Otero County, New Mexico

Prior to the organization of Otero County, in 1899, Lincoln County extended south to the Texas boundary, and prior to 1889, when Chaves and Eddy counties were carved from its territory, it contained about 30,000 square miles, being then the largest County in New Mexico.

As now organized, Otero County contains 6,874 square miles, and is bounded north by Lincoln and Chaves, east by Chaves and Eddy, south by Texas, and west by Dona Aha County and Socorro County. Its County seat is Alamogordo, which has a population of about 3,500. It is situated on the El Paso & Northeastern railroad, and is one of the best towns in Southern New Mexico.

Natural Features

The average elevation of Otero County is 4,500 feet above sea level. The San Andreas Mountains form a barrier near its western border, running north and south and acting as a drain from that section. The Sacramento Mountains extend directly east and west through the central portions, with the Jicarilla Mountains as a western extension. All these ranges are well forested. Gold has been discovered among the Jicarillas. In the latter district placer mining was worked successfully by the Mexicans with the use of melted snow, in winter.

Referring more particularly to the timber of Otero County, it is anticipated that it will eventually constitute one of its chief sources of wealth. The wood consists of pine, pinyon, juniper, ash, cottonwood and oak, and makes excellent building material. It is estimated there are some 700,000,000 feet awaiting the ax and saw on the Sacramento Mountains, which also contain rich deposits of marble, onyx and lithographic stone.

Geologists claim that Alamogordo is in the center of a great artesian basin, which underlies the valley about 1,000 feet. It is estimated that reservoirs could be constructed at Temporal Canyon capable of irrigating from 3,000 to 5,000 acres of land, and at Tularosa Canyon of about the same capacity. Experts also have seen that La Luz Canyon is wasting water that might be utilized to irrigate several thousand acres, and that at all of these points valuable water powers might lie developed.

With these natural irrigation advantages, it is thought that the county especially the districts around the centers mentioned will eventually develop into a fine fruit region, and wheat has already yielded enormous returns per acre. Home seekers are being attracted to these localities, and since the building of the railroad to Alamogordo. In 1898, several hundred homesteaders have located in the valley: in fact, most of the land is now homesteaded within a radius of ten miles north, south or west of that point.

Fruits and Vegetables

In their native state grapes and currants mature in great abundance, while cultivated vines, as well as apples, peaches and pears naturally thrive. In the mountain districts the wild potato is found in large quantities, while the cultivated article is astonishing in its production. Indian corn, wheat, oats, barley and rye, have all been tried with flattering results, while millet, clover, blue grass, alfalfa and other kindred forage crops and fertilizers have developed to perfection. Alfalfa is notable in its yields, four cuttings being often made in a year with a yield of five tons per acre.

Vegetables, such as cabbage, lettuce, turnips, parsnips, carrots, radishes, peas, tomatoes, pumpkins, squashes, onions, melons, celery, and cucumbers grow to astonishing size and perfection. Beans of various sorts, raised for the market, produce from 900 to 1,500 pounds to the acres.

Livestock. As is the case in districts where neither the artesian nor irrigation systems are developed, the live-stock interests of the County depend largely upon natural conditions. Its various grasses are abundant and nutritious, and afford an unlimited supply of feed, while the mountain and foot-hills furnish winter protection. Stock of all descriptions usually subsists on the range summer and winter. It is estimated that the profit on cattle is at least fifty cents monthly per head from the time they are calved, while the profit on sheep is not less than fifty per cent.

The Mescalero Apache Reservation

In the northern part of the County is the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation of 575000 acres, on which there are about 600 Indians; this gives each Indian some 960 acres, or a section and a half. The country is well watered and grassed and abounds in game. The Indians are making good progress in farming and the industrial arts, and many of their children are attending the territorial schools provided for them. The principal town of the reservation is Mescalero.

County Officers

The first meeting of the Board of Commissioners of Otero County was held April 18, 1800 and the first officers, appointed by Governor Otero, were as follows:

1899-1900: Probate clerk, W. S. Shepherd: Sheriff, George Curry; Assessor, Casemeria C. Candelaria; Superintendent of Schools, Louis Vigil; Surveyor, J. H Lucas; Treasurer, D. M. Sutherland.

The officials elected have been:

Probate Clerks: 1901-1904. W. K. Stalcup: 1905-1906, H. H. Major.
Probate Judges: 1901-1902, Jose L. Torres; 1903-1904, Rosalio Lopez; 1905-1906, Francisco Borunda.
Sheriffs: 1901-1904, James Hunter: 1905-1906, A. B. Phillips.
Assessors: 1001-1904. Thomas F. Fleming; 1905-1906. J. J. Hill.
Treasurers: 1901-1904. I. N. Jackson: 1905-1906, J. C. Dunn.


