Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 135: Gadsden

New Mexico 549 mile 10 to Tunis. 20.4 miles/2580.3 total

Friday, November 19, 2010

8:58 a.m. and I’m setting out from mile 10 of New Mexico 549, heading west into the City of Deming and out then west onto New Mexico 418, where I’ll end near a place called Tunis. Today’s walk will be 20.4 miles.

It’s another cloudless day, with just a hint of haze in the air, kicked up from the dusty fields. The temperature is in the mid-50s and will get into the high 60s. When I give these weather reports I feel a little like Steve Martin in that movie, I think it was L.A. Story, where he’s a weather man who can film his forecasts a week in advance. I could just about do the same out here. Quite a contrast with the November weather back east, that’s for sure.

I’m walking next to 549 on a dirt access road used by farm implements, alongside a cotton field that hasn’t been picked yet, though it probably will have been by the time I get back to the car. Much of the land this close to Deming is used for agriculture. Besides cotton I see winter wheat and I smell what I think might be a large dairy operation. Sure enough, when I get closer, I see hundreds, maybe thousands, of Holstein cattle in a big feed lot. I love the smell of fermented cow urine in the morning. It smells like . . . piss.

On my left are the rounded foothills and behind them the more jagged peaks of the Florida Mountains. Off to the north is the Cooke Range.

I spent a pleasant day off in Deming yesterday. Visited the Luna County Courthouse, a handsome late 19th century building with a clock tower, nicely renovated inside. In the basement is a little art gallery containing some paintings and a sculpture or two by locals. But the high point of the day was my visit to the Luna Mimbres Museum, housed in an old armory. It had an extremely varied collection of historical and natural items, including large displays of Mimbres Indian pottery, jewelry, western gear, dolls, and the largest collection of geodes I’ve ever seen—thousands of them, from bigger than bowling balls down to marble-sized. There were collections of button hooks, figurines, brass bells, old clothing, you name it. Also featured in the museum were artifacts from various wars, a recreated main street with turn-of-the-century shops, and a few old motor vehicles. Altogether, for a city the size of Deming--slightly more than 14,000 in 2000--it was the most impressive local museum I’ve seen. I imagine the city fathers (and more likely the city mothers) have been very busy developing it over the years. Well worth the visit if you’re ever in Deming. And it’s free—all they ask for is a donation.

This morning is as good a time as any to talk about the Gadsden Purchase, since I am walking along the northern edge of it. The Gadsden Purchase, as school children know, was where we bought land from Mexico, in 1853-4, a few years after the Mexican War. Today this land forms the southern portions of Arizona and, to a lesser extent, New Mexico. That’s about all they tell you in school, at least as far as I remember. But like so much of the history of the western parts of this country there simmers beneath the surface the grim reality of motives more sinister than Manifest Destiny and exuberant territorial expansion. The real agenda, as with the supposedly noble and heroic war for Texas Independence, was the expansion of slavery into the west and the protection of the increasingly independent-minded south from the economic influence of the north.

James Gadsden was a South Carolinian who negotiated the treaty with Mexico that led to the purchase of this land. Most of it is in Arizona south of the Gila River, including today the cities of Tucson and Yuma, but a little is in New Mexico, south of a line west from the Rio Grande just below Las Cruces. Until the purchase, what is now Deming was on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. James Gadsden, like many of his contemporaries who infested the U.S. Government in the decades leading up to the Civil War, was an ardent lover of slavery. He considered it “a great social blessing” and wished to extend it into as many western territories as possible. In fact, he advocated that South Carolina secede from the Union as early as 1850, unhappy that California had been admitted as a free state. He and some cronies went out there to try to convince the California legislature to divide the state into two states, northern and southern, with the southern one allowing slavery. Fortunately, this plan went nowhere.

