Taking a Look Back column by John McVey Middagh
See also: At the Museum
Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns
Downtown Ghost Tour — Ghosts915 hosts the two-hour walking tour of the historic and haunted streets of Downtown El Paso at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 14, starting at the Wigwam Museum, 110 E. San Antonio. Meet at 7:30 p.m. Cost: $15 per person; available at squareup.com. Information: 274-9531 or on Facebook at DowntownGhostTour915.
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 14, 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 — The society’s annual Potluck Picnic is 1 p.m. Saturday, July 21, in the EPAS lab at El Paso Museum of Archaeology, 4301 Transmountain for members, friends and prospective members. Bring a main dish, salad, side dish, hors d’oeuvres or dessert to the picnic. The Society will provide the plates, napkins, utensils, cups and iced tea. Admission is free; the public is invited. Seating is limited. Information: 449-9075 or epas.com or on Facebook at El Paso Archaeological Society (EPAS).
Entrance to the lab has the EPAS logo on the door, and is to the right of the front glass door of the museum.
The society is also issuing a call for speakers for its monthly lecture series the third Saturday of the month. Speakers who are interested in presenting topics on the subjects of Southwestern archaeology, cultural and/or physical anthropology or related subjects may contact Fernando Arias at 449-9075 or email@example.com.
Hotel Paso Del Norte submissions — The Hotel Paso Del Norte wants people from the El Paso area, former guests and visitors to be part of the hotel’s future and celebrating its past by submitting photos of historic events, receptions, parties and other happenings from the hotel’s 106-year history. Selected photos will be a part of the renovated décor. People whose photos are selected and used for display in the hotel will win a one-night stay at the Hotel Paso Del Norte after it opens later this year. Submissions may be made by visiting bit.ly/hotelpdn.
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. 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; or Gale Sanchez at 831-4458, email@example.com.
The community is also invited to share their favorite experiences, funny stories, memories of campuses and colleagues. Information: epcc.edu/contact/Pages/ShareYourEPCCStory.aspx.
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 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.
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 nmmonuments.org.
Kids summer programs sponsored by the Museum of New Mexico Foundation are 9 a.m. to noon on selected Fridays through July 27. Cost per program: $5 (cash or check only). Space is limited; registration required one week prior to program. Snacks provided.
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.
Outlaws started out as lawmen in Old West
Bad men of the Old West seem to find each other, palling around and getting into trouble together. I’ve written about Augustine Chacon, but here’s more on two of his accomplices, Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles.
Alvord and Stiles were both raised in Arizona Territory in the 1880s. Alvord grew up in Tombstone. Tombstone was the toughest town anywhere in the West at the time. Alvord grew up with little if any formal schooling. His education came from the streets and saloons. Burt was not known to be very smart, but he did learn one thing: To survive a man had to be fast and accurate with a pistol.
Stiles, who was brought up on a ranch in central Arizona, was thin and small in stature, but a willing fighter. He became known as trouble and someone not to mess with. He was fearless and also very good with a gun.
Alvord was already known for his gun handling when John Slaughter hired him as a deputy sheriff in Tombstone in 1886, five years after the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Alvord was a tireless rider and helped corral some horse thieves, killing a few in the process. But his drinking caused problems between him and the sheriff, so Alvord moved on as a town constable in one town then deputy marshal in another. He was known for being tough, but also for hanging out with criminals and being a regular at the saloons.
His reputation was still good enough to get at job as constable in Willcox, Ariz., a railroad town where ranchers sent their cattle to be shipped. After the cattle were loaded the cowboys where known to raise some hell at the saloons and bawdy houses. Newly hired as constable, Alvord headed for the saloons where the Texas cowboys hung out. Alvord walked in banging a few heads together and dared anyone to pull a gun on him. Things started quieting down.
Rumors started floating around that the cowboys were planning to bushwhack him. Alvord asked the town to hire him some help and Stiles was hired as deputy. In reality he was Alvord’s bodyguard. The trouble didn’t stop, especially when Alvord killed a cowboy in a disagreement over the ownership of a horse. More ugly rumors started to circulate and more bodyguards were hired. They included Matt Burts, a local tough, and Bob Downing, who claimed to have ridden with Sam Bass and bragged on how he had robbed banks, stages and trains.
Alvord and his bunch had taken over Willcox to the point they could do most anything they wanted. They all were having fun but their money wasn’t holding out too well. Alvord started paying more attention to Downing’s tales of his exploits with Sam Bass. Alvord had his own sources of valuable information, and both he and Stiles had worked for Wells Fargo in the past, and knew their mode of operation and weaknesses.
On Sept. 11, 1899 the westbound train was passing through Willcox. Alvord knew that a cargo of freshly minted gold coins from Denver was on board. To set up his alibi he and his “deputies” set up a card game in the back room of a saloon. When they heard the train stop to let off passengers, Alvord and Downing slipped out the window and rode to the water stop 10 miles further on. They pulled their pistols on the engineer, ran back to the baggage car, blew the door off the safe, gathered up the gold and disappeared quickly on their horses.
The engineer put the train in reverse and returned to Willcox and reported the hold-up to the sheriff. He deputized everyone in sight and rushed to the scene. Of course most of the posse did not know they were chasing ghosts.
Alvord divided up the gold, making all his henchmen promise not to spend any of it until the heat went away. But one night Downing got drunk and flashed a newly minted gold piece. The Arizona Rangers and Wells Fargo detectives jumped on the case.
All were arrested except Alvord and Stiles, who fled and for the next three years rustled cattle and stole horses along the Arizona/Mexico border. Alvord became associated with Augustine Chacon, the most feared and hated outlaw of the day. But in 1903 Alvord was in failing health and made a deal with Capt. Mossman of the Arizona Rangers to help capture Chacon. Alvord talked Chacon into crossing the border to steal horses from the Green ranch, so Mossman, who was pretending to be an outlaw, could arrest Chacon.
Chacon was taken to jail where he was hanged. Alvord, who was promised leniency at his trial, was put in the Tombstone jail for his part in the Willcox train robbery. Feeling let down and double-crossed after helping arrange the capture of Chacon, Alvord had Stiles help him break out of jail. Alvord was recaptured but Stiles made it to Mexico.
Alvord was sent to Yuma prison for seven years but released early for health reasons and returned to Willcox. One rumor is that he dug up the loot and lived comfortably in Central America for several years until his death.
Stiles got tired of Mexico and returned to live in Nevada, becoming a deputy sheriff. He was shot to death by the younger brother of a rustler that Stiles had killed.
Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles were two lawmen that turned outlaw. The West has tamed down but the memory of those days and the men that made it what they was, lingers on.
John McVey Middagh is a former
saddle shop owner. You can reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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