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 Archaeological Society Banquet — The society’s Award of Distinction Banquet is 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at State Line Restaurant, 1222 Sunland Park Drive. Check-in is 6 p.m. Cost: $30 ($11 age 12 and younger). Cash bar. Registration deadline is Sept. 14. Registration forms: Nena Arias, 309-8219.
Award of Distinction will be presented to Prince McKenzie, director of the Railroad & Transportation Museum.
Historian and author Dr. David Dorado Romo will speak on “Duranguito: 190-year History of El Paso’s Founding Settlement and Oldest Continually Inhabited Neighborhood.”
‘¡Orgullo! & Connection’ — Organizing For Action, in collaboration with KCOS, host the event promoting civil engagement 2:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, at El Paso Public Library’s Main Branch auditorium, 501 N. Oregon, showcasing the area’s history through film and storytelling. Admission is free; light refreshments served. Information: 526-7951.
Five local films will showcase Scenic Drive, Plaza Theatre, Mission Trailws, El Paso Murals and Hueco Tanks. Guest speaker is Dr. Lucia Dura.
Organizing for Action has more than 250 local chapters around the country.
‘Chamizal Asks: What Do You Think?’ — A viewing of the film focusing on the story of the St. Patrick’s Battalion, a military unit comprised of European expatriates that fought for Mexico in the Mexican-American war, is 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, 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.
‘Camino Real de Tierra Adentro’ — Consulate General of Mexico, UTEP, National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico and the Centro Cultural Mexicano Paso del Norte host the book presentation by Director General of the INAH, Diego Prieto, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Consulate General of Mexico in El Paso, 910 E. San Antonio. Admission is free. Information: 747-3257 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The book is a result of 18 years of studies, carried out by a binational team of 200 researchers.
Historic Assets exhibit — A new exhibit featuring El Paso County’s Historic Assets is now featured at El Paso County Courthouse, 500 E. San Antonio, with pictures of the county’s courthouses as well as historical letters on display in the first-floor lobby. Information: 546-2009.
Harvey Girls of El Paso — The Harvey Girls of El Paso Texas meet 2 to 4 p.m. the Monday, Sept. 11, at Union Depot Passenger Station, 700 San Francisco. The program is “Timeline of Fred Harvey’s Legacy” with Pres Dehrkoop. 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, Sept. 13, at St. Timothy's Lutheran Church, 11050 Montwood. This month’s program is “Timeline of Fred Harvey Legacy” by Pres Dehrkoop. Visitors welcome. Cost: $10 for program and dinner. Information: 540-9660.
El Paso Genealogical Society — The society meets 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at All Saints Episcopal Church, 3500 McRae. Program is “Using Probate Records to Find Family.” Visitors welcome. Information: 479-1291.
El Paso Corral of the Westerners — The monthly dinner program is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at Country Inn and Suites, 900 Sunland Park Dr. Program is “Wagons West: 1848” by Bernie Sargent. Cost: $20. Visitors welcome, but RSVP needed by Sept. 11: 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 11 a.m. Friday, Sept 8, at La Tierra Restaurant, 1731 Montana, with a program on “Mt. Cristo Rey,” presented by Rueben Escandon. Visitors welcome. Information, cost: 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.
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 Sept. 14 lecture is “Household Water Quality in Rural Southern New Mexico: A 3-Year Study” by Dr. Erin Ward. Admission is free. Information: (575) 541-2154 or las-cruces.org/museums.
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.
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.
High school was 3 strikes and out
I attended three different high schools and didn’t make it out of my second ninth grade year at any of them. At El Paso High I got into a disagreement with the B-team football coach, Frank Christian. I had quit the team because of his constant hammering, “hit harder, Middagh, harder.” He had caught me before in the school hall after the bell had rung and warned me I’d get a paddling if he caught me again. This time I was bending over to get a drink at the water fountain just outside my classroom door when the bell rang. I hear this rumbling coming down the 3rd floor hall with Coach yelling, “Middagh I told you, it’s swats.” I simply said, “No you’re not going to touch me.” That led me to me walking out of the vice-principal’s office, at mid-semester.
