San Miguel County, New Mexico
In area San Miguel County is the largest in New Mexico, embracing within its borders nearly 5,400,000 acres. In population it is second to Bernalillo, affording homes to some 25,000 people. The taxable valuation of its property is more than $4,500,000, and its inhabitants are noted for their progressiveness.
San Miguel County is richly endowed by nature, whether considered from the standpoints of material riches or magnificent scenery. Its forests are yet extensive, and its mines have scarcely begun to be developed. It is a county of mountain peaks, fruitful valleys and wide plains. It has rivers and lakes by the score, and its canyons are majestic. Its verdant plains sweep for unbroken miles to the eastward, covered with thousands of sheep and cattle. At the present time the people of the county are compelled to import much grain, hay, vegetables and other food and forage. It is said that the entire cultivated area of the county does not exceed 3,000 acres.
An interesting and important territorial feature of the county is the Pecos River Timber Reservation, set apart by President Harrison to preserve the forests and prevent a diminution in the water supply of that stream. It comprises about 702 square miles, and, while portions of the reservation are in Santa Fé, Mora, Taos and Rio Arriba counties, as the Pecos valley is in San Miguel, the tract is usually considered an institution of this county. The region is rugged and mountainous, and in San Miguel innumerable small streams form the headwaters of the Pecos River, which cuts the reservation about midway between Las Vegas and Santa Fe.
San Miguel County has heretofore figured as pre-eminently a stock raising district, but its agricultural future is bright. From the high watershed, well to the center of the county, the abundant rains and heavy snows find their way to the Rio Grande and to the Mississippi, the Canadian, the Pecos, the Gallinas, the Sapello and the Tecolote rivers, while numerous small streams flow through the woodlands and the valleys and out upon the bosom of the broad plains, and wherever their courses lie crops of grain, hay and vegetables are plentifully and naturally raised.
On the grounds of the Territorial Hospital for the Insane has been recently found what appears to be artesian water. On a hill a hundred feet above the valley a well was sunk to a depth of 500 feet and water gushed to within twenty-five feet of the surface in a strong volume, running at the rate of 2.400 gallons per hour. As the constant volume of water cannot be accounted for by surface streams, it is believed that the entire valley is underlaid with an artesian flow, and that if the wells are sunk on the lower levels the water will rise above the surface. Should this prove to be the case, it would be the source of great agricultural development for a large district of the county.
Like all districts of the country which are the resorts of lovers of the picturesque and seekers for health, San Miguel county is especially interested in the establishment of good roads, and Las Vegas has the honor of entertaining the first convention ever held in New Mexico in their interest. It was held at the Duncan Opera House on the 26th and 27th of September, 1905. The convention was formally opened by Governor Miguel A. Otero, and the utmost enthusiasm prevailed throughout its deliberations.
Original Boundaries of the County
San Miguel was one of the nine counties formed by enactment of the Territorial Legislature, January 9, 1852, and its boundaries were described as follows: On the east, the boundary line of the Territory; on the west, the boundaries of Santa Fe; on the north, the boundaries of the counties of Taos and Rio Arriba; and on the south, drawing a line from Cibolo Spring toward the north in the direction of the Berrendo Spring, thence drawing a perpendicular line toward the east, crossing the Pecos river and continuing until it reaches the boundaries of the Territory.
Following is as complete a list of San Miguel county officials as can be obtained from existing records:
Las Vegas, the comity seat of San Miguel County, is a place of about 9,000 people, being the second in population within the Territory. It is situated in the midst of one of the finest sheep countries in the world, and is the largest wool market in New Mexico, besides being an important wholesale point. Las Vegas is also the division headquarters of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad system, and is the location for extensive shops.
Las Vegas is thoroughly lighted by electricity and has an abundant supply of pure mountain water. It has three parks, including the Plaza of West Las Vegas, one of the most beautiful public grounds in the Territory; good streets and many miles of cement sidewalks. It has churches of every denomination, fine schools, and is the seat of the New Mexico Normal University, the only institution of its kind between Lawrence, Kansas, on the east, Colorado Springs on the north and Los Angeles on the west. There are several good hotels, including the famous Casteneda; a large race course at the beautiful Gallinas Park, and a number of large business houses and small mills and factories. It publishes one daily, six weekly and two monthly papers, and is the center of one of the most famous health-resort districts in the world. Six miles from Las Vegas is the new National Fraternal Sanitarium, designed to accommodate 5,000 or 6,000 tuberculosis patients, either indoors or without, and having as its center, the home of the fraternalists, as it is called, the stately Montezuma Hotel. A short distance from Las Vegas is also the New Mexico Hospital for the Insane.
