Pecos Valley History
By The Late Harold Kilmer
The Pecos Valley Railroad completed its route along the Pecos River in 1890 from Pecos, Texas to Eddy (Carlsbad), NM. This railroad was extended to Roswell, NM in 1894. Haggerman reorganized and formed the Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railroad and started building north toward Amarillo, Texas.
The Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railroad was completed to Portales, NM and connected to the Panhandle and Santa Fe. Railroad at Texico, NM. The line was opened and the first train operated over the new line in 1899. In 1901 this line was acquired by the Santa Fe Railroad and the Belen Cutoff construction was beginning connecting Belen. NM with the line at Texico. NM through a newly founded town called Clovis, NM, about ten miles west of Texico, NM. The section of land on which Clovis was to be started was bought in October of 1906.
The broad Pecos River Valley was a natural route to Santa Fe and locations along the way. The lower valley of the Pecos was covered with grass and the availability of water made the Pecos River Valley a perfect route to move large herds of cattle to the military forts along the Pecos River and in the north eastern parts of the New Mexico Territory.
Texas cattlemen Goodnight, Loving, and Chisum camped at the mouth of the Hondo River where it flowed into the Pecos River in the late 1860s when they made their large cattle drives up the Pecos. There was plenty of grass and water for the cattle to rest before being driven up the Pecos to Ft. Sumner and on to Ft. Bascum. The first structures of record in the area were a cattle pen, a house, and an old adobe unit that was a hotel of sorts for the cattlemen.
W. C. Van C. Smith of Omaha, Nebraska arrived from Santa Fe in 1869 with his partner, Aaron Wilburn, and bought the adobe hotel and trading post. They built two buildings in 1870 that served as a general store, post office, and hotel. These buildings were built at a location that is the present intersection of 4th Street and Main in Roswell, NM. The site was named Roswell after Van Smith’s father and a land claim was filled on the town in both district at Lincoln, NM and in the territorial offices in Santa Fe.
The post office which opened in 1873 was on a Star mail route between Mesilla and Las Vegas, Roswell being a carrier stop midway between Lincoln and Ft. Sumner. To accommodate cattle herds that were frequently driven through, Van Smith created a wide Main Street. This very wide street was used as a racetrack between the store and the Hondo River and during the 1870’s Roswell became known as a gambling center for cattlemen driving their herds up the Pecos River.
During this same period in the 1870’s two cattlemen settled in the Roswell area. John Chisum established his ranch headquarters at South Spring, six miles south of Roswell. Chisum was one of the largest cattlemen in the country and his ranch headquarters became an important political and social center.
The other cattleman was Joseph Lea who located his cattle holdings northwest of Roswell, NM. He purchased the holdings of Smith and Wilburn and established a 160-acre townsite. In 1885 the original townsite was officially plotted. At that time Roswell had nine houses, a mill, several stores, blacksmith shop., and a hotel. The area south and southeast of the townsite, along the Pecos River, had been settled by farmers in the 1870’s. This area was called , The Farms, and an estimate of three hundred people lived at The Farms. The first school in the Roswell area was located at The Farms.
Chaves County was created by the Territorial Legislature, February 25, 1889, to commemorate the name of Jose Francisco Chaves. Parent County of Chaves County was the county of Lincoln. At the time it was created it was the fourth largest county in the Territory of New Mexico. Jose Francisco Chaves, son of Don Mariano, was a prominent political figure in the nineteenth-century political and military life. He was elected delegate for New Mexico Territory to Congress in 1865 where he served three terms. Roswell became the county seat for Chavez County and a courthouse was built on land donated by Joseph Lea.
J. J. Hagerman formed the Pecos Valley Railroad to construct a railroad north from Pecos, Texas to follow the Pecos River. The Pecos Valley Railroad completed its route along the Pecos River in 1890 from Pecos, Texas to Eddy (now Carlsbad), NM. This railroad was extended to Roswell, NM in 1894. The discovery of artesian water in 1891 and the dream of the dreamers who visualized the free-flowing water turning the Pecos valley into a fruit producing area and gave Hagerman the incentive to continue his railroad to serve the area. Hagerman reorganized and formed the Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railroad and started building north toward Amarillo, Texas. The Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railroad was completed to Portales, NM and connected to the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railroad at Texico, NM. The line was opened and the first train operated over the new line in 1899.
In the 1890’s post offices were authorized and towns were started. The second post office in what is now Chaves County was Lower Penasco in the Sacramento foothills. Elk which is also in the Sacramento foothills, got a post office in 1894. A town was laid out in 1894 called "Felez" and got a post office. Feliz was built on the new Pecos Valley Railroad and on February 27, 1895 the name was changed to Hagerman in honor of J. J. Hagerman. A post office was started in the Franklin Campbell home at Lake Van. This area was named Dexter in 1902 with the Dexter post office opening in 1902.
By 1900 Roswell was a growing frontier town. The name "New Military Institute" was assigned to a military school that Joseph Lea had talked the commandant of the Fort Worth Military University to locate a prep school in the New Mexico Territory in 1893. At this time Roswell had three doctors, four attorneys, two churches, a town school with three others in the nearby valley, the military school, a courthouse, thirty businesses and a population in excess of five hundred people.
An Army Flying School was established by the War Department in 1941 on the land south of Roswell. This military school was expanded in 1950 with the construction of Walker Air Force Base for the Strategic Air Command. In 1960 additional military personnel arrived to construct and operate several Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles. Then as soon as the missile sites were completed they were closed in 1965 and Walker Air Base was deactivated in 1967. The former military base was renamed Roswell Industrial Air Center and now houses a two-year branch college of Eastern New Mexico University, several industries, a major Greyhound bus assembly plant, several state and regional government offices, a rehabilitation center and hospital, and the city’s airport facilities.
New Mexico in Maps by Jerry L. Williams and Paul E. McAllister, 1979
Roundup on the Pecos by Chaves County Historical Society, 1978.
New Mexico Place Names, edited by T. M. Pearce, 1965.