Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 06, 2007

9-17 Great Time to Sell a Ranch


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- It's a great time to sell a ranch, a friend in the business tells me. In fact the fields in most of New Mexico are so green  there has seldom been a better time.

      He may be right. We've traveled to northeast, northwest and southwest New Mexico the past few weeks and have marveled at the beauty. It was much the same last year too. It's time we caught a break with some decent precipitation.

      We enjoy short trips in the summer. There's no worry about getting caught in a snow storm. Produce stands offer tempting treats. And summer festivals abound.

   We happened on the Hillsboro Apple Festival on our way to Silver City on Labor Day weekend. Booths lined the highway from one end of town to the other. We understand this will be the last year because the apple trees are giving out.

   But there are still good reasons to schedule Hillsboro on a trip. Crossing the beautiful Black Range to get to Silver City is scenic, cool and historic. And much of that history occurred in and around Hillsboro.

   It was the county seat of Sierra County during the gold mining days beginning in the 1880s. It boasted stores, a public school, churches, hotels, restaurants, saloons, a bank, newspaper, an assay office, three stamp mills and many other businesses.

   Hillsboro was the location of the state's biggest murder trial. It was even bigger than the 1881 trial at Mesilla in which Billy the Kid was accused of killing Sheriff William Brady. Albert Jennings Fountain unsuccessfully defended Billy in that case, in which the Kid was sentenced to hang.

   In the 1899 Hillsboro trial, Oliver Lee of Alamogordo was charged with killing Col. Fountain and his eight-year-old son as they were returning from a trial in La Luz, in which Fountain was prosecuting Lee and others for cattle rustling.

   Reporters flocked to Hillsboro, reportedly as many as at the O.J. Simpson trial, as national and international news outlets competed to get the story. Lee was defended by Albert Fall, who later became one of New Mexico's first U.S. senators, along with T.B. Catron. Lee was found innocent.

   It was great for Hillsboro's economy but it was one more strike against New Mexico in its effort to become a state. Sheriff Pat Garrett's killing in 1908 further slowed statehood. New Mexico was still just too Wild West.

   The trip to southwest New Mexico also provided an opportunity to stop at Manny's Buckhorn in San Antonio for a generous green chile cheeseburger. They pat their meet by hand and don't peel the potatoes for French fries until you order them.

   Truth or Consequences was also on that route. It became the county seat of Sierra County in 1938, when Hillsboro was fast becoming a ghost town. Hillsboro now has bounced back to about 225 residents as artists and writers have moved in next to the ranchers and miners.

   T or C also is bouncing back with a promotional campaign featuring the town as a spiritual experience, the best kept secret in New Mexico and the gateway to Spaceport America. It also claims the name Truth or Consequences causes new residents to become more fully aware of themselves.

   The Fountain Theatre in Mesilla, built in 1905 and still owned by the Albert Jennings Fountain family, is New Mexico's oldest movie house. It is said that in the 1930s, it was not uncommon to see the entire Fountain family, including children, on stage performing. It is a prominent part of New Mexico's rich history.

   The most recent Billy the Kid film, shot entirely in New Mexico, was scheduled to have its American premiere at the theater on September 15, but at the insistence of Lincoln County "Requiem for Billy the Kid" has been moved to the Spencer Theater, north of Ruidoso, on November 4.

   The Fountain would have been very appropriate, but so is Lincoln County, where Billy spent much of his time and where the filming occurred.

MON, 9-17-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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