May 2018

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



San Elizario Genealogy and Historical Society Conference and Dinner — The 27th annual event, “April 1598, Birth of the American Southwest,” is Friday through Sunday, April 27-29, at the Adobe Horseshoe Theatre, 1500 Main, in the San Elizario District. Conference dinner is 7 p.m. Friday, and luncheon is 1 p.m. Saturday. Information: 851-0093 or
  Many of this year’s talks focus on the Camino Real.
  In conjunction with the conference is the inaugural Rio Grande Festival of art, culture, history and heritage, with reenactment of Oñate’s historical arrival, a three-day history conference, guided tours, old west shootouts, heritage booths, arts and crafts, live entertainment, food and more.
  “La Feria Noche Española Mestiza,” a night of flamenco, folklorico and folk faire at 7 p.m. Friday, April 27, at the Adobe Horseshoe Dinner Theatre. Call for ticket information.

El Paso Genealogy Society — The society meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 10, at St. Paul’s Methodist Church, 7000 Edgemere. Program is “Understanding your DNA Report", presented by Barbara McCarthy. Visitors welcome. Information: 591-2326.

Daughters of the Republic of Texas — The Rio Grande Chapter meets at 11 a.m. Friday, May 11, at The Greenery, Sunland Park Mall. Program is “Wolves” presented by Nancy Bain. Anyone interested in Texas history encouraged to attend. RSVP: 760-5775.

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 (Monday and closed Tuesday). 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
  The Museum of NM Foundation and the NM Humanities Council presents “Amazing Women of the Wild West” in celebration of Mother’s Day 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 12, in the shaded outdoor pavilion with a presentation by VanAnn Moore on the famous and infamous women who lived on the New Mexico frontier at 2:30 p.m. Tea and cookies served, plus a gift or mothers attending. Moore is a singer-actress who has traveled extensively performing historic characters in her one-person shows. Old fashioned clothing encouraged; seating is limited. Admission: $3 (cash or check); free for age 16 and younger. Information: (575)202-1638.

Harvey Girls of El Paso — The Harvey Girls of El Paso Texas meet 2 to 4 p.m. Monday, May 14, at Union Depot Passenger Station, 700 San Francisco. Program is “Harvey Girls support of World War II Troops.“ Visitors welcome. Admission is free. Information: 591-2326 or

El Paso Corral of the Westerners — The monthly dinner program is 6 p.m. Friday, May 18, at Holiday Inn El Paso-West (formerly Country Inn & Suites) 900 Sunland Park Drive at I-10. Program is “Indian Detour Guides of New Mexico" presented by Jo Tice Bloom. Cost: $20. Visitors welcome, but RSVP needed by May 14: 759-9538.

El Paso Archaeological Society — The society’s monthly meeting is 2 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at El Paso Museum of Archaeology, 4301 Transmountain. Jornada Research Institute President David Greenwald speaks on “The Rio Tularosa Project: Current Research and Latest Discoveries,” concerning Creekside Village in Tularosa, N.M. Admission is free; the public is invited. Seating is limited. Information: 449-9075 or
  Ongoing investigations at Creekside Village by Greenwald and volunteers continue to explore irrigation systems, terraced fields, and distribution of houses and residential areas.

EPCC Archive Collection donations — El Paso Community College will celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 2019, and is documenting the history of the college by establishing the EPCC Archive Collection. Anyone with memorabilia to donate to the collection such as posters, awards, photographs, brochures, programs, college publications, architectural records, documents on the beginning of the college or more are invited to share. Information: Antonio Rodarte at 831-4052; or Gale Sanchez at 831-4458,
  The community is also invited to share their favorite experiences, funny stories, memories of campuses and colleagues. Information:

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 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

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 Bayard tours — Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society host walking tours of the historic fort beginning at 9:30 a.m. selected Saturdays at 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). Museum is open 9:15 to 1 p.m. every Saturday. 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.

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

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. 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

Religion got out of hand for fired-up tenant


My father was head of the Journalism Department at Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso, and his students had a hard time figuring out what handle to call him by. Students and faculty had become close because of the busy working environment, but not close enough to call him John Judy, like some faculty did. One day my dad was feeling spry and got all duded up in a three-peice suit with hat and cane, and walked into class ready to spread his vast knowledge on the workings of a newspaper. Upon entering the room, the noise stopped dead. All turned their attention to his arrival, especially to that day’s chosen wardrobe.
They should had been primed for this because Dad had a habit of dressing any way he felt like, even wearing Bermuda shorts to class, complete with knee-high socks. The silence persisted until someone hollered out, “Oh, it’s the Reverend Doctor.” That stuck, and from that time on, when appropriate, the new handle was applied.
When my dad passed way I became the eldest John Middagh in the family and adopted the handle, adding the Mr. to it.
The story continues. I found out that the handle had it usefulness, getting me through hard-nosed secretaries and receptionists, and I found it fun just introducing myself to people as “The Reverend Doctor Mr. Middagh.” It always got a reaction, which acted as an icebreaker.
Around this time a young horseshoer had moved into the area and it didn’t take him long to hear of my store, the Cowboy Trading Post, where many of the local farriers got their supplies. When he first stopped by, walking into the store, he heard me answer the phone with “This is ‘The Reverend Doctor Mr. Middagh.”
The young farrier didn’t seem to pay much attention to all that, but the next time he presented with a 2x6 sign he had routed out and burned in the words: The Reverend Doctor Mr. Middagh. I still have that sign today, after 25-plus years.
This young man, after a week or so, got around to saying that he need a place to live and asked if I had a place he could rent. It so happened that I had a cabin at my Upper Valley Boarding Stables.
He seemed to be a nice young guy and I needed a watchman, so I took him over, and he took the cabin on the spot. Things were going along well; he came and went much as I did. He made friends easily, and was building a small clientele.
A young woman and her mother boarded their horses with me and he had started shoeing their horses. Eventually they started going out to eat together. Then he went to church with them. He began carrying a bible everywhere he went. A glazed look came over his face, too.
It was none of my business. He was keeping up his end of our deal, so I just stood by and watched. One night about 10:30 I got a call at the house from a neighbor next to the stables that the horse barn was on fire. I jumped into the car and raced over, and the fire department was already there. But thank God it wasn’t the horse barn, but the bunkhouse.
The first thought I had upon arriving was, “Is he still inside?” My wife and I then noticed the young man standing off to one side. He had his Bible clutched in this right hand, with a finger stuck inside marking a passage.
“What happened?” I asked him, adding, “Thank God you’re not in there.”
At the same time, I saw something very strange: The tail end of his little yellow truck was protruding out from the side of the burning house. He still had that glazed look, so I ask him again what happened. I found out that he had put all his belongings in his truck, drove the truck headlong into the side of the building, then poured gasoline all over it and lit a match.
“I’m purging myself of all sins with fire,” he explained. His girlfriend’s mother reportedly had told him, “Fire was the only way, it was in the Bible.”
I said, “Wait a minute, not by burning my bunkhouse.”
I called the sheriff and had him arrested, as much for his own protection as for destroying property that I was responsible for, and because of the crazy look he had on his face.
The next day, his church lady friend and her daughter came to try and defend his actions, wanting me to sign off on the property damage to get him out of jail. But they weren’t going to write any checks.
The young man finally called his father in Minnesota, who came down, paid to get his son out of jail and took him back home. The last I heard he was committed to a hospital. Maybe he was crazy before he got here. He had me fooled.

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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