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Historically Speaking: Blazer’s Mill

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico The caption reads, "Dr. Joseph Blazer in 1864, shortly before coming to New Mexico. New Mexico Magazine, Jan. 1933"

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily

Record

This week, I would like to share with you an article from the New Mexico Magazine dated January, 1933. This article is about Blazer’s Mill written by A.N. Blazer, about his family. I am sharing this with permission from the editors of the New Mexico Magazine.

I have written about Blazer’s Mill before, but I love to share these vintage articles, mostly because they were closer to the time period, and this one in particular was written by a family member, which gives a much more accurate detail than I feel even the most careful research can impart.

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Following is the first part of that article:

Blazer’s Mill

By A.N. Blazer

“My father, Dr. Joseph H. Blazer, in 1866 traded a wagon train for an interest in the landmark that from then on bore his name.

“Dr. Blazer was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in 1828 and spent his youth in western Illinois. He studied dentistry in St. Louis and practiced at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, until the Civil War, when he joined the First Iowa Calvary. After being wounded and discharged for disability, he became sutler to his regiment and followed its fortunes until it was disbanded in 1865 in Shreveport.

“From there, with a train of 10 six-mule wagons, he freighted to Dallas and then to Franklin (El Paso) where he was detained during the winter of 1865-66 with smallpox. The next spring, he loaded his train with corn at Chihuahua, Mexico, for the military post at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. The trip went through the Tularosa country, and liking the country, on his return he traded his train for an interest in the sawmill that had been known up to this time as long as “La Maquina.” It was on the only practical route through the Sacramento Mountains between the Rio Grande and the Pecos River, and such transportation as moved was largely routed this way.

“For many years before the Mexican war, there had been a settlement here and a primitive saw mill, which in the winter of 1846-47 was guarded by Mexican troops, provided with a stockade and a cannon. The garrison was attacked and defeated by a detachment of Americans who remained several months in winter quarters. The cannon still remains (1933) in the mud of the stream near the rock-filled crib of the old mill dam.

“A few months after Dr. Blazer located here, Santana, the head chief of the Mescaleros, decided to surrender, and to this end, made advances by sending an old woman to arrange an audience with him.

“My father was a powerful man over 6 feet tall and well proportioned, and although not yet 40 years of age, was quite gray in both hair and beard. This, with his unusual strength and energy, had been noted by the Indians with the result they believed him to be very old and possessed of some unusual quality.

“The Tularosa is in the heart of the Mescalero country and, unknown to the settlers, the mill had been under observation of Indian spies for months until the old chief was satisfied he could expect to secure the assistance he required from the ‘big white man.’ At any rate, the settlement was at his mercy, for the nearest relief was a hundred miles away.

“As a matter of necessity, the conference was arranged, although the doctor had little faith in Santana’s assurance of friendship. Massacres by the Indians had been a frequent occurrence and Santana was supposed to be their leader, with a following of a thousand warriors.

“The result of the meeting was that Dr. Blazer acted as an intermediary and a treaty was arranged at the mill the following spring. The Mescaleros became the doctor’s friends and, aside from minor theft, protected him and his interests through the following years. And it was found that the depredations being committed recently, had been perpetrated by a band of renegades recruited from several of the Apache tribes whom Santana’s followers destroyed a few years later.

“The Mescaleros were returned to their reservation at Fort Sumner, removing the protection Santana had given the settlements in the Tularosa country, and the Comanches became the menace.

“Log cabins had provided quarters for the partners and their employees until 1869 when it was learned the Indians had secured a number of ‘buffalo guns’ that were capable of penetrating the ordinary log structures, so an adobe house with 3 foot walls was built to replace some of the cabins. It was provided with a lookout box on the roof and port holes in the walls of the second story, which were filled with clay and could be opened at a moment’s notice.

“This saved the settlers lives, for in December of that year, a band of Comanches attacked the settlement. However, the Indians appeared so early in the morning that all the men were still near the house and no one was killed although the mill was burned and all the stock driven off.

“The mill was rebuilt and prospered, and in 1876, it became the property of Dr. Blazer entirely.

“The lands were unsurveyed and held under what was known as ‘squatters rights,’ which allowed a citizen of the United States to hold land by beneficial use with a preferential right to homestead a quarter section when the survey was extended over his holdings. Dr. Blazer was forage agent for the military until the service was discontinued. He was one of the commissioners appointed by the governor when Lincoln County was organized and was postmaster for South Fork, the first post office in what is now Otero County. After the Mescalero reservation was extended over the Tularosa country in 1874, he was licensed as a trader.

“In the fall of 1877, my married sister and her husband with their infant daughter, my younger sister, and myself, came from Iowa to join my father at the mill. The A.T. & S.F. (Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe) railroad was completed to Pueblo, Colorado, at that time and we came on it to that point. The outstanding event of that part of the trip was a herd of buffalo — in Kansas I think — that delayed the train for some time while they crossed the track in a continuous stream.

