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 — The fall tour to the site of the first atom bomb explosion is Saturday, Oct. 7, 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 wsmr.army.mil.
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. Cost: $70 per person; $60 museum members. Call for reservations, spaces are limited: (575) 437-2840 ext. 41132 or nmspacemuseum.org.
Jornada Mogollon Conference — The 20th biennial Mogollon Conference is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13-14, at El Paso Museum of Archaeology, 4301 Transmountain. Advance registration (by Sept. 29) is $35 per person; registration at the door is $45 per person. Student registration is $28 per student (ID required). Information: 755-4332 or archaeology.elpasotexas.gov.
This year’s conference will feature 27 presenters who will speak on historical, cultural, and archaeological topics relevant to the Jornada Mogollon region, as well as papers on the Casas Grandes area in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Border Archives Bazaar — Border Regional Archives Group hosts a free event for the community to interact with fascinating historical collections from the border region 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at NM Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, 4100 Dripping Springs Road in Las Cruces. Bazaar is free; discounted museum admission for those attending event. Information: (915) 747-6839, (575) 646-4756 or on Facebook at BRarchives.
The bazaar features historical manuscripts, photographs, maps, publications, films and more from more than a dozen libraries, archives, and museums of the El Paso and southern New Mexico area. Archivists, librarians and museum curators will be on hand to discuss and answer questions about archives, regional history, and preserving documents. Scan stations will provide free (limited) digitization services for family photographs, documents, and audiovisual materials brought in by the public.
‘Chamizal Asks: What Do You Think?’ — A viewing of historical film footage
of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mexico’s President Adolfo Lopez Mateos convening in Juarez will be presented by park rangers at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Chamizal National Memorial, 800 S. San Marcial, as part of the memorial’s “What Do You Think” series. Admission is free. Information: 532-7273.
Mexico in WWI lecture — Heribert von Feilitzsch, author of “Felix A. Sommerfeld and the Mexican Front in the Great War," will talk about the role of Mexico in WWI at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Armory on Highway 180 (across from Santa Clara, N.M.). Sponsored by the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free; donations welcome. Information: (575) 388-4477, (575) 574-8779 or (575) 388-4862.
Von Feilitzsch grew up in West Germany near the East German border. In 1988 he came to the U.S. as a student. At the University of Arizona he pursued a masters degree in Latin American History, with a focus on the Mexican-German-American relations.
Harvey Girls of El Paso — The Harvey Girls of El Paso Texas meet 2 to 4 p.m. the Monday, Oct. 9, at Union Depot Passenger Station, 700 San Francisco. Program is “Hobo Codes of Railroad Travel,” presented by Patricia Kiddney. Visitors welcome. Admission is free. Information: 591-2326 or harveygirlselpaso.weebly.com.
Southwest Chapter of Railway & Locomotive Historical Society — The society meets 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11, at St. Timothy's Lutheran Church, 11050 Montwood. This month’s program is “Rock Island Line Coming into El Paso” presented by Steve Heetland. Visitors welcome. Cost: $10 for program and dinner. Information: 540-9660.
El Paso Genealogical Society — The society meets 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, at All Saints Episcopal Church, 3500 McRae. Program is “Unraveling the Mystery of Old Photos.” Visitors welcome. Information: 591-2326.
El Paso Corral of the Westerners — The monthly dinner program is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, at Country Inn and Suites, 900 Sunland Park Dr. Program is “Historic Ysleta - People and Places” presented by Joseph Longo. Cost: $20. Visitors welcome, but RSVP needed by Oct. 16: 759-9538.
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 email@example.com.
Daughters of the Republic of Texas — The Rio Grande Chapter meets at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 13, at War Eagles Museum, 8012 Airport Road in Santa Teresa. Visitors welcome. Information, cost: 570-5770.
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.
Voices From The Past Moonlight tours are 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, with ghost stories and legends of New Mexico. Meet historical figures from the past. Group tours leave every 15 minutes. Admission: $5 (free for kids) at the door. Cash or check only.
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.
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 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 Bayard tours — Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society host walking tours of the historic fort 9:30 a.m. every Saturday through October. Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark is six miles east of Silver City, N.M. off U.S. 180. Meet at the 1910 Commanding Officer’s Quarter and museum (House 26); opens at 9:15 a.m. Parade grounds hours are 9:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays and Mondays. Tour takes about 90 minutes; wear walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat; water recommended. Admission is free, but donations appreciated. Information, group tours: (575) 956-3294, (575) 574-8779, or (575) 388-4862.
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. The Oct. 12 lecture is “Adobe Vernacular: Confessions of a Mud Junkie” by Eric Liefeld. 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.
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.
Over 50 saddles lost in valley crime spree
He was ugly in appearance, a long scar running down the right cheek of his round, pockmarked face, and he was also ugly in the things he did. There was a picture of him once in a local newspaper at the end of his crime spree. I wonder if he ever realized the pain he caused his victims, if he knew what he put them through when he stole their saddles. Didn’t he know how attached a person got to their saddle? He certainly didn’t care.
Back in the middle to late 1970s, this scoundrel ran rampant through the Upper Valley. I knew because every person he hit came by my store, The Cowboy Trading Post, or called me to see if I had been sold a saddle lately or to tell me to be on the lookout for theirs that was stolen the night before. By the time he was caught, the count the number of saddles stolen climbed to over 50, and those are just the ones I learned about.
One such report came from John S.A. Martin, a farmer in the Vinton area. One night his dogs were barking and raising such a ruckus that he got up to see. He had saddles out in his barn and was aware of all the thieving that had been going on. He got his gun and walked outside, slowly making his way to the barn. The dogs would not be quiet; he walked on, made the rounds, nothing. So, he quieted the dogs and went back to bed.
The next morning he went out to feed his animals and right away saw the shed door broken open. John walked over and sure enough three of his four saddles were gone; the only one left was an old English saddle.
How could this happen, when did it happen? Did he walk right by the thief while he was hiding there? Was the bandit so cool that he just stepped back into the dark shadows of the big old cottonwood tree alongside the barn? Waiting for John to walk back into his house, so he could go about his thieving? Did he have help or was he loner, how many trips did this cool character make … how did he do it? These questions plagued John for years.
Another call came from Christi Lama. Her barn was broken into and the thief had to walk across a huge hay field to do the dirty deed.
Christi said, “The police followed his trail through the alfalfa to the back irrigation ditch where they thought the thief had parked his vehicle.”
Christi lost her show saddle along with others, again indicating more than one trip. Now it seemed certain: the thief takes only western saddles. He left her English saddles and all her bridles. Some of the bridles were expensive — did he not know that much about the horse business that he would pass up good bridles, or is he so selective that he only wants western saddles?
On another day it was Marsha Moyer on the phone. Her barn was broken into the night before. The thief chipped the mortar away from around the cinder blocks in the wall, removing just enough of them to crawl in and take all of her saddles.
Both the El Paso Police Department and the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office were called because half the barn was in Texas and the other in New Mexico. They followed the trail to the river levee. Here again the thief walked some distance, and had to have made multiple trips.
More saddles were stolen and the calls and the people kept coming by the store. Then one day the word came that the police task force had arrested a man, and were certain he was the culprit. He must have been the one, because the thieving stopped after the arrest.
He was convicted and sent to a New Mexico state prison. We never heard anymore about the case, but we never forgot about our stolen saddles. Some thought the thief was part of a wholesale operation to import stolen saddles to Mexico. During that time, anyone driving the roads south of Juárez could see a pickup truck at every intersection with saddles lining the truck beds, many selling very cheap.
Of course we will never know, but the stealing stopped and it has never been that bad again.
John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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