March 2019

History Lessons

Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh

See also: At the Museum

Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns



Celebrate El Paso History — The joint project of the El Paso History radio show on KTSM AM 630; Celebration of Our Mountains and CelebrateSTEAM offers weekly tours exploring local history. Information: March events:
• Saturday, March 2: 9-10:30 a.m. Grand Tour of El Paso Border History. Begin at the American Dam Field Office of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) at 2616 W. Paisano. Take a short walk across the American Canal to Boundary Marker #1. Guide is Mark Howe of the IBWC. Continue on Paisano southeast to Old Fort Bliss, Hart’s Mill and t La Hacienda Restaurant. Robert Diaz, president of the El Paso Historical Society, will talk about border history from 1840 to 1900. Afterwards, go east to the Chamizal National Memorial. Ranger Rodney Sauter will tell the history of how the Chamizal Convention of 1963. A map with directions will be distributed at the American Dam. 

• Saturday, March 9: 10:45 a.m.-noon. Relive Pancho Villa’s Raid on Columbus, N.M. Take a guided tour led by Richard Dean of the Columbus sites in town that figured prominently in the March 9, 1916 raid by Villa. Begin at 10:45 a.m. at the Columbus Depot Museum at the intersection of NM 9 and NM 11 (60 miles west of Santa Teresa). After the tour, stay for the annual parade of the Cabalgata Horses.

• Sunday, March 17, 1-2 p.m. Magoffin Home State Historic Site. Meet at 12:45 p.m. at the Visitors Center at 1117 Magoffin. Tour fee is $4 (group rate; may be higher otherwise). 

• Saturday, March 23, 8:45-11:15 a.m. El Paso’s Salt War. Meet in the Memorial Plaza in front of the San Elizario Presidio Chapel. Tour includes Los Portales Museum, Adobe Horseshoe, Presidio barracks site, Old County Jail, Salazar and Lujan store sites, the Grist Mill, the Old Cemetery, Hacienda Stage Station and Casa Ronquillo
• Sunday, March 31, 2 p.m. – El Paso Holocaust Museum, 715 N Oregon. See website for details.

Camp Furlong Day and Cabalgata Binacional — The 103rd anniversary of Pancho Villa’s raid in 1916 will be celebrated 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at Pancho Villa State Park, off State Roads 11 and 9, Columbus, N.M., with guest speakers providing historical presentations and slide shows in the park’s exhibit hall. Admission is free to community center complex; state park fee is $5 a carload. Information: Pancho Villa State Park (575) 531-2711 or
  Talks are 1 to 4 p.m. in the Rec Hall building, as well as slide shows about Villa’s 1916 raid on Columbus presented by three notable historians.
  The 16th annual Camp Furlong Day is a binational friendship event, commemorating the March 9, 1916 early morning attack on the village of Columbus and the adjacent military camp by Mexican General Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his men. Within days of the raid, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing began the Punitive Expedition into Mexico.
  The 20th Annual Cabalgata Binacional will be hosted in the Village of Columbus plaza. Cavalcade riders are expected to arrive in Columbus at about 10 to 10:30 a.m. followed by festival and entertainment in the village plaza throughout the day. Information: (575) 343-0147 or

Braintrust Bag Lunch — The free monthly outdoor mini-lecture series at Magoffin Home State historic Site, 1120 Magoffin, presents “Railroad History of El Paso” at noon Wednesday, March 13, with Joanne from the Railroad Museum. Bring a bagged lunch and some friends. Information: 533-5147, or Facebook.

Traveling the Trost Trail — Trost Society presents a rail trip to learn about Trost & Trost beyond El Paso March 28-31, traveling from El Paso to Tucson via train with stops in Bisbee and Douglas, Ariz. Information, cost:
  Trip departs Thursday, March 28, from the Union Depot and arrives at the Tucson train depot. Highlights over the weekend include Carriage House, Trost & Trost Scottish Rite Building in Tucson, Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, walking tours, dinners and more.