It is impossible to speak of Las Vegas as a city or a town. It is divided into three parts, one portion incorporated as a city, the western section (across the Rio Gallinas) incorporated as a town, and Upper Las Vegas, unincorporated.
History of Las Vegas
The old town of Las Vegas was first settled by the Mexican inhabitants some time prior to 1835. It was named for the meadows lying along the Gallinas River, on which it is located, the words Las Vegas, translated from the Spanish, meaning "the meadows." The first settlers were colonists.
On March 20, 1835, Juan de Dios Maes, Manuel Duran, Miguel Archuleta and Jose Antonio Casaus petitioned the Mexican authorities for a grant of land to the new town, consisting of 400,000 acres, as a basis for the settlement. The petition was granted and this munificent land grant, in the center of which stands Las Vegas, is community property, in which every taxpayer has an interest. The land will eventually make the place wealthy, but at present the principal revenue is derived from the sale of timber.
The following is a late and interesting account of the condition of this unique land grant,* whose value will be immeasurably increased by the development of the irrigation plans now well under way: "The grant extends in all directions. About 2,500 acres are under irrigation and are cultivated by squatters. About one-half is covered with timber, which is being cut under contract; the rest is range, common to all, upon which any one can pasture cattle or sheep under certain regulations. Shortly after the grant was made, certain tracts were allotted to various citizens, whose descendants are still occupying them and claim ownership. These were called 'allotments,' and it is probable that the claims will be recognized. The descendants of these original settlers, about sixty in number, laid claim to the entire property In order to determine their rights the case was put through two courts, both of which decided in favor of the corporation. In other words, the courts held that, under the terms of the grant, the land belonged to the community in common, not only to those who happened to be here at the time, but to all who have come since or may come hereafter. Under this decision the court appointed a board of trustees, with authority to sell land and convey titles, and to straighten out the tangle. The descendants of those to whom the allotments were made have had their, titles confirmed. The remainder of the grant is being surveyed and platted and will be held for the benefit of the community until disposed of. The proceeds of all sales are paid into the public treasury. Ten thousand acres were recently presented to the National Association of Fraternities for the use of the sanitarium mentioned. The remainder of the land will be leased for use as a common grazing ground under proper regulations."
In the early days Las Vegas was a quasi-military fort, the reports of the prefects showing that arrangements were made by which each adult male inhabitant was to be provided with arms, and all were to be inspected every eight days by a lieutenant of police. The inhabitants were constantly annoyed by bands of Indians, and the records show that in 1836 Santiago Montoya invited Don Miguel Romero y Baca, who was on a visit to Las Vegas from Santa Fé to take part in a short expedition against some Navajo Indians who had stolen his sheep and were holding captive two of his nephews. The Romero family subsequently became identified with the growing town of Las Vegas, members of it attaining great prominence in its commercial and political affairs.
Soon after the American occupation of Santa Fé, American citizens began visiting Las Vegas for purposes of trade, some of them remaining and establishing themselves in business. Among the earliest of these settlers from "the States" were Henry Connelly, afterward governor of the Territory; E. F. Mitchell, John Kitchen and his three brothers, Charles, Richard and James; Alexander Hatch. James Broadwell, John and Andres Dold, Frank O. Kihlberg. Dr. J. M. Whitlock and George W. Merritt.
Henry Connelly and E. F. Mitchell entered into partnership for general merchandising some time prior to 1850. They occupied the building known as Buffalo Hall until about 1855.
Las Vegas was a place of slow growth as long as the old-school Mexican element predominated, and by 1870, even, the plaza was entirely unimproved. In that year Americans commenced to locate in business in that vicinity, and the entire population seemed to be inoculated with the spirit of enterprise. Then all the buildings but one on the plaza were adobe (the roofs generally of the same material), and the only two-story structure in the place was Hays' store (stone). The adobe court house, which stood back of Hfeld's store, is now used by C. Hfeld as a warehouse. In 1870 the river covered most of the present line of Bridge Street, and what was not under water was quite unimproved.
