Tuesday, May 26, 2015

For Sale: Fort Bayard, New Mexico



For this installment we’ll be featuring a place you can actually buy if you’ve got some money and a whole lot of gumption: Fort Bayard, New Mexico. Located ten miles east of Silver City, Fort Bayard was established in 1866 as a direct result of the discovery of gold in nearby Pinos Altos in 1859. As gold brought miners and prospectors to what’s now the region of the Gila Wilderness, the Warm Springs Apache did the best they could to drive the new arrivals either back to where they came from or into their graves, whichever happened first. So a fort was built and named after Brigadier General George D. Bayard, a frontier fighter with the First Cavalry who died in the Civil War at Fredericksburg, VA.

Initially, Fort Bayard was comprised of some huts made out of logs and adobe. Not exactly a formidable defense. But by the time serious campaigns were launched against Mangas Coloradas, Victorio, and Geronimo, it had grown considerably. The Army often sent African-Americans, sometimes referred to as Buffalo Soldiers, to battle Native Americans in the West, and such was the case with Fort Bayard.



A monument to one Buffalo Soldier, Corporal Clinton Greaves, of Company C, 9th U.S. Cavalry, stands in the center of the fort. In addition to a statue of a rifleman in action, which may or may not be Corporal Greaves, there is a plaque which reads, “On June 27, 1877 while on patrol in the Florida Mountains near Deming, New Mexico Corporal Greaves performed an act of heroism saving six soldiers and three Navajo scouts from attack by forty to fifty Chiricahua Apache. Corporal Greaves was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on June 26, 1879.”

However, in 1886, following the capture of Geronimo, the Apache threat subsided. The 400-acre post remained active until 1900, and then Fort Bayard became an Army sanatorium and research center for tuberculosis, the climate of the area being quite salutary for TB sufferers. The hospital was briefly transferred to civilian control before a new one, the first built under the auspices of the Veterans Bureau, was constructed in 1922. Here, in a modern facility with a 1,250-patient capacity, victims of mustard and chlorine gas attacks in WWI used mirrors to reflect the plentiful desert sunshine "into" their lungs in the hope it would heal them. During WWII the fort even housed German prisoners of war. The hospital closed in 2010 with completion of the nearby (but off-property) Fort Bayard Medical Center. And then there were none.



To me, the most striking part of Fort Bayard, which is both a National Historic Landmark and National Historic District, is Officer's Row, a shady avenue comprised of several derelict officer's residences which, aside from one that's a museum, resemble abandoned mansions. They were built in the 1920's to replace the shoddy original officer's quarters. Numerous smaller homes for enlisted men can also be seen, as well as a historic theater and various intriguing outbuildings. The 145,000-square-foot hospital, now boarded-up, reportedly costs about $100,000 annually to maintain and is the first thing slated to be demolished. It may already be gone as of this writing, but I wouldn't bet on it. Even demolition was estimated to cost $4.3 million. (5/28/15 UPDATE: The hospital does indeed remain and there is no evidence of imminent demolition. Thanks, readers!)



Essentially, the state of New Mexico, which has owned the property since 1965, can hardly afford to tear anything down, let alone fix it up. Even the trees are dying from lack of caretaking. So Fort Bayard is on the market. Solicitations for expressions of interest from potential buyers, sort of fancy “For Sale” ads, have appeared in the Wall Street and Albuquerque Journals. How much might a nearly abandoned 19th century fort cost, you ask? Well, don’t reach for your checkbook just yet; there is no asking price, but NM General Services Secretary Ed Burckle is considering all serious proposals, of which there have been so few to date that you could count them on one hand. In fact, part of the reason the hospital is first in line for demolition is because it's thought the removal of the asbestos-filled building will make the fort more attractive to a future buyer who would then (hopefully) preserve the other structures.



