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 SW New Mexico. Strolling Mogollon’s main street is like stepping back in time.
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.
Once a bustling, raucous mining town, with almost 100 historic buildings remaining, Mogollon is a ghost town lover’s dream. The town was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Most buildings are used as residences and summer homes. The 15 or so remaining full time residents serve as caretakers. Town businesses are open on weekends during the summer, though Niels at Mogollon Woodworks can often be found making beautiful wooden housewares and furniture at his shop during the week.
There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills
In the 1870s, Sergeant James C. Cooney of Fort Bayard found gold in the Gila Mountains near the future site of Mogollon. He kept the discovery to himself until he got out of the military in 1876, a shocking feat at the time. He promptly staked a claim and headed into the Gila with his partner Harry McAllister. The claim was deep in Apache territory. Within a matter of months, Apache warriors chased the men out of the area. However, the lure of “striking it rich” overcame any fear of death, or common sense, that they may have had. They returned two years later to work the claim.
Though the two men successfully kept the location of their find a secret, their eagerness to venture deep into Apache territory did not go unheeded. The citizens of Silver City weren’t naive. Rumors of finds and profitable mines spread quickly through the hills in the late 1800s. Other curious prospectors followed the men. Several of them found productive gold and silver veins in the same general area. However, the influx of miners further provoked the Apaches.
In April, 1880, Chiricahua Apaches, led by Chief Victorio, raided the growing mining camp. Three prospectors, including Cooney, were killed. The attack, referred to as the “Alma Massacre,” also claimed the lives of 35 sheepherders in the area. The frequent Apache raids didn’t slow down the influx of miners. The west was an irresistible beacon to men looking for opportunity and riches.
Tent City to Boom Town
The community of Mogollon coalesced in the 1880s. Tent cities gave way to permanent structures. The gold and silver mines along the creek, and in the surrounding mountains, were churning out copious quantities of ore. A miner named John Eberle built the first cabin in 1889. A jail and post office soon followed…in that order. Priorities. The first school was added in 1892.
Silver City had the name and the reputation, but Mogollon was the source. Mogollon miners extracted approximately 1.5 million dollars of gold and silver in 1913, which represents 40% of New Mexico’s precious metals production for that year. Of the 20 million dollars of gold and silver mined, silver was 2/3 of the total. Overall, 18 million ounces of silver was extracted, 25% of New Mexico’s total production.
Little Fannie Mine
In addition to the individual prospectors staking claims, several large mining operations established operations near Mogollon. The mine known as “Little Fannie” became the most important revenue stream for the town’s population, which fluctuated from 3000 – 6000 miners during the 1890s.
The Mogollon mines had higher turnover than most mines due to toxicity. The mines were dusty and treacherous, with most miners lasting a mere three years (or less) due to developing Miner’s consumption, aka Black Lung. Though the Little Fannie was the most profitable mine, it was also the most lethal. The owners developed a method of reducing dust by having the miners spray water from the jackhammers as they broke up the quartz.
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, miners and robbers considered the community a sanctuary. There were five saloons, two restaurants, four mercantiles, two hotels, and numerous brothels located in two infamous red light districts. The town had a photographer, the Midway Theatre, an ice maker, and a bakery.
There was daily stage service between Mogollon and Silver City. The stagecoach transported 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.
In addition to the hazards associated with Black Lung, Apache raids, and an abundance of bandits, the forces of nature were also devastating on a fairly regular basis. Fires and floods have plagued Mogollon. The first big fire was in 1894. It destroyed most of the town’s buildings. They built everything 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 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. The county also improved Bursum Road. Though it is still narrow, with no guard rails, it is paved all the way, with no pot holes and additional pull outs to accommodate oncoming traffic. It still isn’t a good road for RVs or large campers. There’s no place to turn around.
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 profitable. Though ore prices recovered in 1937, provoking a brief revival, the price of precious metals plunged again during World War II. Most of the mines were closed by the end of the 1940s. The Little Fannie was the only mine remaining when it closed in 1952. With no remaining employers, most of the remaining population moved elsewhere.
Off the Beaten Path
Mogollon is about 225 miles from Albuquerque, El Paso and Tucson, nestled in Silver Creek canyon, deep in the Mogollon Mountains, 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 safe means of exploring the wilderness outside the tiny community.
Glenwood, NM 88039
889 Bursum Road
Glenwood, NM 88039