Friday, April 19, 2013

Pat Garrett Really Should've Stayed the Night: Organ, New Mexico



Organ, New Mexico isn’t really a ghost town these days, but I’m gonna make it look like one. Sorry, good people of Organ. I’ll explain in a minute.

Organ is named for the razor-spired Organ Mountains visible to the south, which were themselves named because they look like the pipes of…an organ. After being a mining encampment from the 1840’s, the town was officially founded in 1883 as lead, copper, fluorite, zinc, gold, and silver mines were punched into the hill slopes to the northeast with ever-increasing frequency. By the turn of the century, Organ was peaking at about 1,800 residents, seven saloons, two smelters, two general stores, a two-teacher school, a Catholic church, a post office, a hotel, and a jail in a tunnel that had once been a powder magazine.



It seems strange that Organ was not called San Augustin, in honor of the San Augustin Mountains immediately to the northeast, or 7,030-foot San Augustin Peak, which literally towers over the town to the east, or even San Augustin Pass, now part of US Highway 70/82, which, if traveled eastward, will take you down onto a vast plain and the southern extent of the White Sands Missile Range. But, in 1908, long before US 70/82 was named, it was on this same stretch of road, traveling southwestward toward Las Cruces, that Pat Garrett was shot and killed some 28 years after he'd shot Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. This bit of Organ’s history has remained long after its mines, which filled with water in the 1930’s, have mostly faded from memory.



Because Organ is the closest inhabited place to White Sands Missile Range, it was revived somewhat in the mid-1940’s when work began on the atomic bomb and missile range employees moved-in. Thus, while the population is still only just over 300, there are many well-kept homes and what looks like it would be a very quaint and tasty Thai restaurant. Too bad it was closed during our visit. Philip Varney mentions Bentley’s Store and Assay Office in New Mexico’s Best Ghost Towns and notes that it had become a private residence. This is still true and, in fact, the old building looks to be very well-maintained with lots of tended greenery out front. Varney also mentions the Organ School, notable for its corner bell tower, but I couldn’t find it. I think the tower has been removed and the school probably now just blends in with its older neighbors.



So, you may ask, if there are a few hundred people living in Organ, renovating their historic homes and eating Thai food, why all these photos of derelict buildings? Well, these pictures were taken on the south side of the highway. Those are the Organ Mountains in the background of a couple. As to WHY virtually every commercial enterprise on that side of the road has been abandoned—and apparently long-abandoned—I can’t say. Perhaps people prefer to eat and shop in Las Cruces, 15 miles away. That’s really the only other city in the area, but as New Mexico’s second-largest it would offer some retail competition. Whatever the case, I find it surprising that the spectacular views of the Organ Mountains to the south, San Augustin Peak to the east and Las Cruces to the southwest haven’t had more people stopping for sandwitches. I know I’d stop for a bite.



Next time we’ll go deep into the Organ Mountains themselves and visit Dripping Springs. But first I need to figure out how to make my crummy photos more presentable. Oh, and the photo above is the only shot from the north side of the highway. In the distance are the Doña Ana Mountains and the northern edge of Las Cruces, beyond which lies the Jornada del Muerto ("Journey of Death"), a waterless, 90-mile stretch of El Camino Real. Sounds like fun, huh?

For more information on Organ, consult ghostowns.com, Wikipedia and, of course, New Mexico’s Best Ghost Towns.

14 comments:

Julie said...

You have made me want to visit Oregon, New Mexico. I love your pictures.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for the kind words, Julie! Much appreciated. Organ isn't *too* far from your neck of the woods, especially if you were making a little swing over from the Bisbee area! JM

Doug Sterling said...

I was trying to locate the street you talk about here, and in the process of exploring the area in Google, I realized some of the street names sounded very familiar - particularly Space Murals Road. Within moments I realized that I had passed right by that town as I was going over the mountains to White Sands. Damn - another opportunity missed! Yet another location I'll have to add to my list.

Bruce Ruble said...

I grew up in Organ NM from 1962 through 1966 when I left to see the world in the US NAVY. My Brother still resides there operating the ONLY Grocery Store located on B Street.

jmhouse said...

Bruce Ruble, I didn't know there was a grocery store operating in Organ at all! Well, I'll have to pay a visit next time I'm through. In fact, I want to go back soon and have a look at the spot where Pat Garrett was killed. I guess it takes a little work (and luck) to find the marker, but I think I can do it. It must've been like growing up in the Wild West out there!

Thanks for your comment! JM

Bruce Ruble said...

That spot is down high 70 closer to LC. My Brother Grant Rogers runs Organ General Store. Just down the street from the Schoolhouse about a block West.

jmhouse said...

I think I might be able to use this You Tube video to find the marker. I just need to do it before they build a subdivision on top of it. Maybe stop at the Organ General Store to get something to drink before heading out! JM

Bruce Ruble said...

If you have Google Earth you can go to street level for what the store looks like. It is on B Street down the block (west) from the old schoolhouse on the north side of the street.

jmhouse said...

Oh yeah, I found it, Bruce Ruble! It looks very inviting! The door is even wide open on the Google Earth capture! Do you know if that building was a store historically, or was it possibly a house? JM

Bruce Ruble said...

I'm not sure you will have to ask my Brother. When the little sign is out he is open.

jmhouse said...

Good to know! Will definitely try to stop by sometime! JM

windbloz301@msn.com said...

I hope this is still being checked up on.. I lived in Organ from '73 to '75 and in Soledad Canyon for '75 and '76. Grant is an old friend whom I had been keeping in touch with him over the many years tho' he hasn't been reachable the last couple of years. I hope all is well with him. As for your photos, the one of the Lodge with it's misspelled "Sandwitches" was a great place for food, drinking and music in the patio. It was owned by George Chandler and later John Gilkey. The motel rooms housed a few transient renters but otherwise, the proprietors family and staff. At one point later on it was a bar with topless dancers. I had bartended there as well as at Ace's, the Thai restaurant, though it was another local bar back then. The old Fishers service station was owned by Lennie Fisher, a talkative, somewhat nosey, but gregarious character with an easy laugh. I think the flat roofed house was Tedwell's, a great old timer who liked his beer. I took a two week vacation to New Mex. which turned into a four year stay. It was a great town with a colorful mix of characters. My time in Organ and the Organ Mts. left an indelible imprint on my soul. Bruce, I wish I would have met you. I think highly of your brother and remember meeting your mother as well. Hope I haven't bored you. Tom "Tk" Kennedy

jmhouse said...

Yes, Tom "Tk" Kennedy, I'm still keeping track of things here at City of Dust! And, far from boring me, your post provides some of the best information on the buildings in those photos and the community of Organ in the 1970's that I've ever received. Actually, *the* best. Granted, there isn't all that much competition, but still...I loved it!

It really must've been great to hang out on the patio of the Lodge eating "sandwitches," listening to some music, and taking in the Organ Mountains. I'm very happy to know that was Fisher's Service Station and likely Tedwell's house. Now, were there topless dancers at the bar in the motel? Or was it *only* a bar at that point? I can imagine that not many tourists would opt to stay in Organ rather than just heading into Las Cruces.

Well, New Mexico is interesting. You're not the first person to tell me that a quick trip turned into a stay of years or more. Maybe Bruce Ruble will read this and be able to put you in touch with Grant again. Otherwise, you could always pop by the Organ General Store sometime!

Thanks very much for your recollections. They're much appreciated! Best Regards, JM

Bruce Ruble said...

I knew Kenny Fisher very well.He always had a joke to tell you. I also knew his a set. Joe howard. Grant still resides there in the only active business in the town.