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A Brief History Of Springer, New Mexico

by

Lorrena E. Keenan

edited by Michael E. Taylor
 


Copyright (c) 1998 by the Board of Directors, Santa Fe Trail Museum of Springer, P.O. Box 488, Springer, New Mexico 87747.  All rights reserved.

This essay is based on an undated manuscript by Lorrena E. Keenan, entitled "Early Days of Springer, New Mexico,' which apparently was written in the mid 1960s for the formal beginning of the SANTA FE TRAIL MUSEUM AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY, July 11, 1966. Miss Keenan, a Springer school teacher, museum patron, and charter member of the Historical Society, died in 1981 at the age of 90.


The town of Springer is located in the southern part of Colfax County. The county was organized by an act of the New Mexico Territorial Legislature on January 25, 1869. It was named for Schuyler Colfax, who was Vice President of the United States during President Ulysses S. Grant's administration. Prior to 1864 the Mexican government granted the land on which Springer is now situated to Charles Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda. It was known as the Beaubien and Miranda Grant. Miranda later sold his interests to Mr. Beaubien who controlled the land until his death in 1864. Lucian B. Maxwell, Beaubien's son-in-law, after purchasing the rights from other heirs, then became the sole owner of what then became known as the "Maxwell Land Grant."

In 1870 Mr. Maxwell sold the grant to the Dutch East Indies Company. Frank Springer, a young lawyer, handled the legal affairs of the company, and for his services he was given a 320-acre tract of land within the Maxwell grant. This became the present site of Springer.

The town was named in honor of Frank Springer. Springer was a successful attorney, rancher, and scientist, although he never lived in the town. It was thought that the first family in the present town limits was "Doc" Harmon, his wife, and three children, Adolph, Dick, and Elbert. They were said to have lived in a small house on the south side of the Cimarron River.

With the coming of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad in 1879, Springer became an extremely important trade and shipping point. The first merchants were CA. Clouthier and H.W. Porter. Their store was located on Colbert Street where the Zia Theater building now stands. In time it grew to be the largest wholesale business in northeastern New Mexico. A little later another store sprang up. This was a general merchandise store of P.P. TaJle and this building still stands with its sign; it is the Verbeck shop. Still another general store was that of Manuel Salazar and Son. It was next to the Zia Theater. Henry M. Porter bought out Clouthier's interests in their store, but from that date until 1939, the time of Mr. Clouthier's death, he was in business in Springer almost continuously. It is of interest to note that Clouthier married a grand daughter of Charles Beaubien. At the present time (1960s) several descendants of the Beaubien family still and from that time until the present, the Floersheim family have been in business in Springer and other parts of southern Colfax County.

From the year 1879, Springer served as a trading and shipping center on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Cattle and sheep were driven in for miles around and shipped from the Springer railhead. Large quantities of mining machinery and equipment were unloaded at Springer and hauled by wagons to Elizabethtown, a rich gold mining district. Trade from Springer reached as far as the Texas Panhandle, 250 miles to the east; Taos County, 150 miles to the west; and Colorado to the north. To the South, Wagon Mound and Las Vegas were also important trading and shipping centers, so Springer did not serve people to the south a great deal.

People shopped in quite a different manner in the early days. They came from au around once or twice a year in large wagons or wagon trains bringing hides of wool to ship out, and buying supplies to last for a year or six months. It must be born in mind that the land was in small tracts used for grazing and that with the exception of a few fine orchards close to Springer, very little farming was done.

Mr. Carl Floersheim relates a few amusing incidents connected with that day and time. He says that at one time Floersheim's store had on hand $1,500 worth of black shawls, which all of the Spanish women wore. It seemed that the longer the fringe the more expensive and valuable the shawl. The store sold everything from thread to caskets.

