In 1880 President Hayes rode a mule train through southern New Mexico when it was a boiling mess of social broth, dangerous, dramatic, and bodacious. He left barely a trace, and almost nobody remembers it.
At the north were newspapers, government, and civilization, including a best-selling novel. But the south sizzled with calamity.
In 1880 the Southern Pacific Railroad darted across the Continental Divide, spawning work camps for the Chinese laborers. Lordsburg, Deming, and others became towns, but in 1880 they were just staging areas.
The Tchihendeh (aka Chihenne) Apache chief, Bidu-ya (aka Victorio) was leading deadly attacks through southern New Mexico. The Clanton gang, rustlers of OK Corral fame, operated in the Lordsburg area, and threatened to kidnap the president...maybe. Billy the Kid's gang swaggered with impunity around Lincoln County, where Pat Garret had just been elected sheriff. Lesser known, but lethal, social predators infected the tiny mining towns.
Gold and silver were being hauled out of numerous spots. Feral Texas cattle (aka Longhorns) grazed through gramma and scrub. Dormant forts sprang back to life, inspired by Victorio and garrisoned by former slaves. Barrels of alcohol medicated wranglers, miners and hazarders against sunburns and shootouts.
Brazen counterfeiting perplexed the federal govenment.
All of that ferment is well known, but another seldom-remarked adventure arose in 1880 New Mexico. The President of the United States, and first lady, with a dozen-plus companions, journeyed through southern New Mexico in mule-drawn wagons, on parched, primitive routes, amidst outlaws, Indians, and rattlesnakes. There's nothing else like it in presidential lore.
President Rutherford B. Hayes became the first president to visit New Mexico. Several others followed, but only two of them, William Henry Harrison in 1891, and William McKinley in 1901, followed Hayes' lead across southern New Mexico and the infamous Jornada Del Muerto. Most other presidential visits have been to northern New Mexico, although John Kennedy flew to White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base in 1963. Only Hayes got to Lordsburg when it became Lordsburg, and only Hayes risked his scalp doing it.
President Hayes was returning home from his Great Western Tour. He was the first president to ride the new transcontinental railroad all the way to California, and became the first into the Land of Enchantment when he went home by the southern route, passing through Tucson, Lordsburg, and Santa Fe on his way back to Ohio.
Hayes, you'll recall, had pledged to be a one-term chief executive when he accepted his party's nomination in 1876. Instead of hanging around Washington while Garfield campaigned to replace him, he hopped onto the shiny new Golden-Spike rails for San Francisco.
Kenneth E. Davison described the trip for the Ohio History Journal, and you can see his summary, along with other informaiton about the travelers, linked from the picture of participants, above.
The trip, planned for 1879, was postponed a year because Hayes had to call Congress back into session to complete its appropriation of funding for the military and other agencies.
Hayes and party finally went west in September, 1880, and, although the Great Western Tour is not greatly noted in popular history, the record has soaked up a respectable spillage of ink about the outbound trip and west-coast excursions to Washington and Oregon. The homeward trip went by the southern route through Arizona and New Mexico, and this extraordinary travel gets only a few vague paragraphs in most accounts.
Recall at the time there were only three states on the west coast, California, Oregon and Nevada. Newspapers and historical accounts note the fanfare and crowd turnout at these places, as well as the general lawlessness of the new states. General Sherman is reported to have ridden "shotgun" on the president's stagecoach going through Oregon to discourage an attack by the notorious Black Bart.
Not much firsthand information comes to us from the people who were actually on Hayes' tour. On the westbound trip there is a diary kept by Lieutenant Charles Rutherford Noyes, the president's nephew, who joined the party in Cheyenne, Wyoming, then part of the Washington territory, and rode with them to Salt Lake. Some information about Noyes, and an excerpt of his diary from the Ohio History Journal, is linked from his picture, nearby.
If history has largely ignored President Hayes' Great Western Tour, and its intended unifying effects on the country, his trip home is the truly missing page in that period of post-war America. Most references to the trip wind up with a brief comment about the party taking a train to Los Angeles before riding home on the Southern Pacific Railroad through Arizona, New Mexico, and thence on to Ohio. That's a lot of real estate to cover in a single sentence, and a lot of adventure left to the imagination. Most accounts give the impression of a long train ride home. Not so.
The Southern Pacific Railroad made it across Arizona and New Mexico in 1880, but by October, when the president visited, the rails stopped east of Tucson, and south of Socorro, New Mexico. While much is made of the Hayes party dodging Black Bart in Oregon, let's recall that in late 1880 Southern New Mexico was a sugarless piñata of mayhem and murder.
Chief Victorio left the San Carlos reservation, a bit north of Tucson, in 1879 and terrorized the great southwest for months, scattering death and trauma along the Jornado del Norte. The army had responded by sending in the Buffalo Soldiers and reoccupying forts abandoned in the previous decade. No inch of southern New Mexico, or northern Mexico, was safe from Victorio's depredations in 1880. He was killed by the Mexican Federales just before Hayes got to New Mexico, but the news wasn't confirmed at once, and Victorio's right hand, Nana, had escaped and could have been anywhere. Some sources imagine Geronimo also menaced New Mexico's byways in 1880, but he remained at San Carlos, breaking out for the second time in September, 1881.
