Blog: The Range

Fort Cummings Tour

On October 6 of this year the Hillsboro Historical Society (HHS) will sponsor a tour of Cooke's Spring and Ft. Cummings.  Bob Barnes, who will lead the tour, sends this note about it.

"Cooke's Spring and Ft. Cummings are two of the most historic sites in the American Southwest, and they are less than a quarter of a mile apart.  These historic sites are on the southwestern edge of the Cooke's Range (southern Black Range).  Cooke's spring was a dependable source of water in the area.  Cattle herds, stagecoach lines, and people "heading west" all stopped at Cooke's Spring.  It was because of this that Ft. Cummings was built.  

Cooke's Spring, Sierra County, New Mexico, USA

What you will see:  Frankly, you will not see much.  The walls of Ft. Cummings have mostly melted into the desert, and the spring was capped in the late 1800’s (spring house photo above).  But if you want a story, a historical story, a story of personal drama, tragedy, and perseverance, this is the place.  There are few places in the west where a better story can be told.  I will be leading the tour and will try my  best to tell that story.  Against the backdrop of where it happened, looking beyond the desert scrub of today, we will talk about what this place was and what it meant in the last half of the 1800's.

If you think you might be interested please visit the Ft. Cummings and Cooke's Spring page.  We are fortunate to have an excellent resource for this area in Cooke’s Peak - Pasaron Por Aqui - A Focus on United States History in Southwestern New Mexico, by Donald Howard Couchman, 1990 .  You may also wish to read “Annals of Old Fort Cummings” by William Thornton Parker, M.D., which was published in 1916.

Logistics:  The tour will be by private car pool and will depart from the Black Range Museum in Hillsboro at 9:00 a.m. with a stop at 9:30 in Nutt to pick up anyone who would rather meet there.  Car pooling arrangements will be made once registration is complete.  Please note that if you choose to drive, high clearance is recommended on the access road, and there is a definite possibility that vegetation will mark the side of your vehicle (desert pinstriping).  A light lunch and cold water will be furnished at the historical site.  There are no facilities at this area, although there are some tall bushes.  Privacy should be easy but conditions are "primitive".  Even in October it will be important to wear sun protection:  there is no shade to speak of in the area.  And of course, we will be in the desert.  There will probably be snakes, spiders, goblins, etc., about (although I have never seen any on my many trips to the area).

The charge, per HHS member, is $25 and a $50 charge per non-member (Hint: the annual membership fee for the HHS is $25 - so become a member).   All services provided during this tour are volunteer, so all of the tour fee goes directly to the HHS.

Please note that it is fairly straightforward to do this as an independent trip.  See the Ft. Cummings page to view a road video and access photo galleries.

Having told you the possible "down sides", I would like to reiterate that Ft. Cummings and Cooke's Spring are two of the most historic sites in this area.  In my mind they are magical - and hopefully I can impart that feeling of magic to the tour participants."

TO REGISTER:  E-mail Garland Bills at and tell him to reserve a space(s) for you.  Then send a check made out to the Hillsboro Historical Society at "Hillsboro Historical Society, P. O. Box 461, Hillsboro NM 88042".  Be sure to indicate that the check is for the Ft. Cummings Tour, on the check.

We are always looking for additional tour ideas and special event concepts for our members.  If you know of something you would really like to do, please let us know, and we will see if we can figure out how to do it.

Fort Cummings, Sierra County, New Mexico, USA
Probably the Sutler’s Building near the Front Gate.
January 6, 2014

Pollution Permit

discharge permit

Copper Flat Water Rights Determined - Round One

Judge James J. Wechsler has reached a decision in the water rights case involving the New Mexico Copper Corporation (NMCC), the Office of the State Engineer, Turner Ranch Properties, and several other parties from Hillsboro.  The Judge’s findings of "Fact and Conclusions of Law” are found at this link.

Judge Wechsler found that the vast majority of the water rights claimed by NMCC were not valid.  NMCC claimed a vested water right of 1,963 afy and an inchoate water right of 7,481 afy or 9,444 annual acre feet (3,077,340,891 gallons per year).  (Inchoate rights “are incomplete water rights that had not vested at the time the OSE declared the basin because, although the appropriator had begun development of the rights, the water had not been put to beneficial use.”  Such rights are associated with the grandfathered rights associated with the Mendenhall case and are called Mendenhall rights.  If you are particularly interested in these rights please see pp. 63-65 of the decision.)

The extraction of three billion+ gallons of water a year would have a substantial negative affect on the integrity of the water system in this area but that was not the legal question before the judge.  His determination dealt only with the question of what the valid water rights of NMCC were, if any.  He determined that the inchoate rights were extinguished; that there was a combined water right from some wells (861.84 afy); and that there were 34.45 annual acre feet of rights associated with the open pit (designated as LRG-4652-S-17) at the Copper Flat Mine.  34.45 afy is the amount of water which evaporates from the pit each year.