People tell a humorous story in which our very likable and honorable ex governor Dillon was featured. They told of a couple of Spanish men who were asked to clean the casket room in the Floersheim store. Dick Dillon, a very young man working in the store overheard the order. He slipped into the room, and lay down in one of the caskets. When one of the working men went by, Dick reached out and grabbed him by the hand. Needless to say, the men left that location in a hurry, but stopped by the office long enough to inform ,Mr. Floersheim they were going to quit and right now. It was sometime before Mr. Floersheim learned what had frightened them so.

The most exciting and interesting incident was a hold-up which took place in the store. One Saturday a Mr. McClure, the foreman of the Red River Ranch came rushing into town on his horse to warn the merchants that a group of men were riding to town, heavily armed, and he felt sure that they were planning a hold up. No one seemed very concerned or believed him, but nevertheless he remained close by to see what would happen. Later in the day, the men rode into town and stopped in front of Floersheim's store. One by one they entered the store, leaving one man outside with the horses. In the meantime the employees in the store had made themselves scarce behind counters and under desks. McClure had hidden behind a counter and a roll of wrapping paper. The men in the store did not wait to be held up, but opened fire, and shots were flying in all directions. After an exchange of many shots, McClure wounded one of the bandits. The others ran for their horses and left town much faster than when they rode in. The men were captured later by Marion Littrell, who was the able, fearless sheriff at that time. Mr. McClure, the hero of the episode was offered a check for S 1,000 by the grateful Mr. Floersheim, but he refused it by saying the experience was a lot of fun!

People thought with the coming of the railroad that law and order would be better enforced and
that the day of the desperados was past, but each man was more or less his own law. Even as late as 1907 the following article in a local newspaper tells its own story and was the outcome of an accidental shooting, which killed a young man of Springer:

SHOULD BE A LESSON

'The deplorable affair this week in our city should be a lesson to those who persist in toting weapons. A man who was known to us all has been killed by another who was as well known, both born and raised under the clear skies of New Mexico. it was almost like one brother taking the life of another. For this reason more than any other the affair is deeply deplored by the community. It is one of the sad results attendant to the unlawful carrying of deadly weapons. Drop the gun business. It is certain to lead you into trouble.'

In the year 1902 Sam "Black Jack" Ketchum and his gang, a notorious band of outlaws were captured in the Dry Cimarron. 'Black Jack' was hanged in Clayton. Several Springer citizens witnessed that hanging. Such hangings were not unusual.

As early as 1883 Porter and Clouthier had a banking company in their store and in 1894 the banker was Andrew Morton. Jesus Abreu, father-in-law of Clouthier, was president. Mr. Morton continued his banking business in the Floersheim store. At the time of the big fire in Springer, Andrew Morton is credited with saving many valuable papers, cash and books, before he was overcome by smoke and dragged to safety by another employee of the store. A number of years later, the Bank of Springer was organized with Dennis Devine as cashier. The bank had very little capital, and after making several loans, it closed its doors. It was reorganized and did business in the Abbott Building, but in 1926 it was again forced to close. Next, the Citizens State Bank was moved to Springer from Mills, New Mexico, and opened for business in 1927. In later years Citizens Bank became part of the Bank of New Mexico and in 1998 it, in turn, was purchased by Norwest Bank.

In an old newspaper dated September 8, 1883, Dr.H.B Hayden, dentist, and S.I. North, M. D., have advertisements. Dr. North had also just completed and opened a drug store next to the post office. This same paper carried the advertisements of A.C. Vorhees, M.W. Mills and Wm.C. Wrigley, Attorneys-at-Law. By the early nineteen hundreds, Springer had two doctors, Hines and McGroey. There was still but one dentist and Mr. Kramis owned the drugstore which was located where the new Verbeek budding is now.

Saddle making and boot making were important occupations at that time, there being one of each in Springer in the early days.

