April 2017

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



Trinity Site Tour — White Sands Missile Range. The semiannual tour to the site of the first atom bomb explosion is Saturday, April 1. 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 wsmr.army.mil.
  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, with on-coach talks by curator Sue Taylor and a guided tour of the museum and after returning, followed by reserve exclusive showing of Trinity: The Atomic Bomb Movie in the Tombaugh Theater. Cost: $70 ($60 museum members). Reservations: (575) 437-2840 ext. 41132 or online nmspacemuseum.org.

‘First Thanksgiving’ — The 28th annual reenactment of the First Thanksgiving of the Southwest of Juan de Oñate and his expedition the first Spanish settlers in this area in April 1598, are presented by El Paso Mission Trail Association at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23, at its new location at Socorro Mission, 328 S. Nevarez (at Socorro Road).
The Pebble Hills High School choir students, directed by Joe Estala, will perform the reenactment at 3 p.m. Zarzuela arias will be performed beginning at 3:45 p.m. Food, music and historical booths are also part of the event. Admission is free. Information: 851-9997 or visitelpasomissiontrail.com.
 History exhibitor booths will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

San Elizario Genealogy and Historical Society Conference and Dinner — The 26th annual event, “April 1598, Birth of the American Southwest,” is Friday through Sunday, April 28-30, at the Adobe Horseshoe Theatre, 1500 Main, in the San Elizario District. Conference dinner is 7 p.m. Friday, and luncheon is 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Information: 851-0093, 851-1682, or sanelizariohistoricdisttric.org.
  In conjunction with the conference is the inaugural Rio Grande Festival of art, culture, history and heritage, with reenactment of Oñate’s historical arrival, a three-day history conference, guided tours, old west shootouts, heritage booths, arts and crafts, live entertainment, food and more.

‘Preserving Identities’ — The exhibit on how to digitally record and preserve cultural heritage sites runs through June 16 in the UTEP Library during regular hours. Admission is free. Information: 747-5835
  The exhibit tells the story of the long history of decay and restoration of the monuments and sites in Rome by focusing on the attempts to conserve the public life of the Colosseum, the restoration of religious shrines in the mausoleum of Santa Costanza, the preservation of public obelisks, and the record of Roman city life on the streets of Ostia Antica. This interactive installation via smart device includes text, pictures, videos and links to online resources using QR codes.

Paso Del Norte Paranormal Society and Haunted History — The nonprofit organization offers a variety of “ghost tours.” Age 13 and older welcome, unless otherwise listed. All children must be accompanied by an adult age 21 or older. Private ghost tours of Downtown El Paso available with advance reservation. Information, reservations: 274-9531 or help@ghosts915.com.
• Concordia Cemetery Ghost Tour is 9 to 11 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at the cemetery, 3700 E. Yandell. Meet at 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $15
• San Elizario Ghost Tour is 10 p.m. to midnight, Friday, April 7. at the Golden Eagle Gallery, 1501 Main in San Elizario. Tickets: $15.
• Downtown Ghost Tour is 9 to 11 p.m. Saturday, April 15, beginning at the Paranormal Research Center, 108 E. San Antonio, in the Wigwam Museum. Tickets: $15.
• A Haunted Brothel Tour is 9 to 11 p.m. Saturday, April 22, starting at the 110 E San Antonio at the Wigwam Museum. El Paso’s original “sin” comes alive on this Haunted Brothel Tour. This two-hour walking excursion will go into some of the city’s remaining brothels and expose murder, corruption, adultery, and prostitution of the Old West. Adults only. Tickets: $15.

Harvey Girls of El Paso — The Harvey Girls of El Paso Texas meets 2 to 4 p.m. the Monday, April 10, at Union Depot Passenger Station, 700 San Francisco. The program is “Collections of the Fred Harvey Legacy” with Pres Dehrkoop. Visitors welcome. Admission is free. Information: 591-2326.

