Lincoln and the Rio Bonito Valley


The Rio Bonito starts as a stream in the up-country to the west of Ft. Stanton, it continues through narrows just northeast of the Ft. Stanton Road and Hwy 380. Leaving the narrows it is joined by the Salado Creek as it gradually opens out into a beautiful valley the heart of which is la Placita, or Lincoln, and joins the Ruidoso at la Junta (the Junction) or Hondo as the town is now called. The valley contains many historical places; from Rancho Torres, known too many of our families, at the head of the valley, all the way down to las Chosas, home of the venerable Miranda families, just up from Junction Plaza.


A Tour: The valley is 12 to 14 or so miles long, depending on your point of reference. In this study we are using the 1880 Census, therefore the area stops a little shy of la Junta.


As the valley opens up at the west end, about a mile or so in, at the confluence with the Salado, we find Rancho Torres home of Antonio and Juana Torres, members of their extended family and others. The Torres family came to Rio Bonito about 1863-4 as part of the resettlement after the area was abandoned at the start of the Civil War. Antonio built a small Chapel there, bonita capilla del rio bontio or more officiallyNuestra Señora del Puebito”[Cummings1].  This chapel or the remains of it can still be seen alongside the main road, there is of course a small cemetery associated with it, the Aldaz-Baca Cemetery. The cemetery was on the north side of the river but a flood destroyed it and the bodies were reinterred at the present location by the chapel.


Another site, about a mile further on is a place called Double Crossing so called because a traveler was required to cross the river twice in a short distance but as the road was improved that was straightened out. This is also the location of the mouth of Salazar Canyon that comes down from the northeast. After 1880, when Romulo Salazar moved in from las Tables he owned about 320 acres up there. A couple of miles up Salazar Canyon, Padilla Canyon joins from the west; this canyon was home to Jesús María Padilla and his family of teamsters. Up toward the head of Salazar Canyon was Baca Camp, Saturnino Baca’s sheep camp; in the 1930s it was a C.C.C. Camp (Civilian Conservation Corps) and during WW II that camp was used to inter Japanese-Americans. At the mouth of Salazar Canyon the Márquez family lived; Señora Márquez was a curandera or folk remedy practioner, and thus a special person in the area.


About two miles before we come to Lincoln Town, Henry and Gabina Famer had a ranch; this ranch was called Gendry Ranch or Placita de Gendrys; the Farmer Ranch was on the south side of the river, also on the south side was a morada or meeting place of Pentientes, a semi-secret sect of Catholic men and their women who were called Carmelitas. On the north side was their cemetery.


The next stop on our tour is Lincoln Town proper; to explore that here is a map from the New Mexico State Monument. (the map runs southeast to northwest, opposite of our tour)



As we continue down the valley, remember that in the 1880 era every square inch of arable land was farmed and worked either by the farm owners (some farms larger, some smaller) or were worked by tenants.

“The population in 1880 was almost triple that of a decade earlier, although only fifteen persons returned themselves as Farmers. The most common occupation was laborer. Still, the tilled acreage had increased to 2,211 acres, mostly planted in corn and wheat.” [Wilson2]


“Apache Farms is an area about five miles southeast of Lincoln on the Rio Bonito.  The area was cultivated for many years by prehistoric inhabitants and the Apaches were said to be using the area when the Hispanic settlers arrived in the area in the 1850s.  The Mescaleros probably just continued using the fields that had been established by others.  They did not use the same agricultural techniques as today, but used methods similar to those of the Mogollon [their predecessors]. The fields were not tended constantly. Instead they were planted and checked on, periodically, while the people were hunting and gathering. The area is on the bank of the Bonito River where there is a spring in the bluffs.”[Cozzens3]


A mile or so further down the Bonito is the Brady Ranch home of Sheriff William Brady’s widow Bonifacia, her children and her mother, Dolores Martín.


Finally our tour ends at the southeast end of the valley, where a little canyon comes in from the south, las Chosas, home of the Miranda family and their relatives. José Miranda was noted for coming to the aid of the Casey family as they were making their way up from Missouri Plaza; across the Bonito was the Fritz Ranch home of Charles and Catherine Fritz from Germany and their family. The Miranda’s and the Fritz’ were enumerated in 1880 as part of Junction Plaza.


A sad note: “Perhaps most remarkable was that in 1880 Lincoln was a town of widows, grim testimony to the human toll of the Lincoln County War [and Indian problems, ed]. Nearly 25 percent of the households -39 of 167- were headed by women, thirty three of the thirty nine ladies were widows. Sue McSween was the only Anglo among them; the others were all Hispanic. Some, such as Sue herself and Bonifacia Brady, managed or even expanded their husbands’ estates, but others were left in difficult circumstances.” [Wilson2]




1 “Frontier Parish” a LCHS Publication by Billy Charles Patrick Cummings

2“New Mexico State Monument-Lincoln” by John P. Wilson, Museum of New Mexico Press

3“Lincoln County tells its Stories” a LCHS Publication, article ‘Lincoln County Communities’ by Gary Cozzens