The impetus for the purchase of this land from Mexico came from the desire of the southerners to build a transcontinental railroad along an extreme southern route, terminating in San Diego or thereabouts, so that the south wouldn’t be at the mercy of railroads farther to the north. They were thinking ahead already to the time when they would have a separate country and be forever free to enslave and brutalize their fellow humans. They thought the middle and northern sections of the Arizona Territory (which then included New Mexico) would be too mountainous for a railroad. These guys, including then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, had in mind that the southern states would need a railroad line independent from those being developed in the north, all the better to expand slavery and allow southern trade with the Orient. But most southerners didn’t want to invest the money, so the plan never developed, and a railroad in these parts didn’t come into existence until 1881, when the Southern Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railways met in Deming and a silver spike was driven to commemorate the event. That's when the modern city of Deming was founded.

Deming was named for Mary Ann Deming Crocker, wife of Charles Crocker, one of the big time railroad magnates, along with Leland Stanford and a few others. When it was founded, Deming was given the nickname “New Chicago,” because people actually thought it would become such a huge railroad town that it would rival Chicago some day. Oh well.

I pass the entrance to the St. Clair Winery, one of several in the Deming area, and also the Solitaire Deming Manufactured Homes plant, the first real factory I’ve seen in quite some time in this otherwise agricultural area.

I stop in a cemetery just inside the Deming city limits. The dead include the names Arenibas; Gonzalez; Cathey; Corbett; and Leon L. Godchaux, whose stone says “Sturdy, Faithful, True. Thy trail is ended, thy rest is won.” Then there are Verma Lee Downs, Milburn C. Childs, Luther Wright. I sit down on the stone of Gertrude May Howell, who died December 19, 1903, aged 30 years, 6 months, and 5 days. I find that stone to be a bit wobbly, so I go over to the Chandler family plot and sit on one of theirs. Altogether this is a large necropolis, probably containing most of the folks who ever died in Deming, and with lots more room. So fear not, ye denizens of Deming, when your trail is ended and your rest is won, your resting place will be waiting.

Several RV parks are arrayed along US 70, the main east-west drag, which is called Pine Street. Across the street there’s a golf course and some condominiums, in the southwestern adobe style. Leisure living. In other words, old people.

I pass a body shop. In front sits a turquoise and white Pontiac coupe from about 1947, very sharp, with one of those visors over the windshield. Just past that is a restored royal blue 1964 Mustang, with some fancy chrome wheels.

At 11.9 miles I pass the Walmart where I've spent the past two nights and will stay tonight. Like the one in Las Cruces it was filled with fifteen to twenty RVs of all kinds each night. Curiously, on every light post is a sign warning “No Overnight Parking, Violators Will Be Towed.”

The old railroad station is now the visitors' center. A sign over the doorway says the elevation of Deming is 4335 feet. Next door at a shabby restaurant advertising "MENUDO."

At the corner of Pine and Silver Streets I look south for about six blocks and see the Luna County Courthouse. Also down that street is the Luna Mimbres Historical Museum. I pass the Si Senor Restaurant, where I ate a good meal last night, sopapilla included. And a fine sopapilla it was.

I’ve now entered the west side of the city and am beginning to pull away, past the First Baptist Church, McDonald’s, Taco Bell. I pass a few craftsman-style houses from the early 20th century. I haven’t seen many older buildings with identifiable aspects of traditional eastern architecture in New Mexico. Most of the new stuff is southwestern adobe style, but the majority of the houses are functional prefabricated places.

Down at Sonic I turn left on Ninth Street and hook up with New Mexico 418, which veers southwest out of town before straightening out and going west, parallel with I-10. I pass the Red Mountain Middle School and the Bataan Elementary School. Off in the distance slightly to the south is Red Mountain itself, a solitary peak which the map says is 5442 feet high.

I pass more cotton fields, newly picked and turned over, with modules sitting near the road ready to be taken to the gin. A couple of trucks are carrying modules back toward Deming. I pass a large vineyard, and a few hundred acres of fields that were planted in chili peppers, and across the road from that a chili processing facility.

At last the houses become fewer and farther between. Just me and the desert and Red Mountain. The top of the motor home comes into view about half a mile distant.

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