If you enjoy ghost towns, mining history, or the legacy of the American West, take the 9-mile side road to Mogollon next time you are in southwest New Mexico. Strolling Mogollon’s main street is like stepping back in time.

Mining Boom in the Mogollon Mountains

Founded in 1876, Mogollon was named after Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollon, a governor of the Spanish province of New Mexico in the 1700’s. The Spanish pronunciation is moh-goh-YOHN. The locals pronounce it muggy-YOHN.

With almost 100 historic buildings remaining, Mogollon is a ghost town lover’s dream. Once a bustling, raucous mining town, Mogollon was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Most buildings are used as residences and summer homes. The fifteen or so remaining full time residents serve as caretakers. There are a few businesses in town. Most are open on weekends during the summer; however, Niels at Mogollon Woodworks can often be found making beautiful wooden housewares and furniture at his shop during the week. He is one of the fifteen full-time residents.

Mogollon Woodworks
The ambience of the Mogollon is distinctly “Old West.” Many of the buildings in Mogollon are private residences or part time businesses open on the weekend during the summer.

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills

In the 1870s, Sergeant James C. Cooney of Fort Bayard found gold in the Gila Mountains near present-day Mogollon. He managed to keep the discovery to himself until he got out of the military in 1876, which was a shocking accomplishment at the time. Rumors of finds and profitable mines spread quickly through the hills in the late 1800s.

In 1876, Cooney staked a claim and headed into the Gila with his partner, Harry McAllister. Taking a partner was wise. The claim was deep in Apache territory. In fact, within a matter of months, Apache warriors chased the men out of the area. However, the lure of gold overcame any fear they had of death and common sense. They returned two years later to work the claim.

Though the two men kept the location of their claim a secret, their willingness to venture deep into Apache territory was noticed by locals in Silver City. They weren’t naive. Curious prospectors followed the men. Several found productive gold and silver veins in the same general area; however, the increased influx of miners drew the ire of the Apaches.

Chiricahua Apaches, led by Chief Victorio, raided the growing mining camp in April, 1880. Three prospectors were killed, including James Cooney. The attack, known as the “Alma Massacre,” also claimed the lives of 35 sheepherders in the area, but it didn’t deter the mining boom. Despite frequent Apache raids, a steady stream of prospectors flowed into the area. The west was an irresistible beacon to men looking for opportunity and riches.

Open Saturday, Sunday from 9 AM-5PM.

Tent City to Boom Town

Mogollon coalesced as a community in the 1880s. The gold and silver mines along the creek, and in the surrounding mountains, were churning out huge quantities of ore. The initial enclave of tents gave way to permanent structures. A miner named John Eberle built the first cabin in 1889, followed by a jail and post office, in that order. Priorities. Residents built the first school in 1892.

Silver City had the name and the reputation, but Mogollon was the source of a lot of the silver flowing out of the Gila. Mogollon miners extracted approximately 1.5 million dollars of gold and silver in 1913, which represents 40% of New Mexico’s precious metals production that year. Of the 20 million dollars of gold and silver mined, silver represented 2/3 of the total. Overall, 18 million ounces of silver was extracted, which was 25% of New Mexico’s total production.

Little Fannie Mine

In addition to individual prospectors staking claims, several large mining operations established operations near Mogollon. By the 1890s, the town’s population included 3000-6000 miners; some working claims, most working for mining operations. Unfortunately, Mogollon mines had high turnover. The mines were dusty, treacherous, and toxic. Most miners lasted three years or less, usually diagnosed with Miner’s consumption, aka Black Lung.

The mine known as “Little Fannie” was the town’s most profitable mine, generating a lot of jobs and steady revenue. However, it was also the most lethal mine. The owners eventually developed a method to reduce the dust in the air; miners sprayed water from the jackhammers as they broke up the quartz.

View west from the road to Mogollon
The view driving into Mogollon is beautiful, but the road is barely over one lane, with limited visibility coming around the bends of the mountain. One side is a cliff, the other side appears to be developing an arroyo where normally there would be a shoulder to the road and there are uncooperative cows creating road hazards, usually when your vehicle is trying to go up a steep incline.

