Donald and Donna Edmund moved to New Mexico on October 4th, 1976, when Donald was hired to manage a testing project for the U.S. Air Force at White Sands Missile Range. It didn’t take long for Don and Donna to settle into their new life in Las Cruces. They quickly grew to love New Mexico. The couple bought a motor home and would go on weekend trips, exploring and learning about the Southwestern part of the state. They even bought a pair of Honda trail bikes which they would use to explore surrounding areas when they went camping.
On Labor Day in 1977, they decided to go camping at Wall Lake in the Gila National Forest. After driving through the piñon and juniper-dotted rolling hills of the region, they stopped at the general store in Winston. When they left to continue to Wall Lake, Don mistakenly turned left instead of right. Realizing they were probably going in the wrong direction, they were intrigued by what they saw and decided to keep driving down the dirt road. They eventually stumbled upon a collection of old dilapidated Western buildings. At first, they thought they were in the middle of a movie set. Immediately enchanted by what they had just discovered, Donna remarked, “If this is not a movie set, this is where we need to be!” They didn’t know it at the time, but they had just come across the old western town of Chloride, New Mexico.
The fascinating history of Chloride, New Mexico:
Around 1877, Harry Pye, an Englishman, was driving a mule train in Southern New Mexico. He was carrying freight for the US Army to Fort Harmony on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Along his journey, he spent the night in a canyon near the Eastern edge of what is now the Gila National Forest. He chose this canyon to help conceal himself from Victorio, the Chief of the Warm Spring Apaches. The region was a favored hunting ground for the Indians, and Victorio and his band of warriors were hunting and killing intruders.
While camping, Pye noticed some peculiar rocks that looked promising. Being a former prospector, he had an eye for such things. He later had the rocks analyzed and sure enough, found that they were high in silver chloride. At the time, the country’s monetary system was on the Silver/Gold standard, so demand for silver was high.
Pye kept his find a secret, and after finishing up his contract with the US Army, he set out to prospect his “secret canyon.” He found two other prospectors to join him, and they arrived at the canyon in 1879. They built a small cabin for shelter and set out to mine silver chloride.
It was only a matter of time before Victorio and his band of warriors found the miners. There was a fight and Pye was killed when his gun jammed. The other two men were able to hold out and escape to present-day Hillsboro.
Within just a few years of Pye’s discovery, the town of Chloride emerged as people rushed in to register mining claims. At its peak, Chloride had a population of nearly 3,000 people and around 350 buildings. There were three general stores, three eateries, nine saloons, two butcher shops, a newsstand, an assayer’s office, a candy store, a stage line, and a hotel. Initially, Chloride didn’t have a jail. There was, though, a live Oak tree that sort of served the same purpose. It was dubbed the “hanging tree.” No one was actually hung from the tree, though it was rumored that when miners got too rowdy, they were dunked in a stock tank and chained to the tree until they saw the error of their ways.
In 1893, the country was taken off the silver standard, causing the demand for silver to plummet. It’s reported that the price of silver dropped from $1.60 an ounce to just eighteen cents an ounce.
Numerous mining towns in the West died off almost immediately. By the turn of the century, the population of Chloride was reduced to around 400 people. The last general store to remain open, the Pioneer Store, finally closed its doors in 1923. In 2007, there were 11 full-time residents of Chloride.
Don and Donna knew almost immediately that Chloride was where they needed to be. They made some inquiries with some of the few remaining residents and discovered that one of the old, abandoned homes might be available for purchase. They contacted the owner, negotiated a price, and had a deal on the property! It took a while to get the title of the property cleared up because there were several scratched-out and re-written names on the deed, and apparently, it had even been used as security in poker games!
Don and Donna closed on their new home and set out to create a new life in Chloride.
The home they purchased was overgrown and in great disrepair. They even considered burning down the existing structure and starting all over again, however, when they learned about the structure’s rich history, they knew they had to restore it.
When they arrived in 1977, the population consisted of ten elderly folks and two young families. Most of the older residents were direct descendants of the original town builders and knew much of the town’s history.
It didn’t take long for Don & Donna to become great friends with their new neighbors. They listened with great interest and intrigue to the stories they had to tell about the history of not only the town but the whole region. Don and Donna lovingly referred to the elderly residents as the “Old Timers.” Don even wrote a fascinating book titled, The Stories They Told Us, which recalls many of these stories. Some of the stories read like scenes out of a Spaghetti Western, or fall into the category of, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Stories of Western lore that involve cowboys, chuckwagons, stagecoach robberies, neighbor feuds, and poker games ending in drunken gun fights. There’s even a story by one of the elders who worked as a jailer at the town jail in Warm Springs (Now Truth or Consequences). The story was about Doc Noss (of the legend of the Doc Noss Treasure). The man recalled how he had to lock Noss up almost every Friday night after he was reported to the cops by his wife when his drinking would cause a family fight. The stories involved vivid recollections by people who lived through the beginnings of the automobile, airplane, electricity, telephone, television, and the atom bomb. One of the elders even witnessed seeing the flash from the first nuclear bomb test at the Trinity site, approximately 150 miles away.
When Don and Donna first moved to Chloride, most of the original structures of Chloride were gone. Often made of adobe, they would melt away once the roofs started to leak. However, over the years, they have managed to acquire many of the original town structures that are still standing. Usually, in a state of disrepair, they have worked hard to restore them and make them functional again. In total, they have restored, or are in the process of restoring 15 structures.
Among them are the original log cabin built by Harry Pye, the Pioneer General Store, and the Monte Christo Saloon and Dance Hall.
When the Pioneer General Store closed in 1923, it still had the original canned goods and merchandise on the shelves. There was even still money in the cash register. They acquired the structure in 1988, and when they entered the store, they found a literal time capsule. They also found thousands of bats had made it their home. After an extensive cleanup and renovation, the store now serves as a museum that is open to the general public. Displayed in the museum are most of the original items that were there when the store closed its doors in 1923.
Another structure Don and Donna have acquired is the Monte Christo Saloon and Dance Hall, which is located next to the Pioneer General store. This structure has also served as a school, an assayers office, and a mine headquarters throughout its life. It now houses an artist co-op and gallery with 30 participating artists. Three of the structures that have been restored including the original Pye cabin serve as vacation rentals.
Don retired from IBM in 1986 and still lives in the same house they purchased in 1977. Sadly, Donna passed away before this story was completed. Their daughter Linda now lives in Chloride and helps run the museum, vacation rentals, and Artist Co-op.
For over four decades, Don and Donna invested their love and hard work into restoring the town of Chloride. They have managed to preserve not just many of the physical buildings of the town, but also its stories and legends.
For this, we owe them a debt of gratitude, as we get to experience and learn about this little treasure in the Land of Enchantment.
For more information on the town and the gift shop/gallery and Museum, visit: www.pioneerstoremuseum.com
To order a copy of the book, The Stories They Told Us,” e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chloride New Mexico is located approximately 30 miles west of I-25. Directions from I-25:
When Northbound on I-25, take Exit 83. Turn left on NM 181, then left on NM 52. Follow signs to Winston, then turn left to Chloride, two miles southwest of Winston on an all-weather hard surface road. When southbound on I-25, take Exit 89.
*Sources: The Stories They Told Us by Donald Edmund”