There have been many worthy ideas for re-purposing Fort Bayard, with its lovely old buildings and beautiful, open grounds. These include a treatment center for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, a workforce development center, a business and industrial park, and a mixed housing development. Others have suggested that the fort be turned into a shelter for homeless vets, a private military academy, or a ghost-hunting destination. The latter might be one way to meet Corporal Greaves and his companions.

Currently, believe it or not, the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society offers guided tours of the old fort every Saturday throughout summer and twice monthly in winter, providing a bit of access and plenty of history. Unfortunately, despite the many people that love the place, not least among them the aforementioned preservation society, Fort Bayard proves that the Beatles were incorrect in at least this instance. It’s not just love the old fort needs, but money, and lots of it.



Information for this post came from The Place Names of New Mexico, as well as very informative articles from the Albuquerque Journal (“NM’s historic Fort Bayard up for sale”) and Silver City Sun-News (“A new day dawns for Fort bayard”). I’d also recommend paying a visit to the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society Facebook page. If you want to know (a lot) more of the fort's history, newmexicohistory.org will keep you busy for a couple hours.

Next time we’ll have a brief fictional interlude, the first since I posted The Monsoon over a year ago. This one is my ode to hitchhikers.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Zinc Town: Hanover, New Mexico

Just three miles southeast of Fierro, New Mexico, the town featured last time with back-to-back posts, is Hanover. Hanover was named by local prospectors for the Hanover Mines near Fierro, which were, in turn, named for Hanover, Germany. Hanover was the hometown of Sofio Henkel/Henkle/Hinkel, who is credited with discovering iron and copper in the area in 1841, but he was forced out by Apaches two years later. More on that story can be found in the initial post on Fierro.

Hanover, however, wasn't known for copper or iron, but zinc. The post office opened in 1892 and operates to this day, although it has moved a few times from its original location. It’s now in the old railroad depot, beside Hanover Creek. But mining didn’t begin in earnest until decades later, and Hanover still lies in the shadow of the massive Empire Zinc Company headframe (shown above), built during the First World War. From WWI through WWII and on into the Cold War, zinc was Hanover’s bread and butter. But then, in the fall of 1950, things got volatile, bringing outside attention to the remote little town.



(Above is a store and previous location of the Hanover Post Office.)

For some time, Hispanic miners had been angry that the Empire Zinc Company, a subsidiary of the New Jersey Zinc Company, paid Anglos more for doing the same work, officially known as “dual wage rates.” Hispanics were also the only ones given the more dangerous underground duties, and were assigned the lowest quality company housing. So, on October 17, 1950, 140 miners walked off the job. These were members of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (aka Mine Mill), whose leadership was suspected of being communist. Then eight months passed.



On the eighth month the strike got even more intense. That’s when the Empire/New Jersey Zinc Company hired strikebreakers and a federal judge issued a restraining order prohibiting further picketing by miners. At that point, the miners’ wives and children took over picketing. Because they were not miners, this was technically not a violation of the restraining order. It’s said the local sheriff was quickly confronted with a “horde of screaming, singing, chanting women and children.” Sixty-two of these women and children, including a one-month-old baby, were jailed until evening on the first day.



The miners’ families continued picketing for another seven months. One wife of a miner said, “Everybody had a gun, except us. We had knitting needles. We had safety pins. We had straight pins. We had chile peppers. And we had rotten eggs.” The strike ended 15 months after it began, in January 1952, with miners receiving a modest wage increase along with life insurance, health benefits, and hot running water in their company homes.

The whole episode resulted in a movie, "Salt of the Earth," released in 1954. Hanover’s name was changed to “Zinctown,” and no filming was done in the real Hanover, although some scenes were shot in Fierro. Actual mine workers played roles similar to those they’d had in real life, carrying sidearms to protect themselves while doing so. That's because the film was written, directed, and produced by members of the Hollywood Ten, a group blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-american Activities Committee (HUAC). So, for many years it was almost impossible to actually see the movie due to its perceived communist associations. Now, of course, it’s not very hard at all. The entire thing is on You Tube.



