Saturday, April 07, 2012

By the Wayside: Cuchillo, New Mexico

 Last post we visited Chloride, wwaayy down the road. Pretty much at the end of the road, actually. But a little nearer to I-25 is Cuchillo, not exactly a ghost town, but not the farming and ranching center it once used to be either. It’s now perhaps more of a wayside, a last stop before pushing on toward Winston and Chloride.

Cuchillo got its name from Cuchillo Negro (Black Knife) Creek, which runs along the town to the south and once provided water to more than 100 farms during Cuchillo’s glory days, back between 1880 and 1920, when the population pushed 2,000. The creek was named for a Warm Springs Apache Chief, Cuchillo Negro (aka Baishan), from the Black Range who was raiding partners with Mangas Coloradas. Of course, Geronimo also frequented the area and, given the animosity between settlers and Apaches at that time, it’s perhaps no surprise that a creek so-named would continually threaten Cuchillo, destroying entire sections of the town, leveling the St. Joseph’s church twice, and occasionally flooding the current church, which was built in 1907 and is still used for mass.

Being about halfway between the mines of Chloride and Winston and the railroad station, now gone, at Engle, Cuchillo did pretty good for a time. Nearly everyone going into or out of the mines passed through and Cuchillo become a stage stop for the Armstrong Brothers line and a fairly bustling center of commerce. But eventually the mines closed, as they usually do, and floods in the 1920’s followed by economic depression mostly killed the town.

One place that remained a gathering spot into the recent past was the Old Cuchillo Bar & Store, sections of which were built in the 1850’s, if not earlier. The complex also housed an inn and post office. That’s the poor old bar and store pictured at the top of this post. A large section of the store was badly burned in 2000 in an electrical fire and in 2004 the adjacent saloon finally closed. Now it appears badly beaten and apparently for sale, although there were rumors of a restoration as late as last spring. Above is a photo from "New Mexico’s Best Ghost Towns" and I don’t know if all the artifacts in the picture burned too, but it’s a real shame if they did. The shot is of the store but the shuttered saloon still contains lots of cool stuff, and the bar and store are haunted, naturally. The saloon looks very cool. I’ve heard the current owner gives tours by appointment, but don’t know if that’s really true. Current owner, if you read this, I’d love to see the place.

Otherwise, an old dance hall that was immediately to the west of the church has disappeared and I’m not certain about the fate of the two-story adobe barn that was behind the Cuchillo Bar & Store. It housed the mules and horses that hauled freight between towns and might still be standing for all I know. There are a few homes scattered here and there (the population is now about 35) and a new restaurant/cafĂ© has opened. It might just be worth a stop when next you’re passing through.

Information for this post came from the sources linked-to above but mostly the usual.

For those of you in the Albuquerque area, I recommend an exhibition being held in George Pearl Hall on the UNM campus. It seems a lot of the old material from the Werner-Gilchrist house has been re-used and some is on display in the exhibit, including a section of a dormer window, some adobe bricks, and a transom with “We rarely see what is real” still spray-painted over the top. There’s also a poetry book from 1935 that was found in the house. One poem is entitled, “When There’s Darkness on the Delta” and it’s not half bad. The exhibit runs through May 1st. More info HERE.