This town, the County seat of Otero, although a place of 3,500 people, is not an incorporated town, but it is governed by the Board of County Commissioners, which is an anomaly in the history of large towns. One reason for this state of affairs is that the place has grown rapidly, and contains a majority of the population of the County, and as the County government is in operation it is more economical to employ it in the conduct of the affairs of this community.

The existence of Alamogordo is due to the building of the El Paso & Northeastern Railroad in 1898-1899, whose primary design was to develop the coal fields at Capitan, Lincoln County, and ultimately to connect with the Rock Island system east. Charles B. Eddy was the chief mover in the enterprise, he and others conducting it under the name of the New Mexico Railway & Coal Company. Although after the road was constructed the Capitan coal lands did not prove productive, Alamogordo was founded and is flourishing, because situated in the midst of an unusually rich country rich in lumber, fruit, alfalfa, marble, onyx, and various kinds of building and ornamental stone. In May, 1905, "the railroad was sold to the Phelps-Dodge Company, and the town site is now owned by the Alamogordo Improvement Company. The railroad shops were among the first buildings to be completed at Alamogordo, but there is now (1906) a prospect of their removal.

The town site is an arid plain, but was surveyed by the railroad engineers into fine, wide streets, and a great number of the rapidly growing cottonwoods planted everywhere. Both the company and citizens vied with each other in the planting of this variety of shade trees, and christened the place Alamogordo, which, translated, is "fat cottonwoods." It was found that an abundance of water for irrigation purposes could be obtained at a small depth from 30 to 150 feet and the surface flow from neighboring Canyons was plentiful. So, even without an artesian supply, the problem of irrigation was never a difficult one for the people of Alamogordo. At the present time water for domestic use is obtained chiefly from Alamo Canyon, southeast of town, in the Sacramento Mountains, and for the irrigation supply dependence is placed largely upon La Luz Canyon, a few miles to the northeast. The latter has been dammed, and probably will become the site of a government reservoir. If properly developed, it is believed that there is the probability of a great water power at this point. A short distance west of Alamogordo borings have progressed to a depth of 1,000 feet, but the anticipated artesian flow has not yet been tapped.

With an imperfect development of the natural water supply, however, agricultural and horticultural progress has been marked. The fruit land is of the finest quality, and the climate is also favorable to apples, pears, plums, prunes, peaches, apricots, grapes, figs, quinces and cherries. Experiments with wheat indicate that prolific yields are possible, while alfalfa is already an almost inexhaustible source of wealth.

The continuous development of the fruit and alfalfa industries, with the lumber, lithographic stone, marble and onyx of the Sacramento Mountains, is the chief cause of the substantial growth of Alamogordo. The town now contains a reliable bank, two newspapers, several churches, fully attended schools, the railroad shops, lumber mills operated by a company subsidiary to the railroad company, an ice factory and a company devoted to the preparation of lithographic stone for the market. The New Mexico Institute for the Blind has recently been established at Alamogordo.

Among those who have been chiefly instrumental in the development of the town and the surrounding district may be mentioned Andrew J. King, manager of the Alamogordo Improvement Company, the Alamogordo Water Company and the Alamogordo Real Estate Company, and trustee of the Territorial Institute for the Blind, who is an able and enterprising business man of forty-two, and came in 1900, soon after the founding of the place; R. H. Pierce, W. S. Shepherd: Mr. Rhomberg, jeweler and first postmaster; George Carl, proprietor of the ice factory ; Dr. C. H. Waldschmidt; Messrs. W. L. Peeler, Goode and Smith, attorneys; Mr. Pelman, whose ranch is seventeen miles away, and who was an early clerk at the Indian agency ; and Charles B. and J. A. Eddy.

The future of Alamogordo largely depends upon the development of the irrigation resources of the country naturally tributary to it, as well as upon its proper exploitation as a health resort. Adjacent districts are admirably adapted to the alleviation and cure of lung troubles, especially the country in the Sacramento Mountains, about twenty miles south, of which Cloudcroft is the center.

New Mexico Institute for the Blind

In 1904 the Territorial legislature made an appropriation of $10,000 for the erection of a suitable building for the education and care of the blind. The United States government donated 50,000 acres of land, located in various parts of the Territory, for its support, and these tracts are now leased for grazing purposes. A tax of 8/10 of a mill has also been levied by the legislature: but up to date nothing has been received from the Territory. The structure is to be of brick, with a capacity of forty patients, and its total estimated cost, exclusive of furnishings, will be nearly $18,000. Work upon the main building was begun in September, 1905 with the addition of the contemplated dormitories the capacity of the institute may be doubled.