If a directory of that period had been in existence it
would have shown the following residents and facts:
An issue of the Las Vegas Optic of November 5, 1879, indicates decided growth.
Locke & Brooks were proprietors of a health office in East Las Vegas, and made this startling claim: "All diseases incident to mankind cured on short notice." The following were other lines represented in the columns of the paper, which obviously covered the bulk of the business houses in Las Vegas. Unless otherwise specified, they were located in East Las Vegas:
The late seventies may be said to have closed the pioneer period of Las Vegas, and at a banquet given by the settlers of '79, in February, 1902, a striking list of departed pioneers was presented to the guests. Only the "old-timers" recognized the names of the deceased:
Schools of Las Vegas
The school buildings of the city are two in number, located on Douglas and Baca avenues, and the town, or the West Side, has a substantial two-story structure of its own, besides smaller buildings, devoted to the cause of education. The Douglas avenue building was the first erected in New Mexico from public moneys. It is a handsome stone building, comprising eight school rooms and two offices, with large basement, and is heated by the hot-water system. The Baca avenue building is one of the most tasteful and unique edifices of the kind in the west. It is built of a beautiful red sandstone, and in its towers, copings and general architectural features resembles a feudal castle. From this fact it is popularly known as the "Castle" school building. It contains ten well-lighted and commodious rooms, two offices and a large basement, and is heated by steam. The high school occupies the entire upper floor.
The Las Vegas city schools now offer a semi-kindergarten course, the regular eight primary and grammar grades and the full curriculum of four years in the higher branches. The high school was not organized upon its present basis until in 1002. One of the recent additions to its educational facilities is a laboratory for physical and chemical work.
Previous to September, 1904, the schools in the town of Las Vegas were unclassified, and each was under a separate board of directors. At that time the movement was begun which, under the active superintendency of Anna J. Rieve, of Baltimore, resulted in the grading of the pupils. The system is also now under one board of directors. Progress has been made in the establishment of both a library and museum, and under the new management both schools and grounds have been repaired and beautified.
The New Mexico Normal University was established at Las Vegas in 1898, and has already accomplished a good work in educating teachers for the territorial schools, which in years past have been in sad need of competent instructors. The number of students now ranges from sixty-five to ninety. For several years past summer schools have been held under the auspices of the faculty for the benefit of teachers who are employed during the winter, and the increasing attendance shows that they are steadily gaining in popularity.
The system of the Normal University embraces a department of music, comprising the theory of music, sight reading, history of music, ear training, interpretation, voice culture, chorus, piano, violin and other stringed instruments, ensemble playing and elementary harmony.
Churches and Societies of Las Vegas
Las Vegas has ten places of worship, nine church buildings, representing eight denominations, and five pastoral residences. All have Sunday schools and the usual societies, and the Young Men's Christian Association has recently completed a large, handsome and modern structure, the first of the organizations in the far southwest to be so honored.
The Catholics, of course, first occupied the field in Las Vegas, as they did in New Mexico as a whole. There are two Catholic churches, that on the west side being in charge of Fr. Paul Gilberton, and that on the east side, of Fr. Henry C. Ponget.
The Baptists were the first Protestants to enter the Territory, coming as early as 1849. They organized a congregation in Las Vegas in 1880 with seventeen members, and now occupy a handsome frame structure. The Methodists came into New Mexico and, in August, 1879, organized a local society.
The Protestant pioneers of Las Vegas, however, were the Presbyterians, who established a church on the west side in 1869. In 1881 their east side edifice was dedicated. St. Paul's Episcopal Church was established in 1879, being the first of that denomination in New Mexico. The Jewish synagogue of the Congregation Montefiore was also the pioneer of that sect in the Territory, and the society is the wealthiest in the city. In 1887 the African Methodist Church was organized, and has a large membership.
The Young Men's Christian Association has recently completed the first building erected by that organization along modern lines in the southwest. The handsome stone structure is 100 feet deep and has a frontage of fifty feet on Sixth Street, has a height of two stories and basement, and is located half a block from the principal business corner of the city.
The Ladies' Home was organized over twenty years ago by the ministers of Las Vegas. It is managed by a board of ladies, and is supported partly by the Territory and partly by private funds. During 1900, which was the busiest year in the history of the society, 180 patients were cared for.
Another worthy charity is St. Anthony's Sanitarium, erected in 1896 by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. It is a solid three-story structure built of stone, 160 feet in length, and has a broad veranda extending along three sides of the building.
