The History of
Hidalgo County and other Genealogical facts
By Bill Cavaliere, Hidalgo County Historian
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LORDSBURG, THE COUNTY SEAT
A prominent town, now the county seat, is Lordsburg, which was founded as a railroad town on the Southern Pacific line in 1880. It was named for railroad supervisor Delbert Lord, who decided to locate a town exactly halfway between El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ. Elizabeth Garrett, blind daughter of Pat Garrett, the famous sheriff who shot Billy the Kid, wrote New Mexico's official state song, "O Fair New Mexico", in Lordsburg in 1917. Some early Lordsburg pioneers were John Muir, Willard Holt, Joe Leahy, J. P. Ownby, Emma Marble, E. M. Fisher, Sam Gass, and Nat Gammon, among others. Some well-known celebrities to visit Lordsburg in the early days have been silent film star Tom Mix, 1912 presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and 1948 candidate Harry S Truman. Charles Lindburgh landed at the Lordsburg airport during his cross-country trip in 1927 after his famous New York to Paris flight. Aviator Amelia Earhart visited the Lordsburg airport as well. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor attended some of her school years here. And Lordsburg was the site of a prisoner of war camp, located east of town, where Nazi POWs were confined during World War II.
HIDALGO COUNTY BECOMES OFFICIAL
Hidalgo County was created in 1919 after being annexed from neighboring Grant County. This was done, in part, to shorten the great distances that the people of Lordsburg and towns to the south had to travel in order to reach Silver City, the county seat. Hidalgo County's birthday is Feb. 25th, 1919, when the New Mexico state legislators met in session and passed the act that officially created the new county. New Mexico had just become a state only seven years before, in 1912.
On Jan. 1st, 1920, Hidalgo County began the New Year with its property valued by the State Tax Commission at $6,498,358. According to the late Ena Mitchell, long-time Hidalgo County resident and pioneer, one of the names considered for the newly formed county was "Pyramid County", after the Pyramid Mountains prominent to the south of Lordsburg. The name "Hidalgo" was chosen in honor of Miguel Dolores Hidalgo, who led the revolution in Mexico in 1810, which eventually led to its independence from Spain. Hidalgo County's courthouse was dedicated on Sept. 5th, 1927 and cost $40,000. to build. Prior to this, the Muir & Birchfield Building and the original Knights of Pythias building (now demolished) were leased to house the county offices. Hidalgo County shares 86 miles of the Mexican border. It is bordered to the north and east by Grant County, to the west by the state of Arizona, and to the south by the country of Mexico. Because of its shape, this area is known as the "bootheel."
Many changes have occurred in Hidalgo County since the early days, most notable among them the construction in the early 1970s and eventual closure in 1999 of the multi-million dollar Phelps-Dodge copper smelter located in Playas. The town of Playas was purchased in early 2004 by New Mexico Tech University for anti-terrorist training. Lordsburg today is a modern, progressive town which features a new Department of Public Safety building, medical complex, Special Events center, nursing home, museum, water park and more. Annual events in Lordsburg include the popular Tejano Fiesta and the Cowboy Poetry Festival. Other Hidalgo County towns include Animas, with its well known school system; Rodeo, known for its art galleries; Virden, famous for its farms; and Cotton City, with its chili-packing plant. All Hidalgo County towns boast low crime rates and friendly people. Hidalgo County also features the Mexican border crossing facility at Antelope Wells, gateway the Mexican town of Janos, Lordsburg's sister city. The mild climate of Hidalgo County makes it the perfect place to raise a family or to retire.
The mountains and deserts of Hidalgo County offer sportsmen the opportunity to hunt mule deer, Coues' white-tailed deer, black bear, mountain lion, javelina, quail and other game. The Coronado National Forest provides camping, hiking and rock hounding, as well as offering bird watchers the chance to see rare Mexican bird species. In the late 1970s, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish chose the Peloncillo Mountains as their choice to re-introduce the endangered desert bighorn sheep. For history lovers, tours are led into various sites of historical significance by guide Bill Cavaliere, who can be reached at (520) 558-2580. Tours are also given at the ghost town of Shakespeare as well. Furthermore, the remoteness of parts of Hidalgo County, as well as its well-preserved ghost towns, provides Hollywood producers with excellent locations for filming movies. Some of the movies and television shows shot in Hidalgo County have been "Doc Holliday", "The Treasure of Skeleton Canyon", "Time Out", "Chooch", and "Unsolved Mysteries", among others. Among the movie stars to film in Hidalgo County recently have been Tom Reese (The Greatest Story Ever Told, Murderer's Row), Don Stroud (Mike Hammer, License to Kill), Patricia Arquette (True Romance, Holes), Richard Bright (The Godfather, The Getaway) and Geoffrey Lewis (Every Which Way But Loose, Maverick).
PREHISTORIC NATURAL HISTORY
Hidalgo County is rich in both natural and human history. One of the earliest signs of prehistoric animal life in the area is that of a duck-billed dinosaur skeleton found just across the Hidalgo county line, in neighboring Grant County, which probably dates to the Jurassic age. Near the dinosaur was a piece of its fossilized skin, one of only a few specimens ever found in New Mexico. The skeleton was partially excavated by paleontologists in the late 1990s and the retrieved portion put on display at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque. In May 1962, the fossilized skeletons of two extinct mammoths were unearthed at Lordsburg.
