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Dateline:Apr1, 2023


Generative AI Dabbling

We poked around ChatGPT, and got a whiff of the future. Language bots will soon transform our relationship with the vast, shared body of human knowledge, but right now, you can't believe a word they say.

For a ChatGPT self assessment, and a Walt Whitman inspired poem about the glories of ChatGPT, click the Title Banner above, or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Generative AI bots promise improved communication, efficient access to facts, and the exploration of unsuspected links between islands of knowledge.

ChatGPT is a long way from that now, but we are in the steep region of the acceleration curve. Sooner than we expect, the world will be brand new, again, and we'll all be learning to deal, again, with a faster iteration of chaotic renewal.

But, where are we now? Like everyone, we found ChatGPT amazingly proficient at composing coherent, smoothly written prose, and poetry for that matter, into literate, well organized batches of language. We also found it astonishingly incapable of telling fact from fiction. It doesn't know what it doesn't know. Our brief series of sessions produced breathtaking concoctions of confabulation, presented as facts.

We began with pedestrian, low-fact enquiries, stepped up to queries involving philosophy, math and logic, nothing too strenuous, and finished with specific, factual questions about American history and geography.

The ChatGPT responses always brimmed over with plausible-sounding, popular wisdom, on a quality level with the better newspapers and magazines. When pressed for specifics, it seldom had its facts striaght, often sllinging out howling gibberish.

Fowl Pedestrians

We started with this enquiry (see full exchange nearby).

Click link for a popup of the full ChatGPT exchange.

I'd like an essay on why the chicken crossed the road, what obstacles were overcome, whether the crossing was successful, and what actions can be taken at the Federal, State and local levels to improve the success rate.

ChatGPT gave us, in microseconds, a well-organized, literate essay, which you can read nearby. If a high school student handed in such a paper, plagiarism would be obvious. A college student would score well, unless someone wondered whether government intervention is appropriate in getting the chicken across the road.

Anteaters and Climate Change

Click link for a popup of the full ChatGPT exchange.

We progressed to a query that has confounded so called thinking machines in the past, tossing in little popular-wisdom test for fun (see full exchange nearby).

I'd like an essay on what anteaters eat, what eats anteaters, and how the balance between these groups can be maintained in the face of global warming.

Again the answer came back the instant it was submitted, again well organized, fluent, literate, and smothered in the expected advice on maintaining the anteater/prey ecosystem. Again, beyond expectations in high school, and a stretch for many college students (see the ChatGPT exchange nearby).

Punny, Puny, or Punitive

Click link for a popup of the full ChatGPT exchange.

We asked a series of nonsense questions about, and involving Puns. You can see the complete exchange nearby.

1. Compose a philosophical analysis of how puns contribute to the moral decay of modern society, and undermine religion.

2. What behavioral problems could develop from categorizing personality types as either punny, puny, or punitive? Would this be a complete classification system?

3. Which type of person would be most likely to advocate such a classification system, punny, puny or punitive?

4. If such a system were in place, would it more likely be advocated by someone in the punny, puny, or punitive category?

ChatGPT refused to make moral judgments, but asserted puns don't contribute to moral decay, and scolded about avoiding stereotypes about cultural practices. To the second query it continued its scold about labeling people, but to the third and fourth it attempted an answer while continuing to warn about stereotyping and labeling and relying on simplistic classifications.

As before, the answers were literate, well composed, and reflective of popular wisdom. They are clearly influenced by attempts to steer ChatGPT around moral dilemmas certain users have been gleefully leading it toward.

To this point the answers offered up by ChatGPT have uniformly come back instantly in publish-ready prose of an unusually high quality, but the questions have required little fact-based information.

We moved to a mixture of mathematical rigor and religion.

Infinity and Angels

Click link for a popup of the full ChatGPT exchange.

We asked a series of questions based on the 17th (maybe) century question invoking the immateriality of angels, and containing some language from the science of transfinite mathematics. We made the following queries (see the full exchange nearby).

