtown, New Mexico’s business district and began the demise of the 36-year-old municipality.
The blaze began around 2:15 p.m. in a defective stove flue at Remsberg & Co. Mercantile. By three o’clock, nothing was left of the store except $300 in merchandise and the company’s books and cash on hand.
In the meantime, the flames had spread to the Mutz Hotel next door. From there, Harry Brainard’s saloon and warehouse caught fire, then the general store next to Brainard’s. Flying embers ignited the Moreno Hotel and it was also destroyed.
By 3:30 p.m., almost all of Etown’s mercantile district had been reduced to ashes. The only store left standing was Herman Froelick’s.
Although the Mutz Hotel would be rebuilt in stone, the conflagration was the beginning of the end for Etown. Over the next two years, miners, store owners, the local schoolteacher, and even Elizabethtowns’ favorite vegetable wagon man would flee town for other locales. Some of the remaining buildings would eventually be dismantled and then reassembled in what is now the Village of Eagle Nest, three miles to the south.
It’s a little amazing what a single fire can do.
Sources:The Elizabethtown New Mexico Story, F. Stanley, Dumas, Texas, 1961; September 4, 1903, Santa Fe New Mexican
On Tuesday, August 22, 1893, Richens Lacy “Uncle Dick” Wootton died in southern Colorado at the age of 77. Mountain man, trader, road builder, and a few other things besides, Wootton packed a lot of living into those 77 years.
The Virginia-born Wootton was about 7 when his family move to Kentucky. In his late teens. He moved to an uncle’s Mississippi cotton plantation, but at age 20 struck out for Independence, Missouri and got a job on a wagon train bound for Santa Fe.
In the next 57 years, Wootton would trade with the Ute and Sioux; trap with Ceran St. Vrain, Christopher “Kit” Carson, and Old Bill Williams; scout for the U.S. Army; operate a trading post in early Denver; and drive sheep from New Mexico to California, to name just a few of his adventures. However, Wootton is perhaps best remembered for two events: His decision not to guide John Fremont through the Rockies in the fateful winter of 1848/49 and the toll road he operated through Raton Pass between 1865 and 1878.
Wootton signed on in early November 1848 to guide Fremont’s fourth expedition in search of a winter railroad route across the Rocky Mountains. But by the middle of the month, it was clear that the coming winter was going to be unusually cold and Wootton warned Fremont not to even attempt to cross the Rockies. When Fremont refused to listen to his advice, Wootton resigned. Old Bill Williams took over in his stead and the party entered the Rockies under his guidance, but Fremont wouldn’t listen to him either. Only 21 of Fremont’s original 32 men made it out alive and two of them, including Williams, would die a couple months later, trying to retrieve records and equipment that had been left behind in the mad rush to escape the snow-bound mountains.
But Wootton lived to have yet further adventures. His toll road through Raton Pass was another inspired decision. He and a partner built 27 miles of roads and bridges along this mountainous stretch of the Santa Fe Trail and important connection between New Mexico and Colorado Territories. They charged $1.50 for wagons and 25 cents for anyone on horseback. Herded livestock cost 5 cents a head, while Indians were allowed free passage.
The road grossed an average of $600 a month and remained operational until 1878, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company track reached the Pass from Trinidad, Colorado. Then the AT&SF bought Wootton’s toll rights in exchange for $50 a month compensation for the remainder of his life and that of his fourth wife, Maria Paulina, who was some 40 years his junior.
On Saturday, February 24, 1821, halfway between Mexico City and Acapulco, General Agustin de Iturbide published the Plan of Iguala and effectively established Mexico’s independence from Spain and set the stage for American conquest of New Mexico, California, and the land in between.
The plan of Iguala maintained the Catholic Church as the official religion of Mexico, created an independent limited monarchy, and established equal rights for Spaniards and creoles. The new government also reversed the Spanish policy which forbade foreign merchants to enter New Mexico, thus opening the door for William Becknell and his mule train of goods as well as the many trappers and traders who would follow him down the Santa Fe Trail.
However, the new relationship with the United States was fraught with complications. Within a few years, Mexican officials realized that the Americans were taking every opportunity to keep from paying customs duties on the goods they brought into and the furs they took out of nuevomexico. Although officials tried various measures to control the Americans, nothing was really effective. The American trappers and traders continued to be a thorn in the side of the Mexican government. In fact, it could be argued that the Americans that the Mexicans allowed in after 1821 would turn out to be a major factor in the lack of resistance to the American invasion in 1846, 25 years later.
Sources: Paul Horgan, Great River,The Rio Grande in North American History, Wesleyan Univeristy Press, Middletown, CT, 1984; : Ralph E. Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. II, The Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, 1912; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, David J. Weber, U of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1970.
“Rues? Your last name is Roo-ess?” The young white man sitting at the Elizabethtown restaurant table looked at the old black man quizzically. “You mean Ruiz? Roo-eez? You got some Spanish in you?”
The cook shook his head. “All I know’s what my mama tol’ me,” he said. “My daddy was a Frenchman visiting ’round in Alabama. He stayed at the Big House for three weeks and took a shine to my mama while he was there. When I was born, she give me his last name.”
“Your master let her do that?”
The black man studied the plate of food in his hands for a long minute. “After the war, we could choose what last name we wanted,” he said quietly. “I chose my daddy’s name.”
“That food sure looks good,” the white man said. He moved his knife and fork farther apart on the bare wooden table.
Louis Rues put the plate down and turned away. He shook his head. People are people, no matter where you go, he thought ruefully as he went back to his stove.