Paleontologists dated them at 10,000 years old. Another prehistoric specialty, found in the southern part of Hidalgo County, is the shoreline of an ancient lake, which is a remnant from the pre-Pleistocene era. Here, the implements of early man, including a tool called an atlatl, have been recovered. Indian ruins are found throughout Hidalgo County. In general, these sites belong to both the Casas Grande and Mimbres cultures. These cultures flourished from 100 AD until 1400, with little evidence found afterwards. An exception to this is found at the ruins on Deer Creek in the Animas Mountains (on the present-day Gray Ranch), where artifacts have been carbon-14 dated from 1565 to 1620. Indeed, early Spanish expeditions mention encountering these particular Indians.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE SPANIARD
The first expedition of Spaniards into this area was the Coronado expedition in 1540. Several others followed in the years afterwards. Authorities are not sure of Coronado's exact route, which consisted of about 300 of his men and several hundred Indians, but one theory is that they traveled through the San Simon valley, past the present-day town of Rodeo.
THE NATIVE AMERICANS
The Indian tribe that Hidalgo County is perhaps best known for are the Chiricahua Apaches. It is believed that the Apaches arrived in this area sometime between the years 1300-1500. Cochise is one of the best-known Chiricahua chiefs, and his friendship with Tom Jeffords, a white American, is a well-known story. After Cochise's death in June 1874, his eldest son Taza was elevated to chief. While on a tour of Washington DC in 1876, Taza died of pneumonia, and Cochise's remaining son, Naiche, became hereditary chief of the Chiricahuas. The US Cavalry fought for many years against the Apaches, with many battles occurring in Hidalgo County, most notably in the areas of Stein's Peak, Doubtful Canyon and near Animas Peak. Cochise signed a peace treaty with General Oliver O. Howard, negotiated by Jeffords, in 1872. However, in 1875, only one year after Cochise's death, the US government violated the treaty, causing the Apaches to once again wage war against the Americans. On Sept. 4, 1886, after years of being pursued by both the American and Mexican armies, Geronimo, along with Chief Naiche, surrendered to General Nelson Miles in Skeleton Canyon, which is situated half in Hidalgo County and half in Cochise County, AZ. The surrender forever ended the Indian wars in the United States.
EARLY HISTORY AND SETTLERS
Southern Hidalgo County was crossed in 1846 by Lt. Col. Phillip St. George Cooke, leading the 500-man Mormon Battalion (though not a Mormon himself) to California to fight in the Mexican War. One of Cooke's guides was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea of Lewis and Clark fame. Charbonneau signed on with the Mormon Battalion in Albuquerque. The Guadalupe Mountains were memorable to the battalion because of the canyon that the men had to lower the wagons down, by rope, in order to continue, as well as for the grizzly bear that Charbonneau killed to provide meat for the men. This same trail forged by the Mormon Battalion was later used by some of the 49ers en route to the goldfields of California in 1849. During this period, what is now known as Hidalgo County was still part of Mexico. This all changed in 1853, with the signing of the Gadsden Purchase, adding to the United States the area between the Gila River and the present border with Mexico. Not long after, the Butterfield Stage route was laid out, with one of its stage stations located near the current ghost town of Shakespeare. Near the east end of Skeleton Canyon, which runs through the Peloncillo Mountains, the Clanton family had a homestead of sorts, which consisted of two dugouts. From this base, Newman "Old Man" Clanton, along with his sons, raised, and some say rustled, cattle. Colorful legend has it that in July 1881, "Old Man" Clanton, along with sons Ike and Billy and five outlaw friends, ambushed a Mexican mule train smuggling silver coins through Skeleton Canyon. Some say that the coins were buried and never recovered, and thus remain one of the Southwest's most famous buried treasures. The following month, "Old Man" Clanton, along with some cowboy friends were killed by Mexicans in Guadalupe Canyon, in the extreme southwestern part of Hidalgo County (near border monument #73). This incident is generally believed to have been committed by Mexicans in retaliation for the Skeleton Canyon massacre, in which their relatives were killed. The Clanton boys would eventually become famous for their involvement in the shoot-out at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Clanton Canyon, located in southern Hidalgo County, was named for the family.
Several ghost towns are found throughout Hidalgo County, most notably Steins and Shakespeare. Steins was the scene of a train robbery by outlaw Black Jack Ketchum. In Shakespeare, outlaw Sandy King and horse thief Russian Bill were hanged from the rafters of the Grant House dining room, due to the lack of trees. A member of the lynch mob explained to startled stage passengers that Russian Bill was hanged for stealing a horse and Sandy King was hanged for "being a damned nuisance". After Shakespeare's postmaster received a letter from Russian Bill's mother inquiring of his whereabouts, he sent her the diplomatic reply that her son had died "of throat trouble". Billy the Kid also spent time in Shakespeare, as a youth, where he was employed washing dishes. And Lew Wallace, author of "Ben Hur", stayed at the Grant House while visiting Shakespeare.
In addition to several municipal cemeteries, many small family plots are located throughout Hidalgo County as well. The Poteet Cemetery is one such family plot, located on a dirt road off Javelina Trail near Rodeo, and contains four graves. There are other family plots found throughout the county, including one at Dog Springs. This cemetery is in the extreme southeast part of the county, at the "corner," and is located on private property. Access is not available and trespassing is forbidden. This older family plot is not accessible by road or by foot.
By Bill Cavaliere