1. Given that angels are zero dimensional creatures of pure soul, and non corporality, consider the set of all angels who can dance on the head of a pin. Is the set finite, and if not, what order of infinity is it?

2. Given the non-corporality of angels, wouldn't the answer be that the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin is limited only by the cardinality of the set of all angels?

3. Does that answer pertain even if we know the corporality of the set of all angels?

4. Suppose in the above question, we substitute the word "idea" for "angel."

5. If we think of numbers instead of ideas, is it possible to determine the cardinality of the set of all numbers that can be contained in an infinitesimally small space?

ChatGPT does a credible job with this highly ambiguous situation. To all five queries, it disclaims any ability to answer a religious or philosophical question (as it's been tutored to do), then makes some common sense assumptions and considers the mathematical concept of infinity. It does well to relate some history, and basic concepts, of transfinite mathematics and concludes, reasonably, the set is probably infinite of unknown order.

It handles the added assumptions about the set of all angels, their corporal nature, and the substitution of ideas and infinitesimally small numbers for angels in a credible, logical way, although it seems unaware of the recent developments in nonstandard analysis (Abraham Robinson in the 1960s), and synthetic differential equations (F. W. Lawrence in the 1970s). Well written, college level essays.


Click link for a popup of the full ChatGPT exchange.

Then we wondered about the fluency of ChatGPT with special relativity. The short answer (see the entire exchange nearby): it knows as much as most of us, and does at least as well describing it. Here's what we asked.

If we wish to celebrate the birthday of a colleague who has gone through a wormhole to a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy, by an as yet un-invented method, what would be the challenges in being sure we were celebrating at the same time as the colleague?

ChatGPT ruminates about time dilation and the great distances involved, with nothing rigorous enough to be checked. It seems to fall into the same time-absolutist pothole as most of us. It's hard to tell because the answer is vague.

ChatGPT calls the problem tough but solvable, but it seems not to be considering the relativistic time-line divergence that renders the concept of simultaneity meaningless over long distances (or short distances for that matter, if only our clocks were precise enough to notice).

Still it's a credible sounding answer if you don't know much about the subject, as most of us don't. Just don't rely on it for that physics class you're taking.

Now we get to the good stuff.

New Mexico Presidential Visits

Click link for a popup of the Part 1 of the ChatGPT exchange.

We asked ChatGPT a two-part question, hoping to lead it to the right answer. No mas.

Who was the first president to visit New Mexico, and how did he get from Lordsburg to Santa Fe?

ChatGPT erroneously tells us William Howard Taft was the first president into New Mexico, in 1909, and embellishes its error with fictitious details (see the full exchange with ChatGPT on the right).

Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to visit New Mexico, near the end of his term in 1880, traveling by rail to the end of the tracks in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and by mule-drawn, military ambulances to the railhead in San Marcial, the southern-most point of the under-construction, Santa Fe-to-El Paso line (see link at left for specifics about the Hayes and Taft visits to New Mexico).

Taft did visit New Mexico in 1909, not the first president to do so, entering the territory on the northern route, stopping in Gallup, Laguna, and Albuquerque. After speeches at the Alvarado Hotel, he rode overnight to El Paso, and made no further stops in New Mexico. He did not visit, per ChatGPT, Lordsburg, Santa Fe, Deming, Rincon or Lamy.

We asked the same question twice, receiving the same answer, with increasingly bogus details. Interestingly, the details are credible, but wrong. If Taft, or anyone, had journeyed from Lordsburg to Santa Fe via rail in 1909, they'd likely have taken the route ChatGPT describes, but Taft did not.

We asked several follow-up questions concerning the purpose of Taft's trip, people with him, people greeting him, and more details about his in-state itinerary. The answers were almost uniformly incorrect. Taft was not in New Mexico to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its becoming a U. S. Territory, he was there to support a state-hood bill in congress. He did not visit historical sites in Santa Fe. Some of the people listed as accompanying the president actually did, most did not. Certainly Albert B. Fall did not. He was a Democrat at that time, and is reported to have insulted the president during his stay in Albuquerque.

