San Juan County, New Mexico
San Juan County is in the extreme northwestern corner of New Mexico, being bounded north by Colorado, west by Arizona, east by Rio Arriba County and south by McKinley and a small portion of Bernalillo County. It contains 5,942 square miles, 3,802,880 acres, of which 1,958,400 acres are in the Navajo Indian reservation, 1,475,000 acres are subject to entry, about 260,000 acres have been appropriated and about 300,000 are estimated to be irrigable. It is one of the smaller counties of the Territory, and yet is nearly twice as large as the combined area of Rhode Island and Delaware. Its County seat is Aztec, on the Rio Animas, in the northeastern portion of the County. Lying outside the main railroad lines, being admirably adapted to horticulture and agriculture and about half of its area being embraced in the Indian reservation, San Juan is characteristically rural. Its small towns are chiefly the centers of farming communities, and its chief sources of wealth are live-stock, alfalfa and fruits.
Topography and Natural Features
The northern, or irrigable portion of San Juan County, presents the appearance of a basin surrounded on all sides with Mountains and high ridges, with a deep notch cut into one side for the exit of the San Juan River toward the Colorado. It is a portion of the foothill country of the Rocky mountain system, furrowed by fertile River valleys and checkered with broad and level mesas. Outside of the valleys and elevated plains the country consists of a series of "double lands," broken by arroyos and generally bearing luxurious growths of native grasses. The altitude ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 feet.
The County is watered by the San Juan River and its branches. The watershed is from the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, the main channel having its rise in Archuleta count}', that state. It enters New Mexico at the northeast corner of the County, makes a huge semicircle and departs at the extreme northwestern corner of the Territory on its course through Utah. Within San Juan County the total length of the River is one hundred and twenty-four miles, about thirty miles of which is over lands of the Navajo reservation. It is two hundred and seventy-five feet wide on an average, and has a fall of about eleven feet to the mile. In the spring and early summer it is only fordable at a few places, and its lowest depth is about two feet. Even as late as October and November its waters will generally reach a wagon bed. The least flow of the River will be about 4,000 cubic feet per second, or amply sufficient to irrigate 640,000 acres.
At Largo the River bottom widens out into rolling mesa and bottom lands available for cultivation. The most important of these tracts are known as the Bloomfield and Solomon mesas, which, with the bottom lands under them, will aggregate over 20,000 acres. They are on the north side of the River. On the south side, between the mouth of the Animas and Farmington, is a fine piece of valley land twenty-five miles long and about two broad. The Animas and La Plata empty into the San Juan near Farmington, about midway in the County.
The Animas River, which is the most important tributary of the San Juan, flows south from Durango, Colorado, near which place it is formed by the junction of two mountain streams, and will irrigate, if systematically handled, 30,000 or 40,000 acres of fruit land. The stream flows thirty miles within the county, averages one hundred and fifty feet in width and is eighteen inches deep at low water. Besides the valley of the Animas there is an important area of land included in the Farmington Glade, an interval between the Animas and La Plata Rivers, and embracing a strip of country eighteen miles long and from two to three wide. It will aggregate 25,000 acres of good irrigable land, well adapted to fruit raising. In this locality the traces of an ancient Aztec ditch may be seen, which once irrigated a large area of the glade from the Animas. The La Plata River flows in a deep, sandy bed and its waters generally disappear in the last week of August or the first week of September. Along the upper part of the River after it enters San Juan County there are several thousand acres cultivated, and at Jackson, near its mid-course, is a small Mormon colony with some one thousand acres under improvement.
These streams are permanent in character, but the flow fluctuates with the seasons, depending chiefly upon the melting of winter snows in spring and upon the so-called rainy season, occurring usually in the latter part of August and in September. The spring flow begins in the early part of March and reaches its maximum about the middle of May; then gradually declines until the fore part of July, when it reaches the normal summer flow. The rainy season flow is characterized by sudden freshets, which at times are of great volume, as in September, 1896, when a flow of seven thousand eight hundred feet per second was observed in the Animas River. Besides the valleys along the streams there is a vast extent of grain and fruit land lying back from the Rivers in large plateaus, a great portion of which will ultimately be irrigated from the streams at a reasonable expense. The altitude of the valleys averages 1,500 feet in the lower portion of the County, increasing as the Rivers are ascended at the rate of from fifteen to twenty-five feet per mile.