But there was more. Two major outlaw gangs operated south of Albuquerque in those days. A rancher named Clanton was stealing people's cattle around the Mexican border. He led a large, fluctuant, and biblically ornery band of thieves known as the "Cowboys." Two years later they barged onto history's stage at Tombstone's OK corral, but in 1880 they were a threat to anyone passing through, an existential threat in modern pop-lingo. Also, in 1880, William Bonney, aka The Kid, was in full-criminal flower. President Hayes had sent Lew Wallace to Santa Fe specifically to end the violence of the Lincoln County War, and Bonney was its unfinished business, prying up hell in all quarters with his hotchpot of sociopaths.
These egregious examples of incivility were augmented in southern New Mexico by the proliferation of silver, gold and copper mining scattered through the mountains, and the sort of people attracted to caches of wealth, particularly in places of do-it-yourself civilization. It isn't true that every social predator in the Far West gravitated to southern New Mexico. But plenty did, and they were all slouching nearby the various honey pots when President Hayes disembarked in what had just become Lordsburg, New Mexico.
Now we meet the other person who kept a diary during the Hayes western tour. Secretary of War, Alexander Ramsey, jotted down some thoughts about the Great Western Tour. He is the only one to tell posterity about the three days between the rail head at Lordsburg, where they disembarked on October 25, 1880 and the one south of San Marcial, New Mexico, where they boarded their train for Santa Fe on October 27, 1880.
Ramsey's papers have not been published, but are available to researchers. Our peek into his account comes from an article by C. A. Gustafson in the Desert Winds Magazine, February 1993.
"After a tour of the city (Tucson) and a few receptions, the visitors returned to the depot at 5:30 p.m to resume their journey.
"The next leg of the trip brought them into the outlaw empire of Old Man Clanton and his cowboy gang, cowboy being a polite name for rustler. An idol saloon comment hinted at stopping the train and making old Hayes, 'Give us a speech when he comes along.' This prompted General Willcox to muster 25 volunteers and order a heavy military guard to ensure the president's safety.[NB: In fact Wilcox had ordered heavy guard for the presidential tour, but not in response to Clanton's supposed threat. The trip had been planned for over a year, and the military took extraordinary precautions for the president's safety, all along his New Mexico route. Remember, the General of the Army himself was one of the travelers, and there were threats aplenty, other than a drunken old rustler.]
"On Oct. 25 at 6 a.m., the train reached the end of the southern Pacific track at Lordsburg, about 25 miles into the Territory of New Mexico. Trains had begun serving the railroad stop only a week before. Lordsburg was little more than a railroad camp, but 1,200 Chinese workers were there, whose purpose was to prepare the road bed in advance of the track layers. Shakespeare was the established town in the area, located about two and a half miles southwest."
Let's pause Mr. Gustafson's narrative a moment to observe other versions of Hayes' first stop in New Mexico on October 25, 1880.
The exact location of the end of the southern tracks on that date is uncertain. Some contemporary newspapers had the president leaving the railroad in Shakespeare, New Mexico. We know that isn't true because the tracks ran north of Shakespeare where the road-crew staging area became the town of Lordsburg. Most accounts have Hayes' train stopping there, except for one.
The Tucson Citizen of October 26, 1880 reported the president rode 23 miles past Lordsburg to "a point opposite the Soldier's Farewell," the end of the tracks on that day (see clipping nearby). The news article otherwise comports with Ramsey's record of events. Today, the cited location is just beyond the town of Separ, New Mexico (see nearby popup).
One more oddity. A fanciful, to be polite, history of Deming, New Mexico, includes this remarkable sentence. "Over the years, Presidents Hayes, Harrison, McKinley, Roosevelt and Truman all were met with a grand welcome at the Deming train depot, which sits across the street from Pit Park." It's true except for the part about Hayes. There was no train station in Deming at that time, and scarcely even a Deming. Still, it's the only popular-history mention we've found of Hayes even being in New Mexico.
Now, back to Gustafson.
"Thomas J. Culbertson, archivist at the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio informs that, 'President Hayes was a great diarist all of his life with one big exception—the western trip.' Fortunately, Secretary Ramsey filled this void and daily recorded the activities of the party. He gives an invaluable, firsthand account of this historic visit to New Mexico.
"Ramsey wrote (Oct. 25), 'We rose at 5 & breakfasted at 6 & at 7 were off in our six ambulances drawn each by six mules & one baggage wagon – under a small escort of cavalry: it was cold.' They were heading for Fort Cummings.
"They stopped at Cow Springs for lunch and a change of mules. Ramsey added that there were but two adobe houses at the stop.
"The wagon train reached Fort Cummings that evening. Ramsey described it as 'a large collection of adobe buildings very much in ruin.' President and Mrs. Hayes, Sherman and Ramsey visited the sick in the hospital. The secretary added, 'After supper camped here for the night.'
"Fort Cummings was established in 1863 and evacuated 10 years later when the threat of Cochise subsided. With the rise of Victorio, the encampment was reopened in 1880. Many of the structures were in disrepair, necessitating troops to be housed in tents."
From Howard Couchman's "History of Southwestern New Mexico," Bureau of Land Management, we learn of a "caravansary" style hostel at Fort Cummings, operated by a man named Lyons. Couchman speculates that the president and first lady probably stayed at the hotel.