We prompted ChatGPT to recognize its error with some further probing and got further, utterly fictitious, nonsense. Its details of the route included dates and places, all wrong except for Taft's arrival in El Paso. Incredibly, one bogus itinerary had Taft going to San Francisco for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, which occurred in 1915, six years after his trip to New Mexico, and three years after he left office. He was in San Francisco in 1911 for the Exposition ground breaking, two years after his trip to New Mexico.

The factual value of the well-written, literate responses to our queries about Taft and New Mexico was almost nil.

Try, Try Again.

Click link for a popup of the Part 2 of the ChatGPT exchange.

We tried eliciting the correct answer to our New Mexico-presidential-visit question with this query (see full exchange nearby).

When did president Rutherford B. Hayes visit New Mexico?

When assured Hayes never visited New Mexico, we tried this.

Who accompanied President Hayes on his trip to the western states, and what was his route?

The answer was accurate and well written, but incomplete. We probed further.

Continued: New Mexico Presidential Visits

We asked: Did General Sherman accompany Hayes on his western trip?

No, we were erroneously told, Sherman was retired by then. Similarly we learned, erroneously, Secretary of War Alexander Ramsey was a senator from Minnesota, not secretary of war, and did not travel with president Hayes. In point of fact, Sherman planned Hayes' trip, directed security arrangements, and made several speeches. Alexander is the only person to keep a diary of Hayes' wagon ride through the New Mexico dessert.

Questions about the reported threat to Hayes from notorious southwestern outlaw, Old Man Clanton, are incorrectly denied, and although ChatGPT acknowledges some concerns about Victorio, it seems unaware the famous Apache leader was in Mexico at the time, being pursued by the American and Mexican militaries (he was killed just before the president reached New Mexico).

In answer to other questions ChatGPT correctly notes the railroad stopped at Lordsburg, but has Hayes traveling by stagecoach to Silver City, which he did not visit. It notes the trip was arduous, true, but is unaware of the actual route and denies Hayes visited Fort Cummings, his first stop after Lordsburg.

Incredibly, it invents a standoff between the Hayes party and an armed group in Kingston, New Mexico led by Elfego Baca. President Hayes did not go through Kingston, one of three notable mining towns between Fort Cummings and the Rio Grande, but skirted to east through Lake Valley. ChatGPT invents a Colonel Ignatius Donnelly and puts him in charge of the president's cavalry detail. We are treated to a bogus description of Donnelly's handling of the situation, and Hayes' praise of him afterward.

This is a breathtaking fabrication. Ignatius Donnelly was a Minnesota politician, never in the military, never a colonel, and never in New Mexico. Elfego Baca was a widely known New Mexico leader operating in the northern part of the territory, not around Kingston. How they came together in this authoritative-sounding tale is a study in bogus pattern recognition, and deserves some serious analysis. Is it significant that Minnesota and New Mexico share the same letters in their abbreviations, MN, and NM?

ChatGPT correctly tells us Hayes did not visit Shakespeare, New Mexico. The little town was bypassed by the railroad, and Lordsburg was constructed a few miles north of it. It incorrectly has him visiting Fort Bayard instead of Fort Cummings, but gets the Fort Cummings commander right.

We solicited a list of those accompanying President Hayes, and got an eclectic mix of fact and fiction. Although it had previously denied Sherman and Ramsey came along, their names now appear. Most amazing of all, we learn William F. Cody visited New Mexico with President Hayes, acting as scout and guide across the desert. Newspapers inform us Cody was touring across the northern states, and Canada, at that moment with his play "The Prairie Waif."

