Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh
See also: At the Museum
Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns
Fort Stanton Live! — The fort’s annual celebration of living history, hosted by Fort Stanton, Inc./Fort Stanton Foundation, is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at Fort Stanton, 20 miles northeast of Ruidoso on Hwy 220. The event offers costumed re-enactors from the Civil War and Indian Wars era to the Fort for demonstrations, presentations, live entertainment, along with artisans and food vendors. No pets or alcohol allowed. Military ball planned Saturday evening, and church service Sunday morning. Admission: $5 (free for age 15 and younger). Information: (575) 354-0341, fortstanton.org or on Facebook.
Fort Stanton 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 site served various purposes through 1995.
50 Years of NASA — Victor Murray, System Safety Engineer at Johnson Space Center, will host a presentation 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, July 19, at Doña Ana Community College 2800 Sonoma Ranch in Las Cruces. Murray will chronicle his experiences from his days as a young technician during the Apollo, Skylab, and Space shuttle programs, his involvement as a key safety engineer during the deployment of the International Space Station and his current role in helping pave the way to Mars with the Orion Capsule. Doors open at 6 p.m. Admission is free and the public is invited. Information: Facebook at Las Cruces Museum.
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.
Fort Bayard served as an army post from 1866 to 1899 and army tuberculosis hospital from 1899 to 1920.
Paso Del Norte Paranormal Society — Located at the Wigwam Museum, 108 E San Antonio. Tours are 9 to 11 p.m.; meet at starting point at 8:30 p.m. Cost: $15. Information: 274-9531 or on Facebook. Tickets at squareup.com.
• San Elizario Spirits of the Camino Real Ghost Tour is Friday, July 5, on 1501 Main in San Elizario.
• Concordia Cemetery Ghost Tour is Saturday, July 6, at the historic cemetery at 3700 E. Yandell.
• Haunted History Downtown Ghost Tour is Saturday, July 13, starting at the Wigwam Museum.
• Chinatown Ghost Tour is Saturday, July 20, starting at the Wigwam Museum.
• Beauties & Beasts Haunted Brother Tour is Saturday, July 27. Adults only.
Doña Ana County Genealogical Society — The society meets 2 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 10, Las Cruces Railroad Museum, 351 N. Mesilla. Jim McKinney will explore the newest version of FindAGrave.com, a website where users can post memorials of deceased relatives and friends. Information: (575) 527-1833 or dacgs.org.
History Notes Lecture Series — The monthly program is 1 p.m. Thursday, July 11, at the Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main, Las Cruces. Jorge Hernandez will talk on “Chicanos in Liminal Time and Space: An Exploration of Historical Narratives.” Admission is free. Information: (575) 541-2154 or las-cruces.org.
Lost El Paso Paranormal Tours — Walks are 9 to 1 p.m. Information: 503-8960, email@example.com, lostelpaso.com or on Facebook. Tickets: $15 at squareup.com.
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 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.
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 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). 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 nmmonuments.org.
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.
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.
Despite initial looks, teen turned into great helper
Last month I mentioned Tommy, one of my helpers at my Cowboy Trading Post. I first met him when he and his mother caught me as they rounded the corner of the store heading toward the back corrals. The kid was wearing “camo” pants with his long hair pulled back and covered with a black bandana. His britches were bloused into his black scruffy army boots. He was swinging a set of nunchucks, a weapon associated with some martial arts.
His mother, who looked haggard and unkempt, introduced herself and her son, then plunged right into telling me she’d heard about a horse program I ran and wanted to sign him up. She also wanted to know if there was any time during the week, because Tommy was home-schooled and needed to get out of the house.
Already I was a bit leery based on their appearance and the fact that they’d hunted me up in the middle of a weekday morning. I told her I didn’t think I could help them. She kept on. So I told her about the program I called “Trail Busters,” which met three hours every Saturday morning. The youngster was to be left at 9 a.m. with $20 and the understanding that he or she was to learn all that was required to help with the horses. That meant sometimes they would help clean pens and take care of the horses, which could mean everything from helping with a birth or burial.
I told Tommy’s mother all this as I did all parents straight-out because I wanted to avoid any later repercussions. Knowing their child would take home those things and possibly bring them up at the dinner table, I didn’t want any of it falling back on me.
She stood and listened to all that, while her son stood off the side swinging those nunchucks from hand to hand, shoulder to shoulder. She persisted, begging me to allow him to come and come early.
I said no, hoping my refusal would stop her from even thinking of Saturdays. I didn’t need a young punk juvenile like young Tommy hanging around. They left, me not knowing what to expect next.
Saturday rolled around and sure enough who shows up but Tommy wearing his Commando Joe outfit, minus the nunchucks. My regular early birds were already getting up their favorite horses.
I took Tommy’s $20, asking him to hang tight while I finished visiting with some customers.
He wandered off and I found him outside, standing to one side watching the goings on. Not mixing or talking, just standing. I thought it was a little funny no one had brought him into the group.
I called Sarah, an older girl who had been with me for years, and asked her to help Tommy saddle up QT. The mare was one of my first-timer horses, just about as safe a horse as one could have. Sarah was a jewel. She took him right under her wing getting him to help get QT up, brushed and saddled.
We rode the horses for nearly an hour and a half. Sarah stuck close to Tommy that first ride and they became friends.
Tommy kept coming on Saturdays, then one day he just showed up on Tuesday and that became a habit until he started showing up on Mondays. By that time he had quit wearing camo gear. He started showing up in regular jeans and even cowboy boots.
In the months he’d been showing up it became clear he could not read or write or make change for a $20 bill.
It was my custom to sit down at my desk each afternoon, when I could, and put my feet up for a few minutes and read. Tommy would come in and sit at the little oak school desk I had. That bothered me so one day I handed him an old Western Horseman magazine. He’d thumb through it looking at pictures, and one day asked me what the caption under a picture said.
Tommy stuck around for years and in that time he learned to read, became a good horseman, a good wrangler on my rides, a trusted helper, even making change for customers out of the cashbox.
I never paid him a salary, but I did set him up with saddle and tack of his own. Then came September 1990, the last day of operations at the Cowboy Trading Post. As a thank-you for all the help Tommy had given me I gave him the 1952 Ford truck I kept as an extra vehicle at the place.
It’s been some 20 years now and I haven’t seen Tommy but once. I ran into him at a fast food restaurant. The very last I heard he was living up in the forest of some Eastern state. I still favor the memories.
John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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