We know from other sources the fort was garrisoned by the black Ninth Cavalry, and that the parade band of the Fifteenth Infantry was also stationed there. The band did not play for the presidential party because three members were in the guardhouse. Other sources also tell us morale was a problem at Fort Cummings, probably because of the isolation and harsh conditions.
Couchman has a bit more to tell us about the presidential party and conditions at the fort at that time. " …General William Tecumseh Sherman visited some of the post facilities. At the hospital he found Michael R. Conlon, a prisoner charged with desertion. When Conlon’s Company D of the Fifteenth Infantry had been transferred to Fort Cummings from Fort Wingate, he was on a spree in a nearby Mexican town and was left behind. Since he was an old-time soldier, working on his fourth enlistment, Sherman listened to his story and asked Dudley to investigate the matter. It was not surprising that Dudley recommended the charges against the man be dropped and then paroled without waiting for an answer."
Ramsey, from Gustafson's account, continued in his diary.
"Oct. 26. We left the fort at 7 a.m. and traveling N & E came to Lake Valley where a Mr. Miller keeps a store. Here we lunched upon ample provision-camped about 6 p.m. at Paulison in the valley of the Rio Grande over against the Jornado del Norte. The tents were all up when we got in and supper was soon prepared for us." The place Ramsey calls "Paulison" is generally accepted to be Las Palomas, an early New Mexican settlement on the Rio Grande, a bit south of Truth or Consequences.[NB: The New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences was called Hot Springs in 1880.]
The above mentioned Lake Valley was a tiny silver mining town, now a ghost town maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. The Mr. Miller mentioned by Ramsey might be the one who'd just bought land and silver rights from a rancher named McEvers. Miller tired of mining and sold to some people who sank a 40-foot shaft into a rich silver vein. More investors came in and established some well known mines. They were harrassed for years by the remnants of Victorio's band, now led by the 80 year old Nana. Between him and the cattle rustlers, the town was kept in uproar for years.
We should note there were at least two Miller families in Lake Valley, in the 1880s. Both owned stores. John A. Miller was the Post Trader at Fort Bayard before he came to Lake Valley, made a silver strike, bought a ranch and established a store in the primary mining camp. This is probably Ramsey's Mr. Miller. By 1884, about the time the railroad came through, Daniel S Miller moved to Lake Valley, and opened a store. His family continued in the retail business for decades. The last of the Millers left for California in the 50s, but their house was the last occupied structure in Lake Valley, becoming vacant in 1994 when Pedro Martinez, the last resident, moved to Deming.
Gustafson continues. "At 3 p.m. the next day (Oct. 27), the wagon train reached the railhead of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, which was snaking its way southward. This point was near San Marcial. A train awaited the president and his party. Aboard was a reception committee, including General Hatch and other dignitaries. [NB: Yes, General Hatch is the namesake of Hatch, New Mexico, and by extension Hatch Chiles. The town appears as Santa Barbara on vintage maps.]
Thus ends the most remarkable part of the trip, a wagon ride through the desert. Let's note some logistical details. The ambulances and baggage wagon were pulled by six-mule teams, and the mules were changed each day at the lunch stop. According to maps of the area, the minimal distance traveled was nearly 60 miles on the first day, 45 miles the second, and about 40 the third. The norm for teams of four mules was about 3-4 miles per hour and 20 miles a day. Faster speeds were possible for short distances. With 6 mules pulling each vehicle, and by keeping the teams fresh, they traveled at a sustained speed of about 5 miles per hour, a breakneck trip over notional roads that were nothing but faint tracks at their best, and the best judgment of the drivers as the norm. Ramsey mentioned no breakdowns or accidents which is as remarkable as the speed.
Gustafson continued. "The special train rolled into Santa Fe at 9:40 a.m., Oct. 28. At the depot, the Ninth Cavalry band played 'Hail to the Chief.' A carriage, drawn by two coal-black horses, awaited the president and his first lady. The afternoon was spent visiting points of interest. President Hayes found a little shop on San Francisco Street where he purchased some Indian pottery to be shipped home to Fremont, Ohio.
The president visited the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public house in the United States, dating to 1610. Governor Lew Wallace had just finished writing his novel, "Ben-Hur," in the rambling old Spanish-built structure, but Wallace himself was not there. He was back in Indiana, campaigning for Hayes' successor, Garfield.
Hayes and party were invited to speak, and besides the president, notable talks were given by Secretary of War, Alexander Ramsey, and General William T. Sherman. The president made brief, appropriate remarks, Ramsey regaled with a long, entertaining talk befitting his reputation as a raconteur, and Sherman, once quoted as saying,"We should have another war with Old Mexico to make her take back New Mexico," seems to have offended everyone.
President Hayes' train left Santa Fe on October 29, 1880, stopped briefly in Las Vegas, where the Don Miguel Rifles formed an honor guard while the president spoke briefly. They then left New Mexico and were back at the president's home in Fremont, Ohio by November 1, eleven days before the publication of "Ben-Hur."
Some accounts of the trip across the desert mention ambulances and others mention wagons. Both descriptions are probably correct. The term "ambulance" at the time simply meant a conveyance for the wounded. They varied greatly in style from fully enclosed, box-like, vehicles, to ordinary wagons with canvas strung above them. The route the president took was primitive even for the time, and military equipment was scarce. An "ambulance" was probably whatever wheeled thing could be pressed into service.