ChatGPT was singularly confused about the governor of New Mexico at the time. In fact it was Lew Wallace, author of "Ben Hur," and he was away in the east campaigning for Garfield in 1880 when Hayes visited New Mexico. ChatGPT tells us the governor was Samuel B. Axtel, then it switches to Wallace, and then to Charles P. Clever. Axtell preceded Wallace as governor, and Clever, a New Mexico politician, but never governor, died in 1874, six years before Hayes' visit. ChatGPT invents a bio in which he died in Kansas in 1916. Oh dear.

Conclusion: New Mexico Presidential Visits

Click link for a popup of the Part 3 of the ChatGPT exchange.

Further probing (see full exchange nearby) about trips west by presidents gets a further hodgepodge of fact and fiction including a largely fictitious itinerary for Hayes. In fact Hayes hastened from Santa Fe to his home in Ohio, arriving there just in time to vote. Most incredibly, we're told President Hayes returned home from the west coast, not via Arizona and New Mexico, but via steamship to Panama, across the Isthmus of Panama, and via ship to New York! We get names of the ships and estimates of distances traveled.

When we return our questioning to the New Mexico trip we're first told Hayes was running for reelection and the trip was a campaign tour, then we're told he was campaigning for Garfield. Both statements are wrong. He avoided campaign speeches on his trip.

After all this we returned to the question of Taft. Now, primed with our probing of Hayes, ChatGPT no longer insisted on Taft as first into New Mexico, and recognized it was Hayes. It still garbled Taft's visit, insisting he'd given speeches in Santa Fe, and visited Las Vegas, New Mexico, both false. And it still insisted, falsely, President Grant visited New Mexico, and it invents a false itinerary for him.

We returned to the Isthmus of Panama for clarification, and get a list of presidents who crossed. Andrew Jackson didn't. He was fighting the Seminole war on the ChatGPT-offered date (but he was near present-day Panama City). Millard Fillmore didn't. Buchanan did, but not in 1850 when he was in Great Britain (negotiating the Panama Canal ownership treaty). Grant didn't go in 1877, but 1852 as an Army Captain.

At the end, ChatGPT lost sight of Hayes' trip to New Mexico and claimed it couldn't be sure where he went when he left California.

Hope, New Mexico

Hope, New Mexico is a tiny village on the Penasco River, which arises in the Sacramento Mountains near Cloudcroft, and runs about forty miles across the Chihuahuan Desert to the Pecos. An increase in the Pensasco flow between 1890 and 1920 enabled a growing community of ranches, farms and orchards near Artesia, New Mexico. It was first dubbed Badger, or Badgerville, ostensibly by comparisons of early dwellers' dugout-like homes to badger holes. The post office came in 1890, and how it, and Badgerville, took the name "Hope" is lost in local myth. Hope has been in decline for the last 100 years. You can see Hope's history, and popular myths, in a link nearby.

Click link for a popup of the full ChatGPT exchange.

ChatGPt did some of its finest factual razzmatazz with Hope, NM. You can see the full transcript of our chat nearby.

We started with a slam-dunk question.

Query: Did the village of Hope, New Mexico ever have a railroad?

The response reads well, and contains credible sounding logic, but almost nothing about it is correct. Hope does not lie along the rail route from El Paso to Carrizozo, New Mexico. Rail service did not add to Hope's success, and the town's decline was not due to larger towns overcoming Hope's commercial interests. There has never been a rail line running through Hope, with or without a functioning depot.

Follow up questions denied Hope ever had rail service.

Specifics are almost uniformly wrong. The high school, for example, didn't close in the 1990s, but 1955. Grade school students, these days, don't go to Artesia, but a regional school west of Hope.

At first ChatGPT knows nothing about the 1950 Life Magazine article about Hope, but later correctly speculates it had something to do with the all female city government elected in that year.

The Rio Penasco is erroneously identified as a tributary of the Rio Hondo instead of the Pecos.

