Monday, March 1, 2010

Mesilla: Historical Past and Colorful Present

We arrived in Las Cruces, NM, and camped on the edge of the city within a short drive of Historic Old Mesilla.

A late afternoon visit to Mesilla convinced us to return for an extended walk around the Plaza. Our walk from the parking lot to the center of the historic part of Mesilla took us past some adobe homes. Most of the homes are the standard earth brown color, but the three shown here were interesting variations on this standard.

In addition to the uniformity of color for each home and shop, there is also something about the rounded edges and corners of the rectangular homes that is becoming more and more appealing to us.

Just as we arrived at the Plaza, we were greeted by this auto with "47 Merc" emblazoned on its license plate. It was a small step into the past and the history of Mesilla.

A walk around the Plaza took us further into the town's history. The strongly religious community of Mesilla revolves around San Albino (below), the Catholic church in the town's center.

Both Spaniards and Mexicans had established temporary camps near Mesilla, but it wasn't until after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 that the first permanent settlers came to Mesilla.

We continued our walk past the shops around the Plaza, and Kate made the observation that the adobe structures seemed to serve as neutral backgrounds or canvases for the colorful doors and windows. The pictures below are examples of this artwork.

By 1850, Mesilla was an established colony. The constant threat of attack by the Apache put these early settlers on constant alert. Apaches would steal livestock and food, murdering colonists and seizing captives.

Just as frequently the villagers swiftly retaliated by sending out the Mesilla Guard, a militia comprised of a man from each household.
Time after time the militia exacted revenge on any Apache in the area. In 1851, the United States government established Fort Fillmore to protect the newly conquered territory and its people. As a result of the Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mesilla was within the strip of land claimed by both the United States and Mexico, a "no mans land".

This situation arose because of an error in a map the treaty signers used to draw the boundary between the United States and Mexico.

In 1853, the United States negotiated with Mexico to resolve the boundary dispute which resulted at the termination of the Mexican War and to purchase the land in question. This was known as the Gadsden Purchase. The treaty was consummated by the raising of the United States flag in the Mesilla Plaza by Fort Fillmore troops.

With the protection afforded by the forts, Mesilla found itself in an optimum location for economic growth. It became an important stop on two stagecoach, mail and trade routes.

Another interesting chapter in Mesilla's history would be written with the Civil War. When Colonel Baylor, Commander of Confederate troops, arrived from Texas on July 25, 1861, with his 220 Texas Mounted Rifles and entered Mesilla, the Union troops abandoned Fort Fillmore. They surrendered to the Confederate troops northwest of Mesilla, two days later.

Colonel Baylor set up his immediate headquarters off the Plaza in Mesilla, and raised the Confederate flag at the Confederate capitol building. He established the name of the Confederacy, the short-lived territory of Arizona, with Mesilla as its capital.

After the Battle of Glorieta in March of 1862, being short of supplies, the Confederate troops retreated to Texas. This ended the Civil War conflict in New Mexico.

One of the purposes of the United States in acquiring the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico was to establish a southern railroad route through the area. In 1881, when the Santa Fe Railroad was completed in southern New Mexico, the people of Mesilla did not want the railroad to go through their community. Routing the railroad through Las Cruces instead of Mesilla contributed to Las Cruces' growth and allowed Mesilla to retain many of its physical characteristics and charm, a tangible reminder of its long and significant past

In 1882, the year after the railroad was constructed, Mesilla lost its position as the county seat, which it had held since 1855.

The Visitors Center is a great place to learn about the history of Mesilla, and a walk around the steets is a superb way to observe the color of the town.

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