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Episode 13 - Comets, Outlaws, and Atomic Beginnings
Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting Stories of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, N M. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is brought to you from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World.
First, before anything else, I have good news. The 2023 growing season Chile Peppers in the Hatch Chile fields are being harvested, therefore, the Chile Roasting Drums are fired up with that wonderful sound and smell of roasting Hatch Green Chile. In the fire-roasting process, it takes a very hot flame. The outside waxy layer of the Chile Pepper is scorched to a char in a couple of minutes, allowing the removal of the waxy skin without damaging the inside Chile meat. Also, Fire-roasting gives the Chile a wonderful smokey flavor.
A Friday Quote since today is Friday: Friday sees more smiles than any other day of the workweek! So wrote Kate Summers. Friday makes me smile since it is one of the days in which I do these podcasts about New Mexico.
Now here is a strange but true story at the College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, which we now call New Mexico State University. Long time Mathematics and Astronomy professor Clarence T. Hagerty on the night of September 14, 1914, walked to a group meeting where the object was to talk about science and smoke cigars. It was common back then that they talked and smoked for a couple of hours. Then after puffing away for a couple of hours, Professor Hagerty was walking home and looked up into the dark sky toward the south and recognized an object no one had identified. It was a comet. He contacted Harvard, and those astronomers confirmed that he had discovered a comet. There was quite a bit less light pollution a hundred-nine years ago, but that still was quite an accomplishment. Hagerty started at the college in 1891 and put in 33 years of teaching. He was noted for an odd habit of throwing test papers out the window of his office if he was displeased. Out at our family ranch sixteen miles south of Carrizozo, the sky is very dark without the Moon, and while I grew up with it, I know some people who have lived under street lights their whole life are a little unnerved by the darkness.
This is Enchanting Stories of New Mexico, sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, N M. Hit subscribe to automatically get these. Thanks for tuning in. We have more.
Fishing is good in New Mexico and certainly at Elephant Butte Lake. The Department of Game and Fish has this statement: From pristine high-mountain lakes and streams to large reservoirs and lazy meandering rivers, New Mexico’s waters provide some of the best fishing in the Southwest. I completely agree. I was speaking to someone who fishes at Elephant Butte Lake, and he said the extra heat makes being on the water even more pleasant than being out on the lake. Know this: there is an entry fee required, and a fishing license is not required for 11-year-olds and younger. You can get a license online at the New Mexico Game and Fish website. 70 years of age or older, your fishing license is free. I like free, don’t you?
A little unusual history in our area of Southern New Mexico. In 1876 John Chisum, the cattle baron from the east side of New Mexico, was on a stage going from Silver City to Las Cruces. He was traveling with his long-time personal attorney, Thomas Conway when something right out of the Old West happened. While the stage was going up a hill near Cook’s Canyon, three masked men appeared and commanded the driver, guard, and passengers to get out of the stage and line up. Chisum had around a thousand dollars on him but was able to hide most of it in his boot. Also taken were some silver bricks from the stage’s safe valued at $4,000. The robbers were not apprehended, and Chisum had an exciting tale to tell.
John Simpson Chisum was born in Tennessee in 1824 and, at age 30 in 1854, took up the cattle business, sending herds to the New Mexico Territory. The cattle were wild Texas longhorns and not branded. Sending them to market made Chisum wealthy. He drove herds to Fort Sumner to sell to the United States Army and also to the miners in Colorado. He teamed with Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving in the cattle business. Chisum was a larger-than-life part of New Mexico history, a business associate of Alexander McSween, a principal in the Lincoln County War. Along with several others, he persuaded Pat Garrett to run for Sheriff with the mandate to settle down the lawlessness in the area, including Billy the Kid, which Pat Garrett did do. Now we must mention the 1970 John Wayne movie Chisum. A movie, as in a work of fiction. A very well-acted and produced work of fiction. Fiction, not documentary. Enough said. I have the movie and enjoy watching it, but I ignore the many inaccuracies.
Michael Swickard here with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico. Continuing with some history. Today, July 14th, is the day 142 years ago that Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. And 64 years and two days afterward, July 16, 1945, was the detonation of the first Atomic device at Trinity Site, New Mexico.
