Promise Beheld and the Limits of Place
A Historic Resource Study of Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks and the Surrounding Areas by Hal K. Rothman
List of Illustrations and Maps
"The history of southeastern New Mexico and the far west Texas area remains one of the great untold stories of the American West. Despite its vast historical importance,the region has been poorly represented in historical literature. No champion or storyteller has emerged to defend it against claims of marginality, to carry its tales to an enthusiastic public, or to give the region an identity as has the Gold Rush Country of California, the vaunted buttes of the northern plains, or the once-deep grasses of the Great Plains.
In the history of New Mexico, the southeastern part of the state is often slighted in..."
From Prehistory to European Contact
"The area that is the Guadalupe Mountains-Carlsbad Caverns region has not always been the stunning combination of desert, high elevation mountains, mesas, and range country that is pervasive there today. Almost 250 million years ago, during the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era, which lasted from about 280 million to 225 million years ago, the portion of southeastern New Mexico and trans-Pecos Texas that would later become the Guadalupe Mountains-Carlsbad Caverns region stood partially under water. It was just off the edge of the supercontinent of Panagea, which began to split into the seven continents of today about 180 million years ago. Part of the vast Permian Sea and located much closer to the equator than today, the region was covered by three basins — the Marfa, Delaware,and Midland — and was connected to the great Permian Ocean by the Hovey Channel, a narrow inlet. The middle of the three arms of water that jutted to the edge of land, the Delaware was a basin about seventy-five miles wide and 150 miles long. A reef emerged along its edge later in the Permian Period. Known as the Capitan Reef, now one of the premier aboveground fossil reefs in the world, it traced the edge of the Delaware Basin for almost 400 miles. The reef is most visible today as what we call the Guadalupe Mountains.
Behind this uplift was a formation called a backreef that geologists regard as the completion of..."
The Spanish and Mexican Era
"When Christopher Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas chain in October 1492, he set off a more than 500-year-long process of demographic, cultural, biological,and ecological changes that continue in the New World. Following his lead, and in search of the riches Columbus felt certain he found, Spanish and Portuguese explorers came to the Americas. It was a land divided by Pope Alexander I in the Inter Caetera issued May 3, 1493; the split was codified in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, with one section to the west ceded to the Portuguese and the rest — which turned out to be most of North America, all of Central America, and a large section of South America — given to Spain. The New World inhabitants and their claims to land were not taken into consideration. The Spanish avidly pursued conquest in search of souls for Christ and gold for their coffers. Their quest was an extension of the reconquista, the retaking of Spain from the Moors completed in 1492— what they saw as a moral quest to spread the power, beauty,and faith of Spanish culture and Catholicism to those who had not yet experienced its glories. Spanish territorial expansion occurred rapidly; Juan Ponce de León first arrived in what is now Florida in 1513; Hernán Cortés claimed Mexico in 1521, Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca empire between 1531 and 1533, and Hernán de Soto explored the interior of what is now the southeastern United States from 1539-1543. Spanish zeal, the power of diseases that emanated from the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia, and military power gave this proud European nation much more than a toehold in the Americas.
When Francisco Vázquez de Coronado marched into the interior of New Spain to search for..."