From the scant firsthand accounts of Hayes' dash through Apache/Outlaw country, to the equally infrequent secondary accounts by historians, we are left to imagine what it must have felt like to the participants. Some of them were old soldiers, accustomed to such fieldwork. Several were civilians, and many of those were women. They were at considerable risk and hardship, and nothing like the trip has ever been pursued by any other American president. As to everyone's feelings about the adventure, we have only our imaginations.
We might note the rails coming down from Santa Fe split at Rincon, New Mexico, going on to El Paso, and down to Deming. As the east bound construction went on toward, El Paso, reaching there on May 19, 1881, the Deming-bound branch of the southbound line joined the southern east-west rails at Deming on March 8, 1881, to form the second transcontinental railroad.
Let's note a detail of Hayes' Great Western Tour that seems peculiar in these hysterical times. The trip was presidential, not political. Hayes was not running for reelection and he didn't campaign for Garfield or anyone else. He was truly hoping to affix the bindings of leadership to the scattered, but coalescing nation. He was a singularly conscientious man, widely dismissed by posterity for having lived in that time.
Here is how Kenneth E. Davison described the trip for the Ohio History Journal.
Of all the Hayes' tours, the most dramatic and extended was a western trip to the Pacific Coast and return in the fall of 1880. This marked the first time any President had crossed the continent while in office, although Grant had visited as far as Utah in 1875. The trip, personally nonpolitical in nature with few prepared speeches, allowed Hayes to do something important during his final months in office, and left Garfield's men unhampered in their management of the 1880 Republican presidential campaign. Originally planned for the spring of 1879, the Great Western Tour had to be postponed for more than a year because an extra session of Congress required the President's presence in Washington. Hayes, how- ever, kept in mind the idea of a grand tour as a good way of unifying the nation and promoting pride in America's material progress and future potential. On June 18, 1880, he publicly announced his intention to make a Pacific trip. General William T. Sherman, an old friend, familiar with the terrain to be traversed, laid out the route and methods of travel, an assignment he dutifully performed knowing full well he would have to defer to the President's whims instead of his own preferences on some details. Sherman received help from various army posts and commanders scattered throughout the West. Colonel John Jameson of the Railway Mail Service supervised the day-to-day travel accommodations and kept the accounts. Generally speaking, various railroads provided a director's car for the President's comfort; the travelers stopped at military posts en route and used hotels sparingly, receiving their overnight accommodations and hospitality as a courtesy of army generals or well-known businessmen
The size of the official party fluctuated throughout the journey but usually averaged about nineteen. A limiting factor, especially restricting the number of women in the party, was the necessity of using army field ambulances to cover some five to six hundred miles of rough roads and desert country between railheads. As finally constituted the official party consisted of President Hayes, Army Chief-of-Staff William Tecumseh Sherman, and Secretary of War Alexander Ramsey, together with members of their immediate families, personal friends, and staff assistants. Hayes took his wife Lucy, two sons, Birchard and Rutherford, a favorite niece, Laura (Mrs. John G. Mitchell), and two dear friends from Cincinnati, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Herron. Isaiah Lancaster attended to the President's personal needs, while Mrs. S. O. Hunt, a young matron of Oakland, California, who had been staying in Washington, came along as a traveling guest of Mrs. Hayes. General Sherman brought his daughter Rachel, Mrs. Joseph Crain Audenried, the recently widowed wife of his longtime military aide, and General Alexander McDowell McCook, another of his aides. Secretary Ramsey's contingent included his son-in-law, Charles E. Furness of Philadelphia, and his private secretary and personal adviser, Colonel Thomas F. Barr of the War Department, who was accompanied by his wife Julia. Colonel Jameson and Dr. David Lowe Huntington, an army surgeon from the Soldiers' Home in Washington, completed the presidential party.
Lieutenant Charles Rutherford Noyes, son of the President's cousin, Horatio Noyes, stationed in 1880 near Cheyenne, Wyoming, decided to join the official greeting party as his kinsman passed through the Territory. A diary kept by Noyes is the only known account by a participant who described the Great Western Tour in detail. [NB: The author of this summary, cribbed from the Ohio History Journal seems unaware of the diary kept by Secretary of War, Alexander Ramsey, the only firsthand account of the president's wagon ride through the desert.]
There were five cars in the train, one carrying the baggage, the second, a C. B. & Q. dining car, the third, a C. B. & Q. director's car occupied by Secretary of War, General Sherman, and the ladies of their party. The fourth, a Pullman sleeper occupied by General McCook and other gentlemen of the party, also by Colonel and Mrs. Barr and Birchard and Rutherford Hayes. The fifth was the Union Pacific Director's car occupied by the President and his party excluding the boys.
Young Noyes accompanied the tour as far as Salt Lake City. Shortly after the train entered Utah, it stopped at the Emory station, and upon invitation from Rud, Noyes ran forward to join a party of five on the locomotive's cowcatcher for an exciting ride through Echo Canyon. At the same time, the President, Mrs. Hayes, Dr. Huntington, and Mrs. Herron moved up to the engineer's cab. The following description appears in the Noyes diary.
