New Mexico in 19th century : Economic and Social Development

Mining quickly became a substantial industry. Gold had been discovered in the Ortiz Mountains in 1828 and at Pino Altos in 1860. Another gold strike occurred in north central New Mexico in 1867, and in 1869 the discovery of rich silver lodes caused a boom in the southwestern mountains, creating rough mining towns such as Elizabethtown and Silver City almost overnight. Coal mining developed west of Raton in the 1880s. Sheep raising dominated New Mexico’s early livestock industry. Wool from the Spanish churro breed supplied local weavers, and throughout most of the 19th century large flocks were driven south and sold in the mining towns of northern Mexico.

In 1866 Texas longhorn cattle were introduced, and large cattle ranches began appearing in New Mexico. These ranchers competed with sheepherders for water and land and frequently resorted to force to control these resources. As they became more powerful, some ranchers opened their own stores and banks. Other ranchers opened rival businesses, and as in the struggle for water, often the competition turned violent. Ranchers and businessmen hired bodyguards—sometimes even local law officials—for personal protection.

One of these intense rivalries led to the Lincoln County War, which lasted from 1878 to 1881. The war began after a sheriff’s posse and hired gunmen of a rival rancher and merchant murdered John Tunstall, who had opened a competing store and a bank. Tunstall’s own bodyguards included Billy the Kid, who then led a group of Tunstall employees seeking revenge. Billy had reportedly committed his first murder when he was 12, and eventually claimed to have shot and killed 21 men in his lifetime. In 1880 Sheriff Pat Garrett of Lincoln County captured Billy. Sentenced to hang, Billy killed two deputies and escaped from jail on April 28, 1881. Shortly after the escape, Garrett trapped and fatally shot Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The arrival of large numbers of settlers after the railroad reached New Mexico in 1879 helped reduce the lawlessness of the cattle ranchers. Settlers fenced the land and began farming, slowly reducing the open range on which ranchers had built their fortunes. The dry land, however, was difficult to farm, and settlers turned to irrigation. The first large-scale irrigation project was in the Pecos River valley in 1890. Other private irrigation projects were undertaken during the 1890s, and the federal government built others after the turn of the century. Dry-farming techniques spread quickly, especially in the northeastern section of the territory. Encarta

Lincoln County War
Lincoln County War.
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