Inside the Capitol

Thursday, April 21, 2011

MON, 4-24-11
SANTA FE – How does a small town develop a world class local museum? They would do well to copy Deming, New Mexico. The Deming Luna County Mimbres Museum is recognized by many as a miniature Smithsonian.
For many years, Luna County Historical Society rented a house on Nickel Street to use as a museum. But they outgrew it. Soon they learned that the National Guard Armory was for sale.
The Ruebush family donated half the money for the purchase and challenged the community to raise the rest. It worked. At first the building was far too big but it didn't take long for donated items to fill it.
Free professional advice was sought to categorize the items. In fact, no public money was used until the city and county began helping with the utilities. As the museum grew additions to the building were financed by grants from the legislature but no money has been used for exhibits or salaries. Community fundraisers have done the rest.
Deming began as a railroad town in 1881 when the southern Pacific and the Santa Fe hooked up west of town to become the second transcontinental railroad. A silver spike was driven to commemorate the final step.
Dreams of Deming becoming a large city, with the connecting of two major railroads were dashed when the Santa Fe decided to extend its tracks west from Albuquerque and the Southern Pacific decided to move its headquarters to El Paso.
But the Deming depot had a Harvey House, an elegant restaurant where gourmet meals were served on white table cloths with china and silver. The Harvey Girl waitresses, recruited from the East were given exquisite training and were credited by many with bringing civilization to the Wild West.
Farming and ranching also became major components of the Luna County area. They are well covered in the exhibits as are street scenes of early Deming with windows filled with museum-quality items. Dolls, quilts, whiskey bottles, antique autos and art also decorate the walls.
There also was life here before the railroad came. A thousand years ago, the Mimbres Indians built villages near what we now call the Mimbres River. There pottery is distinctive, depicting animals people and geometric designs. With many donations, the museum now has a world-class exhibit.
Being close to the Mexican border has had a major effect on Deming. For many years, it was the closest community to the border. That meant it had the Custom House and the first armory after New Mexico became a state in 1912. Mexico was having a revolution at the time that spilled over into New Mexico in 1916.
Militia from Luna County, along with Gen. Black Jack Pershing's soldiers from El Paso made history with the Punitive expedition into Mexico. They didn't find Villa but it was the first military use of motorized vehicles and airplanes – good experience for World War I, which we entered the following year.
Luna County hosted Camp Cody in World War I and Deming Army Air Field in World War II. Meanwhile young men from the area were bravely defending the Philippines from the Japanese march to Australia. They were part of the infamous Bataan Death March. The Military Room tells this poignant story.
Gems and minerals also are big in Luna County, which contains Rockhound State Park – blessed with many semi-precious stones. The local Gem and Mineral Society donated and maintains that exhibit.
Tuberculosis also played a part in settlement of the arid Southwest. Our dry air was the best cure at the time. Many recovered victims and their families stayed in the area –my family being one of them. A Medical Room is dedicated to this and other chapters in local medical history.
Many other communities in the state also have outstanding museums. I have visited many of them. I dwell on Deming, however, because I spent 13 years growing up there. Many of the people and families who were so important in creating the museum were and are good friends.


Post a Comment

<< Home