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Episode 14 - Tales of Pranks, Forts, and Fiery Chiles
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.
Let me tell you some good culinary news: the 2023 Hatch Chile Pepper growing season is in harvest. Therefore, the Chile Roasting Drums are fired up with that wonderful sound and smell of roasting Hatch Green Chile. It takes a very hot flame for the outside waxy layer of the Chile Pepper to be scorched to a char, allowing the removal of the waxy skin without damaging the inside Chile meat. Fire-roasting gives Chile a wonderful smokey flavor.
An Old West Quote: To understand what one of these Cowboy sayings, you must already know what he means and pay no attention to what he says. That is an Old West saying. My relatives had a bit of that: they needed more of that profane gas, going to have a prostrate operation. Again, you had to know what they meant when they spoke and not listen to them.
In 1948 there was a college student prank that caught many area citizens by surprise. And my uncle, Eugene McKim, an electrical engineering student, laughed when I asked him about it. He said the account I had from a book on NMSU was true. Harry Hickel was a student from somewhere back east who was at Las Cruces College on the G. I. Bill. Like my uncle. He had saved some money and bought himself a shiny new pair of Western boots. He claimed to have bought said boots from Bert Lama, the son of the founder Tony Lama, Sr. The students at the college kidded him constantly about the boots, and someone said with boots like that, he could run for Sheriff of Dona Ana County. Well, now, one thing led to another, and some of the college students who were practical jokers decided to make a large number of campaign signs: Harry Hickel for Sheriff. No, he wasn’t running. He was laughing at the practical joke being played upon the very serious political leaders who were, how should I say, they were unnerved by this unknown candidate who seemed to be swopping in to capture the office of Sheriff, which was, as best, anyone knew a patronage job to be able to hire lots and lots of cousins in paying jobs. So, the Harry Hickel for Sheriff campaign literally came overnight with hundreds of campaign signs: When trouble brews, Harry Hickel knows. Harry for Sheriff, Harry will rid us of bad guys, Harry Hickel is fast on the draw for Sheriff. On and on it went, with the political leaders calling the college president, Hugh Milton, who did not know what to make of the signs. Finally, the dean of engineering, Dad Jett, was asked by President Milton to get to the bottom of it, and he was laughing as he told Former World War Two General Hugh Milton the Second that it was only a student prank. I understand Dad Jett, who was loved by almost everyone, knew Harry Hickel from being his professor. He persuaded the engineering students that night to go pick up all the political signs. Dad Jett told Harry Hickel in a nice way that he needed to work on his grades rather than pranks, which he did. My uncle, who graduated in 1952 got a good laugh telling me the story of Harry Hickel for Sheriff.
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 turning it in. We have more.
Fishing is good in New Mexico. This last week 14,241 fish were stocked into the rivers and lakes, just waiting for you to catch and then make a great dinner. Though there is a website saying by size and species whether you should pour Fresh Chile on the fish as it cooks or you should turn it back into the water where it was caught. The Department of Game and Fish has that information. Know this: 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? If you do have a fish for dinner and use the Fresh Chile Company products to enhance dinner, take a picture and post it on the Fresh Chile Company Facebook page. You can be famous for your recipe.
A little unusual history in our area of Southern New Mexico. In the history books, it is known as the Battle of Mesilla or even the Civil War Battle of Mesilla. It really did happen, and there were some men killed and wounded. It had suspense and comic intrigue tied to the fact that the Union soldiers at a fort had, get this: too darn much alcohol, and it led to their downfall.
Somewhere near Tombaugh Elementary School at the very southern end of Las Cruces in a Pecan Orchard is the spot where 162 years ago there was Fort Fillmore which was established in 1851 by Colonel Edwin Sumner. It was named for the 13th president of the United States, who in 1850 signed the legislation making New Mexico a U. S. Territory. Fort Sumner up near Portales was named for this same Colonel Edwin Sumner.
At one time, Fort Fillmore was a Butterfield Overland Mail stop. Civil War soldiers who were at one time or another at Fort Fillmore include Captain George Pickett, he was a Confederate general remembered for Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, and General Ambrose Burnside.
So, picture, if you will, that the Civil War started back east in April of 1861. Texas joined the confederacy, and there were many young men ready to go to war, but no war yet to go out west. So Lt. Col. John Baylor lead a group of volunteers from San Antonio to Fort Bliss in El Paso, and in July 1861, he lead about three hundred of these soldiers north to take over New Mexico, starting with Mesilla and Fort Fillmore. Union Major Isaac Lynde was in charge of Fort Fillmore and about five hundred Union soldiers. Col. Baylor didn’t attack Fort Fillmore directly but took Mesilla and waited for the Union attack, which later that day came in a rush. Three Union attackers were killed and a dozen or so wounded in the Battle of Mesilla, and the Union soldiers retreated back to the fort. In the middle of the night, Major Lynde decided that his troops should flee to another fort. The rebels were between Fort Fillmore and going North to Fort Thorn above today’s TorC. The Union Officers decided to make a run for Ft. Stanton near today’s Ruidoso over the St. Augustine Pass just like Highway 70 does now. Somewhat in a panic, they packed hurriedly, and they all left in the dark after setting fire to the fort.
The next morning Col Baylor’s men noted that Fort Fillmore was abandoned and on fire and that the Union Soldiers were on the run to the east. But those Union soldiers had a very serious problem that involved the stores of alcohol at Fort Fillmore. Major Lynne told the men to leave the alcohol and just load up on water, which they would need. Can you see what was about to happen? There were many, many bottles of some kind of alcohol, no I don’t know which kind, just that it was a well-stocked storehouse of alcohol. And as the soldiers, about five hundred soldiers in all, were packing at a furious pace to leave in the night, one by one, the soldiers. Not every one of them, but many, if not most, just couldn’t stand to leave all those bottles of alcohol. They were supposed to fill their canteens with water and carry every bit of water they could since we are talking about the middle of July. Alas, quite a few Union soldiers just could not. Some tried to drink their fill, which was really wrong since then they were very unsteady on their feet and some replaced every canteen of theirs and other water bottles with bottles of alcohol. They started dropping out of line in a couple of miles.
Col Baylor, the Confederate commander, knew they were headed to Acquire Springs just over the St. Augustine Pass, and he went a mile south over what is now called Baylor Canyon and Baylor Pass. His troops got to Aguirre Springs just as the first troops of Major Lynne showed up, but the Union forces immediately surrendered because most of their soldiers, most of about five hundred, were strung out on the road, where Highway 70 is today, and they were either drunk or they were incapacitated by lack of water since they carried the alcohol instead of water. The Confederate soldiers had no mechanism to hold prisoners, so the surrendered Union soldiers gave up their guns and were allowed to continue toward Fort Stanton just north of today’s Ruidoso. They carried water and no alcohol from Aguirre Springs onward.
The Confederate forces were in the Mesilla area for six months until Confederate General Henry Sibley arrived with three regiments of Mounted Volunteers intending to push through New Mexico and up into the silver fields of Colorado. They made it as far as the Battle of Glorieta Pass in March 1862, the most decisive battle of the New Mexico campaign ending the efforts by the Texas Confederates to capture New Mexico. I’ll cover this at another time. So, they took Albuquerque and Santa Fe and then got beat at Glorieta Pass and had to retreat back to El Paso. Part of the Civil War in New Mexico involved a large group of California Volunteers who came to New Mexico in April 1862 to support the Union cause. They were called the California Column, and there were many names among them then that are names of their descendants still in Southern New Mexico. I’ll cover them one of these days.
Michael Swickard here with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.