Irrigated and Irrigable Lands
It has been estimated that from the average flow of the San Juan, the Animas and La Plata Rivers, in whose valleys are the principal areas of irrigable land, there are available 6,250 cubic feet of water per second, or a volume sufficient to irrigate 1,000,000 acres. In addition and properly to be considered in the San Juan basin, are the lands on either side of the Largo, Canyon Blanco and Canyon Gallegos which flow into the parent stream from the south, but are dry part of the year. Still further south are twenty-four townships supplied with water, but less abundantly, from the headwaters of Rio Chaco, or Chusca, and the Ojo Amarilla.
According to a careful computation there are at least 600,000 acres in San Juan County available for irrigation, about 100,000 acres being actually under ditch, most of which is used for pasturage. The areas under cultivation embrace 5,000 acres on the Las Animas, under twenty ditches; 4,200 on the La Plata, with the same number of irrigation ditches; 5,000 acres on the San Juan, and 500 acres on the Rio de Los Pinos, in the extreme northeastern portion of the County.
The Irrigation Ditches
Irrigation and the cultivation of the soil thereby is not a new art in the San Juan County. The traces of ancient pueblos and surrounding irrigating canals may be seen in several places. On the south side of the Animas and skirting the bluffs is to be noticed a ditch of higher line than any now in use. It covers all that side of the valley down to the San Juan, and on the north side of the River is another entering the Farmington Glade.
The irrigation system of San Juan County is mainly described by the expression neighborhood ditches. The status of affairs in this regard is thus described by Granville Pendleton in a pamphlet published by authority of the New Mexican Bureau of Immigration in 1906: The farmers have joined in constructing canals and ditches sufficient to irrigate nearly all of the tillable land in the first or immediate bottoms of the Rivers and also some of the mesa lands on the second bottoms. While the various ditches and canals under the law are called corporation or community ditches, they are owned exclusively by the farmers and land owners having land under them, hi the first construction of these ditches or canals, the farmers owning adjoining land would associate themselves as a community ditch company to construct a ditch with sufficient capacity to irrigate all of their respective lands under this particular ditch. The shares of water were then divided in proportion to the amount of land that each held for irrigation. Each farmer thus procured a sufficient water right for the lands owned by him under this particular ditch. This water right goes with the land and is perpetual, the same as houses, fencing and other improvement. Of course, water rights can he divided, transferred and sold separately from the land or attached to other lands by deed or transfer.
The only expense connected with a water right in one of these community ditches is the amount of work and expense necessary each year in repairing and putting the ditches in proper shape. This expense is light and is done mostly in work of cleaning out and repairing the ditches, each water owner doing his pro rata shares of the work. The average cost of a water right for forty acres ranges from $10 to $25 and averages $15 to $17.
The one syndicate or corporation ditch in San Juan County is now known as the Animas. La Plata and San Juan Canal, or, more familiarly, the Coolidge Ditch. The canal is twenty miles long and was constructed by the Coolidge Brothers (Dr. J. W. and F. J., of Scranton, Pennsylvania) at a cost of $109,000 (including the acquirement of lands for the waterways'). The work was commenced in 1887 and the original builders still own and operate the canal. The supply is drawn from the Animas River near Aztec, and the course of the canal is westward to the La Plata. It is designed to irrigate some 10.000 acres, the main body of land lying just north of the town of Farmington. The Canyon Largo ditch, taken from the south side of the San Juan, near Largo, covers a large tract of land opposite Bloomfield and the High Line ditch, taken from the La Plata River near the Colorado state line, covers a considerable area between the La Plata and the Hogback.
The first successful irrigating canal on the San Juan was that constructed by J. C. Carson, Joseph Starriett and others, mostly stockmen, and was known as the Bloomfield ditch. It covered a portion of the San Juan valley east of the mouth of the Animas River, and is still in operation.
In September, 1904, the federal government sent a surveying Party into the La Plata valley for the purpose of planning irrigation works. They ran a line from the Animas River above Durango, but found that the expenses of the proposed undertaking would be too great, on account of the necessity of constructing tunnels for carrying the water. A good natural dam site is to be found near the Colorado line on the La Plata. Two irrigation projects have been under consideration by the Reclamation Service of the government. One covers 17,000 acres lying on both sides of the River; the other, about 9,000 additional acres on what is called the Meadows, a mesa between La Plata and Fruitland. The latter project includes a second reservoir at a point known as "the narrows," flooding about 1,000 acres, and being connected with the upper reservoir by a canal. The estimated cost per acre is about $30.
