Union County, New Mexico

 Union is a long and narrow county of 5,772 square miles, situated in the northeastern corner of New Mexico, and is bounded north by Colorado, east by Oklahoma and the Panhandle of Texas, south by Quay and San Miguel counties, and west by San Miguel, Mora and Colfax counties. It has a population of about 7,000, and its county seat is Clayton, a town of some 1,000 people in the northeastern part of the county, on the Colorado & Southern Railway. Folsom, also, and some of the larger towns are on this line of road, which crosses the northeastern corner of the county for a distance of 84 miles. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad runs for 56 miles through the southern part, and that line, with its branch from Tucumcari, Quay County, is doing much to develop this section. The bridge of the Rock Island over the Canadian river is over 750 feet in length, spans the stream at a height of 135 feet, and is considered one of the best pieces of engineering work in New Mexico.

Formation of the County

For many years prior to the formation of Union county, the citizens of the eastern portions of Colfax, San Miguel and Mora counties had complained of the great distances which they were obliged to travel in order to transact legal and official business at the county seat. Not only did they have this common and reasonable complaint, but they possessed a bond of union in a community of interests, as they were nearly all engaged in the raising of sheep and cattle. There naturally arose a desire to unite under one county government, whose seat of justice and official procedures should be of easier access, and which should particularly foster the main business of their lives. As is the usual case, the controlling portions of the counties were opposed to a decrease of their territory, but the rational nature of the proposed division and creation appealed to the territorial legislature, which passed an act for the formation of Union county, and which was approved by Governor Prince February 23" J 893- Under the circumstances, the name was well chosen. In 1903 the county assumed its present dimensions by the creation of Quay County, to whose territory it contributed 265 square miles.

Natural Features

The county is chiefly drained by Ute creek, which flows southeast through its western and southwestern portions into the Canadian river, and by the Cimarron river, which traverses its northern sections in an eastward course toward the Arkansas. The general slope of the county is toward the southeast, and the surface is generally divided into high mesas, extensive plains and narrow river valleys and canyons. Mountains and hills covered with timber occupy the northern and western portions; thence they gradually slope into valley lands, which sink into grass-covered mesas, and roll on into the plains of the Panhandle of Texas. On the Cimarron, Tramperos and Ute creeks are valuable tracts of cedar and pine, which have not been touched except to supply a small amount of fuel for domestic purposes.

The altitude of Union county ranges from 4,000 to 8,000 feet, and both air and climate generally are favorable to pulmonary troubles. The nights are always cool, the summer heat is modified by the altitude and the mountain breezes, and the cold is tempered by the mountain barriers which shut off the high winds. The country abounds in mineral springs. Both the large and the small game of the west is abundant, so that the region is becoming a favorite resort for hunters, pleasure seekers and semi-invalids.

Stock Raising and Agriculture

In the raising of sheep and the production of wool. Union county is first in New Mexico, and Clayton one of the most important centers in the Territory for the handling of the livestock and raw material. The river bottoms, especially along the Cimarron, are used to some extent in the cultivation of alfalfa for cattle and sheep. The raising of goats and horses is a growing industry, and the livestock interests, as a whole, are in process of rapid expansion because of the good transportation facilities afforded by the three railroads of the county. Wherever water can be obtained all grains, vegetables and fruits can be successfully raised. Unfortunately, irrigation has made little progress in the county. Except corn, every agricultural product is raised successfully on the higher mesas without resorting to irrigation. Especially fine potatoes are produced, and the alfalfa crops are prodigious. In fact, during the eighteen or twenty years which cover the period of its cultivation, the mesa has never failed the agriculturist. According to the census of 1900 the value of all stock and farm property in the county was $4,664,000, only two other counties in the Territory exceeding it in that respect. When it is remembered that Union county has something like 600.000 sheep. 60,000 cattle, and 10.000 horses and goats, it will be realized how small a proportion of this sum can be credited to its agricultural interests. It must also be remembered that this is the taxable valuation, and by no means represents the selling, or true value.

Chief Towns

Clayton, the county seat, is a town of about 800 people, a station on the Colorado & Southern Railway, and is situated in the northeastern part of the county. It has electric lights and waterworks, a telephone system, a good public school building, Methodist, Baptist and Christian organizations, a number of secret societies and the usual business establishments, with large yards and other extensive facilities for handling cattle, sheep, lambs and wool. There are also a first-class hotel, a $20,000 court house, a national bank, and a weekly newspaper published in Spanish. Folsom, situated in the extreme northwestern part of the county, also on the Colorado & Southern Railroad, is nearly the size of Clayton, and is gaining quite a name as a health resort. It is located in a beautiful valley, 6,400 feet above sea level, while twelve miles to the southwest rises the noble Sierra Grande to an altitude of 11,500 feet. During the summer months this mountain is a mass of flowers rising into the clear blue sky, and is one of the most charming and magnificent sights in New Mexico. Five miles from town is Sierra Capulin, 9,500 feet high, bearing on its crest a perfect volcano crater, and affording a magnificent outlook over lesser peaks in all directions, while in clear days the range of vision may sweep far to the northwest and include the Spanish and Pike's peaks of Colorado. Sulphur and iron springs abound near Folsom, and there are several imposing sanitariums.

Folsom (formerly Fort Folsom) has long been an important shipping point for livestock and wool, and one of the busiest localities in New Mexico is the ground upon which stand the sheep-dipping tanks owned and operated by the railroad company. The town has a fine public school, a large hotel (sanitarium) and Union Protestant and Catholic congregations. Its business houses are creditable, and from the lime quarries nearby is manufactured a good quality of plaster. A Spanish weekly is published in Folsom, and altogether it is a brisk and growing little place.

Union County Biographies

Charles A. English John F. Wolford

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

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