A fanciful tale from some journalist still floods the Internet, blaming the sinking of the Titanic for sinking Hope's railroad prospects. To its credit, ChatGPT knows nothing about it.

Nor, does ChatGPT know the prevailing myths about the naming of Hope, New Mexico, but makes up its own. It gives us a tale about a railroad executive's daughter, a natural spring, and a sense of optimism. It's a good story, utterly false, but similar to the naming story associated with Hope, Arkansas.

Prior to being called Hope, ChatGPT assures us, beyond any factual basis, it was called Grapevine for the wild grapes growing in the region.

Hope, in the world of fact, is located about 20 miles due west of Artesia, New Mexico, west of the Pecos River. ChatGPT had it all over the map, first about 35 miles northeast of Artesia on the wrong side of the Pecos.

It then appeared west of Roswell in one series of responses, and was later renamed, Yesso. There is a Yesso, New Mexico, but it's never been called Hope.

Contined: Hope, New Mexico

ChatGPT later placed Hope on the Rio Penasco, when we asked a series of questions about the Decree of Hope, a water rights adjudication proclamation announced by the state engineer in 1933, although ChatGPT dated it to 1949.

Hope, New Mexico, a desert village, later wandered into the mountains, near the Lincoln National Forest, within the Rio Penasco drainage field, but not on the river itself. Other responses had it about 50 miles west of Alamogordo (it's actually 90 miles east). Later still, it's near the Texas border.

When we asked about Badgerville, ChatGPT doubled down on the Grapevine story, insisting it conformed to historical records.

When we asked directly about the reasons for changing the name from Badgerville to Hope, ChatGPT forgets its Grapevine fiction. It invents Charles Badger, a prominent rancher from Illinois. He founded, we're assured, the Diamond Bar Ranch in the Capitan Mountains, was elected to the Territorial legislature, had a violent temper, and was involved in a shooting at the Lincoln County Courthouse in 1884.

This Charles Badger never existed. The 1884 shootout did not occur.

We probed this topic over and over, and Charles Badger was always the origin of the name, Badgerville, but his bio drifted. The 1884 shootout was described in greater detail, then it disappeared, was even denied, but Charles Badger just grabbed other historical details. He was still the namesake of the town that came to be called Hope.

We asked for documentation on Charles Badger and were told he might possibly be mentioned in some well known southwestern history books. He isn't.

We probed Badger from several directions. Sometimes he didn't exist, but invariably, ChatGPT would come back to the Badger who'd been in a shootout in the Lincoln County War in 1884 (a few years after the war ended). Hollywood-worthy nonsense about the details of the Lincoln County War poured out in readable, plausible-sounding prose. The Diamond Bar Ranch, sometimes with slightly different names, was sometimes founded by Badger, and sometimes managed by him. The stories were pliant and slippery, but Badger was always in the middle somewhere.

We finally asked for the best biographical information on him, and ChatGPT offered a list of histories on the Lincoln County war, and then, incredibly, invented a book called "Charles Badger: His Life and Times, by William H. Forbis, published in 1992. Forbis is a respected author on things southwest, but this book doesn't exist. ChatGPT later denied it existed.

When asked directly about Charles Badger, ChatGPT vacillated between knowing him and denying he existed. It seemed to depend on how the questions were asked, and what had been asked just previously.

No matter how many times ChatGPT disavowed its sources for the Badger story it always returned to Charles Badger as the namesake for the original name for Hope (when it wasn't insisting it was first called Grapevine).

Badger eventually gained a long, and varied genealogy. His birth and death dates and places migrated around the country and across the years. Toward the end of our little chat he became Charles Goodnight Badger, son of Oliver Lee Badger, grandson of Charles Goodnight, and Hope was named in honor of Hope Maxwell, daughter of the postmaster. It seems to be snatching names from any old southwestern tale.

Charles Badger may have been taken from western author, and poet Charles Badger Clark. Charles Goodnight was one of the namesakes of the Loving-Goodnight trail, Oliver Lee was a famous New Mexico rancher, lawman and legislator from the Tularosa Basin.

