Exhibits: History: Lake Valley
Lake Valley, a Relic of the Wild West
The story of Lake Valley has all of the elements of the Wild West stories seen in the movies. In the 1880s it was a wild frontier mining town with gamblers, mining stock promoters, cattle rustlers, Apache raids and vigilante justice. Today it is a true ghost town with only a BLM caretaker to prevent vandalism.
The mountains of southwestern New Mexico were the home of several bands of Apaches. Apache warfare with the Spanish settlers started around 1650. Fear of the Apaches kept all but a few prospectors out of the area until Army Forts were established and the Apaches agreed to go to reservations.
Following the start of a few mining camps north of Lake Valley the first ranches were started in the 1870s. One of these ranchers, McEvers, or a prospector named Lufkin was the first to notice silver ore at Lake Valley. The low grade silver ore came to the surface between two layers of limestone for about half a mile. McEvers and Lufkin made mining claims along this out crop in 1878 and others prospectors came to the area and made claims. Work in the area stopped for a while due to Apache raids.
Speculating on Silver
John Miller, the storekeeper at one of the Army forts bought McEvers ranch and interest in the mining claims in 1880. Miller tried without success to start real mining. He sold a few claims to a group of investors who hired a crew to dig a shaft. When they dug the shaft to about 40 feet they found some rich silver ore. Word of this discovery spread and in February 1881 two mining stock promoters, George D. Roberts and J. Whitaker Wright, sent George Daly to evaluate the deposit for a stock promotion. Most of the famous Spanish silver mines of Mexico were in limestone deposits. This type of silver deposit was a favorite for stock promotes as it often contained small areas of fabulosly rich silver ore. George Daly decided that Lake Valley was an ideal site for a stock promotion and bought all eight mining claims along the outcrop.
J. Whitaker Wright came to Lake Valley in April 1881 and with Daly bought or made 8 more claims away from the outcrop. They then went to New York and with George D. Roberts formed four mining companies each with four claims. The Sierra Grande Silver Mining Company of Lake Valley ran the mines for all four companies. In June, 1881 George Daly returned to Lake Valley and hired miners to dig shafts several hundred feet from the outcrop, but they found no silver ore. In frustration Daily put his crew to work digging a tunnel to follow the ore from the outcrop.
When Daly and Wright went east they took samples of the fossils from the limestone to Edward D. Cope, a leading American paleontologist. Cope identified them as the same type of fossils found in the limestone of the famous Mexican silver mines. Wright talked Cope into investing much of his fortune in the Lake Valley mines and into being President of the Sierra Apache mining company and also and officer of the other three companies. In subsequent years Edward D. Cope lost a major portion of his fortune in these mining companies and had to sell his fossil collection, which then became the nucleus of the American Museum of Natural History’s collection.
Nana’s Band Raids Lake Valley
A group of Apaches left their reservation in 1881, led by a man in his seventies, Nana. Nana’s small band raided ranches and mining camps and fought a few skirmishes with the Army. A rancher a few miles north of Lake Valley returned home on August 17th, 1881 to find his home burned. He assumed that Nana’s Band had taken his wife and children. He rode to Lake Valley and asked the miners to help him pursue the Apaches. George Daly talked about 20 miners into going after the Apaches. At that point the rancher’s wife and children walked into town and said they had hidden in the bushes.
The Army had sent a few squads of the African-American 9th cavalry to Lake Valley to protect the mining camp. Lieutenant Smith, commander of the African-American troops, tried to talk Daily out of chasing the Apaches. The Lieutenant finally agreed to go with the miners the next morning. About ten miles west of Lake Valley, the miners followed the Apache’s trail into a canyon and Nana’s Band sprang their ambush. Daly and Lt. Smith were killed within seconds and a number of miners were wounded. A black sergeant took command and a six-hour battle followed in which at least four soldiers were killed. In the afternoon Nana’s Band withdrew and the soldiers and miners took their dead and wounded back to Lake Valley. Several miners later died of their wounds. It is not known if any of the Apaches were wounded or killed, and the Apaches moved on south into Mexico.
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