Second semester my parents enrolled me at Cathedral High School. There they wanted me to get a haircut and stop wearing white shoes. I couldn’t understand why, so I took to leaving school early, only to be rounded up by Brother Brazell, the principal, a number of times.
The next year I was enrolled at El Paso Tech in auto mechanics and was doing well with Mr. Tice. It was shop, hands-on learning. Halfway through the year I just walked away at age 17, joining the U.S. Navy. I spent three months at boot camp in San Diego, then two years in Japan and one year in and out of Vietnam delivering frozen food to our troops. The Navy was fun, but I found myself feeling a bit homesick. What saved me was good old American square dancing. Somehow I was invited to take lessons. I joined them and danced for two years. Meeting young people my own age saved me.
Aboard ship, I worked at a couple of hot, dirty jobs — first as a steam mechanic then spent a short time in the laundry. I saw how good the barbers had it and knew that was what I wanted. Time came when they needed another barber so I put out the word that I had cut hair on the side. That was not a total lie because one summer the boys in the neighborhood got together in my garage giving each other Mohawks. I worked my way up to being the admiral’s barber. That got me most anything I wanted. I even became friends with the Admiral’s son, which didn’t hurt.
The Navy saw to it that I got my G.E.D, which enabled me to come home and enter college at age 21 — on academic probation, of course. I had the G.I. Bill, became a campus cop, and took all the subjects that interested me until Cecilia and I decided to get married. By then I was ready and willing to drop out of school again to become a fireman in order to support us while she finished college.
She went on to get her undergraduate and master’s degrees then her Licensed Professional Counselor certification with 2,000 hours of additional training — to me that’s the equivalent to a PhD, proving she is the academic in the family and I the student of the unknown/outdoors.
Our kids followed the same pattern. Christina became a very good special-ed teacher in Albuquerque. John Jr. is the outdoors type — a cowboy, welder, heavy equipment operator, and has been with the railroad for 19 years.
I ran into my old football coach Frank Christian when he came knocking at our door months after our son was born. He sold life insurance with American Amicable out of Waco, Texas to fill his summers and wanted to show us an insured savings plan for John Jr.
The plan was a good one. We took the leap and I mentioned, “I could sell that plan and be a fireman, too.” He agreed and set me up with the company. We worked together all that summer, but never talked about why I left El Paso High. I finally asked him about it when he was preparing to start teaching again. He confirmed all the details of the story as I remembered them.
He admitted he’d forgotten, but had had a funny feeling something had come up between us back then. Frank and I are still friends after all these years.
I give American Amicable a lot of the credit for my education, book-wise. They had me in a school in Waco about every three months for the ten years I worked with them. It helped prepare me to start the Cowboy Trading Post, my saddle shop and horse stables that held my interest for more than 25 years.
In sum, I attended three high schools, several different grade schools, UTEP for two years, and EPPC for a time. In the later years I attended EPPC’s senior outreach program in Creative Writing taught by Patsy King.
After selling my Cowboy Trading Post I had very little to do so I started writing down the stories I’d been telling people from all over the country and around the world that I’d taken horseback riding. I wrote them down so maybe my grandchildren would read them in the future and I quickly found out I like writing the stories “my way” with no interruptions or contradictions.
The writing group with Ms. Patsy and the eleven women that I walked in on that first day in 2002 was the start of something new for me. What a time we’ve had for so many years with Ms. Patsy and husband Bill becoming good friends. I followed Ms. Patsy from writing group to writing group as she retired from one, to realize she couldn’t quit. Today’s group consists of Bill King, Rick Allan, Paul Geneson, Nancy Natalicio, Janice Nelson, and our now our “kingpin”, Judy McMillie, who have all become fast friends in their own right. I have to give much credit to the different writing groups for helping me have so much fun today.
John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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