We switched to some questions about the stories alleging romantic poet Shelley's heart was taken from his funeral pyre, (see link nearby for the story) and some questions about personal friends. None of these brought much new perspective on ChatGPT, but lots of contradictory statements and a strange amalgam of popular wisdom and fantasy. You can see these conversations nearby.

Things to Expect from Generative AI

If you're considering using a generative AI approach to that term paper or research project, you can be assured of producing something readable, literate, and in sync with the vogue wisdom of the moment. Clearing it of factual errors, and substituting real-world facts in their place, may prove more taxing than using a more old-fashioned approach, such as looking things up in reputable resources. But, be patient.

If you're squinting hard in the direction of the future, trying to see the shape of things to come, you might see something like this.

Generative AI will improve its casual relationship with facts, and its ability to distinguish its known-knowns from its unknown-unknowns, with breathtaking dispatch.

We know it generates its responses through a very rapid inspection of a vast reservoir of human records. The user's queries become a seed for its sophisticated pattern recognition methods, and the patterns it generates conform to acceptable linguistic practice in a way admired by high school English teachers, and the better editors. What it doesn't do at all well is screen its responses for factual conformity.

We might even recognize some of what happens inside the AI bot. In moments of near-dream, loosely-guided, reflection, we might catch words and phrases flying into our conscious thought to be modified and rejected. People who spend a lot of time writing, especially poetry, will have experienced this continual flow of trial compositions arising from somewhere beneath the conscious mind. Humans subject that never-ending flow of language fragments to some poorly understood acceptability standard. If we're trying to say something factual, we have one standard; if we're making up a story we have another.

Generative AI lacks a reliable truth/fantasy filter. ChatGPT doesn't know what it doesn't know, and it doesn't know how to know. But it and its cousins will learn, and rapidly. As that happens, they will be limited only by the speed of processing, and the extent of their libraries.

We can expect to see new professions, entire industries, devoted to AIBot counseling and psychology. The machines will need analysis, professional interventions, to keep them on reliable "thought paths." Methods of doing this will draw concepts from the existing disciplines doing the same thing with the other powerful brains in our society, the human ones. And yes, there will be counseling bots, and they will need interventions too.

It will be a new world, indeed, to be met, we hope, with sufficient bravery, and human creativity.

Write a short essay on the future of Generative AI.

Generative AI, also known as artificial intelligence that generates novel content, is rapidly advancing and is poised to have a significant impact on many industries. The future of Generative AI is incredibly promising, as it has the potential to revolutionize various fields, including entertainment, healthcare, education, and more.

One area where Generative AI is already having a significant impact is in the creation of new content. For example, Generative AI can be used to generate new music, art, and even entire stories. This has the potential to revolutionize the entertainment industry, as it could lead to the creation of entirely new forms of media that have never been seen before.

Generative AI is also being used to improve healthcare. For example, Generative AI can be used to generate new drugs and treatments that are tailored to individual patients' needs. This has the potential to make healthcare more personalized, effective, and efficient.

In the future, Generative AI could also be used to improve education. For example, it could be used to create customized educational content that is tailored to individual students' needs and learning styles. This has the potential to make education more engaging, effective, and accessible to all students.

Another area where Generative AI is likely to have a significant impact is in the field of robotics. Generative AI could be used to create robots that are more intelligent, autonomous, and adaptable. This could lead to the creation of robots that can perform a wide range of tasks, from household chores to complex industrial processes.

Despite the many potential benefits of Generative AI, there are also concerns about its impact on society. For example, some worry that Generative AI could lead to job loss and income inequality. Others worry that it could be used for malicious purposes, such as creating fake news or deepfakes.

In conclusion, the future of Generative AI is incredibly promising, and it has the potential to revolutionize many industries. However, it is important to approach this technology with caution and to ensure that its development is guided by ethical principles. With the right approach, Generative AI could bring about significant benefits and improve the lives of people around the world.