"The ride was down hill all the way and for twenty or twenty five miles through a most beautiful canyon with magnificent mountain scenery on both sides. The railroad followed a small stream for several miles which finally flowed into the Weber River, and then the Weber was followed down, At places the valley was wide enough to allow of fine wheat fields, and the houses were quite numerous, probably all Mormon settlements as we were by this time within the limits of Utah. One crop which we noticed and which covered quite large fields, we afterwards learned was alfalfa or Lucerne. Its brilliant green color attracted Mr. Herron's attention and no one knew at first what it was. It is said to make excellent fodder for animals and three or four crops can be harvested in a year, giving as many as nine tons to the acre. The wonderful rock formations on both sides of the track and the high cliffs attracted our attention. We noted the Devil's slide, and the Devil's Gate, also the one thousand mile tree, all of which we passed during this ride. The track crossed the stream whose course it followed many times and twice plunged through short tunnels where the very circuitous course of the stream could not be followed. On several occasions, as we sped along, it appeared as though we were about to run full against a mountain side, but just before reaching such places the track by a sudden turn curved through some narrow defile, and thus we passed from open glades to steep sided canyons, and back again to open glades and thrifty farms. It was a most delightful ride, and at the end of twenty five miles we returned to the train much pleased with our experience."
At Salt Lake the Hayes brothers and Noyes took a one-hour excursion to Black Rock for a swim in the famous salt water and then rejoined the main party for a tour of Salt Lake City. On September 6, after spending a pleasant weekend in the city, the tourists resumed their journey to California and Noyes returned to his army post. Before parting, Noyes found time to win a rubber of cribbage with Miss Sherman and bid goodbye to each of the passengers. He also wrote a vivid description of the President's accommodations:
"Upon arriving at Ogden [the junction for the Far West] the party changed cars to Central Pacific sleeping cars, and the Lieutenant Charles Rutherford Noyes, son of the President's cousin, Horatio Noyes, stationed in 1880 near Cheyenne, Wyoming, decided to join the official greeting party as his kinsman passed through the Territory. A diary kept by Noyes is the only known account by a participant who described the Great Western Tour in detail. "There were five cars in the train, one carrying the baggage, the second, a C. B. & Q. dining car, the third, a C. B. & Q. director's car occupied by Secretary of War, General Sherman, and the ladies of their party. The fourth, a Pullman sleeper occupied by General McCook and other gentlemen of the party, also by Colonel and Mrs. Barr and Birchard and Rutherford Hayes. The fifth was the Union Pacific Director's car occupied by the President and his party excluding the boys."
Young Noyes accompanied the tour as far as Salt Lake City. Shortly after the train entered Utah, it stopped at the Emory station, and upon invitation from Rud, Noyes ran forward to join a party of five on the locomotive's cowcatcher for an exciting ride through Echo Canyon. At the same time, the President, Mrs. Hayes, Dr. Huntington, and Mrs. Herron moved up to the engineer's cab. The following description appears in the Noyes diary.
"The ride was down hill all the way and for twenty or twenty five miles through a most beautiful canyon with magnificent mountain scenery on both sides. The railroad followed a small stream for several miles which finally flowed into the Weber River, and then the Weber was followed down, At places the valley was wide enough to allow of fine wheat fields, and the houses were quite numerous, probably all Mormon settlements as we were by this time within the limits of Utah. One crop which we noticed and which covered quite large fields, we afterwards learned was alfalfa or Lucerne. Its brilliant green color attracted Mr. Herron's attention and no one knew at first what it was. It is said to make excellent fodder for animals and three or four crops can be harvested in a year, giving as many as nine tons to the acre. The wonderful rock formations on both sides of the track and the high cliffs attracted our attention. We noted the Devil's slide, and the Devil's Gate, also the one thousand mile tree, all of which we passed during this ride. The track crossed the stream whose course it followed many times and twice plunged through short tunnels where the very circuitous course of the stream could not be followed. On several occasions, as we sped along, it appeared as though we were about to run full against a mountain side, but just before reaching such places the track by a sudden turn curved through some narrow defile, and thus we passed from open glades to steep sided canyons, and back again to open glades and thrifty farms. It was a most delightful ride, and at the end of twenty-five miles we returned to the train much pleased with our experience."
At Salt Lake the Hayes brothers and Noyes took a one-hour excursion to Black Rock for a swim in the famous salt water and then rejoined the main party for a tour of Salt Lake City. On September 6, after spending a pleasant weekend in the city, the tourists resumed their journey to California and Noyes returned to his army post. Before parting, Noyes found time to win a rubber of cribbage with Miss Sherman and bid goodbye to each of the passengers. He also wrote a vivid description of the President's accommodations: "Upon arriving at Ogden [the junction for the Far West] the party changed cars to Central Pacific sleeping cars, and the director's car of the Central Pacific was in readiness for the President. This was the finest car which I think I ever saw, its upholstery was of the richest, and all its appointments complete"
News clippings about the New Mexico leg of President Hayes' Great Western Tour in 1880
President Hayes' route through southern New Mexio passed through turbulent boom-town areas. The image links to some stories about the aftermath.
President Hayes' route through southern New Mexio is displayed on a current map, and a vintage 1880 map, showing the pre-Hayes and pre-railroad names of places. Ralston, for example, southwest corner, was renamed Shakespeare by the time Hayes came through. Lordsburg appeared two miles north. Santa Barbara became the site of present day Hatch, NM.
