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 8, 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.
El Paso Archaeological Society Potluck — The society’s annual potluck picnic is at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 15, at El Paso Museum of Archaeology, 4301 Transmountain for EPAS members, close friends and relatives as well as those who are considering becoming members. Bring a main dish, salad, side dish, hors d’oeuvres or dessert to the picnic.
Information: 449-9075 or epas.com.
‘Chamizal Asks: What Do You Think?’ — A discussion on “Buffalo Soldiers” African American regiments formed in the 1860’s is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 19, at Chamizal National Memorial, 800 S. San Marcial. Admission is free. Information: 532-7273.
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.
Southwest Chapter of Railway & Locomotive Historical Society — The society meets 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 12, at St. Timothy's Lutheran Church, 11050 Montwood. This month’s program is "History of El Paso Trolley.” Visitors welcome. Cost: $10 for program and dinner. Information: 540-9660.
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.
The Old Fort Bliss Wagon Trails’ Market runs 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays through Aug. 25, with shopping and eating opportunities.
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.
Fort Bayard’s 151st birthday celebration is Aug. 15-16.
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 July 13 topic to be determined. Admission is free. Information: (575) 541-2154 or las-cruces.org/museums.
The Aug. 10 lecture is “Rocks, Mud, Wood, and Blood: Folk Architecture in Spanish New Mexico” by Dr. Kelly Jenks.
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.
German immigrant left mark in El Paso
Ernst Kohlberg is a name that deserves to be remembered in the telling of the history of El Paso. And he has a special place in my family’s existence.
Kohlberg was born May 24, 1857 in Germany, and had eight brothers and sisters. His father was in the lumber business. Kohlberg was educated at the prestigious schools of Hoexter and Hildesherin then came to America in 1875. Kohlberg, 18 years old, headed for El Paso with Solomon Schutz, who had business interests in the area, agreed to work for six months without a salary in order to help defray the cost of his passage to Texas.
Schutz and Kohlberg left Germany Aug. 15, and arrived in New York Sept. 1. They traveled by rail to Las Animas, Colorado, with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. From Colorado they traveled by stagecoach to El Paso, arriving Oct. 9.
The town (then called Franklin) was known mainly as Rio Grande crossing point and as home of Fort Bliss, plus a few scattered ranches. Kohlberg wrote home with less than a glowing impression, saying “it seems nearly the end of the world.”
Schutz employed Kohlberg at his general store and after eight months started paying him an annual salary of $250. Later Kohlberg was transferred across the border to Juárez (El Paso del Norte) running a branch store there until 1877. That’s when Kohlberg branched out on his own, investing in the Jesus Maria mine further south in Mexico. He spent two years there putting all of his time and savings into the project, finally having to quit for lack of funds. Later the property did prove to be rich in gold and silver, one of the most profitable in the area.
Kohlberg returned to El Paso, then left again, this time for San Francisco. He was one of the first passengers on the new Southern Pacific Railroad line. He worked in the grocery business and the wholesale tobacco business in San Francisco until the late 1800s, then decided to start his own wholesale/retail cigar business in El Paso.
This is where my family history comes into the picture. My mother’s uncle, Manual Realy Vasquez, worked for Kohlberg at his cigar factory located where the Paso del Norte Hotel stands today. That job enabled Manual to bring the rest of the family over to El Paso from Juárez. Manuel died a young man I was told, but was considered well-to-do and is today buried at Concordia Cemetery with his mother, dad, brother and a sister.
Kohlberg’s International Cigar Factory was the first manufacturing business of its kind in El Paso and the Southwest. Their most expensive cigar was called “La Internacional.”
Kohlberg enjoyed a career of remarkable success. He was one of five citizens that started the Electric Light Company of El Paso; a director of the City National Bank and the Rio Grande Valley Bank; and a director of the Terminal Association, which developed the Union Depot in 1901. Although he was Republican in a Democratic town, he was elected alderman (city councilman), which reflected his good standing with the community.
While visiting his parents in Germany in 1884, Kohlberg married Olga Bernstein. Her father was a prosperous businessman in manufacturing. Upon their return to El Paso, Olga Kohlberg became very active in the community, helping to start the El Paso Woman’s Club, and the El Paso Library, and also helped launch the first kindergarten in Texas. The Kohlbergs also organized the Mount Sinai Jewish Congregation in 1898.
Olga Kohlberg also was a founder of the Cloudcroft Baby Sanatorium in New Mexico. Back in those days, the 100-plus degrees days of an El Paso summer without access to air conditioning could cause serious, even fatal dehydration and illness in babies. Cloudcroft, just about 90 miles north and considerably cooler due to its 9,000-feet elevation, was an ideal site to take care of sick infants.
Along with all his other interests, Ernst Kohlberg owned the St. Regis Hotel, the site of the 1909 meeting between U.S. President William Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz. He also owned the Southern Hotel at 423 S. El Paso Street, and had leased it to a John Leech.
Leech was a compulsive gambler and had gotten behind in the payments. In June 1910, Kohlberg turned the matter over to an attorney. Leech confronted Kohlberg in a rage, demanding that he withdraw the suit. When Kohlberg refused, Leech pulled out a gun and shot him, killing him instantly. Leech was sentenced to life at Huntsville State Penitentiary, but was pardoned in 1934 by Gov. M.A. Ferguson.
Kohlberg was laid to rest in the family plot in the Mt. Sinai section of Concordia Cemetery. He had a great number of friends who mourned the loss of such a dedicated family man, business owner and public-spirited citizen.
John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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