Indians mined turquoise for centuries in the mountains in extreme southwestern New Mexico; the small knives and hatchets they left behind prompted the Spanish to name the range Hachita. American prospectors explored the area around 1875, and in 1877 A.H. Butterfield discovered copper, lead and silver about 45 miles southwest of present-day Deming. The area became known as the Eureka Mining District, and the community that grew up around the mines was called Eureka.
Eureka became known as a haven for outlaws, particularly counterfeiters and members of the Cowboy element that frequented Tombstone in Arizona Territory. Cowboys rustled cattle or bought them with phony money in Mexico and often herded their contraband to and through Eureka.
In 1881 the Southern Pacific Railroad passed 45 miles to the north, and output from the Eureka mines boomed.
In March 1881, Cowboys Jim Crain, Bill Leonard and Harry “the Kid” Head robbed a stagecoach between Benson and Tombstone in Arizona Territory, killing the driver and a passenger. Wells Fargo offered $2,000 dead or alive for each man, but Leonard and Head were not content to lie low. They went to Eureka, seeking to kill Ike and Bill Heslet, ranch owners who competed with prominent Tombstone citizen and powerful Cowboy ally Mike Gray. The Heslet brothers got the jump on Leonard and Head, killing them at a store, but were repaid in kind when Crain and other gang members descended on Eureka and shot the brothers at Wes McFadden’s Saloon. Some sources name John Ringo and Frank Stilwell among the Heslets’ killers.
In 1884 the U.S. Postal Service changed Eureka’s name to Hachita. Three saloons, two general stores, a blacksmith shop, mill, powder magazine and steam smelting works serviced the town’s 300 residents. The most productive mines in the area included the American National, Hornet and Gold King.
The cost of mining and shipping ore, Apache raids and the extreme summer heat of the Sonoran Desert caused production to decline. By 1890 the population had dwindled to 25, and in 1893 the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act ended the market for silver. In 1898 the Hachita Post Office closed.
In 1902 Phelps Dodge built a new railroad, the El Paso & Southwestern, between its Bisbee, Arizona Territory, mine and El Paso. The EP & SW established a water stop just seven miles from Hachita. A new town developed and the postal service again designated it Hachita. The mines at the old town reopened due to the proximity of the railroad, and the old town site became known as Old Hachita.
During the Mexican Revolution, U.S. Army troops—many of whom were buffalo soldiers—were stationed at Hachita. After Pancho Villa’s raid on nearby Columbus, N.M., on March 9, 1916, troops from the 7th and 10th Cavalry regiments and Battery B of the 6th Field Artillery formed the Second Provisional Cavalry Brigade at Hachita, and General Black Jack Pershing led this column into Mexico on the punitive expedition to pursue Villa. Troops remained stationed in Hachita until 1922.
After World War I, the price of metals dropped, and the mines at Old Hachita closed. The EP & SW Railroad was abandoned in the 1960s. Today its remoteness and harsh summer climate have left Old Hachita one of New Mexico’s most scenic, least-visited ghost towns. About 30 buildings remain, including headframes, residences, mine offices and a likely saloon. All are heavily weathered due to their adobe construction. Visitors should use caution around open vertical mine shafts, and because of Old Hachita’s proximity to the border, it’s best to lock one’s vehicle and be wary of strangers. There is a strong Border Patrol presence in the area.
Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.