These days Vaughn, New Mexico is probably best known for its police force, which consists of a single drug-sniffing dog named Nikka. Last year there was a police chief, but he owes tens of thousands of dollars in child support and was accused of selling one of the town's rifles and keeping the proceeds. A second officer recently pleaded guilty to assault and battery, but he was never officially certified anyway. That leaves Nikka and the Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Department to keep the peace in Vaughn which, despite it being considered a stopover for drug smugglers, probably isn’t that difficult. But Vaughn, with a population of 438 (down from 539 in 2000), wasn’t always as quiet as it is today.
But before Vaughn even had a name it was a favored resting place during drives on the Stinson Cattle Trail. Jim Stinson worked for the New Mexico Land and Livestock Company and, beginning in 1882, would bring up to 20,000 head of cattle at a time from Texas to homesteads and forts in the Estancia Valley of east-central New Mexico.
Vaughn got its name from Major G.W. Vaughn, who was a civil engineer for the ATSF. Right off the bat there was a water shortage and, in 1908, the ATSF built a water tank and two underground cisterns to try to collect as much of the precious liquid as they could. Drinking water was brought in by tanker from nearby Willard and Negra. The El Paso & Southern did a little better, having their water transported via wooden pipe from Bonito Lake, 100 miles to the southwest. In 1909, the ATSF figured it would just be easier to pay the El Paso & Southern 24 cents per thousand gallons than try to collect their own water any longer.
Charles Lindbergh even stopped in Vaughn, but not because he particularly wanted to. In 1928, engine failure forced him to land his plane and wait in town a few days for a replacement part to arrive. He stayed at the Harvey House and, apparently, despite the best efforts of the girls, was not interested in socializing with them in the slightest. To read about another stranded traveler who felt an initial distaste for Vaughn, yet eventually came around, I recommend a stop at Viva New Mexico.
Vaughn wasn’t incorporated until 1919, but by 1920 it had a relatively healthy population of about 1000. However, the number of residents may never have climbed much higher than that. One Harvey Girl, Alice Garnas, said in 1926, “Vaughn was a shocking place. There was no place to go, nothing to do. Just Vaughn and those wide plains on all sides--cattle country. But it was for me.”
Like the previous post, on the town of Encino, most of the hard-to-find information and quotes included here came from Dixie Boyle’s excellent book, “Highway 60 & the Belen Cutoff: A Brief History.” Ms. Garnas' quote came from "The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West," by Lesley Poling-Kempes. I also grabbed a bit from Wikipedia, the aforementioned Viva New Mexico, and the LA Times, believe it or not.
Next time we’re going to one of the best ghost towns I know, Cuervo, NM.