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Clinging to Life
Decline of silver
Sunday, June 14, 1998
The hardscrabble mining towns of Chloride and Winston still survive today, nestled at the mouth of a mountain canyon 35 miles northwest of Truth or Consequences.
They are often listed among New Mexico's ghost towns, but they are far from it. About 35 people remain in Chloride, and 40 to 50 reside in Winston.
Along the dusty main street of each town, buildings of obviously recent vintage stand amid crumbling frontier-era structures ranging from peaked-roofed adobes to wooden false-fronts with gingerbread decor.
Some mining is still conducted in the area, but the focus now is on ranching and farming.
Colorful relics of another time, Chloride and Winston remain a living part of New Mexico's heritage.
Of the Journal
On a fall day in 1879, Harry Pye, a government mule packer and sometime prospector, was bringing a load of Army supplies through a deep, juniper-covered canyon in the foothills of New Mexico's Black Range when he picked up a promising-looking rock fragment alongside the trail.
A later assay showed that Pye's rock was a rich chloride of silver.
Excited at the possibility of quick wealth, Pye abandoned his mule-packing endeavors and enlisted some friends to help him in a mining venture. The group returned to the canyon where, after several months of prospecting, they found the mother lode.
Unfortunately for Harry, his discovery was in the heart of Mimbres Apache country, and a band of warriors took exception to the intruders. They attacked and killed Pye and some of his companions.
Pye's discovery, however, had attracted the attention of others, and in January 1881, a well-armed group of 18 prospectors returned to the canyon to work Pye's mine. At the same time, they staked out a townsite, which they called Chloride.
Despite the continuing threat of Apache raiders, Chloride became a magnet for those seeking the riches of the earth, and within six months, the mining camp of tents had grown into a full-fledged town. Lots 25 feet wide and 100 feet deep were laid out facing a single dusty street and awarded by lottery. A short time later, the miners elected a town council.
By June 1881, Chloride sported three general stores, eight saloons, two butcher shops, a lumber yard, a livery stable, post office and stage line.
As the town grew, it became too crowded for some residents, who moved three miles to the northeast and established Fairview, which today is the village of Winston.
Fairview grew rapidly into a community of about 150 people. By the close of 1881, it had 25 buildings, including mercantile stores, a grocery and meat market, a drug store and two hotels, the Continental and the Black Range.
By 1884, Fairview recorded a population of nearly 500 souls.
Both Chloride and Fairview prospered as relatively quiet and peaceful places, plagued only by occasional brushes with Apaches. The two sister towns escaped the violent and lawless reputations that plagued many mining settlements on the Western frontier.
In September 1884, however, Fairview's tranquility was marred by a killing, the only such event recorded in the village's early history.
It happened after George Quarles, an area rancher, sought a loan of $500 from Fairview merchant Jacob Blum, who turned the rancher down. On the following day, Quarles, now packing a six-gun, returned to Blum's store and confronted the merchant with some strong words and threats.
When Blum retreated to a room in the rear of the store to get his own gun, Quarles followed.
Meanwhile, Blum's brother, Henry, who was armed and had been watching from behind a nearby counter, confronted Quarles and told him he had no right to enter the rear room of the store.
Quarles instantly turned on Henry with drawn gun and fired just as Henry also fired. Quarles' bullet plowed into the wooden floor of the store, but Henry Blum's slug struck Quarles squarely in the mouth, killing him instantly.
A coroner's jury later ruled that the killing was in self-defense and thereby justified.
A less violent, but nonetheless upsetting, incident was recorded in Chloride in 1886.
It seems that over a period of several months, some of the town's citizens had been receiving letters "scandalizing" and casting aspersions on the reputations of a number of Chloride men and women. A committee was formed to track down the sender of the offending letters.
At length, the committee's investigation pointed to Dr. James Reekie, a 65-year-old physician who had practiced in Chloride since 1881. Just what evidence the committee found that the doctor was the culprit was never explained.
In any event, on the evening of Sept. 23, 1886, a group of 30 irate citizens practiced a little frontier justice. They dragged Dr. Reekie from his home, escorted him to the edge of town, applied a coat of tar and feathers and ordered him out of Chloride.
During the late 1880s, Chloride steadily grew and prospered. A church and school were added, the town acquired its own newspaper, The Black Range, and the population hovered at around 500.
However, the good times were not destined to last, and Chloride and Fairview suffered the fate of many Western towns founded on mining. In the 1890s, the silver began to play out and many residents drifted away. By 1897, the two communities listed populations of about 40.
Despite their decline, the historic communities escaped extinction when ranchers and farmers began to discover the area with its rich pastures and fertile fields. By 1905, a measure of prosperity had returned, and the population of Fairview had grown to more than 100. Chloride was only slightly smaller.
In 1930, Fairview changed its name to honor its most distinguished citizen, Frank H. Winston. A native of Wisconsin, Winston had settled in Fairview in 1886, where he opened a general store, a livery stable and became president of the Fairview Cattle Co.
When economic times were tough, as they often were in frontier mining towns, Winston gave extensive credit to many of his neighbors, although he knew he had little chance of being repaid. It's not surprising that the generous merchant became the town's most liked and respected citizen.
When Frank Winston died in September 1929, the citizens of Fairview wanted to preserve the memory of the man who had given so much to their community. In the following year, they gave him the greatest honor they could they decided their little town would bear his name.
Clinging to Life
Decline of silver