A Future for History
What's to become of Shakespeare, one of the West's best-preserved ghost towns?
Story and photos by Ann McMahon
It's difficult to know which is the bigger story. Is it Shakespeare the ghost town, noncommercial, standing much as it was more than a century ago? Or is it the families of the Hills and Houghs who used their own efforts and personal funds to maintain Shakespeare over the last 75 years?
Shakespeare today, looking down its wide main street, past the Grant House Stage Station and the Stratford Hotel.
If you were to search for a place to take a cross-section of New Mexico history and examine each era, you would be hard-pressed to do better than Shakespeare. Like other areas on the frontier, the presence of water brought life, both animal and human. For Shakespeare, it was the Mexican Springs. In fact, that was the original name of Shakespeare, a tiny place next to the small but steady flow of water at the base of the Little Pyramid Mountains south of present-day Lordsburg.
Rita Hill understood this in 1935 when she and her husband, Frank, purchased Shakespeare as part of their small ranch. Rita visited with a woman named Emma Muir, who'd arrived in Shakespeare as a child in 1881 and lived there for a decade. Emma's family were friends of John Evernsen, the Shakespeare stagecoach keeper, who was employed by the Kerens & Mitchelle Stage Co. of San Diego. Evernsen told her that Kerens & Mitchell reinstated stage service after the Civil War along portions of the old Butterfield routes, which included Shakespeare.
Rita Wells not only visited with Emma, but she wrote down what she heard. As she did so, she learned that Emma has been making notes on Shakespeare history as well. So it began. When Rita and Frank's only child, Janaloo, came back to live in Shakespeare, she took on the responsibility of recording New Mexico history from her mother. She carried on her parents' practice of interviewing old-timers who had lived that history or had first-hand knowledge.
For example, Janaloo talked with Cesar Brock, an old mountain man who had found the bodies of Judge H.C. McComas and his wife after they were murdered and mutilated in Thompson Canyon by Apaches while on their way to Lordsburg. Their son, Charley McComas, was kidnapped and never seen alive again. Janaloo wrote these details in several books she authored.
Today, Emanuel "Manny" Hough, Janaloo's husband, is the only remaining family member carrying on the campaign to safeguard Shakespeare history for future generations. He's assisted by a nonprofit corporation, Shakespeare Ghost Town, Inc., founded in October 1996, and by the Friends of Shakespeare.
"Manny" Hough is the last remaining family member.
One year before his wife's death in 2005, Manny and Janaloo almost succeeded in getting the state of New Mexico to fund Shakespeare as a state park. David Abbey, director of the Legislative Finance Committee, and committee members visited Shakespeare and recognized its importance. But the state never appropriated the money.
Now in his 70s, with failing health and dwindling personal funds, Manny is making what he hopes will be a final, successful effort on Shakespeare's behalf. He is evaluating several national non-profit organizations to assume the care of Shakespeare, saying, "I want an organization that specializes in restoration of old towns and has a good track record." The most difficult job for him right now, he adds, is determining the correct organization to accomplish this goal.
"We now have something that is, according to most visitors, unique," explains Manny. "It is recognized by the state of New Mexico and the US Department of Interior as a National Historic Site. Shakespeare is preserved but not commercialized. The old buildings are partially furnished and give people an idea of how life was in the 1870s and 1880s. The blacksmith shop is the best one to be seen in the Southwest. It is 24 feet by 48 feet and contains a total of 726 tools, all authentic antiques."
Pausing a moment to reflect, Manny makes it clear his goal is a true one. "My wife's family has lived here for over 70 years and devoted their lives to this old town. We did not and do not take any of the income from donations, books sales and tours for ourselves. We sold land, parts of the ranch, over the years and put that money back into Shakespeare. None of the board members of Shakespeare Ghost Town, Inc., receives any remuneration. We want the unique heritage to be carried on for future generations."
The weak economy has resulted in a dramatic downturn in visitors to Shakespeare and the loss of several larger contributors to Friends of Shakespeare. Nonetheless, Manny keeps the gates open. Tours of Shakespeare and reenactments of its history are scheduled for this new year; times and dates can be found on the Shakespeare website at www.ShakespeareGhostTown.com
As a cross-section of New Mexico history, Shakespeare's story includes the trails of stagecoach passengers and immigrants following the trail west and stopping at Mexican Springs. There the Mexicans, Spanish and native peoples found water and respite from their journeys. As Mexican Springs grew, the name was changed to Grant for the Civil War general. Both Union and Confederate solders held Grant at times during the Civil War and occupied one of the currently remaining buildings, the old Mail Station, built in 1856. It served as a relay station on the US Army Mail Line between Fort Thorn on the Rio Grande and Fort Buchanan, south of Tucson.
Shakespeare also holds the artifacts and facts of three separate mining booms. In 1870 Grant was renamed Ralston City for William "Billy" Chapman Ralston, the major investor in the original Shakespeare mines. Ralston was a San Francisco financier who founded the Bank of California and whose money made it possible to mine the high-grade silver ore from the Little Pyramid Mountains.
When the high-grade silver played out, another of Shakespeare's characters knew it was not the end of mining. Col. William Boyle was an opportunist and he began buying land and hotels around Shakespeare at bargain prices from 1871 to 1873. Boyle knew the railroads were coming to southwest New Mexico and, when they arrived, mining of lower-grade silver ore would pay off.
Sure enough, in 1881, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad were joined with a silver spike near Deming. The Second Transcontinental Railroad was complete. And, in Ralston, a second boom was on, with mine promoters renaming the town Shakespeare in honor of the famous English author.
Eventually, though, all the silver worth mining was mined. Shakespeare dozed off until reawakened in 1908 with the discovery of copper ore. In 1914, the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad built a spur, from the Transcontinental Railroad that went right up the hill south of Lordsburg and smack through the center of Shakespeare's main street, made wide to accommodate turning, horse-drawn wagons. Janaloo's father, Frank Hill, long before he knew he would own Shakespeare, hired on with teamsters in Lordsburg and helped build the grade for the Shakespeare spur.
From the south end of Shakespeare's main street, on Lookout Point, a visitor can see the remains of at least four of the major mines — the Anita, Superior, Henry Clay and Atwood. All were near the huge Eighty Five mine, first discovered in 1885. Alongside the mine entrances can be seen the ruins of old buildings that served the mining operations.
The copper boom lasted until 1932, a few years before Frank and Rita Hill purchased Shakespeare for their ranch headquarters. Now, more than 75 years later, will Shakespeare and all the history it represents be saved for the future? If it is to be saved, Manny Hough believes, it will mean riches for New Mexico as valuable as the silver and copper taken from its soil.
For more information about Shakespeare or to help with preservation efforts, write Shakespeare Ghost Town, Inc., PO Box 253, Lordsburg, NM 88045, or see www.ShakespeareGhostTown.com.
Ann McMahon is a photographer who moved to Silver City in mid-2010.
Visit her website at www.AnnMcMahon.com