County Seat, Mining Town, Historically Designated or Ghost Town?
It is hard to put an exact label on Hillsboro. It has been the home of Spaniards, Indians, cowboys, ranchers, miners, prostitutes, madams, artists, writers, retirees, military, teachers, children, lawyers and outlaws. Most are now gone but a few remain. Some tourists visit as they travel the Geronimo Scenic Byway through the area. Whatever you want to call it now, ghost town, artist colony, retirement village, it is a town that continues to hang on with quiet charm and grace.
Related Read: The 5 Most Haunted Places in the United States
Hillsboro is 160 miles south of Albuquerque and was founded in 1877, following the discovery of gold. Later, huge amounts of silver and copper were discovered, mined, and milled. What was once a large volcano, now four miles wide, was the source of much of the gold.
The community was the county seat of Sierra County from 1884 until 1936 when Hot Springs (now called Truth or Consequences) became the county seat.
By 1880, the town had 4 companies of soldiers and 400 miners, but by 1907 the population soon grew ultimately to 1200. A flood on June 10, 1914 caused considerable damage in many town buildings.(1) Then another flood in 1972 caused much damage again. The area was declared a natural disaster area by President Richard Nixon.
A wine tasting room, The Black Range Vineyards, Hillsboro General Store and the Community Center/Library and The Union and Catholic Churches are the principal gathering places for locals and visitors. The Hillsboro Museum was recently purchased from a private estate by the Hillsboro Museum Association. They are in the process of cataloguing the contents and restoring the building.
Cable Billionaire, Ted Turner, now owns two large ranches near town; The Ladder Ranch, and The Armendaris Ranch. Practicing strict conservation measures; he raises buffalo that become dinner entrées in his restaurants. Some hunting is done on the ranches. Tours are being offered to the public.
The Hillsboro Courthouse had an especially interesting trial that I wrote about in my blog two years ago. It was the 3 weeks trial of the accused murderers of Judge Albert J. Fountain and his eight year old son. Defending attorney A. B Fall obtained an acquittal of the accused. In spite of efforts by law and friends and a $10,000 reward offered by the Masonic Lodge of New Mexico, the mystery was never solved. (1)
All that remains of the courthouse these days are a few crumbling walls and arches of red brick and the jail. After the County Seat was moved to Hot Springs, the building was sold to the highest bidder for fixtures and bricks. This is such a sad piece of history and the end of a fine building. At the turn of the century, this county seat was the most picturesque in the territory. (1)
A small RV Park in town is now under new ownership. The owner has vintage trailers for rent, RV spaces and tent areas. The prices are very reasonable. Visit Hillsboro RV Village for more information or view their listing on MobileRVing.com.
Nearby are two other ghost towns, called Kingstown and Lake Valley. Both had similar history. Silver mining operations ceased when the US Government demonetized Silver 1893. All these towns are now on New Mexico’s Geronimo Scenic Trail Bypass Road.
All the early explorers and settlers of the area, had conflicts with the native Indians. It was for this reason Hillsboro had 4 companies of soldiers located there.
The Black Range, the Mogollon and San Mateo Mountains of New Mexico, were homelands of the eastern band of Chiricahua Apaches known as the Warm Springs or Chihenne (Red Paint People). The Apaches had no tribal government such as we know, but were divided into bands. Each band consisted of several extended families or a family cluster. They were hunters, gatherers, and occasional farmers.
The Warm Springs Apaches were a far-ranging people. They roamed over more than one thousand miles of terrain in the American southwest. They could be found in areas of present day western New Mexico, eastern Arizona, and northern Mexico.
Survival included raiding small farming and ranching communities, mining towns, and villages in the territory they considered their homelands. They felt that anything they found was put there for their use and took it. This led to continuous conflicts with the encroaching settlements. Consequently, the growing numbers of miners, settlers, greedy governmental Indian agents and the United State Army pushed them off their lands.
The Chiricahua Apaches were rounded up and shipped by train to Florida in 1886, as prisoners of war. Later they were relocated to Alabama. The damp climate in both these places led to diseases, such as tuberculosis, that took many lives. In 1894 they were moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, which was a healthier climate for them. In 1911 they were finally released as Prisoners of War. Some of them decided to remain in the Fort Sill area and homesteaded lands there. Others wished to return to their native New Mexico, and were given lands by the Mescalero Apaches on their reservation.
The Warm Springs Apaches who roamed this territory for hundreds of years were never allowed to return to this homeland.
In 1846 Lt. W. H. Emory, guided by Kit Carson, led the Army of the West through the Black Range Mountains. Emory Pass was named for him, although he may have crossed at another pass south of Emory Pass. The U. S. Boundary Commission conducted an exploration of the area in 1850. (2) (As I looked over the valley to the east with Hillsboro and Kingston in the distance, I could sense the spirits of the Apache people who lived in this area.
Every community has its colorful people and Hillsboro is no exception. Sadie Jane Creech Orchard (1860-1943) arrived in the silver mining boomtown of Kingston in 1886; she is arguably the most colorful woman in New Mexico history. Sadie opened brothels, worked as a prostitute, built and operated hotels, restaurants, and co-owned and drove for a regional stagecoach line. During World War I she tended to the less fortunate, and in the 1918 flu pandemic nursed children and cared for the sick and dying. New Mexico writer Erna Ferguson wrote of her. “For a bad woman, Sadie was one of the best.”(3)
Many of Sadie’s personal clothing are housed in the Museum of Hillsboro that is currently being restored.
Visit https://www.hillsboronmhistory.info/services for more information and pictures.
1.History of Sierra County, New Mexico.Published by Sierra County Historical Society, Inc. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 1979.
2. Signpost at top of Emory Pass erected by the New Mexico Geronimo Trail Scenic Bypass Roads.
3. Scenic Road Marker, Hillsboro.
Black Range Tales, Sixty Year of Life and Adventure in the Southwest by James A. McKenna
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