Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh
See also: At the Museum
Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 each Saturday in December, from 9:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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). 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.
The Society will also be involved in the Santa Clara Tamale Fiesta Saturday, Dec. 2, with the Lighted Christmas Parade at 6 p.m.
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.
The annual Las Noches del Las Luminarias is 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9. with hundreds of luminarias, cocoa and activities. Admission is free.
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. 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.
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.
Getting started in the horse business
Back in 1972, a friend, George Arrufat, called one morning and asked my wife and me to go to a registered horse sale with him. We saw a young paint filly that we just had to have. George told us we could keep her at his place. The seller, a preacher named Quinn, practically sat on us until we agreed to buy. The price was right, so we did. My wife, Cecilia, was teaching, so we had a little extra money. That’s when and how I started owning horses.
Q-Ton Overo Miss was the filly’s registered name. We called her QT. She eventually had filly of her own, who in turn gave us more fillies, two of which we still have today.
At that time I had been trying to find a job for two years and I couldn’t face another job interview. So five mornings a week, I contented myself with getting my family off to their schools. My wife Cecilia was a teacher and our two youngsters, John Jr. and Christina, were in grade school.
Another friend, Roger North Haynes (a student of my father’s at Texas Western College, now UTEP), had a ranch in Ennis, Texas, 35 miles south of Dallas. He had a trailer that he wanted to sell, and he also sternly reminded me that I hadn’t been down to visit him and see his ranch. And if I made it down there, he was certain that we could find a saddle or two, which I could sell on returning to El Paso, helping pay for the trip.
One weekend we went to see Roger. We had a great time and came home with our second horse, a trailer loaded with saddles, hay, and all sorts of other things, including an old oaken icebox to keep, which we still have in our den today.
One day while I was feeding and cleaning pens a young couple came up and started talking to me. The conversation eventually got around to: why were my horses so well behaved and theirs not? I offered to work with their horse for $10 a session. They agreed. All I had to do was set up a regular routine of riding, and show the fellow who was in charge. Later I sold them a saddle and then a horse trailer that I had bought from Roger. Without thinking about it, I was on the verge of starting a business that eventually grew into Cowboy Trading Post.
Another friend, Sandy, and I started going to the local horse sale once a month. We were real greenhorns — although both of had some experience with horses, trying to make money at it was different. Sandy was a good-looking blonde, which helped draw some attention from the seasoned horsemen.
One guy, Sam Wells, always sought us out. Soon he was telling us: “Don’t buy that one because...” Later we started meeting him during the month at other livestock pens to look at horses. Both my friend and I bought lots of stock from him, and he also bought a number of horses from us.
Sandy and I had started years back when I was seduced into running a boarding stable for a young guy named Joe Briones. He got me involved, and then vanished one day, which was OK with me because he was just the silent partner anyway. I do thank him, looking back, for getting me started in a large stable operation. After he left, Sandy stepped up. She had been an original boarder when I started running the place. Sandy knew the people my vanished partner was subleasing from, so she went to them and got the lease put our names.
Sandy and I had $150 between us when we started, and with that we bought our first horse together; at the same time, we bought some hay and put gas in my truck. Our partnership was formed, and we went on to make good money which we split 50/50 for years.
We were buying and selling a lot of horses, tack and other stuff and having fun. One day, Sandy found herself a boyfriend and he couldn’t quite fathom the entire concept of her horse trading, so Sandy and I parted ways. It was sad because by that time we had been working together for some years.
Cecilia had been going to a few sales with us, but wasn’t entirely on board with our garage full of horse gear and a front yard crowded with livestock trailers. It was time to open a store.
My Cowboy Trading Post grew from a rented 14x16 railroad outbuilding to 3.5 acres that I would own with a 1,200-square-foot house that I turned into my store. I built up the business for 25 years. I was responsible for up to eight employees and 80 horses (72 at the store and eight at Sunland Park Race Track). We were feeding over a ton of hay a day. Most of the time I had an inventory of 137 saddles and 300 bits in the store, There wasn’t an inch of space where something wasn’t hanging that a horseperson couldn’t live without. I hardly ever threw anything away, knowing someday someone would come in looking for just that piece. I’d gotten the reputation for being the place to go to find anything you might need.
I closed the Trading Post in 1998 because the city was growing all around me and I had nowhere safe to ride any longer. Also, a buyer wanted the land to round out his plans for a mobile home park, and he had the cash.
I ran Cowboy Trading Post for over 25 years, which gave me plenty of material that I put into two books. That might seem like unlikely work for someone like me, whose mother and father were college professors. My father was always a journalist; my mother had been a horsewoman growing up. They never pressured my brother and me about what career path to follow. My brother has been in the swimming pool business for over 50 years and I’m still peddling a horse and saddle, now and again.
John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at email@example.com.
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