Doña Ana County, New Mexico

It is said that Dona Ana County received its name in memory of Miss Anna, the daughter of a Spanish colonel. It appears that the young lady was engaged in playing hand-hall, or some other solitary game, in a secluded place in the Gila River region, when she was stolen by Apache Indians, and disappeared from her world. She was a very beautiful maiden, or her father a man of considerable standing; it may be that both of these facts were taken into consideration in the naming of the county.

Doña Ana was one of the original nine counties into which the Territory was divided by the legislative act of January 9, 1852, and its boundaries were given therein as follows: The southern boundary, on the left bank of the Rio del Norte, is the boundary of the state of Texas, and on the right, the dividing line between the Republic of Mexico; on the north, the boundary of the county of Socorro; and on the east and west, the boundaries of the Territory. By an act of January 15, 1855, all of the Gadsden Purchase was annexed to the county, but upon the organization of Arizona Territory, in 1861-2, it retained only that portion within the present limits of New Mexico.

At one time Dona Ana was anxious for a union with El Paso County, Texas, but finally settled down to single blessedness. In 1867 her citizens, with those of the county across the line, petitioned congress to erect a new Territory of the districts named and call it Montezuma. They claimed that the area of the united counties would be sufficiently large, and the population much greater than that of most territories upon their organization.

County Officers

Like those of most of the older counties of the Territory, the records of Dona Ana county are incomplete, being entirely missing for the period 1871-5. The following is as complete a record as can be collected from 1853 to date:

Probate Judges Probate Clerks
1853-5, Richard Campbell
1856, Pablo Melendez
1856-59, Rafael Ruelas
1860, Anastacio Barela
1861, Thomas J. Bull, Frank Higgins
1862, Frank Higgins, John P. Dens
1863, Neponi Y. Ancheta, John Lemon
1864-8, John Lemon;
1869, Daniel Fietze, Pablo Melendez
1870, Pablo Melendez
1876, Pablo Melendez
1877, Henry J. Cuniffe
1878-9, Pablo Melendez
1881, Maximo Castaneda
1899-1902, Albert J. Fountain
1903-6, Marcial Valdez
1853, Joseph H. Tucker
1854-9, James A. Lucas
1860, G. H. Oury
1861-2, Charles A. Hoppin
1863-5, James M. Taylor
1866-9, J. F. Bennett
1870, Ygnacio Orrantia
1876, Daniel Frietze
1880-4, Horace F. Stephenson
1885-6, Jesus S. Garcia
1877-9, William T. Jones (H. F. Stephenson
appointed in 1879 to fill vacancy caused by
the death of Mr. Jones)
1887-96, Horace F. Stephenson
1897-1900, Jose R. Lucero
1901-6, Isodoro Armijo


1853-4. John Jones
1855-60, Samuel G. Bean
1861, Marcial Padilla
1862, John A. Roberts
1863, Fred Burkner
1864-5, Apolonio Barela
1866-8, Mariano Barela
1869-70, Fabian Gonzales
1881-2. J. W., Southwick
1897-1900, Patrick F. Garrett
1901-6, Jose R. Lucero


County Commissioners
1876, Thomas J. Bull (chairman), Jacinto Armijo, Pablo Melenlez
1877-8, Charles Lesinsky (chairman), John D. Barncastle, Pablo Melendez
1879-80, Guadalupe Ascarate (chairman), Eugenio Mareno, Sixto Garcia
1881-2, Carlos H. Armijo (chairman), Nicholas Galles, Amado Arvizii
1883-4, R. E. Smith (chairman), Benjamin E. Davies, Eugenio Mareno
In August, 1884, Jacinto Armijo appointed to succeed R. E. Smith
1885-6, Mariano Barela (chairman), John D. Barncastle, Jacinto Armijo
1887-8, Thomas J. Bull (chairman), Leon Alvarez, Brigado Garcia
1889-90, George Lynch (chairman), George W. Mossman, Thomas J. Bull
1891-4, Tomas Gonzales (chairman), Numa Raymond, Leon Alvares Lopez
1895-6, Acheson McClintock (chairman), Charles Miller, Rosalio Baldonado
1897-8, Charles E. Miller (chairman), Rosalio Baldonado, Jesus Silva
1899-1900, Frank S. Oliver (chairman), Doyle Murray. Jesus Silva; in 1899, D. M. Sutherland was appointed to succeed Mr. Murray, and in 1900. E. E. Day succeeded Mr. Sutherland
1901-2, W. B. Murphy (chairman), Charles E. Miller, Agapito Torres
1903-4, C. E. Miller (chairman), Agapito Torres, Samuel Geek
1905-6, Richard Nietzschmann (chairman), Francisco Jaramillo, Samuel Geek.