Wilderness Hazards

Due to the isolation, and the rugged terrain surrounding the community, Mogollon had a reputation as one of the wildest mining towns in the West. There was little in the way of law enforcement. Gamblers, cattle rustlers, robbers, and ruffians considered the community a sanctuary city for bandits. There were five saloons, two restaurants, a bakery, an ice maker, four mercantiles, two hotels, the Midway Theatre, and numerous brothels populating two infamous red light districts. The town even had a resident photographer.

The stagecoach ran daily between Mogollon and Silver City, transporting passengers, commodities, and gold and silver bullion. The 80 mile journey took 15 hours and it was often a harrowing ride. One particularly tenacious thief robbed the stagecoach 23 times between 1872 and 1873. The law eventually caught up with the fellow, which probably didn’t end well for him. Frontier justice was frequently fatal.

Fannie Mae mine MogollonFire & Flood in Mogollon

In addition to the hazards associated with Black Lung, Apache raids, and an abundance of desperados, the forces of nature were also devastating on a regular basis. Fires and floods have plagued Mogollon. The first big fire was in 1894. It destroyed most of the town’s buildings, because most of the structures were built with wood. Additional fires occurred in 1904, 1910, 1915, and 1942. The community emerges from the ashes and rebuilds, incorporating more stone and adobe each time.

Silver Creek, which runs through Mogollon, flooded in 1894, 1896, 1899, 1914 and 2013. The early floods washed away mine tailings, dumps, bridges, houses, and people. The flood in 2013 made national news, because it stranded several tourists. Mogollon and the county completed repairs a few years ago, implementing flood control and water diversion. In the process, the county improved Bursum Road. Though it is still narrow, with no guard rails, it is paved all the way, with additional pull outs to accommodate oncoming traffic and fewer potholes. It still isn’t a good road for RVs or large campers. There’s no place to turn large rigs around.

General Store
A saloon and general store on Main Street were built in 1973 for a western called My Name is Nobody starring Henry Fonda.

Fluctuation in the Ore Markets

Like many mining towns in the region, Mogollon’s economy collapsed with the 1893 market crash. By 1909 the population dwindled to 2,000 people, with only the most productive mines remaining open. When precious metal values declined after World War I, many mines were no longer viable. Though ore prices recovered in 1937, provoking a brief revival, the price of precious metals plunged again during World War II. By the end of the 1940s, most of the mines were closed. The Little Fannie was the only mine remaining. It closed in 1952. With no remaining employers, most of the remaining population moved elsewhere. Interest in the mines has been rekindled with the rising ore prices. Summa Silver recently purchased mining rights.

Silver Creek Inn Mogollon
The Silver Creek Inn, aka The J.P.Holland Store, is open again seasonally from May – October. Can accommodate up to 8 guests. No pets.

Off the Beaten Path

Mogollon is about 225 miles from Albuquerque, El Paso and Tucson. The small community is nestled in Silver Creek canyon, deep in the Mogollon Mountains, which is about 9 miles off of NM-180.

From State Road 180, take Route 159, aka Bursum Road, about 8 miles east. The road continues deep into the Gila back country; however, the road quality rapidly deteriorates beyond Mogollon. High clearance 4-WD or transportation suitable to rough terrain is recommended. Hiking, horseback riding or mountain biking are more effective and safer means of exploring the wilderness beyond the tiny community.

Local Businesses

Mogollon Museum
Bursum Rd
Glenwood, NM 88039

Old Kelly Store
Bursum Rd
Glenwood, NM 88039
(575) 539-2005

Mogollon Woodworks
889 Bursum Road
Glenwood, NM 88039
(575) 539-2881

Purple Onion Cafe
Main Street
Mogollon, NM 88039
(575) 418-7556

NM STATE 159, Bursum Rd
Glenwood, NM 88039
(505) 695-2524

Mogollon Main Street


  1. My grandparents met in Mogollon. He was working in the Mine. She was with her parents who owned a restaurant and her father worked in the mine as well. Was some time around 1940. Haven’t been there since I was a kid probably 25-30 years ago. Would like to visit again and take my children.

  2. I hope the Purple Onion hasn’t washed away. It was a great place to sit in the shade, eat and drink, and “people watch”.

    • Hoping I can get there again this year. Saw pics from the renovation and it is time. Trying to map out my year over the next several weeks. Maybe I will get a chance to meet up with you in Pie Town this time.

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