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Red River History


In 1895 a family of farmers had spent the previous winter camped on the banks of the Rio Colorado – Spanish for “colored” or “red river” – in a high country valley of Northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo – Blood of Christ – mountains.

The soil was fertile, as the valley floor had once been a series of beaver dams and lakes, rich with nutrients, so crops grew well in the relatively mild climate. The Mallette brothers, who had come from nearby Ft. Garland, Colorado, found themselves quite at home.

But it was not agriculture that brought people streaming into the remote valley in the spring of ‘95. As early as 1870, miners from over the mountain in Elizabethtown, the Moreno Valley boom town that sprang up following the end of the Civil War, had searched the Red River Valley looking for any trace of “color” in the streams and along the river bank. Their efforts were not rewarded. But now, twenty-five years later, new exploration had met with more promising results and soon the quiet little valley was abuzz with rainbow chasers looking for the elusive pot of gold.

By 1897, population estimates ranged from 1,500 (the Pueblo, Colorado, newspaper) to 3,000, a boast by the Red River Mining News, one of three Red River papers in 1897. In addition to wildfire rumors of “promising assays” and “new finds,” land speculators were making dubious claims that further made truth a rare and relatively pointless commodity in the mountains. Claims were filed, tents and log cabins dotted the hillsides of every canyon and valley within miles of Red River City.

Like most western gold camps, the hopes and dreams of hard rock miners were never more than desperate longings for success. Low grade ore quality, prohibitive transportation costs and an abundance of ground water that flooded tunnels, adits and shafts put an end to the golden dreams of Red River City. The rainbow chasers moved on and, by 1905, the population had dwindled to approximately 150 hardy souls.

As mining ceased to be the focus of the local economy, a new industry was just beginning to make promising overtures to the locals. Albuquerque papers and magazines were starting to refer to Red River as a natural trout fishing paradise and a great way to escape the summer heat. Travelers and vacationers began to rent abandoned mining cabins and rent horses for the purpose of riding into the surrounding mountains to view the spectacular vistas. Red River was reborn and the hospitality business has transformed the town into a one trick pony.

A Trip Back in Time – The Little Red School House Historical Museum

The Little Red School House, located on Jayhawk Trail behind the Red River Public Library at “the Y,” was built around 1916 to replace the original log schoolhouse which was destroyed by fire. The building was the seat of education in town until classes were discontinued in the early 1940s. It continued, however, to serve the community as social meeting hall, church and funeral parlor for many years.

In 1999, the building was moved from its original location on the banks of Bitter Creek to its present location. Today the school proudly houses the collection of the Red River Historical Society. In addition to photos and artifacts of the early days of town, a recreation of a period-style classroom allows visitors a glimpse of high country education. An outdoor exhibit of mining equipment adjoins the building.

The museum is open five days a week in the afternoon during summer and fall – closed Wednesday and Sunday. Long-time Red River resident Dora Lou Hickam will be giving tours and answering questions about the town’s colorful heritage. There is no admission charge, but donations are the lifeblood of museum operation. Thanks.