Physical Features

While the surface of the county is mainly composes of plains and mesas, there are, nevertheless, the San Andres, Organ and Franklin mountains running north and south, at some distance from the eastern banks of the Rio Grande, which is the only water course of importance. Near the southern boundary between the Territory and Texas, where the Rio Grande sweeps toward El Paso, the mountain ranges approach nearer the river valley. The Organ mountains lie about eighteen miles east. Although unique in appearance, they do not derive their name from a fancied resemblance to any musical mechanism, but from the Orajons, a numerous tribe of Indians who inhabited the region in early days. The Spanish word, Orajon, means "long ears," and was given to the tribe on account of the physical peculiarity of its members.

The county slopes from north to south. Rincon, at the northern end is 4,031 feet above the sea; Anthony, at the southern, 3,789 feet. Organ peak is 9,108 feet in height, and Florida station, on the Santa Fe, near the western boundary of the county, is 4,484 feet in altitude. What was acquired from Mexico by the Gadsden treaty of 1853 is mostly embraced within the limits of Dona Ana County, and the famed Mesilla valley lies entirely within it.

The plains of the county furnish an abundance of gramma grass, an unexcelled forage plant for beef cattle. The most progressive stockmen, however, raise or lease large alfalfa fields, on which they give their cattle a final feeding before sending them to market. Dona Ana has acquired a high reputation for her vintage, the vineyards yielding from 1,300 to 1,500 gallons of wine per acre. Bee culture is also a growing source of profit, the wide-stretching alfalfa fields yielding a peculiar variety of honey, which is said to be very efficacious in all throat and pulmonary diseases. The principal mining is carried on in the Organ Mountains, the ores occurring on the contact line between limestone and porphyry, and embrace silver, galena and sulphuret of iron.

The Mesilla Valley

This far-famed region has given a special reputation to Dona Ana County, as it was the first portion of New Mexico to attract the attention of the Anglo-Saxon and secure settlement.

In the early days its richness attracted immigration from the four corners of the earth, and its fame had reached to the oldest Caucasian cities. The era that succeeded the war, during which the great transcontinental roads were building, drew off from it the tide of immigration. It is one of the most fruitful areas in the world. At Fort Selden the valley spreads out to a fertile plain, some six miles in width and forty miles in length. Through it the Rio Grande meanders to where it enters the canyon above El Paso, Texas. On the east, some seventeen miles distant, rises the range of mountains whose tall pinnacles resemble the pipes of a monster organ, while on the west the walls of the table land rise some 200 feet above the level of the valley.

The agricultural crops of Dona Ana, and especially of the Mesilla valley, are alfalfa, fruits and the cereals. In the gardens and vineyards the finest fruits of the temperate zone reach perfection. Nowhere does alfalfa flourish better or produce a greater tonnage. Indian corn grows to an almost fabulous height. But it is of its fruits that the valley is justly proud.

All hardy fruits reach perfection in Dona Ana County. Peaches, pears, plums, apricots, quinces, prunes and, above all except peaches, apples flourish. There are many large orchards. The earliest ones were entirely of apples, the future trees having been brought out on the stages of those days in the form of root-grafts.

The vineyards of this valley have long been famous. For a long time they were composed entirely of the Mission grape, but a large number of other foreign varieties have been introduced with great success. These include the Muscat of Alexandria, Flaming Tokay, Rose of Peru, Gros Coleman, Cornichon, Black Burgundy, etc.

Las Cruces

Las Cruces, the county seat, is situated nearly midway in the Rio Grande valley as it passes through Dona Ana County, and is on the branch of the Santa Fe road running from Rincon to El Paso. Various origins are given for the name, "The Crosses." One is traced to the crosses on the old mission. It is also said that a number of travelers were killed a little north of the present site of the town in 1848, and over their bodies, which were buried by soldiers, were erected two crosses. The present town has a fine court house, churches, an academy conducted by the Sisters of Loretto and is the seat of the Territorial Agricultural College. Attached to the college is an experimental station.