One of Springer's most famous lawyers was Melvin E. Mills. Besides being a lawyer and politician, he owned a large and prosperous fruit ranch in 'Mills Canyon," a section of the Canadian River Canyon, east of Springer and west of the village of Mills, a fanning community named for him. It is said that the fruit from the Orchard Ranch was unequaled anywhere and was shipped to all markets in the United States. This orchard was completely destroyed in the flood of 1904.

Charley Smith operated the cement works across the river south of town. Last, but not least, Springer supported seven saloons, two hotels, and a livery and feed stable (the New Trail Garage) owned by R.H. Cowan. An amusing advertisement Mr. Cowan had in an old paper was as follows:  'Good rigs and saddle horses at reasonable rates. Tourists taken to any part of the country with good teams and experienced drivers.'

In 1903 a catastrophic fire occurred in Springer. It wiped out the entire business season of town where the Floersheim and Salazar stores were located. Cause of the fire was never learned, but as the Springer Comet Band had practiced the night before in the upstairs of the Olona building on the comer where the fire was first sighted, it wa3 thought that a carelessly dropped cigarette might have started the blaze. The business district was rebuilt on what is now Third Street.

Springer was the county seat of Colfax County from 1882-1898. From 1869-1871 the county seat was Elizabethtown and from there it was moved to Cimarron because the Maxwell Land and Cattle Company had established its offices there, thinking the AT&SF Railroad would go through Cimarron. During the years Springer was the county seat, the citizens put up a gallant fight to hold it, but with only one commissioner in the Springer district against two in the northern district, Raton was successful in gaining the right to be the county seat. New Mexico being a Territory, it was not necessary for a vote of the people to move the county seat. Therefore, after Raton decided to move the county seat, men came and took the records by force. Manuel M. Salazar, who was Colfax County clerk at the time, refused to turn over the records to Raton until he was forced to do so by court action. He made a gallant fight for what he considered to be the rights of Springer.

The Old Courthouse building, which houses the Santa Fe Trail Museum today, has beer,- used for many purposes. It housed the New Mexico Reform School for Boys from 1909 to 1917. After 1917, the building housed the Springer Public Library, nursery school, municipal offices and marshals quarters, jail, Work Projects Administration supply rooms, Red Cross sewing rooms, and the Woman's Progress Club rooms.

Springer's first school house was an adobe building on the lot adjoining the Guthman residence. This same building was later the First Methodist Church, unto the present church was erected. A few of the first teachers in the building, which later was destroyed by fire, were Dave and Larry Leahy, Mary Krelberg, Mrs. John Taylor, and Judge Lieb. The latter served as district judge in recent years. In 1893 a two story building was built on the hill; in 1904 an addition was added which served as a grade and high school. With the addition of a new gymnasium, agriculture building, library and class rooms, part of this building is still being used. In 1936 a new grade school was built on the Old Courthouse grounds and the old grade school budding was torn down.

The Catholic Church has played an important part in the history of Springer. Previous to 1882 Springer was only a mission and was under the jurisdiction of Onate. In 1882 it was made a parish with a very large mission territory under it. Some of the missions which the parish priest had to visit and which gives one an idea of the size of the parish were: Raton, Ponil, Blossburg, Vermejo, Dillon, Colmor, Agua Dulce, Folsom, Albert, Martinez, and Arroyo Yutes. These places were visited every two months by the mission parish priest from Springer. The church records show that in two days there were as many as sixteen baptisms administered. No doubt there were a number of weddings performed at the same time. Considering the roads and means of travel it is not surprising that it took a priest so long to cover his territory and pay visits. Beginning in 1882, Father Accrosini became the first priest in Springer's St. Joseph Parish. Quite an interesting article is written in an old paper of 1883 where the church had given a Fair and Charity Ball. 'The music was furnished by C. Lure's Band and on the last evening a 'Calico Hop" was held. A voting was held for the most popular little girl and she was given a large beautiful doll. It so happened the most popular little girl was Viola Keenan, now Mrs. Viola K Reynolds, who was the secretary to the Superintendent of Colfax County Schools. A bird and cage was presented to the most popular lady in attendance. Much credit was give Father Accrosini for the social and financial success of the affair. Another item in the same paper tells of an enjoyable dinner given by the same Father. His guests were Sheriff Stockton, Judge Ladd, Wm. Wrigley, Mr. Clouthier, Miss Boggs and others. The dinner was delicious and wines good. Toasts were given and responded to by au. It appeared to be a very special genial dinner party.