A list of presidential trips to New Mexico
Rutherford B. Hayes, Lordsburg to Santa Fe, 1880,
William Henry Harrison, Deming, Lordsburg, 1891
William McKinley-Deming, 1901
Teddy Roosevelt-Albuquerque, 1903
William Howard Taft-Gallup,Albuquerque, south to El Paso at night, 1909
Harry S. Truman-Gallup, 1948
John F. Kennedy, WSMR, Holloman, 1963
Lyndon B. Johnson (as VP with JFK in 1963)
Richard M. Nixon, Albuquerque, 1970,
Ronald Reagan, Albuquerque, 1982, 1983
William J. Clinton, Albuquerque, 1996, Shiprock, 2000
Barrack Obama-Albuquerque, 2010
William Howard Taft's Great American Tour in 1909
Most presidential trips to New Mexico are poorly remembered, but Taft's is the most silent of all. You'll barely find any historical references.
In 1909 newly elected president William Howard Taft thought he'd like to see the country, and he echoed the great-western tour of his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. He made a grand tour of several weeks, starting in Beverley, Massachusetts, riding across the northern states in his special, presidential car all the way to Seattle. As the Tucumcari News and Tucumcari Times put it on September 18, 1909, he, "set foot on the four extreme lines which enclose the union which has selected him as its head."
We are told he stopped in Chicago, passed through Madison, Portage and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and on to Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota. From there he headed south to Desmoines, Iowa, Omaha, Nebraska, Denver, Colorado. Thence to Wolhurst, Pueblo, Glenwood Springs, and Montrose Colorado. He next routed to Salt Lake City, Utah, Pocatella, Idaho, Butte and Helena, Montana, Spokane, North Yakima and Steattle, Washington.
From there Mr. Taft's train took him down the Pacific coast to Los Angeles, and from there back east through several stops in Arizona, finally crossing the New Mexico border around 8:00 AM, October 15, 1909, on the northern route paralleling the old Route 66 highway. Mr. Taft stopped first in Gallup, New Mexico where several dignitaries boarded, including New Mexico governor George Curry.
Mr. Taft arrived in Albuquerque around 6:00 PM on October 15, 1909, where he gave a well-received speech announcing his support for New Mexico statehood. He promised to introduce enabling legislation in the next congress to allow the writing of a New Mexico constitution in preparation for statehood. He attended a banquet later in the day also attended by New Mexico senator Albert Bacon Fall, at that time a democrat before he switched parties, became Harding's Secretary of Interior and spent a few months in the federal penitentiary as the Teapot Dome convict of choice. Fall questioned the president's resolve in promoting statehood, implying he'd heard it all before, and most newspapers considered this a great embarrassment. They handily reported Taft's rejoinder to the uncouth Fall as a statesmanlike response to a beneath-contempt heckler.
Taft's call for statehood was his major message to New Mexico, and it created a great sensation, inspiring optimism across the territory. In fact Taft kept his word, and three years later signed the congressional bill that brought New Mexico into the union as the 47th state.
Taft left Albuquerque around midnight and traveled overnight to El Paso, making no more New Mexico stops. In El Paso on October 16, 1909, he had a much anticipated visit with President Diaz of Mexico, and then took the unprecedented step of crossing the border into Juarez to meet Diaz in his own country, thus becoming the first sitting president to leave the country. The meeting between the two had no official negotiating agenda, but speculation then and now wondered if they privately discussed the disputed Chamizal district that was transferred to Mexico by President Kennedy over fifty years later.
From El Paso, President Taft's travels took him on to San Antonio, and other places in Texas including the Taft Ranch, and nearby Rincon Ranch. He went to St. Louis, and took a riverboat ride down the Mississippi to New Orleans, on his way back to Washington.
News stories linked nearby give a full account of people accompanying the president, and the people he met in New Mexico. They also give a sense of the sensational impact of the president's call for New Mexico statehood, and the sour mood of most toward Fall's intemperate remarks.
History has remembered Taft's visit with Diaz, and his precedent-breaking visit to Mexico, but in most tellings he just materializes in El Paso, and disappears afterward. A search of contemporary newspapers reveals the wider scope of his foreign excursion, and puts it in the context of Taft's domestic goals.
Update: An exception to the ignorance of popular history to Taft's New Mexico visit is found with the new Generative AI tool, ChatGPT. If you ask it for an essay on the first presidential visit to New Mexico it pops right back at you with a bogus description of William Howard Taft's visit in 1909. It gets all the details wrong, and digs itself in deeper with every followup quetion you ask it. Since it knows none of the president's itinerary, one supposes it's mistaking Mexico for New Mexico. Taft did visit Mexico in 1909, and was the first president to do so. Still ChatGPT does better than most popular histories on the subject.
Southern New Mexico a War zone in 1880
Southern New Mexico, at the time of President Hayes' visit is often referred to as a war zone. Lawlessness of all sorts flourished, and was a major concern of the military, and such civil law enforcement as existed. Non-military attempts at law enforcement largely consited of local militias, which were themselves controversial, and sometimes considered part of the lawlessness. In fact, Albert J. Fountain, of later unfortunate renown as the victim of a still unsolved disappearance near the White Sands in 1896, gained much of his stable of enemies and followers as a leader of militias hunting down rustlers. The links on this page, are to four introductory sources about the southern New Mexico security situation in late 1880, when Hayes, Sherman, Alexander et al jogged in primitive transportation across the desert behind army mules and a handful of soldiers.
