Socorro County, New Mexico
As defined by the territorial act of January 9, 1852, Socorro county stretched across New Mexico, with the following bounds: On the south, drawing a direct line to the eastward from the Muerto Spring in the Jornada in the direction of La Laguna, and continuing until it terminates with the boundary of the Territory; drawing a direct line toward the west from said Muerto Spring, crossing the Rio del Norte and continuing in the same direction until it terminates with the boundary of the Territory, shall be the southern boundary, and the northern boundary is the southern extremity of the county of Valencia.
As now constituted, Socorro is by far the largest county in New Mexico, having an area of 15,386 square miles, or about the size of Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It is in the first tier of counties to the west, and is still bounded by Valencia, with a portion of Torrance County on the north, and Grant, Sierra and Dona Ana on the south, Lincoln lying to the east. It has a population of over 12,000.
The records of the county are quite incomplete, but from those in existence the following are ascertained to have held the offices named:
When it is remembered that Socorro County extends from central New Mexico to the Arizona boundary, a distance of nearly 170 miles, and that its north and south expansion is about two-thirds as great, one is prepared for the statement that its physical features are varied. It contains the most magnificent area of valley land of any county in the Territory, and the greatest variety of natural resources. Roughly estimated, of its area of 9,600,000 acres 2,700,000 are mountainous and the balance fit for agriculture or pasture.
Socorro County has three distinct classes of lands: The agricultural, which, as a rule, are found on the Rio Grande and other streams which traverse the Territory: the uplands, or mesas, especially adapted to grazing, and which abound with nutritious grasses, and the mountain ranges, several of which are covered with a luxuriant growth of timber. In the western part of the county, near the Arizona line, are found the Tularosa and San Francisco with their multitude of affluents, and along their valleys are other large bodies of good land.
The Rio Grande valley in this county is bounded on the west by the Socorro, Magdalena and San Mateo mountains, whose average elevation is about 9,000 feet, with some peaks reaching a height of over 10.000 feet. On the east the Sierra Oscura, part of the frontal range of the Rockies, walls in the valley. The first named ranges are very precipitous on their eastward faces, and their rocks are granitic or eruptive in character. Between the Black Range and the Mogollons is a great timber belt, whose forests continue to the summits of the bounding mountains, and within this area runs the continental divide.
On account of its great extent and physical diversity, the resources of Socorro County are of wonderful variety, embracing agricultural and horticultural crops of both the temperate and warmer zones, livestock of all kinds, and minerals of a bewildering range. The farms of the county are principally found in the Rio Grande valley, beginning at Sabinal, about thirty miles north of Socorro, and then stretching down to the beautiful fields of San Marcial, near the southern boundary. Most of this section is easily irrigated, and much more land than is now cultivated might easily be reclaimed. On the ninety miles of the course of the Rio Grande in this county there are over 150,000 acres of land easy to reclaim in the first bottoms. On the mesas and bench lands there are 100,000 acres more.
Wheat is the largest product of the valley, and is of a very superior quality. Every year sees a greater acreage of alfalfa, which is a very profitable crop. Corn with proper care will yield seventy bushels to the acre. Oats, barley and rye furnish unfailing crops far in excess of those produced in the Atlantic states on the same acreage. All the products of the eastern, and with few exceptions those of the Gulf states, thrive in this valley and yield unfailing crops.
The cattle interests of Socorro County are very large, both the abundant forage and the climate being especially favorable to the growth of this branch of livestock. The mild, open winters permit the animals to use their food for the making of flesh and not for the creation of heat. The immense flocks of sheep range principally over the western sections of the county and here are also the largest cattle ranches. It is the region from which flow the headwaters of the San Francisco and Gila rivers, each with its numerous feeders. It is also a fortunate peculiarity of this portion of Socorro county, not only that there are numerous small streams which come from the mountains and run some distance into the plains, but that many springs are scattered over the country.
As a mineral county Socorro is remarkably rich, and the deposits are well distributed in the mountainous regions, which are not confined to special sections. In the celebrated Magdalena district, with Kelly as its center, are argentiferous galena, gray copper, copper pyrites, iron and zinc. The Water canyon district to the east produces placer gold, galena, copper, zinc and manganese. In the Socorro mountain district are found chloride of silver, blue carbonate of copper, green carbonates of copper, galena, while far to the west, in the ranges of the Mogollon and Datil districts, are rich deposits of gold, silver, variegated copper, silver-bearing gray copper and galena. Of all the mineral districts in Socorro County the greatest output has come from the silver-lead mines at Kelly, which for years supplied the Rio Grande smelter at Socorro with the great bulk of the ore treated there.
The City of Socorro
Socorro, the county seat, is a city of about 1,500 people. It is the first important point in the Rio Grande valley south of Albuquerque, and before the advent of railroads into the Territory, in 1879-80, it promised to rival Santa Fe. Many of the early settlers, who were driven from the provincial capital either by Indians or Mexican revolutionists, located at this point, which therefore came to be called Socorro translated, meaning "succor," or "stop here."
Socorro was incorporated as a city through the efforts of William T. De Baun, who was elected its first mayor in 1882. But the sturdy growth of Albuquerque and Las Vegas to the north cut off much of its trade. This general cause for its retarded progress was intensified by local obstacles which are explained hereafter.
