The Land of Elfego Baca

Those of us who grew up in the ’60’s and watched The Wonderful World of Walt Disney will remember Elfego Baca, a legend in New Mexico history, who resisted the outlaws and cattle rustlers of the late 19th Century.  He was equal parts famous and infamous, though the latter has come to be in question.

In 1885, what is now Reserve, NM, the seat of Catron County, was the scene of a massive gunbattle.  Over 4,000 shots were fired by a posse that had been sent by John Slaughter to arrest Elfego for allegedly killing “Texas John’s” ranch foreman.  Elfego was taken into custody, then acquitted when the door which shielded him from the posse’s bullets was presented as evidence, and there was nothing tying Elfego to the death of the foreman.

His fame came from serving as sheriff of Socorro County, NM, about 60 miles northeast of Reserve.  When I stopped for a while in Socorro, last Tuesday, while en route to Palo Duro Canyon, TX, these pleasant sites caught my eye.  My first stop on a walking tour was San Miguel Catholic Church, the main parish in Socorro.

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Elfego Baca is honoured by Socorrenos at this Heritage Park, on the north end of the Central Plaza.

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Across from Baca Park is one of Socorro’s largest remaining structures from the land-grant period:  Juan Nepomucero Garcia House, now a real estate office.

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South of Baca Park lies another small public space, L.W. Kittrel Park, named for a civic leader who worked to establish it, in the early 20th Century.  It  also serves today as a Memorial to those from Socorro County who served in our nation’s Armed Forces.

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Socorro County Courthouse is the city’s largest building, of soothing creme-colored adobe.

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West of the Central Plaza, and a bit to the south, lies El Torreon, a home built, in the style of the Spanish torreon fortresses, around 1816.  A  Navajo man, who lives in the area, happened by as I was taking the photo, chuckled to himself and remarked that maybe I wasn’t busy enough, taking photos of old shacks.  It’s universal how we often overlook what is right in front of us.  No problem, shi ki’is (Navajo for “my friend”).

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Lastly, my self-guided walk went past Jesus Maria Torres House (1914), built with an amalgam of materials.

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Socorro is a business hub for west-central New Mexico, drawing its life from the Rio Grande.  In my next post, we look at the case of Socorro’s neighbour to the west:  Magdalena, and how closely-tied are the fates of these two communities.

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