The first sets the scene around Fort Cummings, a little north of present day Deming, New Mexico, describing the Apache situation, as well as the mail robberies, train robberies, and other mischief.
The second is a letter from the citizens of Silver City, the most developed town in southern New Mexico at the time, to the president of the United States, asking for relief from Indian depredations, followed by the response of General Pope.
The third is a 1935 discussion of General Buell's excursion into Mexico in pursuit of Victorio, just before the president arrived. It gives a short history of the Mescalero Apache troubles from 1863 to 1880, and then describes the coordination with Mexico about the troubles around the border as Victorio fled south.
The fourth is the alert from General Phillip Sheridan to General John Pope advising him of the president's visit.
We can suffer a failure to visualize
when we read about Hayes and his party traveling by military ambulance. In the southwest the Army was using anything with wheels to transport goods and people. All we know for sure is Ramsey's description of the six-mule teams, unusual for a wagon full of people. The army was anxious to get across the desert quickly, and six were faster than four.
Farewell Peak and Environs
The "Soldier's Farewell" is a widely used phrase. There are songs, books and paintings with this title, plus a 6000-foot peak in the Chihuahuan Desert between Lordsburg and Deming, New Mexico.
Soldier's Farewell Peak has long been a navigational aid to travelers, especially in the days before roads, and perhaps it really did, as some sources insist, get its name during the gold rush days as the point at which wagon trains, escorted by soldiers, were left to their fate. Mr. Butterfield named his nearby stagecoach stop for it.
If the Tucson Citizen correctly located the end of the rails during the Hayes visit, then the presidential party may have gotten only a glimpse of Lordsburg from the dining car windows as they chugged through on their way to the waiting military ambulances. They'd have stopped at a point near the present day hamlet of Separ.
Separ was just a patch of desert in those days, but is now a bustling road stop of maybe five or six people. It's one of those wide spots in the road, common in the southwestern desert, that advertise last-chance gas stations, rattlesnakes, gravitational oddities, fireworks, Victorio's skull, Billy the Kid's genuine revolver, and mysterious beasts unknown to science.
"According to Beata Certo, posting on Facebook, November 1, 2018, almost exactly 138 years after Hayes et al ventured through, there's little more to see at Separ than there was then.
"Although there is a trading post in operation, Separ is considered to be a ghost town. Located in the bootheel area (of New Mexico), 20 miles southeast of Lordsburg, it flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a watering station and livestock transfer point. When the railroad came through in the 1880s, it became a loading station for cattle.
"Separ has its own outlaw history. On July 20, 1896, the outlaw Black Jack Christian and his High Five Gang robbed a general store in Separ belonging to John D. Weems. The bandits took about $250 dollars in cash and merchandise, including a large Navajo blanket, six wool blankets, three boxes of cigars, and some whiskey."
In addition to Black Jack's bunch there was another Separ outlaw encounter in 1905 when George and Edwin Gates, a couple of young miscreants from Amador City, California, tried their luck in the desert. They hit Tucson, and then held up a saloon in Lordsburg. Sheriff McGrath's posse, tracking them well into the night, found them in Separ, where the two hooligans had bedded down in a local house. The newspapers said they were heavily armed, and were killed resisting arrest.
George Gates in particular seems to have been a worrisome fellow. His identification after death was partially based on some shotgun wounds from his west coast career. He was also accused of enlisting the aid of a married woman, whom he promised a better life if she would slip her husband some rat poison and move in with Gates.
It wasn't all desperados in Separ. During World War II a local boy, Tom Colbert Cox was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned in the Phillipines. While being transferred to the mainland his ship was torpedoed and sunk, and his rescue ship was strafed by American fighters. Somehow, he survived, was repatriated after the war, married twice and finally died in bed in 1982. His obituary says he survived the Bataan Death March.
Other than that, Separ seems to have entered the news as a shipping point for cattle, and a stopping place for the train. Now it has a sort of curio shop, or maybe it's closed by now.
There doesn't seem to be any mention of President Hayes ever having been to Separ, but I understand you can still pick up some firecrackers.
Lake Valley's Forgotten Claim to Fame
In 1880, October 28, to be exact, the President of the United States, on the first presidential visit to New Mexico, dropped by Lake Valley for lunch. Afterward, the town moved, prospered, declined, dwindled to three households, then two, and then none.
People these days visit the tiny ghost town frequently to see its frontier ruins. Enthusiasts post pictures and videos. History hobbyists compose retellings of its fabulous, and fleeting, contributions to American drama. No trace is found in any of these of the first New Mexico presidential expedition passing nearby the Lizard Mountain environs.
If the locals took any notice of Hayes crossing Lake Valley in October 1880, they must have moved away without mentioning it to the newcomers who established Lake Valley City in 1882. No recollection of it is registered in any of the popular histories of the current-day ghost town.
The only reference we've seen to Lake Valley's encounter with the Commander in Chief is in the previously mentioned one-liner from the only personal journal made public from Hayes' Great Western Tour. His Secretary of War, Alexander Ramsey, scribbled a few notes during the unprecedented presidential mule train from the end of the Southern Pacific tracks to the end of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe tracks then being built south from Santa Fe. He mentions lunch in Lake Valley, where "Mr. Miller kept a store."