The city of Socorro reached the climax of its prosperity in 1883-4. In that year the new town of Lake Valley received a great impetus, and many who had interests in Socorro joined the rush to the new place. In 1884-5 August Billings erected a smelter about two miles west of Socorro, chiefly for the smelting of lead ores, which carried an average of $5 to $6 in silver per ton. After a few years of operation under private control, the smelter was sold to the trust and soon afterward was shut down.
About this time the United States Land Court decided that the Socorro land grant of about 880.000 acres was fraudulent and set it aside. This decision was the climax to the woes of the community, from which it never has recovered. In passing upon this grant the court set aside four square leagues of land as a community grant for Socorro city, thus quieting titles which otherwise would have been rendered void.
Like most New Mexican towns in the early days, Socorro suffered greatly from the presence of a strong rough element. Following the murder of Conkling, editor of a local newspaper, who was attempting to maintain order while conducting Christmas Eve festivities in the Methodist Episcopal Church (in 1880), a committee of safety was organized in January 1881. There has been a great difference of opinion as to the character of the work of this committee and its effect upon the growth of the community. Though some condemned the measures which it adopted to end the reign of terror following the Conkling tragedy, there is no doubt that it accomplished some beneficial results.
Several instances are recited where the Mexican inhabitants were summarily dealt with, being given no opportunity to defend themselves. On the other hand, many men were punished for crimes committed, who, without the presence of the committee, might have continued their lawless depredations. In 1884, after a killing by the committee, a public meeting was called in the old court house. The result was a compromise between the friends and enemies of the committee by which the organization was dissolved. But not long afterward the body was reorganized for the purpose of hanging, without process of law, a notorious character named Joseph Fowler, who was a ranchman residing near Socorro.
After selling his ranch for $50,000, Fowler came to town, drank heavily, and during his spree stabbed a man named Kahl, a prospector of Engle. He was tried and convicted of the crime, but appealed. While in jail, pending the appeal and under a heavy guard, a mob composed largely of the original members of the committee of safety overpowered the guard, took the prisoner from the jail and hanged him. Fowler was accused of several murders, and the simple accusation seems to have been equivalent to conviction. The news of this lynching brought Socorro into such notoriety that the majority of law-abiding people of the Territory shunned the town thereafter, and its decline from that day forth was steady.
Although not an incorporated town, San Marcial is a place of about 1,000 inhabitants, located in the Rio Grande valley, south of Socorro. In the early days it was a stage station on the road to Fort Craig, and prior to the eighties quite a settlement had been established. Just after the railroad had reached this point, in the winter of 1880-1, San Marcial was destroyed by fire, but its rebuilding soon began.
By the fall of 1881 Fred M. Spear had erected a general store. At its completion there were three shacks in town, but his building was of rather a more durable character, and is considered the commencement of the new town.
The chief drawback to the rebuilding of San Marcial was the difficulty of obtaining good titles to property. It was a typical "squatter town," and previous to the latter portion of 1882 the titles rested solely on quit-claim deeds, which were little better than none at all. After the test ejectment suit against Simon Levser had been decided in the courts against the property holder, the San Marcial Land and Improvement Company was organized to protect buyers of real estate. They filed a town-site plat in October 1882, and, through Hugh H. Smith and Thomas Biggs, the original heirs, gave a clear title to settlers of 4,000 acres of land. The tract was formerly a portion of the Armenderez grant. Martin Zimmerman was president oi the company, and a man named Sedgwick was its attorney.
At this time, which is the real commencement of the founding of the new town, Simon Leyser was also re-establishing himself as a general merchant, being, after Mr. Spear, the pioneer in that line. Isaac and Abram Schey were also engaged in general merchandising, and W. H. Featherson was the first grocer. E. C. Rockwell was proprietor of a grocery and bakery, and J. V. Allen, who later started a dry goods and hardware store, kept a saloon. G. P. Edwards was both druggist and postmaster, and Dr. C. G. Cruikshank practiced medicine. Dr. C. F. Davis (deceased) was also in that professional field. H. H. Howard, the editor, is now dead, while his wife is postmistress of San Marcial. J. E. Nichols, who is still living, in 1882 was running a real estate and an insurance office and a barber shop. L. C. Broyles, J. M. Broyles and James G. Fitch (now of Socorro) were also in business, and an attorney named Clark had but recently hung his sign.
The other growing towns in the county are mostly located in the mining districts. Magdalena, in the district by that name, is twenty-three miles northwest of Socorro, and is the center of a carbonate ore camp; with Kelly, the center of numerous silver-lead camps, it is connected with the county seat by a spur of the A., T. & S. F. road. Carthage, a little further to the south, and the shipping point for the surrounding coal fields, has similar railroad facilities. Limitar, Polvadera and La Joya, north of Socorro, rely for their growth upon agriculture, horticulture, viniculture, wine and stock-raising. In the western part of the count)' are Cooney, located on the creek by that name, in the Mogollon mountains, and known as a gold, silver and lead camp; Alma, at the mouth of Cooney creek and canyon, the center of an extensive stock country and a trading point for the mining district; and Joseph, on Tularosa creek, near the Arizona line, located in a region of ancient ruins, in which the most beautiful Aztec pottery has been found.
Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.
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