Time might cloud understanding of news reports from over 140 years ago, but items from the pages of the 19th Century Las Vegas (New Mexico) Gazette still catch my eye.
Hiding today from the 21st Century heat, I resumed my occasional research on croquet in territorial New Mexico. This was related to my ongoing interest with the Billy the Kid croquet controversy of 1878, or at least the Billy the Kid croquet photo controversy of 2015. (See previous posts. Links below).
I did not find the advertisement I was seeking, reportedly offering croquet equipment for sale at Chapman’s general store in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1878. But I did find evidence that croquet was being played in the rough-and-tumble territory even before The Kid and fellow Regulators allegedly were photographed with mallets and balls — and a dandy striped cardigan in the Kid’s case — a couple of months after the Lincoln County War.
“The person who picked up the glove on the croquet ground, west of the Catholic Church on the first day of this week, can have the other by calling this office,” the Las Vegas Gazette reported on June 19, 1875.
And, in Cimarron, 90-some miles away, gunplay at the St. James Hotel apparently wasn’t the only game in town in 1875. “Three full sets of croquet are kept constantly running at Cimarron,” the newspaper reported without much other explanation on July 24.
I discovered that the Las Vegas Gazette of the late 1800s, under editor J.H. Koogler, is full of other remarkable information.
If you are curious about the effect of historic land use practices in Sandoval County, for instance, you might find this July 24, 1875 item of interest: “Judge Otero, of Bernalillo, has just finished shearing 140,000 head of sheep.”
Without attribution, and with no clear context, the Gazette also reported that day that, “San Francisco, Cal., confirms one-third more liquor than Chicago .”
There were other notes that now offer historical insight:
“John D. Lee of Utah has turned states evidence and will make a full confession of all he knows in the Mountain Meadows massacre.”
“The wives and children of 60 Kiowa and Comanche Indians, captured on the Staked Plains, are to be transferred to St. Augustine, Florida, at government expense, where their husbands and fathers are now confined.”
The most curious report in the July 24, 1875 edition might be this one-line and possibly libelous statement under the heading General News: “Robert Dale Owen is crazy.”
A few years later, the famous New Mexico lawyer-politico and reputed land acquisition specialist Thomas Benton Catron made this appearance in the July 13, 1878, edition.
Catron offered a $150 reward for a trunk that fell off a stage between Cimarron and Las Vegas, on the way to Santa Fe, sometime before April, 1878. He said the trunk weighed between 70 and 80 pounds and was stamped with his name and the words “Santa Fe, N.M.” The reward notice continued with Catron — in a possible precursor to the 21st Century Forrest Fenn treasure hunt — saying the trunk contained just a “number of deeds, of conveyance, Notes, Drafts &c.” that were “only of importance to me and my clients.”
I have not dug farther into the pages of the Las Vegas Gazette following the loss of Catron’s trunk, but I’m guessing it probably was not returned, especially the deeds it contained.
There are many ads for general merchandise retailers, as well ads for lawyers, doctors and dentists. My favorite might be the ad for J.H. Shout, M.D., “wholesale and retail dealer in Drugs and Medicine.”
“All classes of fine liquors constantly on hand,” Dr. Shout’s ad noted.
Terse but dramatic reports from the chaotic Lincoln County War, father south, pepper the Gazette’s 1878 editions.
“The Dolan and Riley party seem to have the upperhand in Lincoln County; the McSween party has taken to the mountains.” the Gazette reported on July 13.
“Hell is popping around here,” said a letter to the paper, dated July 5, 1878. “Peppin is sheriff by appointment of Gov. Axtell. Buck Powell is duly appointed deputy sheriff, and is out with 13 men. McSween is in the field. He and some 15 to 20 men are at Chisum’s ranch … Numerous shots were fired; nobody hurt.”
Neither item mentioned that a bunch of people had already been killed, including Lincoln Sheriff William J. Brady and Deputy George W. Hindman in what have been called assasinations on Lincoln’s main drag on April 1 — one of the gunmen in the mix, the ubiquitous Billy the Kid.
The Kid also was around for the conclusive, five-day Battle of Lincoln, starting on July 15. Things had quieted down enough by September 1878 for the Kid and pals to supposedly pose for the croquet photo at the Tunstall Ranch, but other reports have them selling stolen livestock about the same time several hundred miles east in Tacosa, Texas.
By the way, the Las Vegas Daily Optic, continuing today as the Las Vegas Optic, was founded in 1879, the year after the Lincoln County War.