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Historically Speaking: Old Secrets to be told, hidden treasures lost

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Fred C. Gibbany, Mail Route to Carrizozo, New Mexico ca. early 1920s

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily

Record

It is always interesting to read old descriptions of our country, from the time it was being written about. What people and things have gone before us? How were the communities formed? What was the mostly untouched and uninhabited countryside like? Browsing through old newspapers, one often wonders what secrets are still to be told. Such is the case of an article I ran across recently from the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican, dated Dec. 27, 1893. Following is the article with an interesting bit of surprise at the end.

“Lincoln Vales

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“A Great Agricultural, Pastoral and Mineral Area

“Wide Stretches of Various Timbers – Grass Covered Plateau; Lovely Mountain Valleys.

“An Almost Virgin Field for the Irrigator-Good Locations on the Public Domain

“A Short Amount of the Interesting History of Gran Quivira and Its Buried Treasure

“Lincoln County, situated in the southeastern section of the territory, is part of the drainage area of the Pecos River. It is bounded on the north by Guadalupe and Valencia counties, west by Socorro and Dona Ana, east by Chaves and Eddy counties, and on the south by the state of Texas. Until 1899, when by act of the Legislature, Chaves and Eddy were separated from it, it was the largest county in the territory. It is 156 miles long and from 50 to 70 miles wide with a total area of 8,495 square miles. The average elevation is from 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level and its mountains rise 9,000 or 10,000 feet high. The Sierra Blanca, Capitan, Nogal, Jicarilla and Sacramento mountains are well forested. In general, aspects of this county consist of wide grass-covered plains, and on the western border, this formation is broken into “malpais” or badlands, by reason of the intrusion of a wide lava flow.

“Mountains and Minerals

“The topography of the western portion of the county is extremely broken. Eruptive rocks of every character extrude from the sedimentary formations. The mineral deposits are numerous and extensive. Bodies of crystallized gypsum are found. Large measures of coal, similar to that on the red tone plateau, are known and worked to some extent for fuel for local use. Valuable and rich mines of gold, copper and lead are found in all mountainous regions, but especially around White Oaks, Nogal and Capitan mountains. In the well-watered and timbered Sacramento Mountains, argentiferous copper is found. Gold is found in the Carrizo, Jicarilla, Capitan and Sierra Blanca mountains. During the last two years, within a radius of 20 miles of White Oaks, mining has received quite an impetus.

“Water

“The central parts of the country are well-watered by running streams, the principal of which is the Rio Hondo, a deep, swift stream draining the Sierra Blanca and Capitan mountains. Besides this are the Feliz or Felix, Ruidoso, Bonito, Eagle, Upper and Lower Penasco and Nogal creeks. In the northern portions, springs break out on the wide plateau and afford water for stock. The native grasses flourish abundantly on these plains fed by slight rains. It is very difficult to estimate the amount of land that might be irrigated from the various sources. Another question is how far will it be profitable to store water by means of dams built in the streambeds. There are many thousands of acres of arable land in the county, but according to present knowledge, it cannot be said that there is water in sight to reclaim more than 100,000 acres.

“Pasturage and Stock

“At present, it would seem that the proper method by which to approach the reclamation problem in Lincoln County is by means of small colonies. A sufficient area of irrigable land should be taken in some of the many river and creek bottoms. The continuous range should then be improved by the systematic development of its springs and waterholes. In this way, stock and agriculture could go hand in hand, and the development of the garden and orchard would be simultaneous with better methods of stock raising. It may be said right here that no matter how rich or resourceful a section of the country may be, the individual irrigator can do little. Either cooperation or coordination must prepare the way for success. This region is particularly tempting to the colonist. Stockmen estimate that the profit on cattle in this county is 50 cents monthly per head from the time they are calved, and that the profit on sheep is 50 percent. This is on stock raised by the open range method. It is not meant that the farmers should own their land or stock in common, but only that they should cooperate for the common good in the development of water.

“Agriculture

“Of course, all agriculture in Lincoln County is conducted by irrigation, and the people enjoy all the advantages of that style of farming. Until recently, the agriculture was very primitive, though the yields were always phenomenally large. The old and laborious methods of the past have given place to modern science. The best agricultural implements have been employed and today the country is dotted with thrifty farms. Grapes and currants grow wild in this county and when cultivated, mature in the utmost abundance. All the vegetables thrive. Cabbage, lettuce, celery, turnips, parsnips, radishes, peas, tomatoes, pumpkins, squashes, onions, melons, okra and cucumbers have been planted and all have yielded larger crops than the farmers ever thought could be raised. Good locations are plentiful, and there are great chances here for the men who are willing to grow up with the country.