Among the most important development projects inaugurated in the County within recent years is that of the New Eden Ditch and Land Company, incorporated April 3, 1906, for the purpose of building a large canal from the Animas River to the mesas east of the valley, which is intended to irrigate about 30,000 acres of exceedingly fertile tableland. W. Goff Black, William T. Allen, Thomas P. Maddox," Robert W. Bray and Charles E. Clendenny are the principal spirits in the enterprise.
Several companies are considering the advisability of constructing a number of new ditches and canals that will bring under cultivation large bodies of rich government lands subject to homestead and desert land entries. Not one-fifth of the land that can thus be reclaimed has yet been filed upon. In the western part of the County, tributary to the La Plata valley, a large storage reservoir is contemplated, which will bring to productiveness considerable tracts of uplands and mesas, consisting of government land well adapted to fruit culture. The La Plata River, being the shortest in the County and having its source in the La Plata Mountains, very moderate in height, the surface drainage is small, the snows near its source melt rapidly and the supply of water sometimes does not last to the latter part of the irrigation season. As the valley is unusually fertile and productive when water is sufficient, it is all the more necessary that artificial storage should be provided, that none of the supply shall go to waste. Even under present conditions La Plata valley is one of the finest in the County, and for the past twenty-five years farming and fruit-growing have been profitably conducted on the first and second bottoms.
Resources of the County
Aside from the lands of the County susceptible of irrigation and cultivation, the country is one vast stock range, occupied by large herds of cattle and horses and flocks of sheep, thereby guaranteeing a good home market for the surplus forage grown in the valleys. Under the mild winters all kinds of stock subsist the year through without expense to the owner, except the marking and branding, until the time for fattening arrives. There are from 40,000 to 50,000 head of sheep fed each winter and from 8,000 to 10,000 head of cattle. Many of the latter are thoroughbreds Shorthorns, Herefords and Red Poles. It is only within the past few years that it has been demonstrated that alfalfa fed cattle make the finest of beef, and also the cheapest that can be produced For that reason stock-growers and farmers are acquiring the best breeds of cattle White Face, Shorthorns, Red Poles and Polled Angus for beef, and Jerseys and Holsteins for dairying purposes.
Farmers who have learned the value of alfalfa do not now feed grain to their stock unless for the heaviest kind of work, such as freighting or heavy teaming. It is the average feed for both horses and cows. The average yield is five tons per acre, and in San Juan County three crops can be cut. It does not deteriorate with successive crops, and with all its prodigious growth continuously fertilizes and invigorates the soil It is the most valuable crop in the County and the greatest source of wealth Stock sheep very rarely require feed in the winter. There are times, however, when snow covers the ground for a few days and at such time alfalfa is often fed. About 100,000 head of sheep are owned and grazed in the County at the present time, and the wool clip in 1905 amounted to some 350,000 pounds. There are 5,000 head of horses and about' as many goats. The raising of a good class of draught and rode horses is proving a profitable occupation, as is also the breeding of Angora goats. Goats need no feed the year round, and thrive in the open range. It is estimated that the public range of the County now embraces 1,500,000 acres, exclusive of the Navajo reservation.
Although cereals and vegetables of all kinds flourish in San Juan County, more progress has been made in horticulture than in any other branch of husbandry. The orchards extend along all the Rivers, those at Farmington and Junction City being the oldest and largest. Apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, cherries and all small fruits do well. Besides American grapes, the foreign varieties have succeeded beyond expectation, even the seedless Sultana ripening to perfection. Many varieties of apples bear the next year after setting, when set at two years from graft, and seem to be quite regular bearers thereafter, so that it is not necessary to wait from five to ten years for fruit, as is often the case in the middle states. Peaches, plums and apricots often bear the first year after being planted, and produce large crops during the second year. Southwestern Colorado is now almost wholly supplied with fruit from San Juan County, and the apples grown here have gained a reputation for fine flavor and freedom from blemishes not excelled by any other locality in the United States. In the Chicago markets they have sold as high as $5 per fifty-pound box. Besides the fruits mentioned, San Juan is a good country for all kinds of nuts, especially peanuts, almonds and black walnuts. The cottonwood, willow and cedar are native growths, while in ornamental trees the Lombard poplar, the maples, the weeping willow, the locust and the catalpa naturally flourish, and a great variety of roses, the honeysuckle, the snowball and a world of other flowers adorn the lawns and beautify the gardens.