The American Appearance
"As the United States envisioned its future, the complicated mosaic of European and
Latin American claims and Native American presence west of the Mississippi River attracted the attention of the new and powerful republic to the north and east of the Guadalupe Mountains and the trans-Pecos region. This new nation, possessors by purchase of everything north of the Adams-Onís treaty line along the Red, Sabine, and Arkansas rivers, had to find a way to hold this vast land it had barely begun to explore. Mexican independence in 1821 quashed Spanish claims, and the French had become a mere memory in the aftermath of the 1803 sale of Louisiana. Among European powers, only the British remained to contest American expansionist desires. Mexico, the successor to New Spain, lacked the resources to hold its northern possessions against the encroachment of American citizens acting in loose concert with
their government’s desires. Slowly, Tejanos and Nuevo Mexicanos — the Spanish-speaking peoples of Texas and New Mexico — were seduced by first the trade goods and then the ideas of this republic that promised liberty and prosperity resulting from individual efforts. After the Texas Revolution in 1835 and the Republic of Texas’ annexation by the United States ten years later, Americans enjoyed much more than an intellectual and commercial toehold in the former New Spain. Expansionist ideology under the concept of Manifest Destiny — the widely held idea by Euro-Americans that the North American continent belonged to the United States and should be conquered as soon as possible — insisted on more. In a war begun in 1846 on a pretext and to which a broad range of luminaries objected, including Illinois state legislator
Abraham Lincoln and the writer Henry David Thoreau, the United States seized an enormous portion of northern Mexico. The Mexican War and its aftermath filled out the physical limits of the southern boundaries of the United States. America then began efforts to eliminate the last European power, the British, still entrenched in the Pacific Northwest, out of its self-defined area of interest. The young nation invented a mission for itself and intended to carry it out, no matter what other countries believed or tried to do to stop this young expansionist upstart.
After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, when Mexico formally ceded its holdings north of El Paso..."
The Military Seeks Control
“During the 1850s, the Southern Plains illustrated a pattern of contact and conflict
that had become common throughout the western United States. Indian peoples who
dominated areas before the establishment of American rule and the significant influx of Anglo-Americans found their preeminence in jeopardy. On the Central Plains, a
combination of environmental change and inadvertent overuse of resources by Indian and Anglo alike endangered the riverine environments that sustained Cheyennes and overland travelers alike. Pressure created by use of the river valleys for grazing threatened buffalo herds as early as the 1840s, more than two decades before white buffalo hunters in the employ of railroads and the military began to wipe out these enormous shaggy creatures farther north. On the Northern Plains, along the Bozeman Trail, travelers who disrupted Indian life and broke treaty promises inspired violence between the tribes and soldiers; near Fort Laramie, in 1851, the shooting of a stray cow by an Indian led to the deaths of a number of soldiers and Indians and a permanent rift in relations. The large areas that Native Americans needed to maintain their ways of life assured that conflicts would continue. In the Southwest, the Mescaleros and Comanches faced the same encroachment, the same limiting of range and options, and their experience reflected those of other peoples of their time on the plains and in the West.
The American military, as did its explorers and surveyors, became the enforcers of the...”
Chapter 5: Vectors of Settlement
"By the time Mexican soldiers killed Victorio and his followers in the mountains
of northern Mexico in October 1880, the Guadalupe Mountains and the trans-Pecos
region had already acquired a new sedentary population. An increasing number of
Anglo-American and Hispano settlers lived within the boundaries of the Mescalero
homeland. To the west, the fertile Mesilla valley had long been a stronghold of Hispano livestock farmers, some of whom grazed animals in the various mountain ranges during the summers; later they explored opportunities to ranch or farm in the region. Finding land expensive and rare along the Rio Grande, still more sought to try their hand at ranching or farming outside the confines of the fertile valley. Others trickled south from Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the Mora area, initially trailing sheep and sometimes a few cows. Some settled along the rivers and streams that passed through the region. Few in the trans-Pecos expected to find wealth in agriculture; only the most savvy, creative, and entrepreneurial stood a chance at achieving such a goal even in the lucrative industry of ranching during its military-supported heyday in the 1860s and 1870s.
Other opportunities drew Anglo-Americans to the trans-Pecos. To the north of..."
Aspirations and Realities
"By the twentieth century, economic and social patterns common to the peripheral communities of the West had come to define the trans-Pecos and southeastern New Mexico. American rules and laws held sway. Ranching, agriculture, and mining dominated regional economic life, and Anglo- Americans enjoyed a measure of control over the area’s prior inhabitants, and even physical nature itself. Permanent settlements dotted the landscape — towns, farms, and ranches — defining the region
dramatically different from that of pre-Columbian peoples, Victorio’s followers, or even the rustlers and regulators of the 1870s. This new level of energy was more apparent than real.
