Hachita, New Mexico
The name Hachita was derived from the Spanish word “hacha” meaning small axe or hatchet. The reason this name was applied to this region of southern New Mexico is unknown, but the word is used to name several geographical features in the area in both English and Spanish variations. Big Hatchet Peak, Little Hatchet Mountains, Hachita Valley are a few examples.
Prior to the arrival of the railroads in the Hachita valley, ranchers sparsely populated the area. Their cattle grazed in the abundant grasslands of the valley. A few mining settlements appeared around the 1870’s in the Little Hatchet Mountains to the west and in the Apache Hills to the east with the discovery of turquoise, gold and silver in the area. Bands of Apache Indians frequented this desolate region and ranchers and miners were under constant threat of attack.
On June 25th, 1901, Phelps Dodge Corporation formed the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad Company. The property of the Arizona and Southeastern Railroad, also owned by Phelps Dodge Corp. which ran from Benson Arizona to Douglas Arizona was transferred into the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad. Plans were then made to extend the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad from Douglas, eastward to El Paso, Texas. When the route was being laid out across southwestern New Mexico, it crossed the Playas Valley, through a low pass just north of the Little Hatchet Mountains and eastward into the Hachita Valley. Dr. James Douglas, a prominent figure with Phelps Dodge Corp, persuaded the Arizona and New Mexico Railroad (where he served on the board of directors) to build a line from Lordsburg, New Mexico southeast into the Hachita Valley to intersect with the proposed El Paso and Southwestern Railroad. This railroad was to be the Lordsburg and Hachita Railroad. The southern end of the Lordsburg and Hachita Railroad would terminate at a location in the center of the Hachita Valley at a point along the El Paso and Southwestern. The intersection of these two railroads was to be the site of Hachita Junction.
The El Paso and Southwestern had planned for this town to be just a water and coaling stop and built a siding and the facilities for this. The Lordsburg and Hachita designed a station, maintenance yards, an engine house and housing for several employees. Both railroads shared these facilities. Most of the railroad’s facilities were located on the north side of the tracks. The main street running east / west through town just south of the El Paso and Southwestern tracks was officially named Railroad Avenue, but everyone called it Main Street. Businesses and private residences were located on the south side of Main Street.
The El Paso and Southwestern was the first of the two railroads to be completed and the first train arrived in Hachita Junction on February 13, 1902. On August 15th, 1902 a Post Office was established and the town was officially registered as Hachita, New Mexico. On September 1, 1902 the Lordsburg and Hachita line was completed.
About seven miles to the west in the foothills of the Little Hatchet Mountains, a mining camp built several years earlier also carried the name Hachita. Many residents of this mining camp moved to the new town of Hachita after it was built. Only individuals critical to mining operation remained and the old town was known as “Old Hachita” Their old town has been called “Old Hachita” ever since. Old Hachita continued its mining operation into the 1920’s and when copper prices dropped, the mines shut down and the town became a true ghost town.
For the next decade Hachita continued to flourish. A school and a church were built, as well as several businesses. The Hachita Mercantile carried almost any supplies the residents would need. The two story Hachita Hotel was established to put up travelers for the night. A boarding room and dining hall were opened a block from the hotel. Other services like; a blacksmith shop, Livery stables, a saddle and bookmaker, and a barbershop were also opened. And of course saloons, there were several saloons to wet ones whistle. This was still a hot and dusty village. This town had become quite a bustling community and the center of activity for ranchers and miners for miles around. Wagonloads of ore were brought to town for shipment on the railroad. Cattle were herded from nearby ranches into the stockyards about a mile west of town in preparation for shipment.
During the Mexican Revolution, after President Porfilio Diaz fled to France, his successor, Francisco Madero took over. Francisco Madero did not approve of the Mormon communities in Northern Mexico, and put pressure on these communities to flee the country. His Armies would raid these villages, stealing livestock and harassing the residents. On August 3, 1912, the approximately 800 residents of Colonia Diaz, a Mormon community located about 80 miles south of Hachita, fearing for their lives packed up whatever belongings they could and fled Mexico, arriving at Hachita a few days later. The U.S. military and the Mormon Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah assisted in supplying tents, food and other supplies and this group established a camp just north of Hachita, naming it “Poverty Flats”. The original residents of Hachita had mixed feelings over their new neighbors and their practice of polygamy (plural wives). Most of the Mormons only stayed temporally, leaving when the U.S. government offered each refugee a free railroad ticket for travel anywhere in the country to resettle. A handful of the refugees stayed on to become permanent residents of Hachita and moved into town, abandoning the tent city known as Poverty Flats.
After the March 9, 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico by Mexican Revolutionist, Francisco (Pancho) Villa the U.S. Army strengthened its military presence along the Mexican border by establishing several camps or forts. One such camp built in 1917 was Camp Shannon, a U.S. Calvary post established at Hachita, just north of town. The camp consisted of 50 wood frame structures used to house over 400 enlisted men and 40 some officers. This camp helped the economy of Hachita when the troops spent money in town, and purchased food and supplies and several civilians held jobs at Camp Shannon. Camp Shannon was closed in the spring of 1922 and by the end of June, all the camp’s Buildings were vacant. Most of the troops were transferred to Camp Furlong, just west of Columbus, some 45 miles east of Hachita. Most of the equipment was shipped to Fort Bliss in El Paso.
By 1920, Hachita reached the height of its prosperity. The population was around 775 residents, 4 passenger trains a day, two in each direction, several freight trains a day passed through town. After the troops from Camp Shannon were transferred out, and the height of the great depression hit, the population of Hachita slowly began to dwindle. The mines at nearby Old Hachita and in the Little Hatchet Mountains closed because of the drop in silver prices. During World War II the town had a slight increase in prosperity when the prices of metals went up slightly, and more movement of freight and troops passed through town. During the war, many of Hachita’s young men left to fight, and saw no reason to return to the dusty desert town. After World War II the country’s freight business for the railroad dwindled significantly with the improvement of State and Interstate highways being constructed. Most freight was then shipped by truck rather than by the railroad. Passenger train business was also dwindling due to more modern airplane passenger service. In 1934 the Lordsburg and Hachita Railroad stopped rail service to Hachita. Through out the 1950’s freight and passenger service was reduced on the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad and finally in 1961 the last train rolled through town. In 1963 the rails were pulled up and this once prosperous town was finally facing desolation. By 1965 the high school had only one graduate, and after that the school was closed and the students were bussed to Lordsburg. By 1970 the town limped along with only around 30 to 40 residents. The high school and grade school were closed as well as the Hachita Mercantile. The post office remained open to serve the handful of residents that remained and ranchers in the outlying area. In 1972 when Phelps Dodge Corp. built a smelter in the neighboring Playas Valley 30 miles to the west, the town saw another boost in its economy when the many of the construction workers moved into the area. After the project was completed, most of the permanent employees lived in a new company built town located near the smelter (Playas).
Today, only a handful of the houses are lived in. A gas station remains. This small community now is a hub for the ranches in the area. Today this community is just a crossroads in the desert. New Mexico State Highway 9 running east and west of town parallel to the El Paso and Southwestern right of way. New Mexico State Highway 81 heading north 30 miles to Interstate10 and heading south toward Antelope Wells, a U.S. Customs border crossing on the U.S. / Mexican border.
This page is part of the "Ghosts of the Southline" website, illustrating the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad and many of the abandoned towns along its route.
Photographs and documentation found on this website are the property of Lloyd W. Sumner
This site was created and is maintained by Lloyd W. Sumner