Captain Thomas Branigan Doña Ana County, New Mexico

Captain Thomas Branigan, a fruit grower and mine owner of Las Cruces, whose varied experience in the west have made him thoroughly familiar with its history in all its phases, was born in Edinburg, Scotland, in 1847 and when two years of age was brought to the United States, the family home being established in Ohio in 1849. He was educated in the public schools of Ohio, where he spent his early youth. In 1862 at the extremely early age of fourteen years, he enlisted for service as a private of Company I, One Hundred and Third Regiment of Ohio Volunteers. He participated in the siege of Knoxville under Burnside, in the battle of Armstrong Hill, and many engagements in eastern Tennessee. In May, 1864, the Army of Ohio joined Sherman near Dalton, Georgia, and he thus became a part of Sherman's magnificent army during the memorable Atlanta campaign. On the 14th of May, 1864, the brigade to which he belonged, consisting of the regiments under General Manson, made the charge at Resaca and took the first line of works in the fierce fight which ensued. He was wounded at Resaca, but continued with the command and was in many engagements during the advance upon Atlanta. Captain Branigan was the first man of Sherman's army to cross the Chattahoochee River in front of Atlanta, and thus lead the way across that historic stream. The hazardous feat was accomplished in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties and after the failure of a detachment of troops from Colonel Cameron's brigade to effect a crossing of the wide and rapidly flowing stream. The thunder of a rebel battery concealed about ten hundred yards down the river, and the possibility of unknown foes on the opposite bank, only spurred this boy of scarce sixteen years to greater effort. He struck boldly into the water, and upon reaching the opposite shore, finding the field clear, signaled to Colonel Casement, whereupon he was quickly followed by his own company under Captain George Redway, then by the One Hundred and Third Ohio, and eventually the whole Twenty-third Corps was thrown across on pontoons. According to the diary of Captain George Redway, of the General Land Office, Washington, D. C. this occurred on July 8, 1864. In recognition of this meritorious service the boy was made a corporal. After the close of hostilities he was mustered out on the 12th of June at Raleigh, North Carolina, being then but seventeen years of age; yet on the field of battle he displayed valor and loyalty equal to that of many a veteran of twice his years.

When the war was over Captain Branigan entered the Mennonite College at Wadsworth, Ohio, continuing his studies for a year, and in the spring of 1867 came to the west. He first engaged in buffalo hunting, killing those animals on the plains for Shoemaker for a few months, but later went to Fort Lyon, where he remained in the government employ until the fall of 1867, when he made his way to the Elizabethtown mines in northern New Mexico. Losing all he had here in a mining venture, in 1868 he went to Denver, attracted by the Pike's Peak gold discoveries, and entered the employ of the well-known stage owner, Holladay, acting as a driver on his stage line from Denver to Cheyenne. He next turned his attention to bridge building, and became an expert in that line in the employ of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. These early days on the plains of the middle west and over the old Santa Fe trail, when law and order were left behind at the Mississippi river, and where the wild Indian and buffalo roamed the lonely wastes, were years full of adventure and thrilling experience. Captain Branigan has volumes of plain lore and personal experience with which to fill the willing ear. He had an intimate acquaintance with many of the well-known characters of the frontier. The famous "Wild Bill," Will Hickox and the brave Tom Smith, of Abilene, Kansas, fame, were comrades in many a stirring incident of frontier life.

Later Captain Branigan returned to Ohio, where, in company with his brother, he operated successfully in lands and stock. Subsequently he spent two years as an officer at the Ohio State penitentiary, and in 1882 went to the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation as captain of Indian police and chief of scouts, which position he occupied until the fall of 1885, when he resigned. In the capacity of chief of Indian scouts he had marked success and an interesting and varied experience. He brought his company of Indian scouts to a high state of training and soldierly discipline, which enabled them to protect themselves and the people living on the frontier. The following year he was appointed head detective on the Texas Pacific Railroad, and in August, 1886, he received a telegram from General Bradley, commander of the department, asking him to go to the reservation and raise a company of scouts for campaign service against the Indian chief, Geronimo, and his band of hostile red men, for the Apache war was then on. Captain Branigan immediately responded to the request and served with a scouting party under Lieutenant Wrenn, guarding the waters of southern New Mexico and of old Mexico. In the fall, after the capture of Geronimo, he went to Fort Stanton and called for his discharge. He then came to Las Cruces, purchased land and began the raising of bees and the production of honey. At the same time he was interested extensively in gold mining in Sierra County. After disposing of a part of his mining property, he settled on a ranch near Las Cruces, and has since been engaged in the raising of fruit and alfalfa farming, and in copper, gold and silver mining. His land is well watered, and he has met with a creditable measure of success in his horticultural pursuits. On June 1. 1897, he was married to Miss Alice B. Montgomery, at Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Captain Branigan has also been called to public office during his residence in Doña Ana County. He was elected on the Republican ticket to the office of county assessor for the years 1899 and 1900. For eight years he has been a member of the Dona Ana County Republican central committee, and during this time treasurer of said committee. He is a commissioner of the Las Cruces Ditch Association and secretary and treasurer of said organization. He is also one of the two appraisers on the board of the Dona Ana Bend Colony Grant. He is at present and has been for several years a member of the board of education of Las Cruces, and during said term of service has been clerk of said board. Captain Branigan has taken a great interest in the educational affairs of his community and has given liberally of his time and energy in this behalf, especially during the erection of the handsome new high school building which has just been completed at a cost of $20,000. He had assisted materially in raising the grade and improving the condition of the public school of his town.

Captain Branigan belongs to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, to Phil Sheridan Post No. 17, G. A. R., and is at present junior vice-commander of the department of New Mexico. He is and has been at all times during his long residence in the Territory closely identified with its substantial progress and improvement, co-operating in all movements that are of direct benefit to the community in which he resides.

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Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.

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Created 1996 by Charles Barnum & 2016 by Judy White

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