Bee culture has passed the experimental stage, and there are several profitable
apiaries of 100 hives and upward. The orchards and alfalfa fields, and
especially the cleome or wild bee weed, furnish inexhaustible food supply. The
quality of the honey is superior, while the mild winters render it easy to carry
the bees through with comparatively small loss. Dairying is a rapidly growing
industry, and several creameries are about to be established at central points.
San Juan County was without railroads until 1905, when the Denver & Rio Grande constructed a standard-gauge branch line from Durango south through Aztec and Farmington. The main irrigable areas of the County are thus brought into close touch with the general markets of the west. The Colorado & Arizona Railroad has made three complete surveys through San Juan County one up the San Juan River to Pagosa Springs, Colorado; one up the Animas, via Durango, to Pueblo, and the third crossing the San Juan River at Jewett, and thence through the Meadows, the La Plata valley and the coal fields of that locality to Durango and Pueblo, Colorado. The Southern Pacific, of which system this line is really a part, has acquired title to large tracts of these coal lands, and has begun the construction of its main line from the copper district of Arizona to Denver. The road will follow the coal belt in the western portion of San Juan County, cross the San Juan River at Jewett, tapping the Meadows and La Plata valley on its way to Pueblo and Denver. As these coal fields constitute the largest body of the mineral of convenient access, not only to Arizona and Mexico, but to the southern sections of the Pacific coast, the opening of this line will mean much for the future development of the county.
The people of San Juan County have been supplied with another means of communication, almost as important as the railroad. In 1904 a telephone line was completed from Durango through the County by way of Aztec and Farmington, and on to Fruitland and La Plata valley, its entire circuit being about 150 miles. This connects with the long distance telephone line to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other points in New Mexico, as well as with the mining towns and lumbering camps of southwestern Colorado.
Scenery and Ruins
Along the valleys of the San Juan, Animas and La Plata Rivers are extensive, interesting and picturesque ruins of the ancient civilization of the Aztecs. Besides the irrigating canals are castles of stone, mortar and massive masonry and huge apartment houses that must have contained more than a thousand rooms. Buried deep in these ruins are found petrified corncobs, turkey bones, stone mortars and other articles which give a fragmentary idea of the domestic life of our ancestors. Long before the advent of the Spaniards the entire region evidently supported a vast and an advanced population. In the Chaco canyon, which empties its waters into San Juan from the south, are the ruins of seventeen villages, of which those near the Pueblo Bonito are the most wonderful. Several of the larger structures are of dressed stone and contain 1,200 rooms. At the pueblo itself there is a lower City in the valley and one two hundred feet higher on the mesa, connected by a stone stairway, which leads up the face of a bluff over one hundred and fifty feet high. In the exploration of this locality an archaeological company excavated five hundred rooms, in which it found 50,000 pieces of turquois, 10,000 pieces of pottery, 1,000 stone implements and many skeletons.
At the town of Aztec the foundations of more than a dozen large ruins are to be found, while directly across the River was a large pueblo, of which one three-story house still remains, over six hundred of its rooms being still in a good state of preservation. In the neighborhood of Fruitland and Olio the whole valley is covered with ruined structures. These pueblos differ from the others in New Mexico in that they are not built in inaccessible places, but on the open mesas. On the Mancos, however, and at other points are clustered cliff dwellings so difficult of access that modern ingenuity has been unable to reach them.
The Hyde Exploring Expedition of New Mexico, with headquarters at Farmington, was incorporated January 17. 1903, with a capital stock of $250,000, for the purpose of exploiting the ruins in the sections of the County above described. This corporation began operations on a large scale, and its work was so destructive that in 1906 Congress passed an act prohibiting similar research particularly the excavation of ancient Indian dwellings and ruins unless done under the supervision of agents of the government, if the scene of operations be government land. The Hyde Company closed its affairs in February, 1904, after heavy losses, and was succeeded by the San Juan Stores Company, which likewise suspended operations in the following winter.
