October 7, 2011

Sierra County Surnames and Population Myths

By Craig Springer
A freshly minted master's thesis from the University of New Mexico's Geography Department offers unique insight into the historic populations of Sierra County. It reveals too some of the reasons why Sierra County is anomalous today in its demographic ranks among the other 32 New Mexico counties.

The one-hundred page thesis titled "Determining Historic Ethnic Changes in Sierra County and New Mexico 1870 - 2000," was written by Sierra County native, Destiny Mitchell.  Ms. Mitchell discusses the origins of settlements in Sierra County, using U.S. Census Bureau data, going back as far as 1870 when present-day Sierra County was part and parcel to Dona Ana, Socorro, and Grant counties.  Her findings ferret out where Hispanics and Anglos lived and how those ratios changed over time. It is curious to note that the 1870 census data reported in the thesis has no enumerations from present-day Happy Flats on the east end of Hillsboro, or anywhere west of Las Palomas. This absence of data perhaps verifies that the area around Hillsboro in fact had no permanent Hispanic or Anglo habitation prior to 1877.

Ms. Mitchell's document is a gem not only for the trends in demography she painstakingly documented, but also for the historic hand-drawn precinct maps that she acquired from the National Archives. Several other of her original maps show population changes over time.

The thesis does however repeat oral traditions that are factually incorrect. Ms. Mitchell cites Apache cheiftain Victorio attacking Kingston.  While grizzled prospectors no doubt were scratching dirt on the east face of the Black Range in the late 1870s, and were very much vulnerable to Apache depredations, Kingston was not established until two years after Victorio's death in October 1880.
The Victorio Hotel was named in honor of the vanquished.
The Victorio Hotel is now a private residence in Kingston. 
Another artifact of fables-past that appears in the thesis is the reported population of 7,000 people residing at Kingston in 1885 -- about the same number of people living in Truth or Consequences today. The number has been repeated for so long, it's become commonplace to read in travel books and even state tourism promotional matter.

U.S. Census Bureau data are very much to the contrary. The territorial census of 1885, available through the University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research documents 379 people living in Kingston and outlying Danville Camp.

But Kingston boomed. The 1890 census lists the number of people residing in "minor civil divisions." Kingston had 1,249 residents in 1890, slightly more than Las Cruces but far less than half that of New Mexico's largest town, Albuquerque.  In 1890, 3,630 people lived in all of Sierra County, about the same number living in Albuquerque. The Panic of 1893 caused Kingston to be all but abandoned.

You can see these data, which also includes surprising numbers for Hillsboro, Lake Valley and several other Sierra County towns, on page 242 of the Census Report Eleventh Census: 1890.

The Hillsboro Historical Society congratulates Ms. Mitchell on her recent academic achievement, and we encourage anyone interested in Sierra County history to read her thesis, which you can do by clicking here.

No comments:

Post a Comment