There is a limited length of time devoted to each subject during the school year, so no syllabus can cover every aspect of our state’s history. However, in the Land of Enchantment, that history is long and fascinating. Here are 8 events from the past that may have escaped your attention:
1. Project Gasbuggy
During the 1960s, the government was trying to find peacetime uses for nuclear explosions. So, in December 1967, scientists placed a 13-foot long nuke in a hole more than 4000 feet below the surface of the ground, about 60 miles from Farmington. Then they set off this 29-kiloton device - that’s almost twice as many kilotons as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Why? Because this was an attempt to increase gas and oil production through nuclear fracking. In 1975 Project Gasbuddy shut down due to high costs and its environmental impact.
2. Thomas Edward "Black Jack" Ketchum’s death sentence
Black Jack Ketchum was a cowboy who founded an outlaw group called the High-Five Gang. His rap sheet included offenses like murder and robbery. During a train robbery in 1897, his gang stole $60,000 in gold and silver (given inflation, that haul would equate to well over a million dollars today). Ketchum was the only individual in the state to ever be hung for train robbery. The law was deemed unconstitutional after his death. Although Ketchum was supposed to be killed by hanging, officials in the town of Clayton had never conducted one before and botched it, decapitating the outlaw.
3. Oryx in New Mexico
Since oryx were facing the threat of extinction in Southern Africa, in 1969, the New Mexico Game and Fish Department set some free in White Sands Missile Range. The oryx didn’t care that their territory was supposed to be restricted to the missile range and have been sighted as far away as West Texas. Here, they have no natural predators so the oryx population is now in the thousands.
4. The Atari game "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial"
In 1983, the Atari video game "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial" received such horrendous reviews that the company buried 14 trucks worth of Atari products in an Alamogordo landfill – a surprisingly low tech way to eliminate a problem. For a long time, this event was just a rumor. However, the products were dug up in 2014 and sales of the landfill games netted $37,000 for the City of Alamogordo. Nice!
5. The nationality of the Mesilla’s citizens
In 1848, the Treaty of Hidalgo put an end to the Mexican-American War. As a result, the border changed. People in the area who wanted to retain Mexican citizenship founded Mesilla, a little south of the new border. Unfortunately for them, the 1853 Gadsden Purchase made Mesilla part of the United States.
6. A deadly political rally
Speaking of Mesilla… back in 1871, both Republicans and Democrats wanted to hold rallies on the Plaza on the same day. Each concluded a night spent drinking and discussing politics with a march around the Plaza. When the two parties ran into each other, events took a seriously ugly turn. During the ensuing brawls and gunfire, nine men died and at least 40 more sustained injuries. Soldiers from Fort McRae descended but no one was ever prosecuted. How come? Because the judge assigned to investigate concluded that doing so was too hazardous to his health!
7. The U.S. Army Camel Corps
During the 1850s, the army was concerned about the limited water supplies available when traveling through the Southwest. Domestic animals struggled in the harsh environment, so a unique solution was proposed: camels. A small number were introduced to the U.S. Army. A caravan consisting of 25 of these camels stopped for water at El Morro in New Mexico.
8. The demise of "Arthur Manby"
This unsolved crime is a weird one. On July 3rd 1929, a headless corpse was discovered inside the home of Arthur Manby, a controversial land speculator living in Taos. Some believed the body to be Manby’s; however, others thought it likely that Manby faked his own death and escaped to Europe - where he was supposedly spotted. If that was indeed the case, whose body was left in Manby’s house? (It's now the building next to Doc Martin Restaurant.)
What unusual events in New Mexican history do you believe deserve more attention?