From the standpoint of nature, San Juan County has a grandeur peculiarly its own. There is one view from near the center of the County which is especially grand. To the west and far down the San Juan valley towers Ship Rock, a beautiful peak of 1,200 feet, rising like a giant ship with all sails set. In the far southeast, on a high crag, stand two stone figures, carved by nature into the semblance of "Angels," as they are called. All along the southern horizon stretch either high, rolling mesas or weather-beaten cliffs, while to the north tower the cloud-crowned summits of the blue La Plata Mountains. This is only one of the many delightful prospects for tourists, but it embraces a stretch of country fully one hundred miles long.
County Seat Fight and County Officers
Like all other counties in the United States, San Juan had its fierce contentions before the seat of government was located with any degree of permanence. When the County was organized in 1887 the legislature named Aztec as its County seat, and the first meeting of the board of commissioners was held there on March 7th of that year. In the same month the citizens of the older town of Farmington petitioned for a removal to that place, and similar requests were received from Junction City, Largo and Mesa City. At the election held in 1890 for the location of the County seat Junction City received 255 votes, Aztec 246 and Farmington 1. The County officials refused to move until they received peremptory orders from Judge E. P. Seeds to do so. No building had yet been provided by Junction City, and after considerable delay in securing accommodations the County functionaries occupied their new quarters February 14. 1891. But the case was taken to the Territorial Supreme Court, which, in August, 1892, decided in favor of Aztec.
Following are the Officers of the County since its
1887 Commissioners, Moses Blancett (chairman), Daniel Rhodes, David Lobato; probate clerk, J. G. Kello; sheriff, Daniel Sullivan; assessor, J. G. Wullett; treasurer, C. H. McHenry. Since this year the choice has been by election.
1888-9, Commissioners, Henry Hull (chairman), L. F. Willmers, H. J. Kiffen; probate judge, Salome Jaquez; probate clerk, J. G. Kello; sheriff, J. C. Carson; assessor, Nestor Martinez; treasurer, Frank M. Pierce.
1890-1: Commissioners, Henry J. Kiffen (chairman), Simon Martinez, C. J. Moss; probate judge, Santiago Martinez; assessor, Lawrence Welch; probate clerk, J. W. Berry; sheriff, J. C. Carson; treasurer, J. N. Jaquez.
1892-3: Commissioners, J. G. Kello (chairman), Simon Martinez, T. J. Arrington; probate judge, Ricardo Archuleta; probate clerk, C. F. Jones; sheriff, A. E. Dustin; assessor, C. C. Pinkney; treasurer, Frank M. Pierce.
1894-5: Commissioners, P. M. Salmon (chairman), J. E. Manzanares, John Real; probate judge, Chrisostomo Dominguez; probate clerk. William McRae; sheriff, A. H. Dunning; assessor, Teofilo Jaques; treasurer, Monroe Fields.
1896-7: Commissioners, John Real (chairman), J. E. Manzanares, P. M. Salmon; probate judge, Ramon Lobato; probate clerk, William McRae; sheriff, J. W. Brown; assessor, Leonor Garcia; treasurer, Monroe Fields.
1898-9: Commissioners, T. J. Arrington (chairman). J. A. Jaques, A. J. Gilmour; probate judge, M. Pacheco; probate clerk. C. Y. Safford; sheriff, J. C. Dodson: assessor, John R. Young; treasurer. C. H. McHenry.
1 9001: Commissioners. C A. Chubb (chairman), J. Y. Lujan, C. Brimhall; probate judge, Juan B. Valdez; probate clerk, Charles Y. Safford; sheriff, J. W. Brown; assessor, D. J. Donovan: treasurer, Monroe Fields
1902-3: Commissioners. J. E. McCarty (chairman), J. R. Williams. J. Y. Lujan; probate judge, Marcelino Garcia; probate clerk. Joe Prewitt; sheriff, James E. Elmer; assessor, Boone C Vaughan; treasurer, W. G. Black.
1904-5: Commissioners, J. R. Williams, (chairman), J. Y. Lujan, Frank M. Pierce; probate judge, Frank Mir: probate clerk. L. G. Eblen: sheriff, Boone C. Vaughan; assessor, Richard Hendricks; treasurer, W. E. Williams.