“Timber

“The plains, plateau and valleys, indeed all the level country is generally without timber, but the mountain areas are heavily forested. The woods consist of pinon, pine, juniper, ash, cottonwood, oak, etc., and affords excellent building material. In the Capitan mountains, there is a large sawmill capable of supplying the present demand for lumber.

“The county has several good and thriving towns, which, although off railroads, are considered among the best in the territory.

“Lincoln

“The county seat is Lincoln, situated in the central portion of the county and connected by daily stages with the San Antonio on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad and also with Lava on the same road. The water supply is good and pure. It is generally obtained from the Rio Bonito and from wells. The climate is so mild that business is prosecuted all the year through.

“White Oaks

The town of White Oaks, in all probability, will shortly have a good railroad connection through the Pecos Valley railroad. It is surrounded by good mines and mills and is altogether a thriving town. The mountains are filled with precious minerals and coal. It enjoys an equable climate, good water and the plains are grassy and afford good pasture.

“Nogal

“In the central part of the county is the town of Nogal, or Black Walnut, so called from the great number of these trees which grow in the neighborhood. It is located in a beautiful mountain park, watered by streams and springs and is altogether a delightful place.

“Other Towns

“Bonito, Weed, Ruidoso, Walker, Upper and Lower Penasco, Ft. Stanton, Las Tablas, Puertecito and Tecolate Wells are the remaining towns and settlements.

“Ft. Stanton

“The military post of Fort Stanton is located in a beautiful valley 7 miles from Lincoln, the county seat. It is now garrisoned by two companies of infantry. It is about 40 miles north of the Mescalero Apache Indian agency and was originally established 40 years ago to keep the Mescalero Apaches in check. These latter are now entirely peaceable and peacefully inclined. The post has ample quarters for officers and men for two companies of infantry and two troops of Calvary.

“Mescalero Reservation

“In the southwestern part of the county is situated the Mescalero Apache reservation. This country is a paradise. It is well grassed, watered and abounds in game. The Indians are progressing very rapidly in the mechanic and agricultural arts, and many of their children attend the various Indian schools throughout the territory. The reservation itself contains 575,000 acres of the best land in New Mexico. It is inhabited by only 600 Indians.

“Gran Quivira

“There is one feature of the history and the progress of Lincoln County that is very interesting. Old Spanish maps exist showing a large river flowing down along the eastern border of the county toward the La Noris Mesa in Texas, and then forming what is now known as “the lost river.” Tradition also says that the first Spanish settlers in this region lived at Gran Quivera, and were largely engaged in mining up to the time of the Pueblo revolution. Wonderous stories are told of the wealth they garnered, and some remains of their smelters are still to be found.

“In the chronicles of 1680, when the Pueblos rose in insurrection against the foreign rule and drove the Spaniards like chaff before a hurricane, these hardy miners relate thrilling experiences. They say in their manuscripts: “we traveled south three day’s journey, fighting all the time and carrying the treasure with us packed on 270 burros. Finding it impossible to carry it further, we buried it, burned brush over the spot and swept the ashes away. We buried the treasure near three “little hills.” The question is, where are those hills? Did the Spaniards keep along the river or in the mountains?

“In 1690, a terrible volcanic earthquake disturbed all this country, the river disappeared and the “malpais” (before mentioned,) were thrown up. Investigations made by the Smithsonian Department reveal the fact that in the ruins of Gran Quivera, Spaniards only were found in the graveyards and Pueblos in the houses. The fact is certain therefore that the evacuation took place before the earthquake, and therefore took place about 1680, the date of the revolution. How much of this is myth and how much truth, it is impossible to tell. It is reliably estimated that this treasure amounted to about $6,000,000 of gold, but where is it buried? At Gran Quivira, there are to be traced the remains of reservoirs and canals, evidently of Spanish origin. The wealth of this region is undoubtedly great. This place should not however, be confused with the Gran Quivira, with the descriptions of which Coronado, Friar Marcus de Niza and Onate are filled.”

The latter was situated somewhere in eastern Kansas or western Missouri; while the subject of this sketch is still to be found in Lincoln County.

Was the gold ever found? Is it still there? Is it buried under lava? Will we ever know?­­­

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.

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