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Episode 34 - Battle to Keep New Mexico Free
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.
Here in New Mexico the railroads did not happen by chance. There was a need for railcars to haul things that are heavy, that could be hauled by wagon but not economically. A train can do the work of a hundred wagons easily and much faster.
Let’s look at Raton Pass which is between today’s Trinidad Colorado and Raton New Mexico. The I-25 freeway runs through there. After the Civil War ended, a commercial trader known as Uncle Dick Wootton got the proper charters to build a toll road over Raton Pass. He completed the road in 1866 and the trip by stagecoach or wagon was fairly easy other than at his toll booth they had to pay $1.50, per wagon. There was a huge increase in traffic on the Wootton road after gold was discovered in New Mexico’s Moreno Valley in 1867.
Wootton had a proverbial gold mine until in 1878 when a railroad track was constructed that included digging a tunnel under the Raton Pass summit. More on this in a moment.
At this time in 1879 a passenger train with Avery Turner at the helm came through the newly created Raton Tunnel and into New Mexico for the first time ever. Before the railroad all manner of travel and commerce took very patient people. You would travel for at least two weeks by stagecoach if you were traveling from Kansas City to Santa Fe. And that is if the roads were good and there were not any roaming outlaws of which there were few, but a few.
Now the railroad made Kansas City to Santa Fe in two day or sometimes a little less. Also, around Raton the farmers and ranchers could go to market Back East easily along with the various metal mines shipping silver, lead, a little gold and other heavy loads. This ended for the most part the quintessential Western Cattle Drive which could take a month. Now these cattle and sheep were at the markets in a couple days.
It was all very interesting and there was the humor of some young cowboys who thought they could rope the train by the smokestack and halt it. Those cowboys were pulled off their horses and lost their ropes along with being laughed at when they went to town.
But that wasn’t what most people at this time in 1879 discussed. You see to make the Raton Pass Tunnel took drilling through the mountain under the summit. People of that time thought that the way to do it was to start at one side and drill through to the other. Simple, eh? But that is not what the engineers did. They started drilling from both sides to meet in the middle under the summit. There were many friendly and not so friendly wagers at that time that when one tunnel going North hit the other tunnel going South, there would be a difficulty of not matching up. But no, engineers of 1879 got it exactly correct. Amazing.
I was talking about the weather the other day. It was so hot, how hot was it? The Hatch Valley Horned Toads were all carrying canteens. That’s hot. When I was talking about other years when it was hot, someone asked how long weather records have been kept in this area.
The answer is detailed weather records have been kept in Southern New Mexico for 131 years. It was started in 1892 at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in Las Cruces. That college is now New Mexico State University and is continuing the study and recording of our weather. Officially watching and recording the weather was part of the research the college had to do to support their Agricultural experiment Station which was created in 1890 in Las Cruces. It was enabled by the Hatch Act of 1887. A little aside, as I have said previously, Hatch the town was named after Colonel Edward Hatch and the Hatch Act of 1887 was from William Hatch, and the two were not related. But Hatch Valley produce and the research done by NMSU under the Hatch Act are tied together at all times.
When the college was started two years earlier in January 1890, they set up the Experiment Station to do research on all aspects of farming and ranching in Southern New Mexico. One of the most important parts of crop research is the weather conditions day by day including the rainfall but also the temperatures, wind speed and direction. In fact, these data points were important even to research the growth and general health of livestock. Of course, many people are curious as to the highs and lows, the averages and abnormal years. Now, if you wish and you were born here, you can easily find out the weather on the day you were born.
More history of New Mexico. Most of us know the name Millard Fillmore. He was the 13th president of the United States who was the son of Nathaniel Fillmore and Phoebe Millard. That is how he got his name. Millard Fillmore. Incidentally, there is much use of the name Fillmore in Southern New Mexico tied to the president. He was the 12th Vice President of the United States and became the 13th President when the very popular Zachary Taylor, a major general known as Old Rough and Ready died suddenly of a stomach disease.