Judge Wechsler found that the Copper Flat Mine was formally abandoned (not mothballed) by February 5, 1987.  The vast majority of water rights currently claimed by NMCC have not put to beneficial use since that time.  “Unappropriated surface water and groundwater belong to the people of New Mexico and are subject to beneficial use in accordance with New Mexico law.”  He found that the Hillsboro Claimants in the case and Turner Ranch Properties did not “meet their burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that either CFP or Frost and Gray abandoned the right associated with” (some of) "the production wells” and have a right to 861.84 afy.  The “claimants have established abandonment by clear and convincing evidence” in the case of other wells.

Wechsler’s decision is well written and provides the most succinct (at 73 double spaced pages) description of the mining activities at the Copper Flat mine site that I have seen and is well worth the time to read. 

Some of the The Things Which May Happen Next

It is not known if any of the parties will appeal the decision, although there appears to be grounds for such action.  For instance, the 861.84 afy recognized by Wechsler has not been used since1982 and the recognition of that claim is the longest period of excused non-use in case history.

If Themac continues to pursue the idea of a Copper Flat Mine, it will have to buy or lease water rights from elsewhere to use at the Copper Flat site.  That will necessitate an application to the NM State Engineer for permission to transfer the place of use of those rights from elsewhere to the Copper Flat site.  A notice of Public Notice of such application will need to be published at that time.  Parties wishing to challenge such a transfer will need to request a public hearing.  

Note that the water is not transferred (shipped) from some location to the Copper Flat mine by this action.  The rights to water are transferred.  The water would be pumped from wells near the junction of NM-152 and I-25.  Arguments have been made that pumping water from that location will diminish New Mexico’s ability to comply with the Rio Grande Compact.  For a summary of the issues associated with the Rio Grande Compact please see an article entitled “In Deep Water: US Supreme Court to decide how states hare the drying Rio Grande, and New Mexico could lose big” by Laura Paskus.

There is no doubt that increased usage of water from the aquifers by urban areas, farming, and mining is depleting the ground water supply available to everyone.  It is also true that human-induced climate change and the continued drought that it brings to the basin means that the aquifers are not being replenished at their  historical rates.  Bad times are on the horizon - why make them worse?

Hillsboro Community Center

The Hillsboro Community Center now has a website, see:  Hillsboro Community Center.  The site contains information about upcoming events, a mission statement, donation & fee schedule, and contact and administrative information.  Apparently, the HCC also maintains a facebook page.  

Our Upcoming Events page includes only those events about which we receive information in a timely fashion.  Since we no longer perform outreach, seeking information about events we become aware of, it is always best to go to the source (in this case the HCC sites linked to above) as a matter of course.

The More Things Stay The Same

The more things change, the more they stay the same…….Things are more like today than they have ever been….

Two messages in today’s post.  Firstly, welcome to Black Range 3, a site which covers the human culture of the Black Range in southwestern New Mexico.  As such it is an addendum to that topic as it was covered in the original Black Range website.  

Given its focus on the human culture of the Range this site will sometimes announce upcoming events which may be of interest to those in the Range and nearby environs.  The listing of events is not likely to be comprehensive. We do not do outreach, if you wish to have notice of your events published in advance and they are of common interest I will do my best to accommodate you.

The second message is about history and the fact that the “common truth” is often not.  When I first moved to Hillsboro there were lots of stories about the legacy of Kingston and Hillsboro, many have proven false with just a bit of research and thought. Every place has its “tales” and we have our share of them.  I have no problem with “tales” as long as there is an understanding that is what they are.  Aesop's Fables are obviously tales and obviously have instructed people for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Likewise, the tales about Mark Twain visiting Kingston and basing “Roughing It” on that experience is a great tale about boosterism, a tradition that continues on sites like  Nothing wrong with boosterism, it was a big part of the mining history of the Black Range. (For those who are wondering, Roughing It was published a full decade before Kingston was founded - a very simple thing to ferret out, if you are really interested in fact and not tales.)

Roughing It

On this site we will always search for the fact, sometimes that is hard, sometimes fact is lost in history and all that is left is conjecture.  Regardless of the effort we will always provide our assessment of the veracity of historical statements - often with “got me”.

For example, I have long thought that it was Eisenhower who made the original quote about “Things are more like they are now than they have ever been”.  I have heard that from many sources, including at a concert by “The Association” ages ago.  Turns out that the first (known) time that it appeared in print was in 1948, in a real estate ad.  It was not credited to Eisenhower until the early 1970’s and there is no known original reference of him saying it.  So, did he say it first?  Probably not…but maybe…certainly not enough evidence to state it as fact.

To put it another way, the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is probably best known for this exchange:

Ransom Stoddard: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott? 

Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

We will gladly print the legend - but tell you it is a legend.

© Robert Barnes 2018