With this general description of the town and the county, the sketches of several worthy pioneers who have materially assisted in the development of the Mesilla valley are presented below.

More biographies at the bottom of the page.

A Picture of the Sixties

A copy of the Mesilla Times of October 10, 1861, gives a fair idea of those actively engaged in business there, at Las Cruces, and at other points in the county. It also indicates that the people of New Mexico were having troubles of their own, besides the Civil war.

At the date mentioned. R. P. Kelley was editor of the Times, and B. C. Murray & Co. publishers, and the copy of the paper is now in possession of John D. Barncastle, of Dona Ana. From its columns it is seen that in 1861 the following business and professional men were located at Mesilla:

Mini Gazetteer

Freitze & Applezoler, bakers
M. H. Macwillie, lawyer
Pedro Duhalde, merchant
W. Claude Jones, lawyer
Dr. J. A. Butler, physician and surgeon
Hayward & McGrorty, merchants
E. Angerstein, merchant
Kelley & Hughes, steam flour mills
Buchoz, Grangdeau & Co., general merchants
R. P. Kelley, surveyor
Joshua S. Sledd, saloon and market
John Minis, proprietor of Casino Hotel

 John G. Ward was located at Las Cruces as proprietor of the Las Cruces Hotel, and M. Cahan was the jeweler and watchmaker of the town. Buhl & Gross advertised their Pino Alto House, on Bear Creek; Samuel G. and Roy Bean called attention to their large saloon at Pino Alto; Sweet & Lacoste were merchants at Santa Rita, and A. T. Swabocher & Co. had a sawmill at "Tuleroso."

A news item, referring to the Indian troubles in the fall of 1861, says: "A meeting of the citizens of Mesilla was held at the court room for the purpose of organizing two companies of volunteers for three months' service against the Apache Indians. Isaac Langston had been commissioned as captain of one of these companies by Lieutenant-Colonel Baylor. The meeting chose the following company officers: Anastacio Barela, captain; Stanislaus Albillar, first lieutenant; Juan Jose Duran, second lieutenant; Vincenta Mestes, third lieutenant. The other officers of Langston's company were: Cayetano Goningus, first lieutenant; Juan Maribal, second lieutenant: Erangastur Charvis, third lieutenant."

Another item conveyed the following intelligence: "An express reached here on the 8th from Pino Alto bringing most urgent appeals for assistance. The Indians have Pino Alto, the copper mines and several large trains at different points, and even a company of forty armed men from this valley, perfectly besieged. The Expressman had a horse shot from under him a mile from Pino Alto by the Indians, but started again and succeeded in making the trip alone and safely. Captain Mastin of the Arizona Guards is in a critical condition. The main artery of his arm is injured, and has begun to bleed several times, and unless he receives speedy surgical relief death must ensue. We are informed that Major Waller will also go to Pino Alto with a command of eighty men. He will be accompanied by about the same number of citizens of Mesilla under command of Captains Anastacio and Barela."


Until 1880 Mesilla was the county seat, and the headquarters of the United States land office and of the Third Judicial District. The town is chiefly noted for its magnificent orchards and vineyards, its streets being regular and lined with beautiful shade trees. Besides fruit and wine, its principal resources are the hay and grain raised in the surrounding districts. An abundance of water is obtained by means of irrigating ditches from the Rio Grande and from drive wells. The town is about two miles west of Las Cruces.

A visitor to the peaceful, beautiful little village can scarcely conceive that its streets were the scene of one of the bloodiest tragedies which has ever marred the history of the Territory. It was a political riot of thirty-five years ago, which created widespread consternation throughout the Mesilla valley, and the story of its origin, occurrence and results is told by S. M. Ashenfelter, in an article furnished to the Silver City Independent. He says:

Col. J. Francisco Chaves and Jose M. Gallegos, familiarly known as "Padre" Gallegos, were opposing candidates for the office of delegate to Congress. The Republican and Democratic parties were both thoroughly organized, in Dona Ana county, the former under the leadership of Col. W. L. Rynerson and John Lemon, the latter led by Pablo Melendrez and Mariano Barela, Democratic candidates, respectively, for probate judge and for sheriff. From the opening of the campaign, intense party feeling had prevailed, and the struggle had assumed a bitter personal, as well as partisan, aspect. Both parties appeared to be ready for serious trouble and eager to invite it.

