In 1879 Englishman Harry Pye hid in a gulch from Apaches while transporting freight via an Army mule train to Camp Ojo Caliente in the Black Range of southwestern New Mexico Territory. The site contained a rich vein of silver chloride. The “Pye Lode” soon attracted hundreds of prospectors, but Apaches killed Pye himself south of town a few months after the discovery.
On January 18, 1881, Chief Nana and his band of Apache warriors raided the Pioneer Store at Chloride, killing two miners and making off with horses and cattle.
A June 1881 Silver City newspaper reported Chloride “growing up as rapidly as possible under the circumstances, considering the difficulty of having adobes made, cutting stone and…having to haul sawed lumber from 50 to 100 miles.”
To attract women, the Chloride town council offered a free lot of land to the first female resident. It also offered a seat on the council to the father of the first child born in Chloride —“If it is known who he is.”
By the mid-1880s the town had 3,000 residents who patronized nine saloons, three general stores, three restaurants, two butcher shops, an assay office, lumberyard, Chinese laundry, boarding house, livery stable, post office and the Pioneer Stage Line. The Black Range, a newsweekly operating from the second floor of the Pioneer Store, published from 1882 to1897.
Chloride’s mines—including the Grey Eagle, U.S. Treasury, Colossal, Ivanhoe, New Era and Silver Monument— yielded $500,000 before the demonetization of silver in 1893. The Silver Monument, 10 miles west of town, was the richest, its total take exceeding $100,000.
Chloride lacked a rail line, so stages and freight wagons had to carry ore through Cuchillo to smelters at Socorro and even Denver. In later years, the railroad at Engle, 50 miles to the east, transported ore to El Paso, Texas, for processing.
German immigrant Henry Schmidt came to Chloride in 1880. He built his own camera and took 3,000 photographs of the Southwest, now housed at New Mexico’s Palace of the Governors Museum. He also built what may have been the first X-ray machine west of the Mississippi River. His son Raymond lived in Chloride until his death in 1996 at age 99.
In 1893 silver prices dropped 90 percent, and most miners left town. The mines continued producing copper, lead and zinc until 1931, but the last store closed in 1923, and the post office in 1956. Chloride now has 11 full-time residents, all retired.
Chloride is one of New Mexico’s best-preserved ghost towns. Longtime resident Don Edmund operates the Pioneer Store Museum, built in 1880 and time-sealed in 1923 with its period merchandise. The store is on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties. Nearby is the Monte Cristo Saloon and Dance Hall, now an artist-run co-op.
Facts courtesy of Don Edmund. For more on Chloride, visit www.pioneerstoremuseum .com or call 575-743-2736.
Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.