Say the name, Carlsbad, and most people think of caverns nestled in the core of the Guadalupe Mountains. Though the caverns are marvelous and have an interesting history of their own, the nearby City of Carlsbad has a history that is just as deep and rich and well worth taking time to explore.
Early hunter/gatherer nomads
Like most of New Mexico, the mountains and grasslands comprising Eddy County, for which Carlsbad is the county seat, were home to nomadic people for thousands of years. In time, the Mescalero and Lipan Apache arrived, followed by the Comanche. Native communities were socially stable until the arrival of the Spanish in the late 1500s. Spanish culture was so completely different from the Native cultures, the Spanish simply overwhelmed and supplanted them.
Among early residents of the area were Mexicans, formerly from Chihuahua and other border states. An old settler once claimed the land they wandered was “nothing but a howling wilderness.” Living in temporary camps, these nomads herded sheep.
Anglo cattlemen arrive in Carlsbad after THE 1846 war
Following the Mexican-American War in 1846, Anglos began arriving in large numbers — Anglo being the local word for white, non-Hispanic Europeans. In her book, Barren, Wild, and Worthless, author Susan Tweit wrote about the arrival of cattlemen. They found, she said, “The grass seemed endless, the profits sure.” They later learned the consequences of overgrazing, but that’s another story.
Eddys and Bissell establish a major ranch
Charles Eddy, his brother, John, and Amos Bissell, his partner, arrived in 1881 and formed the Eddy-Bissell Cattle Company on Halagueno Ranch at Seven Rivers. About 20 miles north of Carlsbad, Seven Rivers is the oldest town in the county and is noted for Indian fights that happened between 1882 and 1883. It’s also one of many haunts of William Bonny — alias Billy the Kid.
Eddys and Bisell develops Pecos River irrigation
The Eddys and Bissell built a diversion ditch on the Pecos and began irrigating the land. That brought in others who took advantage of the expanding irrigation and raised fruits, grains, and vegetables, plus alfalfa to feed horses, sheep, and cows.
Mineral springs found and developed
A visionary, Eddy imagined a blossoming city. Besides, he found mineral springs with the same medicinal benefits as Karlsbad, Bohemia (part of today’s Czech Republic). He named his town Eddy, a name he changed to Carlsbad in 1889 to promote the medicinal springs. The success of ranching and the springs fueled development and drew immigrants from England, France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Eddy County courthouse
Eddy donated an entire town block for the city to build a courthouse. The Victorian-style brick building was enlarged in 1914 and again in 1939. That’s when it was remodeled in the Pueblo Style in which it appears today.
John Hagerman’s contributions
The Pecos Valley Railroad, incorporated by industrialist John H. Hagerman, arrived in 1891. Hagerman wanted to transport locally grown produce and passengers. To accommodate the latter, the town constructed a first-class hotel. Named The Hagerman Hotel, it was two stories and offered 60 rooms.
Avalon Dam endures floods
Hagerman’s irrigation company built the Avalon Dam on the Pecos River in 1891. Unfortunately, a flood in 1893 breached the dam. Hagerman rebuilt it in 1904, but flood waters washed it away again. In 1906, the Bureau of Reclamation rebuilt the dam — again. They called it the Carlsbad Project and included the Avalon Dam, the McMillan Dam, the storage reservoir, and the Pecos River Flume — the only structure which allowed a river to flow over itself.
In 1925, potash, a potassium compound used in fertilizers, was discovered near Carlsbad. It created a new industry for the city and allowed Carlsbad to dominate the market until the 1960s.
Transuranic waste stored
In the 1970s, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (Now Department of Energy) established the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for transuranic radioactive wastes. WIPP is located 2,150 feet below ground in a salt formation about 26 miles east of Carlsbad. It was built to hold defense-generated transuranic waste.
So, if you’re like Jim White, who discovered the caverns in 1901, and you’ve come to see them for yourself, by all means, do come. But while you’re in this little corner of the world, don’t forget to explore the city for which the caverns were named. Just like Carlsbad, you’ll find your experience will be deeper and your memories richer.
Top image: Spill gates at Avalon Dam, north of Carlsbad. The dam was originally built as an earth fill structure in 1888 by private interests. That dam was washed out in 1893. It was quickly rebuilt, but was washed out again in 1904 by the Pecos River flood of that year. In 1907 the United States Bureau of Reclamation rebuilt the dam. The height of the dam was raised in 1912, and again in 1936. Date of this post card is unknown, but believed to be circa. 1912. Photo courtesy Southeastern New Mexico Historical Society.
Story by Bud Russo
Photos courtesy Southeastern New Mexico Historical Society
This story sponsored by THE CITY OF CARLSBAD
Posted by LasCruces.com