Sierra County, New Mexico
Sierra is one of the southern counties of New Mexico, and boldly extends into Socorro County, being bounded by Luna and Doha Ana counties on the south, and a corner of Grant County and Socorro on the west. It is one of the smallest counties in the Territory, having an area of only 3,129 square miles and a population of 3.158 people. Its county seat. Hillsboro, in the southern part of the county, has a population of about 600, and is one of the important mining camps in this section of the Territory. Sierra County was formed by legislative act. in 1883, from parts of Socorro, Doha Ana and Grant counties, the impelling cause being the desire of the miners in the vicinity of Lake Valley, Hillsboro and Kingston, to govern themselves, and their belief that their interests would be benefitted by having one count)' in which mining would be the leading industry, rather than live on the borders of three large counties in none of which could they have a controlling influence. Although, as will be seen, it has very considerable grazing and agricultural interests in the valley of the Rio Granda with its tributaries, its great industry is that of mining, as it probably always will be.
Large plains occupy the extreme eastern portion of the county; then come a system of mountain ranges (Sierra Cabello), running north and south, along the eastern hank of the Rio Grande, around whose southern extremity that river makes a bold eastern sweep in its exit from the county, leaving about one-third of the area to the east ; to the westward, interrupted here and there by peaks of only moderate height, the plains extend to the foot hills of the Black Membre ranges, which form a lofty western barrier. With the exception of a few creeks in the extreme northwest corner, which flow into the Gila, all streams empty eastward into the Rio Grande.
Agriculture and Mining
The county is well divided into the valley, mesa and mountain lands, embracing a considerable section of the Rio Grande valley, where agriculture is followed ; wherever openings in the valleys of the different affluents afford room enough to do so, agricultural pursuits are followed. But the main interests of Sierra County are centered in the mines. The principal mining districts are: Apache, Black Range, Cuchillo Negro, Kingston, Hermosa, Animas, Hillsboro, Percha and Lake Valley.
Mining History of the County
To begin with the most famous of all the romances of mining, Lake Valley furnishes the best story. Here abounds the highest-grade silver-ore. In the early days, when Victorio, Loco and Nana made this valley unhealthy, two miners struck a gold prospect. They sold it for $100,000 to a Philadelphia syndicate, and two days after the lead ran into the "Bridal Chamber," the working of which yielded over $3,000,000. The expense was so trifling that one man offered the owners $200,000 for the privilege of entering the mine and taking the metal that he could knock down single-handed with his pick in one day! This was an era of wild speculation, from which Lake Valley suffered a natural reaction; but the riches of the camp seem only touched as yet. Millions of dollars have been taken from its mines, but there is still rich ore. It lies in blanket form and quickly runs into pockets and chambers.
The history of the discovery of these wonderful mines is interesting. In the year 1878 a miner named Lufkin, then living at Hillsboro, fifteen miles northwest of Lake Valley, or McEvers' ranch, as it was then called, in company with a companion, started out on a prospecting trip to the foothills of the southern extremity of the Black Range. They had no luck for some weeks ; but finally, at a point about two miles west of McEvers', they discovered a large body of black ore croppings extending over a hundred acres of territory, and indicating plainly the presence of mineral of some kind. The big, black bodies of ore, cropping out above the surface, showed that, whatever the nature of the mineral to be found, it was certainly in immense quantities. They sank several prospect holes, and soon satisfied themselves that they had "struck it rich" in silver; but as their "grub stake" was by this time exhausted, they returned to Hillsboro and obtained employment, one as a cook and the other as a miner, saved up their wages for several months, in order to have a "grub stake" when they should go again to work on their claim.
In a few weeks the Indian war broke out upon the country, and mining operations in that section were suspended. Finally, however, through the assistance of J. A. Miller of Grant county, who was then the post trader at Fort Bayard, Lufkin and his partner were enabled to develop their mines sufficiently to prove that they were first class : and then a rush began toward the new district. Claims were located on all sides and quite a mining camp sprang into existence. Ore running as high as $1,000 a ton was exposed, and Mr. Miller began to look around for means to better develop the mines. The result was that about 180,4 Miller sold the principal mines of the district to a syndicate for $225,000.
This district was the scene of a great mining excitement more than twenty years ago, when the Apaches were removed from the adjacent reservation, but the difficulty and expense of transportation keep it in the background. Hillsboro and Kingston have both been famous in their days as enormous producers, one of gold and the other of silver.
Since its organization, the officials of Sierra County have been as follows:
Towns of the County
Hillsboro, the county seat, is the center of the gold mining district. It has a handsome court house, good schools and hotels. The metal carrier in this district is quartz, impregnated with copper and iron pyrites, and containing precious metals in the proportion of one ounce of gold to five ounces of silver. Perhaps the most notable feature in the Hillsboro gold mines is the unbroken continuity of the ore veins. Founded in 1877, the success and prosperity -of the town were only obtained after years of persistent effort. The camp is an off-shoot of Georgetown, Grant County. In 1876 David Stetzel and Daniel Dugan left that place on a prospecting tour, and in May. 1877, discovered gold in the present Hillsboro camp. Nicholas Galles, then on the Mimbres, soon after appeared at the place, with eleven others, including W. II. Weeks, H. H. Elliott and Joe Yankie. Each of the newcomers had a name for the new town. Finally one day in December, 1877, the names were all written on slips of paper and put in an old hat, and after an impartial drawing Hillsboro came to the surface.
Kingston, in the southwestern part of the county, a few miles west of Hillsboro, is the nucleus of a rich silver district. It is situated in the valley of the Rio Percha, the ore belt stretching from the Trujillo to the North Percha. The ores are found in connection with quartz, iron, copper, zinc, galena and talc. Binoxide of manganese also prevails throughout the district. The town itself is well situated, has a public water service, churches and schools and a good class of settlers. The first rich mineral in the district of which Kingston is the center was found in what was known as the Solitaire mine and was discovered in August, 1882, by Jack Shedden, the discoverer of the famous Robinson mine in Colorado. R. J. Wilson had located the claim in 1881, but not knowing this, Shedden took possession of the mine and bonded it to Tabor & Wurtzebach for $100,000. For some time after the discovery of the Solitaire mine the town had a wonderful growth. On June 6, A. Barnaby set up a tent in the woods at a point which soon after became the center of the town, and opened a little store, which was the first habitation of any kind erected in Kingston. On the 26th of August the first surveying for the town site was begun, and on the 1st of October the Kingston Town Company was organized and incorporated. By the latter part of the fall the town had a population of about 1,800 people, and city lots on Main Street brought as high as five hundred dollars apiece.
Lake Valley, already mentioned, is also the chief settlement in a productive silver district which lies to the south of Hillsboro and Kingston. In connection with Lake Valley is due a little more history, recalled by the burning of the famous Ingliss ranch house, three miles from that point, in the spring of 1906. The property was at one time owned by George Daly, of Leadville, Colorado, who was the founder of Lake Valley and was killed by Indians in 1881. His property included the famous Bridal Chamber, of horn silver, which at the time of his death had just been uncovered. He was one of the daring pioneers of that period, but death cut short the worldly fruition of his work. Tom Ingliss, from whom the ranch house was named, came later and had a remarkable history of shooting affairs and miraculous escapes. But the burning of the house probably marks the deterioration or absorption of the property, so that it will no longer be known as the Ingliss ranch.
Sierra County Biographies
Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.
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