Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh
See also: At the Museum
Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns
Paranormal Travels — Rev. Henry Flores (Ghost Adventures Route 666 episode) hosts “Ghost Bus” tours to some of El Paso’s most haunted locations 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, including Concordia Cemetery, Downtown El Paso, San Elizario, area high schools, museums and a “hidden cemetery.” Cost: $30 per person. Information: email@example.com or at Facebook at ParanormalTravelswithReverendHenryFlores.
El Paso Genealogy Society — The society meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, at St. Paul’s Methodist Church, 7000 Edgemere. Program is “Tidbits for Writing your Family History” presented by Barbara McCarthy. Visitors welcome. Information: 591-2326.
El Paso Archaeological Society — The society’s monthly meeting is 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb 17, at El Paso Museum of Archaeology, 4301 Transmountain. LeRoy Unglaub will speak on “Prehistoric Scotland,” showing five archaeological sites in the Orkney and Shetland Islands to include the famous sites of Skara Brae, Jarlshop, and Ness of Brodgar.
Admission is free; the public is invited. Seating is limited. Information: 449-9075 or epas.com.
Unglaub is a retired electronic engineer who visited famous archaeological sites in Scotland in 2017.
Southwest Chapter of Railway & Locomotive Historical Society — The society meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, at El Sarape Restaurant, 5103 Montana. Program is “Gringos’ Curve,” presented by author Christopher Lance Habermeyer. Visitors welcome. Information: 591-2326.
‘What Do You Think’ — Chamizal Asks hosts an encore screening and discussion of historical film footage of U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson and Mexico’s president Adolfo Lopez Mateos convening in El Paso to officially exchange lands as part of the settlement of the Chamizal dispute at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Chamizal National Memorial, 800 S. San Marcial. Admission is free. Information: 532-7273.
El Paso Corral of the Westerners — The monthly dinner program is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, at Country Inn and Suites, 900 Sunland Park Dr. Program is “Pecos County Sheriff A.J. Royal” presented by Mary Kay Shannon. Cost: $20. Visitors welcome, but RSVP needed by Feb. 12: 759-9538.
Harvey Girls of El Paso — The Harvey Girls of El Paso Texas meet 2 to 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, at Union Depot Passenger Station, 700 San Francisco. Program is “Mary Jane Colter: Architect and Designer for Fred Harvey“ by Pres Dehrkoop. Visitors welcome. Admission is free. Information: 591-2326 or harveygirlselpaso.weebly.com.
Fort Bayard tours — Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society host walking tours of the historic fort beginning at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10 and 24, at Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark is six miles east of Silver City, N.M. off U.S. 180. at the 1910 Commanding Officer’s Quarter and museum (House 26). Museum is open 9:15 to 1 p.m. every Saturday. Tour takes about 90 minutes. Admission is free, but donations appreciated. Information, group tours: (575) 956-3294, (575) 574-8779, or (575) 388-4862.
Fort Bayard served as an army post from 1866 to 1899 and army tuberculosis hospital from 1899 to 1920.
February’s theme will be the 125th U.S. Colored Troops from Camp Nelson, Kentucky and the Buffalo Soldiers composed of the 9th & 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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. 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, fortstanton.org.
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.
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 shakespeareghostown.com.
To get there: From Lordsburg, take the Main Street exit (Exit 22) from Interstate 10 and turn south. Follow signs to Shakespeare.
Indian fighter switched
sides from U.S., Mexico
James Kirker was called Don Santiago and King of New Mexico, but the most gruesome title he became known as was “Lord of the Scalp Hunters.” If you were an Indian in the state Chihuahua, Mexico, you feared no other man more. He gathered hundreds of scalps for the bounty put there by Governor Don Angel Trais.
His life was also a series of switching sides — from his Irish roots to fighting with the U.S. Cavalry, from trading with Indians to collecting their scalps, from a Mexican warlord to fighting again with the U.S. in the Mexican-American War.
Kirker was born in 1793 on the outskirts of Belfast, Ireland; he found his way to the Americas by 1810. He was a large, agile young man who sailed to New York to get away from being conscripted into the British Navy. Two years later he fought as a privateer in the War of 1812, captured by the British and released in a prisoner exchange. He returned to New York and joined some of his countrymen for further adventures West.
Arriving in St. Louis, Missouri, he worked for a mercantile company until hiring out to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1822. He spent that winter at a post on the Yellowstone River. The next summer he joined in a battle that became known as the Arickara War in what is now South Dakota — Indians had killed 15 trappers, and the 6th Infantry responded with a combined force of 230 soldiers, 750 Sioux and 50 trappers.
Kirker then entered into the Santa Fe trade trapping along the southern Rockies and Gila River. He married a Mexican woman and made El Paso del Norte (what is now Juárez) the center of his home life. They had two children, Joseph and Petra.
In 1826 he went to work for the Santa Rita copper mine, escorting wagon trains filled with copper to Chihuahua City, fighting off a number of attacks by Apaches.
He was a superb horseman who managed to un-Irish himself as far as appearance, dressing in a Mexican shirt and breeches fringed in leather. He wore a wide-brimmed sombrero, with huge spurs jingling at his heels. He carried a Jake Hawkins rifle with silver inlay decorating its stock, and daggers showing from the tops of his boots. He rode a spirited horse that had no problem carrying his 175 pounds. In 1835 he became a Mexican citizen.
Kirker continued trapping but started trading with the Apaches, exchanging weapons for livestock. The authorities charged him with dealing in contraband and declared him an outlaw. But, as things went in Mexico back then, he signed a contract in 1839 with the Governor of Chihuahua to hunt Apaches, Comanches and Navajo Indians.
He formed his own private army becoming very skillful and successful killing Indians — he had a group of about 25 men, which included Anglos, Mexicans, black escaped slaves, and Shawnee, Delaware, and Creek Indians. He was promised pay for the number of captives and scalps he brought in. Kirker operated in and around the Sierra Madre, becoming a border lord. While fighting and trading with the Apaches and the Mexicans he fast became known as the “King of New Mexico.”
The time approached when the bankrupt government of Chihuahua could no longer pay Kirker and offered him a commission in their army. He turned them down and became an enemy of the state with a $10,000 bounty on his head. Leaving Mexico he joined Col. Doniphan’s First Missouri Volunteers, the regiment that captured El Paso in 1846 during the Mexican-American War. Doniphan had him foraging, guiding, interpreting, and scouting as they campaigned toward Chihuahua. Kirker and his men were invaluable to the advancing force. His knowledge of the country and his understanding of Mexican culture paid off handsomely.
In 1849 Kirker led a wagon train of Forty-Niners across New Mexico reaching California a year later, settling with his family in Contra Costa County, near what is now called Kirker Pass. He died of natural causes in 1853.
John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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