Lake Valley, New Mexico became of national interest in 1878 when George Lufkin, cowboy prospector, staked the first silver claim. By 1880 there were about 40 claim holders, including John A. Miller, formerly the post trader at Fort Bayard. He established a ranch in the area and worked two high-grade mines called the Lincoln and the Stanton and became the main producer.
It's very likely this John A. Miller was the man Ramsey mentioned as keeping a store in Lake Valley. Besides running a store at Fort Bayard, he was heavily involved in promoting Lake Valley as an investment opportunity. He built a house there, which we know because it burned in 1893, years after Miller sold it.
The name "Lake Valley" originally referred to the region near the lake. A scattering of mining camps cropped up, one called Sierra City, and that's where the first post office was established in November, 1881.
The History of the Lake Valley Mining District by Homer E. Milford gives us the following story about the adoption of Lake Valley as a town name. "The press announced in August 1882, that a new town had been surveyed 1/4 mile east of the smelter to be called Lake Valley City. The original camp in the valley northwest of the mines and mill was generally called Sierra City. The first post office, November 1881, took the name Daly, N.M. The prospectuses for the companies issued in January 1882 still called their location, Sierra City, Lake Valley Mining District, Donna Ana County. The postoffice name changed to Lake Valley, N.M. on August 23, 1882, within a few weeks of the move to the new location."
The New Mexico State Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources has the following to say about the silver production in Lake Valley, in Bulletin 10 by George Townsend Harley, 1934.
"The Lake Valley ore deposits were discovered by George W. Lufkin in August, 1878. News of the discovery soon spread, and a rush for the new camp was shortly under way. The mines were worked almost continuously until August, 1893. The best properties were absorbed within a short time by three companies, named from the groups of mines the Sierra Grande, Sierra Bella and the Sierra Apache. For several years during the later active history of the camp, operations were conducted under the management of the Sierra Grande Co., and after mining in the district ceased, the other properties were acquired by the Sierra Grande Co. The entire mineralized area, except for a few scattered holdings, is owned by this company. In the early eighties the Bridal Chamber, one of the richest single bodies of silver ore ever found, made the Lake Valley district famous.
"These ore bodies are in close proximity to the Santa Fe trail and the old lanes of travel along the Rio Grande, and are marked in many places by prominent outcrops of black manganiferous flint. It seems strange that they were not discovered by the Spaniards, who passed and repassed them for nearly 300 years." Harley goes on to estimate the total silver production from Lake Valley, as of 1934, at 5,000,000 ounces."
A quick glance at Lake Valley history might suggest the Mr. Miller of Ramsey's account was Daniel Samuel Miller (1853-1919), since he and his descendants were part owners in one of the prominent stores in Lake Valley, the K.M. & Co. It would be historically symmetric if he were Ramesy's Miller, since Daniel's offspring kept stores in Lake Valley for decades. One of the last residents to move away was Dan Miller the younger, who left in 1958. Furthermore, his house was the last occupied structure in Lake Valley, becoming vacant in 1994 when Pedro Martinez moved to Deming. Sadly, Daniel S arrived in 1884, about when the railroad got to Lake Valley.
Daniel was an Arizona constable and likely worked for Virgil and Morgan Earp. Daniel met Lucy McFarland through Lucy's brother-in-law, William Hunsaker, who was living in Tombstone with his family and who was an attorney for Wyatt Earp. When William Hunsaker moved his family to San Diego, Daniel followed Lucy and married her in California. Daniel and Lucy then moved to New Mexico where Daniel had business connections with mining interests in the area. The couple had a family and Daniel became a successful merchant.
It's possible Daniel Miller was somehow related to John A. His Find-a-Grave entry, in addition to sporting a very romantic frontier picture of Daniel and linking him to Wyatt Earp, tells us he came to Lake Valley because he had business connections with local mining interests. It would be satisfying to draw a line, however sketchy, between the visit of President Hayes in 1880, and the last Lake Valley resident in 1994, but we've found no link between the early Miller and the later ones.
The Lake Valley visited by Hayes was probably at the location later called Sierra City. We will not find the location of Hayes' 1880 lunch in present day Lake Valley, but, most likely about a half-mile west of there.
After the collapse of silver in 1893, the main street of Lake Valley burned in a fire in 1895, apparently set by an Albert Abernathy of whom little is know except he landed in jail just ahead of a lynch mob, according to the news stories. It was never rebuilt, and today is a vacant strip of crumbling foundations.
The picture below gives us a wide-angled, time-frozen glimpse of Lake Valley sometime around, but after, 1884. Dan Miller's store is on the right, the train is chugging beneath Lizard Mountain toward the bend that curls back around to the Lake Valley depot, and what looks like some school children are seen scampering up the road. Some chickens are scratching around on the left, and if those are school children it might be around 4 in the afternoon.
The John A. Miller who briefly held the first silver claim in the area, and who "kept a store," in Lake Valley, according to Ramsey, becomes elusive after selling his claim. He may be the John A. Miller of Silver City, who appers in the 1885 census, and a few news accounts. He and his wife, Martha, had a daughter, Ida, and she may have married someone named, Branford. He's probably the John A. Miller whose foot was smashed in an 1894 trip to Mexico, who was listed as "deceased" in an 1898 news article, and whose widow was reported as near death in a Los Angeles hospital after undergoing cancer surgery.