Visiting Blog from Jackson Lowry: “How the Wild West Was Destroyed”

Thanks so much to Jackson Lowry for this intriguing guest blog. Sad to reveal that we all have to wait seven long months for his next book, “The Great West Detective Agency.” Happy to report that it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon at:

Here goes—comments welcome. Thanks Jackson.

                                                                 How the Wild West Was Destroyed

 Leland Stanford hammered in the gold spike at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869.  This was the first of five transcontinental railroads to be finished.  Lost in the thrill of this, but not to New Mexico, the second transcontinental road was honored with a silver spike at Deming, NM on March 8, 1881. (The town’s name comes from Mary Ann Deming Crocker, the wife of railroad magnate Charles Crocker.)

 And two more of the transcontinental railroads also passed through New Mexico, one coming through Santa Fe to Albuquerque and then due west across the Continental Divide and the other from the Texas Panhandle down to Las Cruces and then across to the Pacific.

 Off these roads hundreds of miles of spur lines were laid, to the White Oak gold mines, to Cloudcroft in the Sacramento Mountains to bring down timber for ties, to build Elephant Butte Reservoir supplying irrigation and drinking water for the Mesilla Valley and into Texas, to take away cattle and crops in a birth of continental trade–for a state that was and is mostly empty, transportation became easy.  With it the Wild West and the isolation needed for “elbow room” died a swift death.  Settlers pushed out the drover, the frontiersman and the gunfighter (and replaced him with a different kind of criminal–the land swindler and the tax collector and others who steal without necessarily using six-guns).  Gold was exhausted quickly, but mining took on a different face.  Coal mines fed the insatiable maws of the locomotives.  Played out coal mines can still be found in almost-ghost towns in Tijeras Canyon east of Albuquerque.  Copper became increasingly important at Santa Rita and Raton.  The burgeoning flow from these mines needed the rails to move base metals to bigger markets.  And they did with increasing frequency.

 In the span of twenty years after the silver spike was driven, the closing of the west was complete in New Mexico and the birth of commerce and took hold.  Stagecoaches could hardly compete with the rails and a man could go from Albuquerque to the Pacific and back in the same time it once took to simply leave New Mexico Territory on horseback.  Life became different.  It became downright civilized.

 Or almost so.  As Territorial Governor Lew Wallace once observed, “`All calculations based on our experiences elsewhere fail in New Mexico.”  There was (and is) still plenty of frontier left in the state to make for intriguing stories, but the days of Billy the Kid and Black Jack Ketchum are gone.


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