In 1917 the Oblate Order of Fathers was appointed to the parish of Springer and a new rectory was built. In 1923 the old church was remodeled and in the fall of the same year it burned. A new church was erected in 1924. A parochial school conducted by the Sisters of Mercy was also started. The Catholic was the first and only church in Springer for many years.

The Methodists held their meetings in the first old school building. It served them for a number of years and many happy socials and Christmas entertainments, as well as services, were held there. As early as 1883, the ladies of the Methodist Church were giving dinners to raise funds to build their church. One especially interesting event was given in September of 1883, at which many guests were present. The proceeds amounting to ninety-nine dollars and twenty-five cents was taken in at the fancy work table.

The Baptists were next to erect a church in Springer and to have a resident minister. Their church was built in 1927. For several years the Lutheran minister came from Raton or Las Vegas to minister to the needs of his people and they held their services in the Community building. In 1939 they built their church.

Springer was incorporated in January, 1910. Its first mayor was Charles Hortenstain who was at the time cashier of the Bank of Springer. The first telephone was a long distance wire in the old Springer Hotel. The first exchange was privately obtained and installed in 1910. It was called the Colorado Telephone Company. Other means of communication in Springer were the Western Union Telegraph in the railroad depot and the postal telegraph in the office of the Floersheim store. R.E. Alldredge, later a resident of Roy, New Mexico, was the operator from its installation until 1914. After which L.E. Alldredge and M.F. Salazar continued as operators. In the early years there was no municipal water system. Most families hauled their water in barrels from the river, and in this manner the few old trees and flower beds were watered. A few families had cisterns. The reason for the great property loss from the fire of 1903 was the lack of water for fire protection.

As the town grew, many more cisterns were added to family homes; however it was not until 1916 when the first water bonds were voted that a municipal system was installed. The fire department for years consisted of a hand cart and a hose and au citizens of the town as volunteer firemen.

Springer has been served by a United States Post Office since the coming of the railroad in 1879. According to official records, the town's first post office was established August 4, 1879, under the town name of 'Maxwell" by August E. Lindsay postmaster.

Postmaster Lindsay changed the town name to "Dorsey" on September 10, 1879, then nineteen days later on September 29th, he changed the name for the last time to 'Springer.'

Springer's first cement sidewalks were laid by a contractor named George Nichols in the year 1909. They were built only on main street (Maxwell Avenue). Later property owners built their own sidewalks. It was not until 1939 that curbs and gutters were bust over most of the town and all the main streets oiled.

Springer's first newspaper apparently was the short-lived Springer Stockgrower in 1888. El Springer Banner Estandarte de Springer, Colfax County's only bilingual newspaper, began in 1894. It was followed in 1897 by the Colfax County Stockman which was edited by E. Gordon. The Stockman was purchased by Frank Hutchison who edited the paper for many years. Mr. Hutchison boasted that the paper had never missed an issue. Even during the flood, it was printed and appeared on brown wrapping paper. The short-lived Springer Sentinel was published in 190 1. In 1912 I.C. Floersheim started the Springer Times, and it was so called until 1926 when the name was changed to Springer Tribune. The Springer Tribune was published weekly until 1968. In 1976 Marilyn Mullins started the Springer News Bulletin which was an outgrowth of the Springer Chamber of Commerce newsletter. Today, the Springer News Bulletin is published biweekly by Andy Williams and Rachel Williams.