It seems a little late in the day to argue about whether communism played a somehow insidious role in the strike in Hanover. Fifteen years later, the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers would merge with the United Steelworkers of America. But you can imagine that in the early 1950’s there was controversy. Nevertheless, in a shady little corner of a rarely-used bridge at the southern end of Hanover, there’s a plaque dedicated by the Board of Grant County Commissioners, Armando D Galindo, Conn W. Brown, and Zeke P. Santa Maria. It reads:

“This bridge is dedicated to the memory of the Mine Mill Women’s Auxiliary of 1951-1952. These brave women took over the picket line against the New Jersey Zinc Co. after their striking husbands were prohibited from picketing by an injunction. They were shot at, tear-gassed, run over and jailed but they stood strong in support of the International Union of Mine Mill and Smelter Workers.”



We can’t leave Hanover and Fierro without a quick mention of Villas Dry Goods Store No. 2, which used the slogan, “Shoes Ready to Wear.” The old false-front sits on a slight rise above Hanover, just before Fierro, in an area that may once have been a separate community known as Union Hill. And where was Villas Dry Goods Store No. 1, you ask? Why, 150 miles away in El Paso, naturally.



As usual, most of what's in this post was found in "New Mexico’s Best Ghost Towns," “Ghost Towns Alive,” and/or "The Place Names of New Mexico,"

Next time we’ll do one more post from this general vicinity and visit Fort Bayard, a beleaguered outpost originally manned by Buffalo Soldiers to guard against Apache attacks after the Civil War.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Postscript-Maize and the Mexican Mafia: The Graffiti of Fierro, NM



Yesterday’s post on the ghost town of Fierro, NM was heavily historical. In the introduction, I painted a portrait of Fierro as entirely vacant, quiet as a stone, a place where humans rarely tread these days. While that is relatively true, it’s not the entire picture, even aside from services at St. Anthony’s Mission Catholic Church and the occasional family reunion. Fierro does get visited and, judging by the evidence, its visitors are an interesting bunch. So, I thought it would be worth taking a look at who’s been there recently and what they’ve left behind. There might even be something here that'd be useful to know if you’re thinking of making the trip yourself.



Most of the graffiti in Fierro is in the house shown at bottom, which was last owned by the Araujo family, who also operated Araujo’s Grocery in the building next door. The Araujo’s rented the home out, but one person that probably didn’t sign a lease was whoever painted the green wall of skulls and maize set against the backdrop of a mountain shown above. The artist clearly spent some time in Fierro and, in fact, the room was swept clean and full of the evidence of a fairly prolonged stay. That evidence included some unusual reading material, such as a book about the influence of computers on society which lay open to a chapter titled, “The Human Difference.”



Judging by the stencils, it’s possible the same person wrote this stanza on the back of Araujo’s Grocery itself: Las igyanas (sic) vendrán a morder a los hombres que no sueñan. This is a slight rearranging of a line from Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem, Ciudad sin sueño (Nocturno del Brooklyn Bridge), written in 1929-1930. The translation is: “Iguanas will come to bite the men who do not dream.” Lorca’s work is often pretty surrealistic, but, to me, he is inciting his reader NOT to sleep, but to do, in which case being bitten by iguanas is, in fact, a worthy and motivating experience.

Lorca was executed by a firing squad loyal to Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1936, and appears in The Clash tune Spanish Bombs. (“Federico Lorca is dead and gone.”) The Pogues composed an entire song to him, Lorca’s Novena, in which his corpse walks away. Seeing Lorca’s words as graffiti in a ghost town is quite rare.



Other visitors to Fierro would seem to include members of Sur 13, the Sureños, a prison gang allied with the Mexican Mafia, MS-13, and the Crips. Their tag is visible in the shot above, as well as elsewhere inside the house.



So, while for many ghost towns it is their history that compels, it’s also true that these places have a present and a population of sorts, even if transient. As always, it is only the future which remains uncertain.