We continue our Winter 2016 Tour with a stop in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Fans of old western towns, we selected Old Mesilla, New Mexico, for a bit of sightseeing.
Mesilla, New Mexico
Mesilla was established in 1848 by the Mexican government after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded to the United States the northern portions of what is now New Mexico. The town became a haven for Mexican citizens who did not want to be part of the United States.
Just five years later the US purchased the southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona under the Gadsden Purchase Agreement. On November 18, 1854, the US held an official flag-raising ceremony claiming Mesilla and the surrounding area as part of the United States.
Basilica of San Albino stands watch over the Mesilla Plaza. Established in 1851 as an adobe church by the Mexican government, the current building was dedicated on April 12, 1908, atop the adobe’s foundation. The church bells date back to the early 1870s. In 2008, San Albino was granted minor basilica status.
At the crossroads of Butterfield Stagecoach and Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, Mesilla became the center of the area until 1881 when the Santa Fe Railway chose Las Cruces as the train route.
To demonstrate how valuable the routes and train stops were to the early western towns, compare the population between Mesilla and Las Cruces today. Las Cruces has an estimated population of 100,000 while the city of Mesilla is around 2,200. The Mesilla townsfolk may like their city just the way it is since tourists come from all over to enjoy the festivals and soak up the history.
From 1861 to 1862, Mesilla served as the capital of the Confederated Territory of Arizona until 1865 when the Volunteers of the California Column recaptured the town, and it became the headquarters for the military district of Arizona.
The town’s cantinas and festivals during the Wild West era attracted lawmen and lawless alike including Pat Garrett, who killed William H. Bonney, also known as Billy the Kid, and Francisco “Pancho” Villa, the Mexican general who commanded the northern division of the Constitutionalist Army.
The Mesilla Plaza was named as a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and the original bandstand was built in the 1970s.
Structural issues required the demolition of the bandstand in October 2013, and it was ready for use at the Cinco de Mayo celebration in May 2014. The plaque honors the Butterfield Overland Trail—a precursor to the Pony Express—and the stage line that connected St. Louis to San Francisco from 1858 to 1861.
When in New Mexico, one must sample New Mexican cuisine. What better place for hungry travelers to stumble into but Peppers Café & Bar for entrees and margaritas.
This historic building that houses Peppers has a reputation for being haunted. We arrived in between dinner and lunch, so they allowed us to wander around the place and peek into the various private rooms on the chance a ghost or two may appear. They must come out only at night.
Does this room remind anyone of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland or Magic Kingdom? I could almost see the gossamer ghosts floating around the room, the statue head speaking spooky words, and the men in the paintings watching our every move.
Mesilla Book Center has been in business since 1966. Besides books about New Mexico and the Southwest, they sell jewelry, gifts, souvenirs, and Native American kachinas.
The Thunderbird de la Mesilla building is the oldest brick structure in New Mexico. Some might say the building harbored bad luck in its early years. Augustin Maurin started construction in 1860, using burned bricks from his own kiln. Augustin met an untimely death when robbers murdered him in 1866. Cesar Maurin, Augustin’s heir, arrived from France to claim the property and died two years later of natural causes. Pedro Duhalde, a former Mesilla saloon keeper, took over the building, and robbers murdered him too.
Tiburcio Frietze is listed as the current owner on the building’s plaque. Sadly, he passed away on January 1, 2020. The building was used as a general store, residence, saloon, and town hall. Today it is a gift shop selling jewelry, carvings, textiles, pottery, religious symbols, and various sundry items.
The next day we continued on Interstate 10 through El Paso and transitioned onto US Route 90. Our son-in-law told us about the Prada store out in the middle of nowhere, so we stayed alert as we neared Valentine.
There it was on the right side of the road filled with shoes and purses from the 2005 fall collection, the same year the structure was established. Keep your credit card in your pocket because shopping is not possible.
The building is a permanent land-art project commissioned by nonprofit organizations Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa. There are no clerks in the store, and the door never opens.
We had picked out the Lost Alaskan in Alpine, Texas, to stay for the night until we saw the banner advertising the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. With no luck getting a spot in Alpine, we drove on to MacMillen RV Park in Fort Davis, Texas. It didn’t look like much when we drove in, but it was only for one night, and they had a high rating for the best bathrooms ever.
Hooray, we finally made it to Texas and only 380 miles before we arrive at Big Bend National Park.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
While we were in the neighborhood, we had to check out Fort Davis National Historic Site, an Indian Wars’ and frontier military post from 1854 to 1891.
The fort protected emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail.
Between the summers of 1866 and 1867, 885 enlisted African-American men of the Ninth Cavalry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt, arrived at the abandoned Fort Davis post.
The Ninth was responsible for constructing the new post and protecting travelers and the mail on the San Antonio-El Paso Road from Comanche and Apache Indians. In September 1975, the Ninth transferred to New Mexico, and various other cavalry and infantry companies occupied the fort over the years.
I love it when we’re poking around and something pops up that we learned at another location. This time it was camels.
Ten days earlier while we were in Quartzsite, we came across a monument to Hi Jolly, an Army camel driver from Syrian and Greek parentage who was hired to test out camels in the southwest desert. Apparently, the camels traveled through Fort Davis on their way to Arizona in 1857. Hi Jolly most likely had arrived at the fort with his brigade of drivers and camels.
That wraps up the fourth installment of our Winter 2016 Adventure. We finally arrive in Terlingua, Texas, and Big Bend National Park in the next post. Thanks for sticking with us these past weeks.