Trinity Site Tour — White Sands Missile Range. The semiannual tour to the site of the first atom bomb explosion is Saturday, April 6. The tour includes the McDonald House, part of the National Historic Landmark, where the plutonium core of the bomb was assembled, and visitors can take a quarter-mile walk to ground zero where a small obelisk marks the exact spot where the bomb was exploded. Historical photos mounted on the fence surrounding the area.
  Admission is free; no reservations required. Information: (575) 678-1134 or
  Two options are available for visitors: caravan from Alamogordo through the south end of the range (Tularosa Gate), or enter off U.S. 380 on the north end of the range (Stallion Gate entrance).
  The Stallion Gate entrance off U.S. 380 is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors are allowed to enter and exit unescorted. Site closes promptly at 3:30 p.m.
  Visitors are encouraged to have a full tank of gasoline and a spare tire for the trip, which is 85 miles one way. There are no service stations on the route. Department of Defense police will direct traffic. Limited food, drink and souvenirs sold on site. Everyone 18 and older must show a photo ID; all vehicles subject to search and should be carrying proof of insurance and current registration papers. No weapons of any kind allowed.
  The New Mexico Museum of Space History will host a motorcoach tour to the site departing at 6 a.m. with on-coach talks by and a guided tour of the museum and after returning. Cost: $80 ($70 museum members). Reservations by March 22: (575) 437-2840 ext. 41132 or online

Fort Bayard Tours — Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society host walking tours of the historic fort 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at each Saturday in March at Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark, six miles east of Silver City, N.M. off U.S. 180. Tour begins at Commanding Officer’s Quarter and museum (House 26). Tour takes about 90 minutes; call for time. Admission is free, but donations appreciated. Call ahead if coming during Spring Break to confirm schedule. Information, group tours: (575) 388-4477 or (575) 574-8779 or (970) 222-2433.
  Fort Bayard served as an army post from 1866 to 1899 and army tuberculosis hospital from 1899 to 1920.
  A ribbon -cutting ceremony for the new Fort Bayard Visitor Center is 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, March 22. The center is in the Santa Clara Armory Building, 11990 U.S. 180 East in Santa Clara. Center hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Monday.

Daughters of the Republic of Texas — The Rio Grande Chapter meets at 11 a.m. Friday, March 8, at The Greenery inside Sunland Park Mall. Program is “Texas History Month" by Betty Phillips and Dorothy Elder. Anyone interested in Texas history encouraged to attend. RSVP: 760-5775.

Lost El Paso Paranormal Tours — The group specializes in original historical El Paso ghost tours. Tours listed are hosted by “Weird Texas” author Heather Shade or other costumed guides. Space is limited for many events. Information: 503-8960,, or on Facebook. Tickets at
  Both March walks are 9 to 11 p.m. beginning at B-17 Bombers Oyster Pub, 201 S. El Paso, for age 21 and older; space is limited. Check-in at 8:30 p.m. Cost: $15 per person.
• Brothels & Bordellos: Red Light Ghost Walk is Saturday, March 9. A lantern our of El Paso’s former “forbidden zone.” Listen to tales of brothels, madams, and soiled doves, and tales of murder, lust, betrayal and revenge.
• Mystery, Murder, & Mayhem: Downtown Ghost Walk is Saturday, March 30. Meet the restless spirits of the city, and listen to chilling tales of local unsolved mysteries. Visit sites of notorious crimes and shocking murders. Uncover the truth behind haunted and historic buildings, and discover forgotten downtown cemeteries.

Harvey Girls of El Paso — The Harvey Girls of El Paso Texas meet at 2 p.m. Monday, March 11, at Union Depot Passenger Station, 700 San Francisco. Program is “History of Railroad Police Protecting Passengers and Freight” presented by Woody Bare. Visitors welcome. Admission is free. Information: 591-2326.

History Notes Lecture Series — The monthly program is 1 p.m. Thursday, March 14, with “The History of Mesilla” by David Thomas at the Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main, Las Cruces. Admission is free. Information: (575) 541-2154 or
  Next month’s lecture is April 11 on “The Zoot Suit Murders of 1945” by historian Trisha Stanton.

El Paso Corral of the Westerners — The monthly dinner program is 6 p.m. Friday, March 15, at Holiday Inn El Paso-West 900 Sunland Park Drive at I-10. Program is ”Women of the Raid on Columbus, NM by Pancho Villa,” presented by Patricia Kiddney. Cost: $20. Visitors welcome, but RSVP needed by March 11: 759-9538.

El Paso Archaeological Society — The society’s monthly meeting is 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at El Paso Museum of Archaeology, 4301 Transmountain. Gerry Veara will share multiple topics tied to the Battle of Hembrillo Basin. Admission is free; the public is invited. Seating is limited. Information: 449-9075 or
  Veara will share conditions and actions that lead up to the battle, such as the conflict during the Spanish colonial period, the Mexican-American War and an American settlement, cycles of violence and the reservation system, and the Army and Apache formations leading to Victorio Campaign.

