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Silver City, New Mexico: Copper Crossroads

Silver City, a city of 10,500 people, is located in southwestern New Mexico along the Continental Divide in the foothills of the Pino Altos Mountain Range. Its proximity to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in the middle of three million acres of national forest draws tourists and residents alike. The city is distinctive because of its historic downtown, cultural affairs, quality of life, special events, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Silver City is a destination for vacations, relocation, and retirement.

Threads through history

Early segregation still lingers in areas surrounding Silver City. During the 1950s in Hurley, south east of Silver City, Hispanic children used the community swimming pool only on Thursdays because the pool was cleaned the next day. School policy prohibited students from speaking Spanish. Ample evidence of this segregation was also seen in the mining industry.

Mining. The 1954 movie Salt of the Earth told the powerful story about the plight of Hispanic mine workers in Bayard, east of Silver City. The controversial movie was made by Hollywood communists working outside the studio system, and a May, 2004 conference at the Silver City Museum re-kindled interest in that era of Silver City history. Panel discussions at Fort Bayard and at the Global Resource Center at Western New Mexico University presented the story behind the strike. The mining companies at that time had absolute power over the lives of miners. Other topics discussed included changes after the strike, the role of women, and Hollywood blacklisting during the McCarthy era.

Silver City has seen waves of migrants pass through the town. Mormons pushing west founded Pleasanton, west of Silver City. Jewish merchants set up shops in Silver City; Crypto-Jews raise questions about going underground to avoid persecution. Chinese immigrants built railroads, and Buffalo soldiers were stationed at Ft. Bayard during the Civil War. In southern New Mexico most Native American tribes such as Mimbres, Apache, and Hohokam were nomadic.

Western independence.
Westerners think of themselves as fiercely independent. Silver City at one time wanted to join Arizona. This independence survives in present-day Catron County, where residents carry guns, ranchers want grazing rights wherever they choose, and the wolf is not considered a friendly creature.

Other themes in Silver City's history

  • Utopian communities: such as Lyons Canyon in the Gila.
  • Baseball: The White Sox with Shoeless Joe Jackson trained at Fort Bayard.
  • Concept of place: Silver City has been a transitory place for military sacrifice; Tyrone is now in the middle of a mining pit with its buildings covered by mine debris. "Then and Now" is a theme for photographic exploration.
  • Health seekers: People known as lungers and hackers stayed at the tuberculosis hospital at Ft. Bayard. Hot springs in the area were said to have healing powers. One healer, Father Awl, was a stoneworker near Santa Clara. He invented the halox, a therapeutic generator, and built the Yucca Church in Fierro, east of Silver City.
  • Company towns: What happens when the economy changes or when people serve themselves and not the company? Is this different for small and large companies?
  • Hispanic role models: Many Hispanics took part in scientific research, the space program, and military service, including the Bataan Death March. Dr. Alvarez researched the demise of the dinosaurs and Elena Ochoa was an astronomer.
  • Extraordinary women: Women founded the hospital, schools, and convents. There are still campus remnants of St. Mary's.
  • Other themes could include ingenuity and inventions, acequias, ranching, Civil War, regional music, foodways related to Mexico, community action in Silver City.

Resources. People and organizations are a very important resource for learning about Silver City history, including the organizations below.

Bureau of Land Management
Chamber of Commerce
District Courthouses and surveys of public buildings and homestead records
Economic Development Department for Grant County
Hispanic Enterprises
La Capilla restoration group
Latinas Unidas
Memory Lane Cemetery Annual Event
Miller Library at Western New Mexico University (Treasure Room)
Mimbres Arts Council
Silver City Museum
Silver City Public Library
Southwestern Hispanic Roundtable
U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service
Western New Mexico University Museum

Attending the Community Profile meeting held at the Silver City Museum were Susan Berry, Jim Carlson, Jolane Culhane, Ruth Galaz, Dale Giese, Ernestina Koranda, Cathy Maxwell and Earl Montoya.

© Copyright 2004, Regents of New Mexico State University
This file was last updated Friday September 3, 2004