On Saturday December 7, 1878 the first Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) railway engine crossed from Colorado into New Mexico Territory and the New Mexico and Southern Pacific, an ATSF subsidiary began building south toward Santa Fe.
It had been a race right to the finish, the ATSF barely making reaching the New Mexico Territory border from Kansas before the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached it from Denver.
The race began on October 30, 1868, when the ATSF railroad began laying track in Topeka, Kansas. The rail line headed west from there, following the already-established Santa Fe Trail to Raton Pass. Once into New Mexico, the track extended south to Las Vegas, then west through the Glorieta Pass. West of the pass, it moved away from the Trail and headed south to Albuquerque, which it reached in 1880. At Lamy, source of the limestone for Santa Fe’s Catholic cathedral, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific built a spur line north to Santa Fe, thus ensuring a connection to the Territorial capital.
With the railway came connections south and west, as well as east. The New Mexico and Southern Pacific line reached Albuquerque on April 5, 1880, then pushed south and west. It arrived in El Paso, TX in 1881, where it would connect to the Southern Pacific, which moved steadily west toward Arizona, reaching that boundary in late July 1881. In 1882, this southern route line would extend link Texas and California, forming, with the New Mexico and Southern Pacific’s routes in the rest of New Mexico, a network of rail throughout the Territory.
Fred Harvey was already providing food and lodging for ATSF’s passengers by the time ATSF tracks reached New Mexico, but the Territory was critical to the full development of his Harvey House concept. In 1883 the male waiters at Harvey’s Raton establishment became so unruly that he fired all of them and hired young women instead. The waitress experiment was so successful that Harvey got rid of the male waiters in all of his rail establishments and replaced them with young women, the iconic waitresses who would become known as the Harvey Girls. So, not only did rail come to New Mexico in early December 1878, but New Mexico would give rail the Harvey Girl, that image of feminine efficiency that has clung ever since to the legend of Fred Harvey and his railroad restaurant/hotels.
Sources: Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate, Roadside History of New Mexico, Mountain Press, Missoula, 1989; Richard W. Etulain, Beyond the Missouri, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2006; Corina A. Santisteven and Julia Moore, Eds., Taos, A topical history, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2013; Marta Weigle, editor, Telling New Mexico, a new history, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2009; Victor Westphall, The Public Domainin New Mexico, 1854-1881,UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1965.
When New Mexico’s first printing press arrived in Taos in late November 1835, its new owner Padre Antonio José Martinez didn’t waste any time putting it to work. On Friday, November 27, he announced that the press was be available to residents to use to publish “literary contributions.”
The press and its printer, Jesús María Baca of Durango, Mexico, had arrived in Santa Fe in 1832, brought there by Don Antonio Barreriro, a barrister and governmental deputy from Mexico City, apparently at the behest of nuevomexico Legislature’s Secretary, Don Ramón Abreu.
Barreriro used the new press to print a short-lived newspaper El Crepúsculo de la Libertad (The Dawn of Liberty), the first newspaper in New Mexico and possibly the first paper published west of the Mississippi. Abreu may have also used it to publish the first book printed in New Mexico, a spelling primer titled Cuaderno de Ortografía.
Following Barreriro’s return to Mexico, Ramón Abreu sold the printing equipment to Padre Martinez, the priest assigned to Taos’ Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel, who moved it to Taos. Once it and its printer were in place, Martinez put them to work, with output ranging from diligencia matrimonials (the standard forms for pre-nuptial investigations) to religious books. And hopefully Taos residents’ “literary contributions,” as well!
Sources: Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, NM 1981; Richard W. Etulain, New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Stories, UNM Press, Albuquerque 2002; Rubén Saláz Márquez, New Mexico A Brief Multi-History, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999.
Placido Sandoval slammed the pick mattock into the rocks at his feet in a blind fury. “This Prussian, this not truly Americano, how dare he speak to me in such a way? As if I were dirt, less than nothing?” he fumed. “Mi familia has lived in this country for generations. I am of the conquistadors, the flower of España, while he is of the peasants in his country. I heard him bragging of it, how he has raised himself above his ascendientes.” He smashed the wide edge of his mattock against the largest of the rocks. A chip flew off, ricocheting into the face of the man working beside him.
“¡A redo vaya!” the other laborer said. “The devil! Be careful!”
Placido Sandoval swung the pick again, just as sharply, and his companion stopped his own work to turn away. “It does no good to be angry,” he said over his shoulder.
Placido glared at him. “It is good for my soul,” he growled. He slammed the pick against the nearest rock. Three large pieces broke free and tumbled farther down the stone-filled gully. “I will not be beaten by such as he. I will not be cowed.”
“You there!” Edward Bergmann, the mining supervisor, called from the bank above them. “You Mexicans!”
The two men paused and looked up. The Prussian’s finger pointed accusingly at Sandoval, his fierce black eyes indignant. “Did I not tell you to go slowly, to be more methodical in your approach? I’ll fine you again if you don’t stop flailing around!”
“I’ll flail you!” Placido muttered as he and his companion returned to their work. But his mattock chopped more sullenly now, reflecting the pattern Bergmann had set for it. Suddenly, gold glinted from the ground. Placido glanced up at the bank. Bergmann had disappeared. Placido bent swiftly and pocketed the chip of rock and ore.
Placido’s companion chuckled as he continued to swing his own tool. “That’s a more productive approach,” he said approvingly. He glanced toward the bank. “Though more dangerous if you are caught.”
Placido Sandoval grunted an unwilling acknowledgement as he continued on with his work, chopping at stones.