September 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



El Paso Strong Tour in the 9-1-5 — Magoffin Home State Historic Site, 1117 and 1120 Magoffin, hosts free tours 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15 (915). The tour will cover topics of cultural diversity, religious acceptance, and historic solutions during El Paso tragedies. Admission is free. Information: 533-5147.

Genealogy Fair — Doña Ana County Genealogical Society and Las Cruces Family History Center hosts a free genealogy fair “Discovering Your Genealogy” 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3210 Venus Street in Las Cruces. Informative exhibits and beginner and advanced workshops. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Ages 11 and older welcome. Information: (575) 527-1833 or

Border Archives Bazaar — Border Regional Archives Group hosts a free event for the community to interact with historical collections from the border region 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, 4100 Dripping Springs, in Las Cruces. This year’s theme is “Archives: Mirrors of Ourselves,” and highlights how archives reflect individual experiences and shared community history. Admission is free. Information: 747-6839 or on Facebook at BRarchives.
  Organized by the Border Regional Archives Group, the bazaar will feature displays of rare documents, photographs, maps, publications, and more that highlight regional history and culture.
  Featured speakers include New Mexico State Records Administrator Dr. Rick Hendricks, Dr. Jeff Shepherd of the UTEP History Department, and historian Janine Young, who will discuss women’s suffrage in El Paso.

Trinity Site Tour — The fall tour to the site of the first atom bomb explosion is Saturday, Oct. 5, at White Sands Missile Range. At the site, visitors can take a quarter-mile walk to ground zero, where a small obelisk marks the exact spot where the bomb was exploded. They can also ride a missile range shuttle bus two miles from ground zero to the Schmidt/McDonald Ranch House, where the scientists assembled the plutonium core of the bomb.
  On July 16, 1945, the U.S. government exploded the bomb at the New Mexico test site. Historical photos are mounted on the fence surrounding the area. Food and souvenirs sold at the site. Admission is free. Information: White Sands Public Affairs (575) 678-1134 or
  Enter off U.S. 380 on the north end of the range (Stallion Gate) from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Site closes promptly at 3:30 p.m. Must show a photo ID at the gate.
  Visitors are encouraged to have a full tank of gasoline and a spare tire for the trip, which is 85 miles each way. There are no service stations on the route. Department of Defense police will direct traffic. Pets allowed on leash only.
  New Mexico Museum of Space History and the International Space Hall of Fame Foundation offers a motorcoach tour to the site. Call for reservations, spaces are limited: (575) 437-2840 ext. 41132 or

Paso Del Norte Paranormal Society — Located at the Wigwam Museum, 108 E San Antonio. A Beauties and Beast Haunted Brothel Tour is 9 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31. Cost: $15. Information: 274-9531 or on Facebook. Tickets at

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 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. Information, group tours: (575) 388-4477 or
  A “Diamonds in the Rough” Baseball Symposium, celebrating the legacy of the sport of baseball to the Southwest, is Oct. 18-20. Information: Doug Dinwiddie, (575) 388-4862, or

Harvey Girls of El Paso — The Harvey Girls of El Paso Texas meet at 2 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, at Union Depot Passenger Station, 700 San Francisco. Program will discuss the events planned for Fred Harvey’s Legacy in the Southwest. Visitors welcome. Admission is free. Information: 591-2326.

Braintrust Bag Lunch — The free monthly outdoor mini-lecture series at Magoffin Home State historic Site, 1120 Magoffin is noon Wednesday, Sept. 11, to discuss “El Paso’s Path to Female Suffrage.” Bring a bagged lunch and some friends. Information: 533-5147, or Facebook.
  Next month’s lecture (Oct. 9) is on “Rationing in WWII America.”

Southwest Chapter of Railway & Locomotive Historical Society — The society meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, at El Sarape Restaurant, 5103 Montana. Program is a recognition of historic depots in West Texas and New Mexico. Visitors welcome. Information: 591-2326.

History Notes Lecture Series — The monthly program is 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main, Las Cruces. Karla Kay will talk on “Pat Garrett.” Admission is free. Information: (575) 541-2154 or

Daughters of the Republic of Texas — The Rio Grande Chapter meets at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at Hilton Garden Inn, 111 W. University. Program includes Texas Heroes Day and Gonzales Day. Anyone interested in Texas history encouraged to attend. RSVP: 560-5775.