Las Vegas Clubs
The Commercial Club of Las Vegas, whose purposes are both social and of a business character, was organized in November, 1903, with the following officers: A. A. Jones, president; Max Nordhaus, vice-president, and George P. Money, secretary. It occupies the building jointly erected by the Masons and the Montezuma Club. The Montezuma Club is strictly social in its nature. It was incorporated in the fall of 1886, with O. L. Houghton as president.
The Owl Club is a social organization of young bachelors.
The Las Vegas Street Railway
This line, which not only connects the city and town, but extends nine miles up the picturesque canyon on the Gallinas, is owned and operated by the Las Vegas Electric Railway & Power Company, of which W. A. Buddecke, late of St. Louis, is president. Its plant consists of a large powerhouse of stone and brick, a two story office building, street car stables, shops and sheds.
New Mexico Hospital for the Insane
This institution was created by act of February 28, 1889, and the buildings, at the authorized cost of $25,000, were erected on land donated by Benigno Romero. The hospital contains an average of some 150 patients, and is well conducted. Its grounds are neatly kept, and include a small farm, on which the inmates raise fodder, vegetables and fruits. In March, 1905, an addition was completed to the main building which added fifty-five rooms to the previous accommodations. The completion of this building made it possible to remove a good number of the insane from the county jails, as well as to furnish quarters for those who were being cared for in their homes. The capacity of the hospital is now about 180 beds.
The National Fraternal Sanitarium
The greatest sanitarium in the world for the treatment of tuberculosis, in all its stages and by every means known to science and medicine, will be established on a tract of land about fifteen miles square, six miles from Las Vegas. Its nucleus is the superb Montezuma Hotel, erected by the Santa Fé Railway Company to take the place of the former structure, destroyed by fire in 1884. The new hotel is three stories in height, built of stone and brick and contains 350 rooms. There are also a group of cottages, and the famous hot springs, which first called the attention of the country to Las Vegas as a health resort.
In 1902 a movement for the establishment of such a sanitarium originated with several high officials of the fraternities of the country, which was finally recommended by the National Fraternal Congress and the Associated Fraternities. The ultimate outcome was that 163 orders, representing over 5,000,000 members, supported the enterprise to the extent of almost $1,000,000 a year. Thereupon the Santa Fé Company transferred the title to all this property, covering 1.000 acres and appraised at $1,000,000, to a board of trustees representing the fraternal societies of the United States, among whose members tuberculosis was making such fearful inroads. The transfer was made without consideration and upon the only condition that a sanitarium should be established and permanently maintained at this point. If the plan should ever be abandoned, or the property be used for any other purpose, it will revert to the railroad company.
In addition to this property the citizens of Las Vegas presented to the fraternal trustees 10,000 acres of land, a portion of the old Mexican grant, which they had held for seventy years. This immense tract adjoins the Montezuma property, and will eventually be well covered with tents, varying in sizes from those designed to accommodate families to those erected for individuals.
With every variety of amusement near at hand, surrounded by a country of great beauty and natural interest, it is believed, from the experience of the past, that the treatment of those in the early stages of tuberculosis will be even more wonderful than in the past.
Gallinas Park and Gallinas Canyon
Although Gallinas Park, on the line of the electric railway, was founded as late as 1903, it is already a strong feature of the attractions surrounding Las Vegas. It embraces a race track, upon which a world's record for a mile was made in June, 1905. Over the brow of a hill to the northward is a wooded part, diversified by verdant slopes, running water and mossy dells, and this portion of the grounds is becoming a very popular resort, both with residents and visitors.
The Gallinas Canyon, near Las Vegas, is a continuous panorama of picturesque and unique scenery. A short distance above the Montezuma Hotel it presents a phenomenon which is quite startling. Here the southern banks are so high and steep that the low-lying winter sun never strikes the surface of the narrow stream, the ice forming two feet thick. In summer, even, its rays are so short lived and ineffective that the canyon at this point never really gets warm, and "where," as remarked by a traveler, "the thermometer will stand at freezing point for weeks at a time, while the people at the hotel half a mile below will be sitting on the porches without wraps, and the ranchmen will be working in their shirt sleeves." The natural ice factory and storage house have been utilized by a company, which has constructed several dams across the river and erected nine ice houses with a capacity of 25,000 tons.
Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.
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