Driving south toward Truth or Consequences, you’ll notice a large range of dark and distant mountains off to the west. This is the Black Range, known for its silver deposits and a few ghost towns that serviced the mines and miners. Their inhabitants once numbered in the thousands.
What happened to the people? When the U.S. stopped buying silver for the national treasury, it caused what is called The Panic of 1893, and within three years the bottom dropped out of the silver market entirely. The mines closed, the miners left, and the towns were abandoned to the wind and weather of New Mexico.
Chloride is a case in point. About 40 miles northwest of Truth or Consequences, the town is high in the Black Range at the end of the road a few miles beyond Winston off Highway 52. In 1879, a mule freighter named Harry Pye found what he thought was good silver ore in a nearby creek. He didn’t tell anybody then, but when his mule skinning job was finished he and a couple of others went back, built a cabin and started mining operations. The ore turned out to be high-grade chloride of silver, and as mining proceeded, Chloride became the name of the town of 3,000 people that grew up around his discovery.
But Pye was not to participate in any of that. He was killed in a gunfight with Apaches that same year. It must be remembered that the Apaches held sway over much of this part of New Mexico, including the Black Range, until Victorio’s death in 1880. Also, Victorio’s band lived at Ojo Caliente, which was less than 20 miles away from Harry Pye’s mine. It seems Gold Fever had turned out to be more powerful than common sense.
Incredibly, Pye’s original cabin still exists in Chloride. Rustic on the outside but modern on the inside, it can be rented nightly for about $130. There also is a small RV park with hook-ups. The old store is now a museum and nearby, under the shade of some ramadas, are picnic tables. And that is what ghost towns are all about: a lot of history, a few old buildings and a picnic lunch topped with sprinkles of our own imagination.
Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at email@example.com.