Are those two connected? Nope, but the dates in July are close. And lots has been written about both events. So let me talk about both since, historically, both are important to New Mexico. First, Pat Garrett kills Billy the Kid. One account of the last moments of Billy was written under Pat Garrett’s name and has the account, I believe. Pat Garrett’s 1882 book was: The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, Noted Desperado of the Southwest, Whose Deeds of Daring and Blood Made His Name a Terror in New Mexico, Arizona, and Northern Mexico. The last gunbattle was more luck than skill though it took guts to go after Billy. Garrett and two deputies, John Poe, and Thomas McKinney, went to the Pete Maxwell ranch. While Pat was talking to Pete, Billy came into the darkened room wondering who was on the porch. Both Billy and Pat were armed, but Pat recognized Billy and shot him to death.
According to most accounts, what the majority of New Mexicans felt was relief that the lawlessness of the area was reduced. Good riddance. Not what the movie versions show but how the people felt in and around New Mexico.
New Mexico was built by work-a-day people who came, worked diligently, and had kids, and out of the lawless chaos, there came schoolteachers, shopkeepers, lawyers, and all sorts of people building the life we now have. The farmers and ranchers enabled the society with the products that were consumed here and those products that were shipped and brought in wealth.
So let us talk about July 16, 1945, when the world saw the nuclear age begin. At 5:30 in the morning, a button was pushed, and the Trinity Site exploded. Lots have been written about the Manhattan Project, and there are documentaries and movies. So, I will just mention a couple of things. First, those people living in the area were not warned and afterward were not told that the cloud of radiation was in the area. Right or wrong, the people of that era did what they did with the intention of ending the second world war, and it did.
I lived in Japan from 1958 to 1961 and came away with several perceptions about the Japanese people and their culture. I believe they hated the war but were dutiful to the leaders, much like I believe the Germans hated war also but were dutiful to Hitler.
There are lots of opinions as to if atomic devices were necessary, but that is useless to consider because it happened. The two bombs were dropped, and Japan surrendered. In New Mexico, the problem was the radiation released and the health implications. Know this: the week after the July 16 explosion, in several downwind areas, the hair fell off the cattle, so those cattle had to go to market. Again, the ranchers were not told for several weeks about the atomic nature, but of course, when the two Japanese bombs were used, most people in New Mexico figured out that the test on July 16 was atomic.
A very tough war on New Mexico ended. Remember, it was by accident of time that the New Mexico National Guard, the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery were in the Philippines when war broke out, and eventually, these New Mexicans ended up in the Bataan Death March.
If the Second World War had broken out earlier or if it had waited for a couple of years later, it would have been a different state’s National Guard that was in the Philippines at the outbreak of war with Japan. I see the July 16 anniversary of 1945 as a sacred time of remembrance and am thankful for everyone who gave their all for our freedom.
There is the question of Downwinder Syndrome, where some New Mexicans feel that the release of radiation downwind of the Trinity Site made some New Mexicans sick. I, Michael Swickard, had a rather rare form of Thyroid Cancer many years ago. I survived, and friends, I woke up smiling this morning because I am still alive. But I take nothing away from those who identify as Downwinders, those who are being completely ignored by the politicians.
Over the many years, I have found peace in still being alive. I perhaps even enjoy life more than I would have without cancer, but I have no way of knowing. Kind of a tough remembrance, but again I am thankful for all who served our country.
What is coming in a few weeks with this harvest around the corner is that the Fresh Chile Company this year is offering a special reserve release of the Hatch Green Chile varietal Big Jim in a 16-ounce jar. Varietal means that this product will only be made with Big Jim Chile, which is sweet and has a medium heat level.
Big Jim is very popular in New Mexico restaurants & homes. In 1975, Big Jim was listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest Chile Pods, perfect for Chile Rellenos. It was developed by Chile Researcher Dr. Roy Nakayama at New Mexico State University. It is a hybrid of New Mexico Chile Peppers and a Peruvian pepper that Nakayama and fellow researcher Jim Lytle combined. Big Jim is named for Jim Lytle, who died unexpectedly at that time.
One thing that happens when people live in Las Cruces or happen to be in our little slice of paradise. They can come by the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop at 1160 El Paseo Rd, Suite D7A, in Las Cruces, NM. It is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Now I need to tell you about some new products at the Fresh Chile Company that I find wonderful. There is a Local Honey with Hatch Red Chile that is great on biscuits. French fries are so much more with the Fresh Chile Company’s Hatchup, which is ketchup and Hatch Red Chile. Come browse, there are many more surprises, and also, there are some frozen surprises that I assure you are wonderful. Again from Monday to Saturday, the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop at 1160 El Paseo Rd, Suite D7A in Las Cruces, NM., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
This is Michael Swickard with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico, brought to you by The Fresh Chile Company. Thank you for your time today. We will have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts If you have something or someone you want me to talk about, write to: email@example.com
Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes, and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.