Southeastern New Mexico and..."
A Stronger Federal Presence: Depression, New Deal, and World War II
"The stock market crash of October 1929 particularly devastated rural America. Throughout the 1920s, the prosperity enjoyed by much of the nation usually did not include farmers and ranchers. The structure of industrial capitalism, the failed promise of agricultural prosperity after World War I, the increase in credit and related upward pressure on the price of land, and the drought of the late 1920s all
contributed to stasis and then decline in the agricultural economy and to poverty and misfortune among farmers. Even irrigation, often the salvation of agriculturalists, could not reverse the trends that demonstrated agriculture’s lack of viability in an industrial economy.
The depression that followed the stock market crash exacerbated the problems of rural...
Carlsbad Caverns in the Post-War Era
"By the end of World War II, Carlsbad Caverns had become an important
tourist destination for Americans. It enjoyed a special symbolism with the widest swath of the national public, a resonance that remained steady in a changing American culture. A trip to Carlsbad embodied the most attractive dimensions of post-war American dreams: the freedom and means to travel in pursuit of personal objectives, in this case the ability to visit a much-acclaimed wonder. The windshield stickers that Ray V. Davis created became bumper stickers that touted the Carlsbad experience, markers of participation in the affluence and optimism that served as the basis for post-war America’s transformation.
The Park Service matured after World War II, relinquishing its claim as the..."
A Southern Cornerstone in a Subregion: Guadalupe Mountains National Park
"The expanded federal presence in southeastern New Mexico did much
economically for the area north of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but little for the
trans-Pecos region to its south. Even as nuclear tests, the decline of potash mining, and changing expectations in the region made Carlsbad and the oil-rich areas to its east and north part of a new economy, just a few miles to the south older patterns of living,centered around ranching and in some cases agriculture and mining, retained their holds on regional life. The ways of living that long existed in the trans-Pecos continued well into the 1960s, largely oblivious to the changes in the national economy and even to the cultural changes that by the middle of the decade swept the nation. To visitors, even those from as close as Roswell or El Paso, the region seemed out of time, a remnant of an earlier America, lacking the issues and problems of the rest of the country. The setting evoked a seemingly better America, a happier, more unified place in which people pulled together in support of community goals at the same time as they articulated their independence. The area around the Guadalupe Mountains seemed more like what the nation once had been than what it had become.
Outside influences always had an impact on the region even before the railroad..."
Epilogue: Parks in the Post-Industrial World
"From the Visitor Center at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the world
spreads out before the eyes of an observer. In the baked summers, the land seems to
shimmer from the heat, appearing to offer the mirages of lore. Mexico must be off in the distance, and the llano, the famed plains of west Texas, seem to stretch forever.
Looking into the distance, it would be easy to spot Clint Eastwood riding out of the
haze, the “Man with No Name” of Spaghetti Western fame to characterize a place best
known to only a few. More readily, it requires no effort here to imagine standing on a prehistoric shoreline and looking out over the vast shallow inland sea, warm and full color. Even the base of Guadalupe Peak offers that feeling of power that high places give. Before the internal combustion engine and before airplanes, that vantage, that elevation, gave so much to anyone who stood there. The mountains sheltered, their lofty perch allowing anyone who watched from them to see all who approached.
This great advantage was defensive in nature and could not transcend the..."
Articles, Chapters, Journals and Series
Abbey, Edward. "Guadalupe's Trails in Summer." National Geographic 156, no. 1 (July 1979): 134-141.
Allison, V.C. "Evening Bat Flight from Carlsbad Caverns." Journal of Mammalogy 18 (1937): 80-82.
Almaraz, Felix D. Jr. "An Uninviting Wilderness: The Plains of West Texas, 1534-1821." Great Plains Quarterly 12 (Summer 1992): 169-180.
Armstrong, Ruth W. "Carlsbad's Golden Anniversary." National Parks and Conservation
Magazine 54, no. 5 (May 1980): 4-8.