Skip directly to content

Timber

 

The trees of the upper Gallinas were a resource that went mostly untapped until the approach of the railroad when they were suddenly in demand for ties upon which to lay the steel rails in land that was largely desert. The following quotations, mostly from Perrigo’s First Century of Las Vegas, give some idea of the way in which they were exploited:

 (soon after arrival of the railroad in Las Vegas)…”merchants made contributions for the addition of a receiving and treating yard for the thousands of ties being cut locally and shipped to railroad construction work ahead, and the AT&SF built a stock pen and ramp for the convenient loading of thousands of head of cattle.” (page 86)

 The principal timber cutter at that time was…the widely known Don Margarito (Romero), who had contracted to provide the new electric railway, among others, with all the ties need for the (streetcar) track in town and on out to the Hot Springs. When the inspector for the (Las Vegas Land Grant) board reported that Margarito Romero had cut and stacked 10,182 railroad ties, the (Land Grant) board notified him to stop by May 1, 1903 and when he failed to do so, had him arrested.

 Almost simultaneously the rangers in the newly created Pecos Forest Reserve also had him arrested for cutting timber on the Reserve and although one of his workmen testified that he had been there, Don Margarito’s good lawyers obtained a “not guilty” verdict from the jury on the ground that the forest rangers had not actually seen his men doing the cutting where they had found the stumps.

 As for the Land Grant Board, Don Margarito answered that the arrest with a counter –complaint alleging that the board, itself, should be abolished because it had been created illegally. Although he had said originally that he had not done any more cutting after May 1, 1903, later he contended that he had been cutting timber on lands when had long been in possession of his family…” (pages 161-162)

 “…the prevailing theory was that if the government ‘liberated’ the poor, gave them the franchise, assured them of equal protection under the law and made available schools for those who would take advantage of them, all of which was done, the rest would take care of itself. Related to that was the prevalent belief that the rich had done their part when they had made conspicuous hand-outs.

 In that practice too, the new dons became anglicized. For example, while Don Margarito Romero was acquiring wealth by stripping much of Gallinas Canyon of its timber, for one thing; he also made generous gifts to destitute families and won the everlasting gratitude of the impoverished townsmen, many of whom were in the employ of him and his relatives by sponsoring Christmas parties for hundreds of underprivileged children. (In chapter “The Great Boom” on the advent of the AT&SF) page 110

 In 1908 the board received a report that Don Margarito had collected a “large force of men” in Gallinas Canyon, where he was going to cut “all of the timber” and “destroy the value of the land”. The board therefore filed an injunction and on Feb. 3, 1909 the restraining order was issued. Finally he was subdued, as evidenced by his petition of Nov. 18, 1911 in which he sought permission to fell only selected large trees near La Cierrita de las Gallinas at a distance from the road, for cutting into railroad ties, for which he would pay the board royalties of three to six cents each. Permission was granted.  All along he had claimed that much land in the canyon had been in possession of his family for years, but he had failed to submit evidence and file formally. Next, on Oct. 9, 1916, he did that.  His application for title to a modest 190.7 acres which he claimed, and which had been fenced for more that 15 years, was then granted. (page 380).

 Railroad ties were damaged during raids conducted by Gorras Blancas (White Caps), Hispanics who protested against those enriching themselves by taking what had been common resources and using them for their own profit[1].

 Originally the Mexican families had subsisted by farming their small, arable tracts, by grazing sheep on the common grasslands, and by cutting wood and hunting game in the mountains. (page 350)

 For cutting ties in the mountains, Don Cleofes Romero suffered when a band one night chopped notches in the middle of his stacked railroad ties numbering 20,000. (The ruination of that many in one night must have been the work of a small army!) Afterward Don Eugenio Romero claimed credit for having opposed the White Caps so relentlessly that they burned 8,000 of his ties which were stacked, ready for shipment. (Rather, the White Caps opposed him for having cut those ties and many thousands more.)

 

 

 




[1] New Mexico Office of the  State Historian “Las Gorras Blancas-Roots of Nuevomexico Activism” http://www.newmexicohistory.org/filedetails.php?fileID=21344 accessed Aug. 9, 2011