Southwestern New Mexico: Places to Explore

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Old Mesilla

Historians disagree about the origins of Mesilla (called both Mesilla and Old Mesilla), which in Spanish means "Little Table." Some say the town occupies the exact spot that Don Juan de OƱate declared "the first pueblo of this kingdom."

Many of the sturdy adobe structures abundant in this community date back as far as 150 years and are still in use today. The thick walls of the adobes in this area not only helped keep the interiors cool and comfortable during hot days, but also helped defend against attacks by Apaches, who were none too excited about the influx of people into their territory.

Mesilla was established by a group of lifetime Mexican residents when the territory of New Mexico was acquired by the United States in 1848. Wishing to remain Mexican, they left Las Cruces, moved a few miles west across the new border of the Rio Grande, and established their village in Mexican territory. All this effort was for naught, because the Rio Grande not only changed its path in 1865, putting both Las Cruces and Mesilla east of the river, but the whole area had already been annexed by the United States in 1854. Mesilla had established itself well and was the largest station between El Paso and Los Angeles on the Butterfield Stage Line, and for a time served as the Confederate territorial capital, an area that covered Arizona and western New Mexico. In 1881 the Santa Fe Railroad extended its line into Las Cruces, bypassing Mesilla and establishing Las Cruces as the area's major hub of commerce and transportation.

Mesilla has seen celebrations, weddings, bloody political battles, and the milestone trial of Billy the Kid. A Mesilla jury convicted the Kid for the murder of Matthew Brady, the sheriff of Lincoln County. The Kid was transferred to the Lincoln County Courthouse to be hanged for the crime but briefly staved off the inevitable by escaping.

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