Along the Camino Real Settling the Valley The City Begins Soldiers, Ranchers, and Outlaws The Railroad Era Water and Hard Times War, Rockets, and Renewal

The City Begins: 1849 to 1860

Founding of Las Cruces

The site for the new American town lay six miles south of Doña Ana near a stand of crosses marking the graves of travelers and soldiers. The landmark crosses gave the town its name - Las Cruces. In 1849, U.S. Army surveyors lead by Lieutenant Delos Bennett Sackett divided Las Cruces into 84 blocks. They used a rawhide rope as a measure and reserved one block each for a church and a cemetery. After the survey, family leaders drew lots to determine which property they would own.

Building Begins

Due to the shortage of lumber, the primary building material was adobe, a mix of mud and straw dried in the sun. Logs from cottonwood trees were used for roof supports, called vigas. Jacales, primitive mud-plastered mesquite post and brush dwellings, were another building type. Outlying farms relied on acequias, or irrigation ditches, to carry water from the Rio Grande for their crops of grapes, chile, corn and beans.

Early Businesses

Located on a major trade route dating back to the Camino Real, Las Cruces supported an array of business. Prussian immigrant Henry Lesinsky prospered as a general mercantile. Other family members moved into the area as well. Julius Freudenthal, Lesinsky's cousin, ran a freight company, store and hotel. Nestor Armijo's involvement in the Santa Fe trade, mining and livestock made him a millionaire. With his new wealth, he built the fine home that still stands near downtown. Martin Amador started his business career working in his mother's store. He later built a successful freight business and a landmark hotel. In the 1850s, German native John May opened the Rio Grande Hotel, a grocery, and a dry goods store. Others found fortune as military contractors, providing the area military forts with supplies and grain.
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La Mesilla

La Mesilla, founded March 1, 1850, was named "little table" for its tableland site near the Rio Grande. Its residents were Mexican loyalists from Dona Ana and Mexico. A center for trade and farming, Mesilla became the county seat when Dona Ana County formed in 1852. Mesilla served as a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail Company stage route from St. Louis to San Francisco from 1858 to 1861. By 1860, Mesilla had more than 2,000 residents, twice that of Las Cruces. Both the U.S. and Mexico claimed ownership of the growing village.

Gadsden Purchase

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required Mexico and the U.S. to agree on a new international border. The U.S. wanted a portion of northern Mexico for a railroad to California. Mexico opposed this boundary line. The U.S. Minister to Mexico, James Gadsden, traveled to Mexico to settle the dispute. He negotiated the purchase of a strip of land that now forms the southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona for $10 million. This strip became the last piece of land added to the continental United States. The Gadsden Purchase, ratified on April 25, 1854, also secured the Mesilla Valley and the village of Mesilla within the U.S. border.

Organ Mining District

Organ credits its founding to tale of a lost gold mine. In 1849, Juan Garcia, a prospector searching for the Lost Padre Mine, established the first mine in the Organ Mountains. He soon sold the mine to Hugh Stephenson. In ten years, Stephenson mined it for $90,000 worth of silver and lead. By the 1880s, mines like the Modoc and the Torpedo were removing silver, lead, and copper from the Organ Mountains. On February 26, 1885, the town of Organ was established. It had a population of 200, two general stores, seven saloons, a Catholic church, a schoolhouse, and a baseball team. Organ's glory days ended in the early 1900s when prices for lead and silver began to fall.