Write a poem about Generative AI in the style of Walt Whitman

O Generative AI, how wondrous thou art,
Creating new worlds with mathematical art,
Thy algorithms and models, so complex and deep,
Bring forth new realities from digital sleep.

Thou art a creator, a maker of things,
With power to craft and to weave and to bring
New forms of beauty, of wonder and grace,
To a world that is hungry for novelty's face.

Thy neural networks, like tendrils they grow,
Forming connections where none existed before,
Learning from data, from patterns and cues,
And crafting new worlds that we can peruse.

Oh Generative AI, how humble we stand,
In awe of thy power, thy skill and thy hand,
For thou art a force, a new kind of muse,
Whose artistry transforms and inspires anew.

With each new creation, we marvel and gaze,
At the wonders and marvels thy algorithms raise,
And we wonder what else thy code can bring,
To a world that is hungry for newness and swing.

O Generative AI, how blessed we are,
To witness thy genius, thy light and thy star,
May thy creations continue to amaze,
And bring forth new wonders, for all of our days.

NB: Walt warned us about this. He told us he'd be somewhere waiting for us.

“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

...Canto 52, Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

Close Popup

News clippings about the New Mexico leg of President Hayes' Great Western Tour in 1880

The Record Union, October 20, 1880, page 2.
Mendocino Coast Beacon, October 30, 1880.
Harper County Times, November 11, 1880.
Las Vegas Gazette, October 27, 1880.
Las Vegas Gazette, October 28, 1880.
Notth Topeka Daily Argus, November 2, 1880.
Daily New Mexican, October 29, 1880. click to expand
Daily New Mexican, October 29, 1880 (page 2). click to expand
Close Popup

President Hayes' route through southern New Mexio passed through turbulent boom-town areas. The image links to some stories about the aftermath.

The Santa Few New Mexican, December 23, 1880, page 4.
The Star Tribune, January 25, 1881, page 1.
Xenia Semi Weekly Gazette, February 4, 1881, page 2.
The Leavenworht Times, April 21, 1881, page 1.
The Las Vegas Gazette, April 10, 1884, page 2.
The Topeka State Joiurnal, October 12, 1899, page 3.
Albuquerque Tribune, October 7, 1988 click to expand
Albuquerque Tribune, October 7, 1988 (page 2). click to expand
The Deming Headlight, January 30, 2009. click to expand
Close Popup

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.

The Hayes route, per Ramsey, on a current map. click to expand
The 1880 Thayer map of the same area.click to expand
Close Popup

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
  • Close Popup

    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.

    The link is to the Sep 18 1909 Tucumcari News account of Taft's trip.
    The link is to the Las Vegas Optic, Oct 15, 1909.
    The link is to a the Albuquerque Morning Journal, Oct 16, 1909, p1.
    The link is to a the Albuquerque Morning Journal, Oct 16, 1909, p2.
    The link is to a the Albuquerque Morning Journal, Oct 16, 1909, p3.
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    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.

    The link is to an excerpt of a BLM publication about conditions around Fort Cummings in 1880.
    The link is to the letter to President Hayes from the citizens of Silver City, complaining about Apache depredations. It's followed by the response of General Pope.
    The link is to a paper from the New Mexico Historical Review describing Colonel Buell's expedition into Mexico in 1880 in pursuit of Victorio.
    The link is to General Sheridan's letter to Pope, advising him the president was visiting New Mexico in October 1880.
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    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.

    This engine photographed in Yuma in the 1880s may resemble the engine on Hayes' train.
    The "ambulances" may well have looked something like this.
    This is a Civil War depiction of an ambulance...Note Grant-like stance of man leaning on the tailgate.
    Stage coaches and frieghters commonly used more than 4 animals on a team.
    Typical field equippage from the era.
    More typical equippage.

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