Old Fort Bliss — Building 5054, corner of Pershing and Pleasanton Roads, Fort Bliss. The Old West days of the “Soldiers of the Pass” are relived through replicas of the original adobe fort buildings and military artifacts of the Magoffinsville Post, 1854 to 1868. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; by appointment only Saturday. Admission is free. Information: 568-4518 or 588-8482 or on Facebook at Old Fort Bliss.

El Paso History Radio Show — The show runs 10:05 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KTSM AM 690 (and streamed at Documentary filmmaker Jackson Polk hosts the show with reenactor and historian Melissa Sargent. Details of each upcoming show, plus podcasts of previous programs, are at Information: 833-8700.

El Paso Mission Trail Visitor Center — El Paso Mission Trail Association’s center supporting the three historic churches in the Mission Valley — Ysleta Mission, Socorro Mission and San Elizario Chapel — is at 6095 Alameda (at Zaragoza). Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Admission is free. Information 790-0661, 851-9997 or

Fort Bliss Historical Association — The group meets at 1 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Fort Bliss museum complex, 1735 Marshall. Information: 269-4831. Dues are $25 a year ($10 students and junior enlisted soldiers).

Chamizal National Memorial — 800 S. San Marcial. The National Park Service operates the memorial on land once claimed by Mexico as part of a decades-long dispute over the international boundary. The visitor center has an exhibit on the history of the Chamizal dispute, including a video presentation. Park grounds and picnic area open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily for both foot traffic and vehicles; visitor’s center hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturday. Admission is free. Information: 532-7273 or on Facebook at ChamizalNationalMemorial.
  “Tales, Tails and Tots” stories and visits with park mascot Chami are 11 to 11:30 a.m. for ages 3-6 the fourth Saturday of each month.

Los Portales Museum and Visitor Center — 1521 San Elizario Road. The museum is operated by the San Elizario Genealogy and Historical Society, and is housed in an 1850s Territorial-style building across from the San Elizario church. It offers gifts, family trees, historical artifacts as well as information on the “First Thanksgiving” and the Salt War of 1877. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Information: 851-1682.

San Elizario Veterans Museum and Memorial Walk — The museum, operated and managed by the non-profit San Elizario Veterans Committee of the San Elizario Genealogy and Historical Society, is at 1501-B Main Street in San Elizario. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Information: Ann Lara, 345-3741 or Ray Borrego, 383-8529.

San Elizario walking tours — The San Elizario Historic District hosts free, guided walking tours of its nationally recognized historic district at noon and 3 p.m. the fourth Sunday of the month starting at Main Street Mercantile, 1501 Main Street. Learn about the 17 historic sites of San Elizario, about the arrival of Don Juan de Onate to the area in 1598 and the First Thanksgiving Celebration, the Presidio de San Elizario and the San Elcear Chapel on the Mission Trail. Information: 851-0093 or
  To get there: Take Loop 375 to Socorro Road then go east seven miles to San Elizario. District is on the right. Look for the brown signs.

Mission Trail — Three historic churches lie within eight miles of each other in El Paso County’s Mission Valley.
• Mission Ysleta — Spanish and Tigua Indian refugees from northern New Mexico founded the community in the 1680s. The first mission was built in 1692 and rebuilt completely in both the 18th and 19th centuries. The current structure was built in 1851. It’s near Zaragoza and Alameda on the Tigua Reservation. Information: 851-9997 (El Paso Mission Trail Association).
• Mission Socorro — The first adobe structure in Socorro was built in 1692, and like nearby Mission Ysleta, was destroyed by floods in later centuries. The current structure dates back to 1843, with additions completed in 1873. It’s off Socorro Road two miles southeast of Ysleta.
• San Elizario Chapel — Established in 1789 as a Spanish presidio, or fort, to protect the Camino Real, San Elizario was the first county seat of El Paso. The church was built in 1877, replacing a church built about 25 years earlier. Technically, San Elizario Chapel is a presidio church, not a mission. It’s on the San Elizario plaza, off Socorro Road, 5.5 miles southeast of Socorro Mission. Nearby is the famous jail that Billy the Kid reportedly broke into to rescue a friend. Group tours are available. For San Elizario tour information, call 851-1682.