It had been announced that, on Sunday, the 27th of August, 1871, a Democratic mass meeting would be held in the plaza of Mesilla, to be addressed by Mr. Gallegos. This was followed by an announcement that the Republicans, also, would hold a mass meeting at Mesilla, on that day. Among the best people, there was at once a general expression of fear that the two meetings could not be held without danger of serious collision. So strong was this belief that, at the request of the business men of Las Cruces and Mesilla, the leaders of the two parties came together in the interest of peace, and it was agreed that the Democrats should have the plaza, as originally arranged, and the Republicans would hold their meeting in front of the residence of John Lemon. This program was carried out, and with what appeared to be most satisfactory results. Both meetings had been held, and many of the people had departed for their homes in other precincts. So general was the impression that all danger of collision had passed, that Horace Stephenson, who. in support of Mr. Gallegos, had come up from La Mesa with over one hundred mounted men, mostly armed, withdrew from the plaza with his followers, started for home, and was out of hearing, before the trouble commenced.

But the agitators were not satisfied. On one side, it was suggested that it would be a fitting ceremonial to close the day by forming in procession and marching around the plaza. On which side this suggestion first took form, it was impossible to determine, that day and it cannot be determined now. But, the other party, not to be outdone, immediately followed the example set with the result that the two processions marched in opposite directions around the plaza. And the cheapest of whisky had flowed freely.

The two processions met, nearly in front of the Reynolds & Griggs store. I. N. Kelley, a printer, on the Democratic side, and John Lemon, on the Republican side, engaged in angry political discussion, as the heads of the processions came together. In the excitement. Apolonio Barela, intentionally or otherwise, fired his pistol into the air. Immediately upon the firing of the shot. Kelley, who carried a heavy pick handle, struck Lemon a fierce blow upon the head, felling him to the ground. The next instant, Felicito Arroyas y Lueras shot Kelley, inflicting a mortal wound, and. in turn, was shot through the heart by some person unknown. Then, the fighting became general, and during about ten or fifteen minutes, the sound was that of a "sharp rattle of musketry. The plaza was crowded, and that no greater fatalities resulted, seems marvelous. Men, women and children, in confused masses, rushed for the streets leading out from the corners of the plaza. In the narrow street between the residence of Col. Bennett and the building then used as a court house, several women and children were severely injured in the crush of the frantic mob. Terror stricken people, as they fled, screamed aloud in an agony of fright, the continued sound of pistol shots adding to the wildness of the panic which prevailed.

The firing commenced about half past three o'clock in the afternoon. Half an hour before. Generals Gregg and Devin, deeming the events of the day to be concluded, had started upon return trip to Fort Selden. Two companies of the Eighth Cavalry were stationed at that post, and, shortly after the outbreak, a federal officer then at La Mesilla, dispatched a messenger asking for the aid of troops to restore order. The messenger overtook the two officers on the road, delivered his message, and thereupon, these officers pushed forward to the post with all possible speed. "Boots and saddles" was sounded, and, about ten o'clock that night, a command of sixty cavalrymen drew rein in front of the residence of Colonel Jones, just at the outskirts of Mesilla. Major Kelly, with a small detachment, moved into the plaza. He was met by a few citizens, among whom were men of both parties, and who joined in a request that the entire body of troops should be brought in. The bugle was sounded, and the rest of the troops came up at a gallop. These troops camped in the plaza that night. The next day the main body withdrew, and Major Kelly was left there with a detachment of twenty men; and with an additional detachment of fifteen men under Lieutenant Godwin, established at Las Cruces. These detachments remained in the valley about a fortnight, and were of service in preventing another outbreak when Colonel Chaves made his visit to the county, and addressed a meeting at Mesilla.

