Western Trips

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Puerto de Luna / Historic New Mexico


If your western road trip or vacation takes you through New Mexico on Interstate 40, there's a very unique and historic site just a few miles south of Santa Rosa New Mexico which makes a great side trip. The town of Puerto de Luna sits just 10 miles south of Santa Rosa on State Hwy 91. Puerto de Luna traces it's history all the way back to the 1540 Coronado Expedition, the early Spanish exploration of the Southwest whose aim was to search for the Seven Cities of Gold. The rumor of these golden cities were passed on to the Spaniards by the Indians of Mexico.

new mexico landscape
Beautiful landscape on way to Puerto de Luna
The historic site of Puerto de Luna lies along the lush green valley of the Pecos River. The story is that Coronado's expedition built a bridge across and camped along the Pecos River at the town's current site. The story continues that Coronado saw the moon rise through a mountain gap to the east and exclaimed "Puerto de luna!," In Spanish, that translates to "gateway of the moon" and it's been said that how the town received it's name. Although the story persists, history doesn't offer any concrete proof that the town actually got it's name in this manner. The story with a bit more documentation is that the town received it's name because the Luna family lived at the mouth of Puerto Creek during the 1860's and later moved to the town's present location thus the name Puerto de Luna. The town was officially organized in 1863.

One interesting fact that you wouldn't think possible when visiting this small settlement today, is that at one time Puerto de Luna was a large growing town with some 1,500 inhabitants during the 1880's. The town in fact was the county seat for Guadalupe County New Mexico and had it's very own post office as early as 1873. Like with the rise and fall of many towns in the 1880's, the railroad played a prominent role. When the railroad came through that portion of New Mexico, Puerto de Luna was bypassed and the town that benefited was Santa Rosa to the north. Santa Rosa, also on the banks of the Pecos River became the population center when the Rock Island Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad joined their lines in 1902 there for completion of the joint Chicago to Los Angeles passenger service. That jointly operated train was named the "Golden State" and operated all the way until 1968.

nuestra senora del refugio church in puerta de luna
Nuestra Senora del Refugio Church
When the National Highway System was created in the 1920's, and particularly the famed Route 66, even more people passed through and settled around Santa Rosa and the city was then the county seat of Guadalupe County. Route 66 also brought Hollywood to it's doorsteps. Among other film projects shot in Santa Rosa was the train scene in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath".

Among the sights to see today in Puerto de Luna is the Nuestra Senora del Refugio Church which was originally constructed in 1882. Mass is still conducted daily at this historic church.

There is also a Billy the Kid story tied to Puerto de Luna. This was generally Billy the Kid country, with Billy's burial site being only a 62 mile drive to Fort Sumner to the southeast. As further evidence of the towns connection with the Kid, there's a road today in the village named Kid Lane. As for the Billy the Kid story and Puerto de Luna, you have to consider the large war that had been going on to the south in then Lincoln County New Mexico. The Lincoln County War was against two factions that competed for control of the area, both economic and political.

adobe building in new mexico
Adobe structure in Puerto de Luna
The Kid was aligned with one of the opposing sides and was wanted for several murders. He was eventually arrested by legendary New Mexico lawman Pat Garrett. During the Kids transportation up northward to Las Vegas and Santa Fe, Garrett and the shackled Billy allegedly spent a night at the home of Don Alejandro and Dona Secundina Grzelachowski in Puerto de Luna. Billy the Kid was no stranger to the town as he had been a customer of the Grzelachowski general store and also was alleged to have a few friends in the town. Sometime after Billy the Kid was bound over for trial in Messilla New Mexico he escaped from jail. Lawman Pat Garrett eventually caught up with him and the Kid was killed in an exchange of gunfire near Fort Sumner.

Another interesting feature found in Puerto de Luna for the modern day tourist are the authentic adobe structures to be found there. Most of what you see today in the southwest are modern adobe buildings that are essentially made from plaster. Real adobe made during the 1800's and prior were a mixture of straw and mud. These have obviously deteriorated over the centuries and the ones you'll see today are in ruins. nevertheless, they are interesting to view and you'll see several in and around Puerto de Luna.

Two additional related articles we've published at Western Trips and ones you will find interesting are The Lincoln County War and a Visit to Fort Sumner.

(Photos are from author's private collection)

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done. A group of us from the Dona Ana County Historical Society
    in Las Cruces, NM visited the community in late June 2016 and were given
    permission to view the house where Billy the Kid celebrated his last
    Christmas. We were unable to go inside but viewed all the items still in the house as it was later used as a store. Everything was still on shelves and in cabinets when it was finally closed for business.

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