So President Fillmore had to finish the last two years and up first was the Compromise of 1850 which included statehood for Texas and California along with Territory status for Utah and New Mexico. Now this story is just a line or two in a dusty history book but there were real passions back then and one area was the boundary of New Mexico and Texas. The September 1850 legislation fixed that. There was one provision that Fillmore vetoed which was a provision that would allow Texas to annex New Mexico, lot, stock and rows of Chile. Luckily for us President Millard Fillmore said no to that one provision and allowed New Mexico to be a territory of the United States which it was for 62 years before statehood.
Perhaps if more people back then had known about the way Millard Fillmore kept New Mexico from becoming part of Texas, more people would have named their children Millard, or thought about it. Thanks 13th President Millard Fillmore.
Michael Swickard here with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, N M. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.
One final history point. When the Civil War started in 1861 there was a push in New Mexico by Confederates from Texas. They made it to Santa Fe and then were routed out of New Mexico after The Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862. Concurrently there was a large group of Union Soldiers coming from California which were called the California Column or Carlton’s Column. He brought about 2300 volunteers to New Mexico to push the Confederates out but the Confederates had already left by the time he and his volunteers got here.
It was a difficult march for a reason rarely told. Reason with me. What were the men in California mainly concerned with? Gold. They were gold miners, most of them. And coming near today’s Phoenix and Tucson the trudging soldiers were constantly stepping out of ranks to go do some gold panning in the streams. It even got worse when they arrived in New Mexico because New Mexico had lots and lots of gold and silver ore right on the surface.
So the California Column helped settle down the lawlessness in New Mexico and then caused many of those soldiers to stay in New Mexico to mine for gold and silver. Many of the names in the Mesilla Valley are tied back to those men. Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain was born on Staten Island, New York, in 1838. He went to California as a young man studying law and becoming a reporter. He joined the 1st California Infantry Regiment and was elected first sergeant of his company. Later he became an officer. He came to New Mexico as part of the California Column. In October 1862, he married Mariana Pérez of Mesilla. They had four sons and two daughters. The Fountain family is still here in New Mexico. I will write more about Albert Fountain and his strange death in another podcast on a Wednesday which is when I concentrate on people important to New Mexico.
Michael Swickard here with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, N M. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts. Also, if you have friends who like Hatch Valley Chile stories and Old West history you can share these podcasts with them by copying the link and emailing it to them.
Often when something smells good in a kitchen the cook is asked, “What’s cooking?” One thing I know for sure is that having a good recipe is wonderful and the Fresh Chile Company has a Chile cookbook in two forms: paper or as an eBook. It is called Fresh Chile Cookin Cookbook with Hatch Chile Recipes. We have a private group called Fresh Chile Cooking on Facebook and we post pictures and descriptions of what our customers are doing with our products. We have over 20,000 members in that private group who love Hatch Chile and share their creations. You too can join. And on the freshchileco.com website you can purchase our Chile products and the cookbook. Just wanted to share that with you.
There is a Local Honey with Hatch Red Chile that is great. Hatch Hot Honey - Sweet & Spicy We make this product by infusing real Sun-Dried Hatch Red Chile into 100% local (Mesilla Valley) honey from Clayshulte farms. It's the same wonderful honey you have bought from us in the past. Only now we have infused this honey with our wonderful Hatch Red Chile. This Hot Honey is thick and rich with just enough heat to make everything you put it on better! Me, I like it best on sourdough homemade biscuits.
Speaking of Sun-Dried Hatch Red Chile, it is one of the best tastes of the Fresh Chile Company. If you are making posole, this is what brings out the best taste of New Mexico.
One thing that happens when people live in Las Cruces or is in our 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. Come by the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop. There is a big sign over the entrance saying The Fresh Chile Company.
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 as long as it is Hatch Valley Chile.” Bye for now.