Scottish Rite Temple tour — The Downtown El Paso historic landmark, 301 W. Missouri, is open to the public for a free walking tour at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Learn about El Paso’s Masonic history, the design and architecture of the theater. Information: 533-4409.

Fort Selden State Monument — The monument, 1280 Fort Selden Road in Radium Springs, 13 miles north of Las Cruces, is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $5; (ages 16 and under free). Admission for New Mexico residents with ID is free the first Sunday of each month; and for seniors with ID each Wednesday. Information: (575) 526-8911 or
  Fort Selden was a 19th century adobe fort established to protect early settlers. The monument seeks to preserve the remaining ruins and has a visitor’s center with exhibits of military life at the post. From Las Cruces, take I-25 north to Exit 19.

Fort Stanton — The fort was established and built in 1855 by troopers of the 1st Dragoon Regiment to serve as a base of operations against the Mescalero Apache Indians. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday (Hours may be shorter in winter — call for schedule). Admission is free. Information: (575) 354-0341,

Shakespeare Ghost Town — The small pioneer settlement and mining town on the trail to California is just south of Lordsburg, N.M. A 1½-hour tour at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on the second weekend of the month; call to confirm. Cost is $4 ($3 ages 6-12). Information: (575) 542-9034 or
  To get there: From Lordsburg, take the Main Street exit (Exit 22) from Interstate 10 and turn south. Follow signs to Shakespeare.

Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh

Copper was a horse worth more than gold


I had gotten to know Mary at my store, the Cowboy Trading Post. She came in asking about saddles and by the time we were through she had spent about $1,200. That was good money for a small shop in the early 1980s.
A week went by with me not thinking too much about her, until one afternoon she walked in announcing that she wanted to spend another $1,500. I jumped up to help her. After she picked out the $1,500 worth of horse tack, she asked if I had any horses for sale.
“Sure I do,” I said. We went outside and she looked at them all and picked Rascal.
“Wait, that’s my horse,” I said. “He bucks if you don’t ride him every day and he won’t get into a two-horse trailer.”
“How much,” she asked. “$1,500,” I answered. She wrote me a check for $3,000 that day, telling me where to deliver Rascal and her tack.
As time went by, she would stop in to visit but no shopping. Then Mary called and told me flat out that she wanted me to buy all her quarter horses. She was going into the Arabian horse business.
“No, that is not a good idea,” I told her. “El Paso is quarter horse country.”
She got mad and told me to get over there. I said I would be there in the morning with my trailer, but that I didn’t think I could buy all of them.
When I got there, I again tried to talk her out of this Arabian idea, to no avail. In the past year she had acquired 13 horses and there was my Rascal, who, she admitted, had not been ridden once.
We started talking trade, and before long we had made a deal on 12 horses. I made her agree to “give” me Rascal if we were going to trade. She did, and I loaded up six head for my first of two trips.
One of the horses I had in the first load was a bulldog-stocky sorrel gelding about 7 years old. I had not paid him much attention, until I got back to the store and my daughter, Christina, was waiting to help unload. The minute she saw Copper she said, “Dad, this one is mine,” taking the lead shank out of my hand.
I didn’t say anything because her gelding had died the night before Christmas Eve. So Copper was his replacement.
I remember the day a man came up to Christina at a roping and asked her to sell Copper to him, she said the horse was not for sale.. He had written out a check for $6,500 and handed it to her. She just tore it up and handed it back to him. My heart dropped, because I saw her college funds torn up and being handed back to that man, but she had said Copper was not for sale. I didn’t say much, only that there were other horses, and what in-the-heck was she thinking. She simply said, “Copper was not for sale.”
My daughter must have had a seventh sense. A few years later around Christmas I was taking out a doctor and his family on their annual ride around Mount Cristo Rey. There were eight of us. We had been in the saddle over an hour when we got to a spot where it is almost straight up on a narrow jeep path.
My horses have been up that trail many times. This time we were almost to the top when I looked back and saw one of the younger boys slipping out of the saddle sideways. I was riding Copper, which had become my habit when I needed a dependable mount. I instinctively reined Copper back and grabbed the youngster’s belt pulling him back up. Both the boy and I and our horses finished going to the top side-by-side.
Right then I so glad that Christina had torn up that $6,500 check. Copper saved the day and maybe that boy’s life. And I was glad for Mary and the day I bought her whole herd of horses, including Copper.

John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at

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