Southwest Chapter of Railway & Locomotive Historical Society — The society meets 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, at Timothy’s Lutheran Church, 11050 Montwood. This month’s program is “History of the Railway Post Office,” by Woody Bare. Information: 540-9660.

El Paso Archaeological Society — The society’s monthly meeting is 2 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at El Paso Museum of Archaeology, 4301 Transmountain. Mike Bilbo will speak on the Bataan Death March and annual Memorial Marathon. Admission is free; the public is invited. Information: 449-9075 or epas.com.
  Thousands of Filipino and hundreds of American soldiers died during the 1942 Bataan Death March. Just before they deployed to the Philippines, the very same U.S. soldiers memorialized by the annual event trained for eight months at Fort Bliss. Bilbo will talk about the past and current history of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.

El Paso Corral of the Westerners — The monthly dinner program is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 21, at Country Inn and Suites, 900 Sunland Park Dr. Program is “Constable John Selman and Perry Greer,” by Keith and Everett Erickson. Cost: $20. Visitors welcome, but RSVP needed by April 17: 759-9538.

Daughters of the Republic of Texas — The Rio Grande Chapter meets at 11 a.m. Friday, April 21, at Royal Estates, 435 S. Mesa Hills. Program is “The Ballet Legacy of Ingeborg Heuser.” Luncheon and program is $10. Visitors welcome. Information: 760-5775.

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.
  The Old Fort Bliss Traders’ Market runs 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays, April 21-Aug. 25, with shopping and eating opportunities.

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.

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 SanElizarioHistoricDistrict.org.
  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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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 visitelpasomissiontrail.com.

El Paso History Radio Show — The show runs 10:05 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KTSM AM 690 (and streamed at KTSMRadio.com). 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 EPHistory.com. Information: 833-8700.

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 visits with park mascot Chami are 11 to 11:30 a.m. for ages 3-6 the fourth Saturday of each month.
  A ranger-led “Where’s The Rio Now” guide walk is 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1.

Fort Bayard tours — Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society hosts walking tours of the historic fort 9:30 a.m. every Saturday April through October at Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark, six miles east of Silver City, N.M. Meet at the 1910 Commanding Officer’s Quarter and museum (House 26); opens at 9:15 a.m. Tour takes about 90 minutes; wear walking shoes, sun screen and a hat; water recommended. Admission is free, but donations appreciated. Information, group tours (including groups visiting during Spring Break): (575) 388-4477, (575) 574-8779, or (575) 388-4862.

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 (May 2016, dates are May 7-8); call to confirm. Cost is $4 ($3 ages 6-12). Information: (575) 542-9034 or shakespeareghostown.com.
  To get there: From Lordsburg, take the Main Street exit (Exit 22) from Interstate 10 and turn south. Follow signs to Shakespeare.

History Notes Lecture Series — The monthly program is 1 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main, north end of the Downtown Mall in Las Cruces. Admission is free. Information: (575) 541-2154 or las-cruces.org/museums.

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. The fort’s museum building, recently restored through a Save America’s Treasures grant, was originally a soldier’s barracks converted to serve as an Administration Building for the Public Health Service during the fort’s hospital era. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Living history tours offered the third Saturday of each month. Admission is free. Information: (575) 354-0341, fortstanton.org or on Facebook.

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 Monday (closed Tuesday). Admission is $3; (ages 16 and under free). Sunday admission for New Mexico residents is $1. Information: (575) 526-8911 or nmmonuments.org.
  Fort Selden was a 19th-century adobe fort established to protect early settlers from Indian raids. 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.

Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh

Controversy followed
Bighorn survivor Reno


The stories and myths after the battle of the Little Bighorn rage on concerning Major Marcus Reno, one of Col. George Custer’s commanders. In a recent edition of a True West magazine, Mark Boardman questioned Reno’s actions that fateful day. Did he command correctly or was he the man who ran at the Battle of the Bighorn? Historians and storytellers will not let lay the question: Was Reno a coward?
Reno was Custer’s highest-ranking officer at the June 1876 battle forever known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” in which Custer and five companies of the 7th Cavalry were annihilated after attacking an Indian village along the Little Bighorn River in Montana. Reno commanded other companies in leading the initial charge, but was routed by Lakota and Northern Cheyenne forces and retreated, still suffering heavy casualties but managing to find a secure position and escaped Custer’s fate.
Controversy over Reno’s conduct at Little Bighorn ensued, with Reno fighting to clear his name from accusations of cowardice. He eventually requested a Board of Inquiry that started Jan. 13, 1879, where 23 witnesses mostly spoke highly of his actions that fateful day.
According to these accounts, Reno had found a heavily traveled Indian trail heading toward the Bighorn River with eight Ree and two Crow scouts. The scouts were hired by the Army to be guides and reconnoiterers, not to fight. But of the ten scouts who went into battle with Reno, three were killed and two badly wounded.
Reno went on, leading three companies of the 7th Cavalry on the Indian trail, encountering some hostiles. At some point, recognizing his men were well outnumbered, he withdrew. Taking cover in a stand of trees above the Big Horn River, Reno did not know Custer had changed his route, thus missing the rendezvous point. In that stand of trees his most trusted scout, Bloody Knife, was shot and killed right next to him, his brains and blood spattering all over Reno’s face. Losing his composure Reno is thought to have issued contradictory orders before riding out of the trees, resulting in a charge that turned into a retreat leaving many of his men dead. They returned to the bluff and awaited reinforcements.
Mistakes were made, but the question remains, was Reno a coward? Twenty-one of the 23 witnesses said he was not. Capt. McDougall stated that Reno was perfectly cool. The two civilians speaking against Reno’s bravery were said to have personal grudges with Reno.
The board in its conclusion reported, “The conduct of the officers in that campaign was excellent and they did well, some more than others, some displaying more courage than Major Reno.” But, nothing was noted in Major Reno’s conduct that required criticism from the court. Case closed, except for Custer’s widow, Elizabeth “Libbie” Custer, who called the court’s finding a “whitewash.”
Reno did have a history of misbehavior. On several occasions he was questioned for conduct unbecoming an officer. He was charged with making inappropriate advances toward another officer’s wife, but that charge was dismissed because others were drinking heavily at the time. Flirting apparently was a major pastime at cavalry dances. Even Custer had warned his wife not to permit any one officer to become her “special cavalier.”
Reno committed more than one of these indiscretions, and again he was brought up on charges, including being drunk on duty and being a peeping tom. He had been seen peeping through a parlor window at a colonel’s daughter while she was visiting with her parents. He was found guilty and drummed out of the army.
Mistakes, bad judgment and flaws in character had been leveled against Reno, maybe stemming from the effects of serving in two bloody wars; the War Between the States and the Indian War. The stories doubtlessly will go on for a long time to come.
For her part, Custer’s widow fought for decades to restore the reputation of Custer; and also continued her campaign against Reno long after he died in 1883. In 1926, when she was 80, Elizabeth Custer said, “I long for a memorial to our heroes on the battlefield of the Little Big Horn but not to single out one for honor, the one coward of the regiment.”
But Reno’s relatives had the last word. At the request of Reno’s great nephew, the U.S. Army reviewed the original documents of his court-martial and reversed the division in 1967. The major’s general discharge was changed to honorable.
Reno originally was buried in an unmarked grave in Washington D.C. After the review his remains were moved to Billings, Montana, where he was reinterred with complete honors in the Custer National Cemetery on the Little Bighorn battlefield.

John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner and amateur
local historian. You can reach him
at jmiddagh@yahoo.com.

El Paso Scene MONTHLY
This month's listings, stories and columns

Feature story
Here's the Ticket
Program Notes
On Stage
Southwest Art Scene
At the Museum
History Lessons
Film Scene
Keep on Bookin'
Becoming Bicultural
Liner Notes
Stage Talk
Gallery Talk
Better Parenting


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