March 2, 2011

Under the Patina of Time (or This Day in History -- March 3, 1884)

Hillsboro businessman and town pioneer, Nicholas Galles, then serving in the Territorial House of Representatives for Dona Ana County, introduced a bill on this day in 1884, to create Sierra County. Galles succeeded, but it took a month of negotiations to see it through to become law.

The unlabeled Sierra de los Caballos straddle the Sierra-Dona Ana county line. Sierra County eventually came to encompass the land area to the east, well beyond the San Andreas Mountains. Google Maps

So what's in a name?  A great deal, when you scratch under the patina of time. "Sierra" is Spanish for "saw," as in a serrated saw blade. And it means "mountain," as in a serrated ridge line. It has been repeated in print many times over that Sierra County was named after the "Sierra de los Caballos," a minor range above the Rio Grande on the southern county line. 

The Caballos seem an unlikely source of inspiration, given that most of the population of newest New Mexico county was concentrated in its western part -- in the shadows of the massive Black Range and Mimbres Mountains. The author of The Place Names of New Mexico, Robert Julyan, seems to agree.

The political force that created Sierra County was seated at the eventual county seat, Hillsboro. In Hillsboro, the Sierra de los Caballos are well out of sight, and were perhaps out of mind when Galles authored a bill to create Sierra County. The Black Range figured into the daily lives of the miners and stockmen and business people of western Sierra County in 1884. --Craig Springer

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