Disasters for Springer did not end with the fire of 1903, for the following year came the flood which caused a great amount of damage and some loss of life in the growing community. For five days and nights there was a constant downpour of rain. The railroad tracks which ran along side the Cimarron River were completely washed away. The depot was flooded and water filled the streets of that part of the town. After the great loss to property, the AT&SF Railroad bought new property and moved its tracks and depot to a location on the east side of town. The Spanish Town along the river also was washed away and several residents drowned. That part of town was rebuilt on higher ground where it now stands.

Although the early citizens of the community did not have the modem entertainment - which we have today. The Springer Opera House operated on Colbert Street, later to become the Zia Movie Theater which operated from 1937 to 1995. The Zia theater building now serves as a church meeting house. Many worthwhile and enjoyable affairs took place. A few of the main recreations were horseback riding in couples or groups. An old advertisement tells of "Gentle Horses for Rent at the Livery Stable of R.H. Cowan.'  The Livery was constructed in 1880 of quarried stone later occupied by the Bowers Garage.  Although the early citizens of the community did not have the modem entertainment - which we have today. The Springer Opera House operated on Colbert Street, later to become the Zia Movie Theater which operated from 1937 to 1995. The Zia theater building now serves as a church meeting house. Many worthwhile and enjoyable affairs took place. A few of the main recreations were horseback riding in couples or groups. An old advertisement tells of "Gentle Horses for Rent at the Livery Stable of R.H. Cowan.'  The Livery was constructed in 1880 of quarried stone later occupied by the Bowers Garage. Today, the old Livery Stable houses an antique business, one of three in Springer.

Skating parties on the river in winter, home talent plays, dances, church and lodge suppers and socials, church and school entertainment were all popular forms of amusement. And one must not forget that Springer had its "Springer Cornet Band' as early as 1903.

Two outstanding events were given annually, the Cowboy Ball and the Colfax County Fair. People came from far and near to both. And no one would think of missing either if they could avoid it. The Cowboy Ball was held in the Opera House on Colbert Street during the summer, with the boys dressed in white silk shirts, red silk ties and sashes. It was the only affair at which it was permissible for gentlemen to dance without their coats.

The following verse on an old invitation to this event gives an idea of the importance the Ball held in the community: 

'Come all you staid Old Timers from the place so vast,
Limber up your joints and shake your stiff old knees,
Come right into Springer, for she's not so far away,
Come all you Colfax maidens that never have been kissed,
You are shy and sweet and pretty,
But you don't know what you've missed.

The Colfax County Fair was a three day affair held in the fall of the year. There were baseball games, contests, a fine array of exhibits and horse racing. For three nights in succession, everyone danced until morning to the music of 'Nigger Bill," the best in the country. Once in a while a carnival or a road show such as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" came to town. The Colfax County Fair continues to be held in Springer each summer.

Springer had entertained in its time some notable and prominent personages. In 1898 Teddy Roosevelt paid a visit to our town on his way to the first Rough Rider Reunion in Las Vegas. On two occasions, Robert Ingersoll was the guest of honor here. Once at a banquet in 1884 he spoke, and it was a great privilege to hear one of his famous speeches. In this speech he declared that he would make New Mexico his home and henceforth be none of you." This banquet cost five dollars a plate. The old timers say they were carried away by his speeches and that he was a very forceful orator. Another occasion was when Ingersoll was treated to a barbecue, held on the comer where the Geyer home stood.

How different from our modem conveniences of today were the ways in which the early citizens of Springer managed. Mrs. Alldredge baked bread every day and carried it in a clothes basket over to the Floersheim store for sale. Milk was sold in buckets by the people who kept cows. No cream nor butter was to be had; one bought country butter from the friends who lived in the country. Almost every family had chickens and their own egg supply.

Springer and its people have come along ways since "the good old days.' We now boast of a modem hospital, a small airport, a modem bank, a new State Boys' Reform School (now called the 'New Mexico State Boys' School"), and the SANTA FE TRAIL MUSEUM!

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