As now organized there are thirty school districts in the County. At Farmington and Aztec the terms are from eight to nine months, and the schools are graded, with from three to four teachers. At Jewett there is a large Indian mission school, and about fifteen miles down the San Juan valley the government has just established the Ship Rock institution for the education of the Navajo Indians. The plan includes both mental training and practical education in farming, fruit-growing and other industrial pursuits. Large irrigating canals are being constructed in this locality and large tracts of land are being reclaimed and placed under cultivation. It may be added that almost since the establishment of the Navajo Indian reservation the national government has maintained several schools thereon.
Towns and Villages
Aztec, on the southeast bank of the Animas, and near the center of the voting population, is the County seat. It stands on the site of a native pueblo, has a population of 500 or 600 people and is twelve years old. The place has a good $10,000 court house, a high school building, three Churches (Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian), a modern flour mill, a bank, four or five general stores, two hardware stores, a hotel and drug store, a number of lawyers and physicians and sufficient tradesmen to meet the demands of the community. Of the fraternities, the Masons, Odd Fellows and Maccabees are represented by lodges.
Farmington, the oldest and largest town, has a population of about 750, and is "situated on the San Juan River between the Animas and La Plata. It was an Indian trading post thirty years ago and was for some time the County seat. From Farmington the full scenic beauty of the valley reveals itself, at this locality being the densest population of the County and the widest spread of cultivation. Every branch of trade and business is well represented in the place, besides the ordinary establishments of the region there being a flour mill, a distillery and evaporator and two lumber yards. It has a national bank and two weekly newspapers the Farmington Times-Hustler and the Farmington Enterprise a commodious brick school building, three Churches, and lodges of Masons, Odd Fellows, Maccabees, Woodmen and Workmen. Farmington is an incorporated town, has a system of waterworks and an electric light plant. At the present time it is the terminus of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.
Largo may be considered the center of population on the upper San Juan. Taking
with it the settlements on Pine River and at Bloomfield, the population is
between 1,000 and 1,200 persons, the majority of whom are of Spanish descent.
Ten miles north of Aztec is the village of Cedar Hill, and six miles south, on the Las Animas River and in the heart of a fair agricultural and fruit country, is the pretty little town of Flora Vista, or Flowery Vale. The latter is a station on the Denver & Rio Grande.
History of the County
In the early days of white settlement the region now embraced within the limits of San Juan County was occupied chiefly by cattlemen, most of who came down from Colorado with their herds. George Thompson was probably the most extensive cattle operator in the County during the pioneer period. He occupied the ranch in the upper San Juan valley as early as the spring of 1882. Though at one time he refused a cash offer of $320,000 for his cattle and horses, he lost everything during the hard times following the panic of 1803. He now resides in Trinidad. Mr. Thompson's herd at one time numbered fully 8,000 head. "Uncle" Washington Cox was also an extensive operator in the early days. He once refused $100,000 for all his branded stock, but died a pauper in Aztec. John and Charles Pierson, brothers, occupied the San Juan range about the same time and owned large herds.
For many years this region was a portion of the Jicarilla Apache Indian reservation. On the 4th of July, 1876, this portion of the reservation was thrown open to settlement, and a large number of whites, principally from Colorado, entered the new country and located claims, but few of these first settlers held their land. Some of those who came prior to 1886 and remained in the valleys of the San Juan, the Animas or the La Plata for any length of time were:
Most of the above brought horses or cattle, or both, into the country, which at that time was regarded as practically worthless for agriculture.
"Ike" and "Port" Stockton, brothers, and Eskridge were three leaders of a notorious band of cattle thieves who caused the early ranchers endless trouble. Their operations were primarily responsible for the so-called war between the white settlers and the Indians. Not only were the depredations of the rustlers a serious drawback to peaceful conditions, but the cowboys themselves, while honest, ran wild at times and were the cause of serious misunderstanding. "'Shooting up the town" such town as there was at Farmington at the time was a not uncommon form of diversion. Some of these rather too free-and-easy cowboys afterward settled down and were numbered among the best citizens of the County. The Indians, who suffered most from the depredations of the rougher element among the cowboys, regarded all white men alike, and the responsibility for the troubles between the two races, and especially for one or two unprovoked murders of Indians, so wrought up the Apaches that for a time it looked as if the white settlement would be annihilated.
