November 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

EPHS Alumni Tours — Tours of the century-old El Paso High School building, 800 E. Schuster, are noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, with history, ghost stories and a visit to the new Alumni Museum located on the campus. No handicap access available; wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Cost: $10; $5 for students 18 and under with a valid school ID; free for children 6 and younger with paid adult. or
‘Between Two Worlds’ — El Paso Community College and El Paso Museum of History present the program ‘Between Two Worlds: Learning About the Lives of Mormon Settlers in Colonia Juarez, MX and El Paso, TX” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, at El Paso Community College Valle Verde Campus, 915 Hunter, and 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at El Paso Museum of History, 510 N. Santa Fe. Admission is free. Information: 831-2435 or
  Presented by EPCC Professor Lisa Elliott, the program will share the history of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico and discuss how the folklore concept of liminality has played a role in the settlers’ lives and relationships with Mexico and the U.S., as participants hear directly from people whose lives are connected to the Colonies. Attendees will receive items and guidelines to help them in collecting their own heritage.

Doña Ana County Genealogical Society — The society presents “Look What I Found in Grandpa's Barn” 2 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, at Thomas Branigan Library, 200 E. Picacho in Las Cruces, as part of its regular meeting. Guests may sign up to give a brief presentation about what they have found in your grandparents barn. Carl Hundley will help with any photos or details people might want to include. Information: (575) 527-1833 or

Hall of Honor banquet — El Paso County Historical Society’s 59th annual banquet is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel 600 N. El Paso. Silent auction will be held. Proceeds benefit the preservation of the Society’s archives and its 107 year-old headquarters. Ticket information: 533-3603, or on Facebook.
  This year’s honorees are Ron Dawson, Betty Moor MacGuire, Fred Morton and John Peak.

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 (575) 574-8779 or (970) 222-2433. Web:
  Fort Bayard served as an army post from 1866 to 1899 and army tuberculosis hospital from 1899 to 1920.

Braintrust Bag Lunch — The free monthly outdoor mini-lecture series at Magoffin Home State historic Site, 1120 Magoffin is noon Wednesday, Nov. 13. Guest speaker to be announced. Bring a bagged lunch and some friends. Information: 533-5147, or Facebook.

History Notes Lecture Series — The monthly program is 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main, Las Cruces. Jeff Scweln will talk on “Las Gorras Blancas: The Fence-Cutting Knight Riders of New Mexico.” Admission is free. Information: (575) 541-2154 or

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). New Mexico residents enter free the first Sunday of each month. Free entry each Wednesday for seniors. Information: (575) 526-8911, (575) 202-1638, 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

Memories of friends, young and old


A few years back a young woman named Bridget kept horses with me on a partial work/pay deal. The work part was a little sketchy — she had a different definition of labor than I did. But she did have one talent: her knowledge and command of her iPhone, which was never out of her hand. We’d be walking around the property and I might off-handedly point to a piece of farm equipment or trailer or horses that I sure didn’t want to own any longer. She’d ask how much I wanted, take a picture with her phone and the next thing I knew she was getting calls. She sold a number of things for me; I always gave her 10 percent commission, so she was making money.
Bridget bought her own feed for her horses, which was the deal I made with everyone. I have the pens and will help them feed and water and clean, and they pay $75 per month per pen. She was always slow with the rent. And we weren’t straight on the labor/help part of our deal, either.
One morning when she told me that a man just up the road from us had a horse for sale and asked if I wanted to go look at it. We went up there in our truck. It was a nice young palomino filly, just not being used enough. I saw the man was keeping her in a round pen. I wanted a round pen, which is usually used for working with young horses. I asked him how much for the pen. He said he had to sell the horse first. I asked how much for the filly, and his answer was too high. How much for the round pen? Again too much I told him. He also had a cheap but overpriced saddle. Then I asked how much for all of it. We cussed and discussed awhile. I told him cash money, right now, but he’d have to throw in those 13 bales of hay I saw under the shade. He said if I bought the horse he wouldn’t need the hay.
I counted out eight $100 bills and left Bridget there while I went back to get my flatbed trailer. I returned to disassemble and load the round pen and hay. We put things away and called it a day, it being past the middle of a hot summer’s afternoon. I drove her home, which was our custom. She got a ride with her mother in the mornings and I took her home. Now, Bridget had to be 20-21 years old and didn’t drive. I heard she’d been in a very bad car wreck, but she didn’t say much about it so I didn’t pry.
The next day we fed the horses and cleaned the pens, we got horses out of their pens, brushed them, cleaned their feet and ran them around in a circle with a long line. We were into the early afternoon so I called it quits and drove her home.
Thursday, we got everything done without much delay because my friend Manny always came to visit that day.
Manny showed up at about 10:30. Bridget and I had finished feeding, cleaning and working with the horses. We were standing around visiting when Sharon drove up. She was another boarder, a little late to visit, I ask if they would help me unload and set up my new round pen. We walked to the trailer where I’d left it, where I wanted the pen set up. I untied the straps, jumped on the trailer with Sharon being the first to step forward to grab a panel taking it 50 feet back starting the circle. Manny next took a panel lying it down next to the one Sharon had taken. She was right back for another one. This went on for three or four panels, all the time I was watching Bridget just standing off to the side; I finally called her to come help.
She said, “No, they’re too heavy.”
These were 13 5x10-foot light metal panels, so I lost it and blew up in anger. A friend and a boarder were helping freely, but my supposed helper was standing there with a finger in her mouth.
Bridget didn’t stick around long after that. She wasn’t missed, but for her iPhone. She did buy that young filly and I sold the saddle that gave me the round pen free. Sharon stayed with me for maybe a year until she and her husband bought their own acreage.
Remembering all this reminds me of all the different things Manny and I did together over the course of four decades.
Manny and I first met in the late 1970s and have been friends ever since. Sometimes we’d go to lunch and make the rounds of all the pawnshops to see if we could pick up a saddle or two.
One time when we stopped at a pawn shop in Anthony, Texas, where I immediately spotted a nice small, black American-made kid’s saddle, pad and hackamore bridle. All they were asking was $75 for all of it.
I walked right straight to it, calling Manny’s attention that way, telling him he’d better buy it or I would. He scoffed, “Naw, it’s too small.” “Well, I’ll buy it,” I said. He then said no, he would take it. I told him okay but I wanted the hackamore. He said give him $35, and I couldn’t wait to get my money out.
It was a Hollis hackamore built in Skidmore, Texas with a 10-inch shank, handmade with great balance and horses like them. The company opened in 1982, closed 35 years later, and the hackamore is now a collector’s item worth well over $100. I still use it today.
Manny and I would drive weekly to cattle sales in Deming and monthly to Wilcox, Ariz., setting up on street corners to peddle our wares We talked, cussed, discussed, family, religion, and politics, but never got angry at each other. Damn, I’m missing all that.
Now, I just go see him at the Veterans Home. Isn’t it funny how friendships are? They come and go young and old.

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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