Nine men were killed, and between forty and fifty were wounded, in this ugly affray. Only partial lists can be obtained at this date. John Lemon, whose skull was fractured by the blow he had received, was removed to his home, where he died that evening. Among the others killed, were I. N. Kelley, Sotello Lopez, Francisco Rodrigues, Felicito Arroyas y Luera, Fabian Cortez, the Chihuahua bully, and an idiot boy who was shot down while standing beside Mariano Barela. It was never possible to get even an approximate list of the wounded. Many were taken to their homes and treated in secrecy. Those who were known, are as follows:

Pedro Garcia
Hilario Moreno
Jose M. Padilla
Cesario Flores
Oraquia Luna
Juan de Dios Sais
Jesus Calles
Dr. Black
Manuel Nevares
Simon Gallegos
Jesus Barela
Jose Quesada
Isidoro Apodaca
Leandro Miranda
Mateo Madrid
Francisco Lopez
Jesus Lopez
Pilar Caudelario

Daniel Freitze, who was running for probate clerk on the Democratic ticket, had a narrow escape, no less than four bullets passing through his clothing. That many women and children were not killed or injured is considered one of the marvels of that day. Of the crowd in the plaza they were thought to be in the majority.

We had no judge of the district court, in this third judicial district, at that time. In truth, the country was a trifle "wild and woolly," and Waters, the last appointee, had recently resigned and gone home, after holding one term of court. A few partisans, in hasty judgment, got together and wrote to Judge Hezekiah S. Johnson, of the second district, to come down and hold an investigation. He came, stayed three days, made up his mind that it would be dangerous to do any investigating, became demoralized, and returned to his home without action. The matter never was investigated. Nobody was ever punished by law for an act done that day. A few men were arrested the night of the riot, but they were immediately released by the arresting officer, on their own recognizances. The leaders on both sides called a halt. Both had had enough, and both knew it.

The first effects of this riot were felt in Grant county, numbers of people abandoning their homes in the Mesilla valley, and making settlements along the Mimbres. But the most marked effect was the establishment of a colony from Dona Ana County, in the Republic of Mexico. Fabian Gonzales, then sheriff of Dona Ana County; Ygnacio Orrantia, the United States deputy marshal for southern New Mexico; Fred Buckner, the postmaster at Mesilla; Apolonio Barela, and some thirty or forty others, residents about Las Cruces and La Mesilla, formed a colony, sent emissaries to Mexico City, and procured a land grant on the stream; above and below the site of what is now the town of Ascencion in Mexico. They removed to the new settlement in the early days of 1872, feeling that they were driven to seek safer homes. Of this party, Apolonio Barela afterwards came to Silver City, and resided here for several years, finally returning to Ascencion.

Other Towns

Dona Ana is in the central portion of the county, surrounded by a rich country, devoted to the cultivation of the grape, fruits and vegetables. Mesilla Park is a village and railroad station adjoining the Agricultural College, being mainly a residence suburb. Chamberino, a busy little town, drawing its prosperity from an outlying country of good ranches productive gardens and fruitful orchards, is on the west bank of the Rio Grande, about eighteen miles south of Las Cruces, and three miles west of Anthony, a station on the A.. T. & S. F. Earlham, a railroad station fifteen miles south of the county seat, and Colorado, in the western part of the county, live miles from Rincon, are also centers of well irrigated and productive areas.

The Water Users' Association of Dona Ana County was organized at a mass meeting held at Las Cruces, in December, 1904. Representatives gathered from all parts of the district, and the meeting was of a very enthusiastic character. H. B. Holt, of Las Cruces, was elected president, and has filled the office since. Oscar C. Snow is vice-president; H. D. Bowman, treasurer, and Numa C. Freuger, secretary.

The Cass Land and Cattle Company was organized in Cass County, Missouri, in March, 1884, all of the officers being residents of that state. The ranch is located sixty miles northeast of Roswell, on the Pecos River, at Cedar Canyon, and consists of 3,600 acres of land and 20,000 cattle. The enterprise was started with 2,252 cattle. Since the organization of the company its active managers have been Lee Easley (1884), J. D. Cooley (1885), W. G. Urton (1886-99), and Mr. Cooley," who has held the position since 1899. The capital stock of the company is $100,000, as originally. Until 1889 the ranch brand was "T. H. L.," but in July of that year the "Bar V" brand was purchased of the estate of J. J. Cox, and has since been retained. An idea of the magnitude of the business conducted by the Cass Land and Cattle Company may be gained from these items: Number of cattle branded since organization. 88,336; cattle sold, 46,996; dividends, $420,000, or an average of 20 per cent on the capital stock for twenty years.

BackBernalillo County Biographies

Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.

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