El Paso Corral of the Westerners — The monthly dinner program is 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at Holiday Inn El Paso-West 900 Sunland Park Drive at I-10. Program is “The Harts - Pioneer Family” presented by Robert Word. Cost: $20 (includes dinner and program). Visitors welcome; RSVP needed by Sept. 16: 759-9538.

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 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

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).

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
  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 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, 7 miles southeast of Capitan, N.M., 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

Stranded in desert, saved by the train


I’ve written about all the times I’ve spent out in the desert with my family between El Paso’s Upper Valley and Kilbourne Hole 25 miles west of our house. On this weekend, my sister, mom and dad had left Saturday to camp out overnight at La Finca (an abandoned farm house in that area). They were supposed to be back Sunday, but as night came they were still gone and my brother and I became concerned.
Back then there were no cellphones. But the house telephone did ring around 9:30 p.m. It was our father asking my brother and me to come pick them up outside La Hacienda Restaurant, 11 miles from the house in the opposite direction from which they’d left. Dad was in no mood to explain anything over the phone. Brother and I borrowed our neighbor’s Cadillac and headed for town. It seemed like an extra dark night. We pulled off Doniphan at the viaduct that took you up to the college, but didn’t have to drive to the front of the restaurant because we spied our family waiting at the corner.
They looked tired but were smiling. It was a relief seeing them. Dad in his camping clothes, Mom clutching her purse and our little sister Marie with her light brown Twiggy hairdo. It didn’t register with me then, but they had no luggage, nothing in tow. My brother jumped in the back seat with our mom, sister and my dad sat in front with me. On the way home they started explaining why we had to pick them up.
They had had fun spending time cooking at La Finca and tooling around the craters. On the way home they’d stopped to shoot the guns on the lip of one of the craters. Mom spied some lava rock that she though would be pretty for her garden. They seemed light enough, so she picked up a few and put them in the trunk of the Nash Rambler. Then she saw another interesting piece, putting it in the trunk. None of them noticed that the rear end of the car was starting to sag.
After they finished exploring and shooting, they got into the Rambler to head home. It was approaching late afternoon. About halfway from Kilbourne Hole going toward the railroad tracks and El Paso, a strip of sand dunes is crossed by an ancient lava flow of jagged rocks. We’ve always been cautioned about going over them too fast. I’m sure Dad slowed down, but he hadn’t thought about the extra weight in the trunk. So, going up and over these small lava hills, sure enough, he hit the oil pan and tore open the plug. He didn’t notice anything amiss until the red oil warning light came on. They stopped, checked: No oil showed on the dip stick.
They pondered what to do next. Waiting for someone to drive by was a possibility, but for the last day and a half they had only seen the dust of a vehicle once, and it was a good distance off. Now it was Sunday afternoon, and most people who might have been out that way probably had already headed home.
The afternoon was moving rapidly toward dark. The decision was made to hike the road toward the railroad hoping somebody would drive by. No luck. Then it became dark. In the distance they saw a train coming. Mom and Marie stayed on the road while Dad went the 40 yards to the side of the tracks. Luckily, he was able to flag that train to a stop. By the time the train came to a complete halt the caboose was right in front of Dad. Dad explained their predicament, with the conductor explaining to him that it was against the rules to give anyone a ride. All this conversation passed between them as they walked back to meet up with Mom and Marie.
I’m sure the conductor realized he could not leave that family alone out there. I’m also pretty sure other options were discussed with the final decision being to load them into the caboose for a ride to town.
My brother and I were now told that nothing was to be said to anyone about the rescue train ride. The only reason I’m relating the story now is that 55 years have now passed so I’m confident the statute of limitation applies.
The rest of the story unfolded. When they got back to the steps of the caboose they had an unwelcome intruder blocking the way. A large rattlesnake had taken up its resting place right where they had to step up. They jumped back and quickly dispatched that poor snake with a single shot. Then they ascended the steps into the caboose. What a weekend!
The Middagh family has always had adventure. I feel very blessed being a member of the clan, with Irish, Dutch, and Mexican blood running through my veins. I’ve always felt the love of very distant relatives deep in my soul, past generations. They did so much to see me and mine to where we are today. I thank them in my prayers often, probably not enough. My wish is that all the youngsters out there will sit down and talk with their old folks, asking questions. For someday questions will come up with nobody left to answer them.
John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at

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'
Liner Notes
Stage Talk
Gallery Talk


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