The brick of which the main building is constructed was manufactured at the Territorial Penitentiary, and it, as well as the lumber, was hauled by the railroad at cost.

The present officers of the New Mexico Institute for the Blind are as follows: A. J. King, president, Alamogordo; R. H. Pierce, secretary and treasurer. Alamogordo; other trustees Oscar Snow (Mesilla Park), Dr. Charles W. Gerber (Las Cruces), Jacobo Chaves (Los Timos).

Standard Lithograph Stone Company.

Incorporated in 1904, this company is engaged in the exploitation of lithographic stone, its quarries being at High Rolls. H. W. Fleming, of Cleveland, organized the company, which has already spent about $15,000 in the enterprise. Shipments have been made to Toledo and other points, and the prospects of the company for making an enduring success of the project are bright.

Tularosa and Its Water Privileges

Among the earliest settlements in the Territory were those made at Tularosa and vicinity. In 1858 Mexicans came from the Rio Grande to this district, but were driven back by the Indians. But the former returned in 1860, and settled on the site of Tularosa, the town being platted by surveyors of the United States government in 1862. About the first work accomplished by the colonists was to appropriate the waters of Tularosa River, building canals and ditches from the foot hills, erecting dams at proper places and concentrating them and distributing them among their lands as best they could.

During the Apache troubles of later years the Mescalero Indian agency was established, and in the prosecution of the various agricultural and industrial experiments with the dusky wards of the government it was necessary to use the water privileges partially organized by the settlers of Tularosa in the upper streams of the River. First, there was an experimental garden to be cultivated for the benefit of the Indians. Dr. Blazer, owner of the flouring mill, secured the right from the colonists to use water power, provided he conducted the water back to the stream. Other settlers located along the Canyon and took advantage of the irrigation improvements of the early settlers, while the irrigated area in the agency continually increased despite the protests of the Tularosa colonists. Upon one occasion some Mexicans from the town visited several new comers to notify them to let their water alone, and four of them were killed for their interference.

In 1905, the people of the town instituted legal proceedings against the national government to restrain the use of the water by the Indians, under the direction of the agents, beginning with Captain Stoller. An injunction was issued through the United States Court, early in the year, but it was dissolved in the summer, and the entire matter has been reopened and referred to a referee.

During and after the Civil war many soldiers connected with California volunteer regiments served throughout New Mexico in the campaigns against the Apache and Navajos, and not a few of them became settlers in the country with which they became so well acquainted. Of those who located at Tularosa were Wesley Fields, John Waters, H. C. Brown, Andrew Wilson, George Nesmith, Robert Dixon, "Paddy"' Ryan and David Wood.

Cloudcroft and Other Summer Resorts

The beautiful Sacramento Mountains are becoming famous as a district of health resorts. Cloudcroft, the center of this picturesque and health-giving country, is a little village perched among the Mountains 9,000 feet above the level of the sea. Leaving Alamogordo on the Sacramento Road, one passes through fields of alfalfa, orchards of peaches, apricots and apples, and vegetable gardens. The train gradually ascends the verdant sides of the forest clad mountain, and as the journey progresses the way becomes more tortuous and the scenery more rugged and magnificent. Finally. Cloudcroft itself is reached, overlooking a splendid expanse of country. It is quite a pretentious village, with good stores and settlements of neat summer cottages, within the limits and for miles around. The place was founded in 1900.

The Lodge, the leading hotel, is unique and comfortable, and for outside amusements there are tennis courts and golf links, and bowling alleys and billiard parlors are provided for indoors. Driveways lead out in various directions over the Mountains to charming retreats in the midst of the fragrant, invigorating forests of pine. It is noticeable, also, that the air is so sufficiently laden with moisture that the elevation does not affect the visitor, even if he have any heart trouble, so that all are able to take long walks and drives with the best results.

Near Cloudcroft are located many settlements and summer resorts on a smaller scale, among which are Mountain Park, several miles to the north and at an elevation of about 7,000 feet ; and Weed. Mayhill, Elk, Avis, Russia, Lower Penasco and Felix, all lying west. These are also villages of more or less business enterprise.

Otero County Biographies


BackNew Mexico County Biographies

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

©New Mexico American History and Genealogy Project 2011 - 2024
Created 1996 by Charles Barnum & 2016 by Judy White

Please come back Again!!