“At Pueblo, we changed cars to a narrow gauge railroad to a place called ‘Cucharas,’ as I remember, and there changed again to reach ‘El Moro,’ the nearest railroad point to our destination.

“There had been some misunderstanding as to when we were to start and father was unable to meet us on our arrival as he had planned, so he telegraphed from Mesilla that he was on the jury and could not leave until court adjourned. But he arranged with an outfitting concern to provide us with a light wagon and a camping outfit, and trail us behind one of the wagons of Chandler‘s ox train to such a point on our way as he might be able to meet us.

“That was a wonderful experience for me. There were a dozen or more wagons in the train, several with trailers, and each drawn by teams of four or more yoke of oxen, beside a considerable herd of loose cattle driven along for emergencies. The teams traveled slowly and in short stages, as the watering places were not far apart, to save the cattle for the long dry stretches farther on.

“I had been kept in bed most of the preceding winter with pneumonia followed by acute tuberculosis, and the doctors had warned the folks I would die within a year. For that reason, I presume, no harsh measures were resorted to for my control and I did very much as I pleased. I had gained an appetite and strength during the trip, and for short intervals was able to walk with the drivers. On one occasion, I got too close to a wheel ox and was kicked under the wagon. The team was stopped as quickly as possible but a wheel had rolled onto the slack in the seat of my pants where it stopped and I was making all the noise I could under the impression that I was mashed flat. But I was pulled out of my arrested pants unhurt.

“We were several days getting over Raton Pass, requiring doubled teams to drag the loaded wagons to the summit, and had been on the road 10 days when father met us at a place called Tiptonville, about a hundred miles from El Moro. He had brought an ‘ambulance’ and an extra team and driver for the wagon, so we made better time from there on. But I had another experience at Las Vegas where we arrived the evening after leaving the train at Tiptonville.

“There was only one room available at the hotel, which was given to my sisters and the baby, while we men slept in our camp beds on the floor of a store room, where, among other things, the carcass of a goat and numerous strings of red chili hung. I, of course, was inquisitive and asked the names and uses of everything inside, while waiting for breakfast the following morning. Father was very patient with me and when we came to the chili (chile) he told me it was called ‘chilly’ and was eaten as a flavoring for other foods. The smooth red pods looked cool and the color, I thought, looked as though they might be sweet. A little later, while my brother-in-law and the driver were out, an old lady came to cut meat from the carcass and my father helped her with it, leaving me for the moment unobserved, which I took advantage of to learn the taste of ‘chilly.’

“I took a liberal bite from the end of a pod and got in a chew or two before getting the flavor, but that was plenty. Before I could get it out of my mouth, it had taken full effect and the reaction is still a vivid memory. The old lady brought me a cup of goat’s milk which helped me a little but I am not fond of chili, even now.

“My father maintained a neutral attitude throughout the Lincoln County War, although he had business relations with some of the participants on both sides. In conformity with the common custom of the country all the transients were welcome to food and horsefeed at all times and he made no distinction in entertaining partisans of either faction.

“However, it so happened that on one occasion, rival parties did meet on his premises. The Roberts-Brewer fight occurred here in which a representative of each faction was killed, and he buried both at his own expense.

“There have been many versions of this encounter written, and none of them, that I have read, coincide with my recollection of the affair so what I know will make little difference. The fight occurred about 11 o’clock and lasted but a few minutes. Roberts had a Winchester carbine with six cartridges in the magazine and was attacked by several of Brewer’s party; he hit several of his opponents while making his way to the door of my father’s room where he received his fatal wound. He said that ‘Billy Bonney’ shot him and related the details of the fight. He lived about 24 hours and was fully conscious most of the time. I held one of several candles while Dr. Appel dressed the wound that night. The bullet had entered just above the hip joint and ranged a little upward.

“When the deputy sheriffs were taking ‘the Kid’ to Lincoln after he had been convicted of the Brady murder, they stayed overnight here and after breakfast in the morning, he also gave a graphic account of the occurrence. He called attention to the powder burn on the door where he said he had shot through it. He did not shoot again because Roberts had jammed his gun against his belly so hard it almost knocked him down, and was inside the room before he recovered his balance. On this occasion, ‘the Kid’ also told Ollinger that he would get him, too, before they got him hung.

“I believe the Lincoln County War was a blessing in disguise and the turning point where the law abiding people of the country began to gain the ascendancy. Although some good men lost their lives and property, there were probably a hundred incorrigible outlaws killed during and in consequence of the war, or compelled to find other haunts. Honest citizens were left in the majority.

“It is true that for many years afterward, there were many lawless acts committed, but a much larger proportion were punished legally, and fear of the law became a factor in the control of criminals, which had not been the case before.

“My father lived at his home about a mile west of the Mescalero Indian School now on Highway 70, until his death in 1898.”

“Sixty five years ago (before January, 1933), a New Mexico justice of the peace defined ‘justifiable homicide’ as follows: ‘Justifiable homicide includes the case of every man who kills another on account of any woman; and of every woman who kills a man on any account whatever.’”

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.