The first permanent white settlement on the land now forming a portion of the site of Farmington was made in the late summer of 1876. In the spring of 1877 a general store was opened there by A. F. Miller, who was succeeded as proprietor by Frank M. Pierce. George Spencer opened trade with the Indians in 1880, his "establishment" being a tent. The first physician there was Dr. Steughton Mingus, who came about 1883. George Spence was the first lawyer in town, and Rey. Hugh Griffin, a missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held the first preaching services in the school house.
The land now occupied by Aztec, the County seat, was first owned by J. A. Koontz, who homesteaded it, and in 1890 sold forty acres to the Aztec Town site Company, composed of Colonel W. H. Williams, G. W. McCoy and others, to the number of twenty-five. The town made little progress at any particular period until 1905 when its growth became marked. Koontz, the original settler, came from Pennsylvania in 1871, developed a farm on land which included within its limits two large Aztec ruins, opened a general store and became wealthy. He was utterly lacking in public spirit, being entirely governed by considerations of personal gain. In 1890 he sold his store to Colonel W. H. Williams, a public-spirited gentleman, who has done much for the building of the community. Former Judge Granville Pendleton, who located in Aztec in 1898, became the best "boomer" the town ever had, though his methods were generally criticized.
For several years the government maintained an agricultural experiment station about a mile northwest of Aztec. This property was turned over to the County when the station was abandoned, and from the proceeds of its sale the present court house was erected in 1901-02 after a bitter fight between the supporters of Aztec and the champions of Farmington.
That portion of the San Juan valley between the mouth of the La Plata and the Navajo Indian reservation is occupied chiefly by the Mormon pioneers and their descendants. Its irrigation was first made possible by the construction of a community ditch by Judge S. T. Webster. L. C. Burnham, Walter Stevens, Henry Slade, Jefferson Slade and J. E. McCarty. Upon the construction of the "Coolidge ditch" farming land lying under the canal was at once developed by W. L. Kennedy, A. D. Coolidge, A. C. Huniker, A. C. English, Mr. Carman, William White and Albert White.
This section of the country, including Fruitland, Jewett and Kirkland, contains the largest Mormon settlement in New Mexico. The pioneer settlers were:
The Mormon settlement in the San Juan valley was entirely voluntary, and not under the direction of the Church authorities. The total Mormon population is now estimated at about 650, and it certainly is not in excess of 700. The total Mormon vote is estimated at about sixty thirty-five in the Fruitland district and twenty-five at Jewett. All are included in" one ward, called the Burnham ward, which is embraced within the San Juan stake under the presidency of Walter C. Lyman; its first bishop was L. C. Burnham, who was successively succeeded by James B. Ashcroft, Clayborn Brimhall and J. T. Nielson (the present incumbent). The Fruitland Tribune was established by William Evans and Frank Staplin on January 15, 1906, and is published semi-monthly. It is the pioneer paper of the valley west of Farmington.
A reliable member of the Mormon Church at Fruitland states that in all the history of the valley settlements but three men have had a plurality of wives. Of these, one is dead and one has removed from the community. The Mormons have been in a slight majority at Fruitland for about fifteen years, but during that time no intoxicating liquors have been sold there until June, 1906, when a saloon was opened. The children are educated in the public schools, no school having been established under the direction of the Church. There are two meeting houses, one at Fruitland and one at Jewett.
The settlement in and near Bloomfield, northeast of Farmington, while made originally by stockmen, has since become largely composed of Mormons, who as in the west end of the valley, have done the pioneer agricultural work.
Among the earliest residents on the present site of Farmington were William and Marion B. Hendrickson who arrived in 1876. The former died in Colorado in 1904. Orville Pyle (now of Colorado) was here in 1876-77 and Os Pewett (now away) in 1877. A. E. Miller came in 1878 and Seth Welfoot (now deceased) and Ben McGalliard in 1877.
The first settlers turned their attention to common farming, and the Virden brothers built the first ditch in connection with McGalliard on the north side of the River. This ditch carried water for a distance of two and a half miles, and the Virden brothers had about three or four acres thus irrigated. They had no money, but each owned teams. When William Locke arrived the above mentioned were the only people in the district and they had done almost nothing for its reclamation.
The first families were those of Mrs. Mills, Mrs. Simeon Hendrickson, Mrs. Hendrickson's daughter, the wife of Orville Pyle, and the family of A. F. Miller, arriving in 1878. These located in the vicinity of the present site of Farmington near the forks of the San Juan and Animas Rivers. Farmington started with only a name, the town having no real existence, but after the arrival of William Locke in 1870 the school house was built. The first merchant, F. M. Pierce, also arrived in that year. The first Church services were held in the old school house, which was eighteen by twenty-four feet, and when this became too small a Methodist Episcopal Church was erected about 1886 or 1887 and used for both Church and school house.
A. F. Stump and family arrived here in July, 1870, and settled between the Animas and San Juan Rivers, where in 1880 he burned the first brick kiln. C. H. McHenry arrived in the fall of 1879 and he and his father-in-law, a Mr. Williams, built a flour mill. They also built a large, substantial brick residence. These buildings were put up in 1880.
This section of country was claimed by the Apaches, although the Navajo Indians had occupied it for a number of years. The latter had been at war with the Mexicans for a number of years, until Uncle Sam took them in hand and quieted them. When the whites settled here they had no serious trouble with the Indians. The cowboys proved worse enemies to the farmers than the Navajos, and trouble frequently occurred between various factions of the herders. The first trouble was occasioned when a drunken cowboy shot an Indian on the streets of Farmington in the spring of 1883. Although the man was not killed, the Indians threatened to go on the warpath, and two days later several hundred Navajos surrounded the town, but Gregorio, a friendly Indian, came and warned the settlers and said if the plowmen and the ranchers staved in their homes they would not be hurt, for the Indians were after the "tejanos" or cowboys. After considerable parley the Indians agreed not to begin hostilities until the war chief came for conference, and then it was decided not to make the attack. Another time, in 1885 Largo Pete, a sub-chief, turned his horses loose in W. P. Hendrickson's grain field. The whites held a meeting, securing an Indian. Costiano for interpreter, and Mr. Hendrickson and Mr. Locke sent to Fort Lewis for troops, who came and finally brought the Indians under subjection, the red men promising to behave.
In the meantime the Virden brothers had established a trading post which they enclosed with a wire fence. Largo Pete, in 1886, rode into this fence and cut his leg badly, his death resulting from the injuries. The Indians then became hostile again. A military company then came from near Fruitland. Gregorio had warned Locke, who attended the conference with the troops, and the Indians were bought off with a small amount of provisions. The first physician in the valley traveled about from place to place. The first resident physician was Dr. Brown, who was not a graduate, but was a ranchman, and practiced to some extent, his title being one of courtesy. The first graduate physician was Dr. Stoughton Mangus. The first preacher (holding services in the school house) was Rev. Cutshingle, a Baptist minister, who came occasionally, and the first regular preacher was Rey. Griffin, of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. He came about 1885 and preached at Farmington for a long period, but had a hard time on account of the cowboy troubles. When he first arrived he preached one Sunday at what is now Bloomfield. On the preceding Saturday three or four hard characters, cowboys, asked Rev. Griffin to drink with them, and when he refused they finally began shooting the floor near his feet; but he was from Texas, accustomed to the wild scenes of the frontier, and, being a man of courage, he did not show any feeling of cowardice and still refused to drink. His persecutors were Tom Nance, afterward killed at Halbrook; George Lockhart, later killed at Gallup; Sherman Hilton and others, but they finally respected Hilton, who commanded them to cease their persecutions. The first "show" was held in the school house with a stereopticon about 1885 and displayed pictures of Bible characters. A number of cowboys were standing in the rear of the room. When the picture of Christ was displayed, Tom Nance, Lockhart and others began shooting and shot the canvas to pieces, and the showman jumped from the window. Such were some of the wild scenes which prevailed in early days, when lawlessness and disorder reigned.
Aztec First County Seat
The first County seat was established temporarily at Aztec, but by law, through the votes of the people, was removed to Junction City, near Farmington. The election was contested and the Aztec crowd came down and carried off all the records one night to that town, while some time later the court house at Junction City was burned down.
Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.
©New Mexico American History and Genealogy Project
2011 - 2017
Please come back Again!!