4 – Springer, NM

Episode 4: To Start Recognizing Hearts Rather Than Political Positions with Mike Hobbs

Mike Hobbs describes a Great America where we start to recognize hearts rather than political positions.

He is the creator, owner, and operator of Hat Six Cattle Company New Mexico Land and Cattle Incorporated. And a hardworking guy that enjoys his life.

Having traveled the world and experienced many different places and cultures, he would choose to live in this country. He has great love and hope for a unified America that does what rural Americans do: an America where neighbors help each other, no matter what their political beliefs.

Hat Six Cattle Company New Mexico Land and Cattle Incorporated

Springer, NM: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1882-1897

Springer, a town of about a thousand residents in far northern New Mexico, some sixty miles south of the Colorado state line, seems like a small and quiet place where not much happens. Yet, it has a certain charm that continues to attract tourists and retirees. Much of this has to do with a downtown of stately and elegant buildings, in particular the prominent two-story brick courthouse, which speak to a time when the town was more prominent, and had a central role in some of the most momentous events of the nineteenth century southwest.

Springer was the seat of Colfax County in 1882-1897, in the midst of one of the most bitter and violent conflicts of the era. The Colfax County War pitted Hispano and Anglo settlers against the Maxwell Grant and Railroad Company. The area was included in an enormous land grant dating back to Mexican times, which was acquired by the first of a series of groups of foreign investors in 1870. Conflict arose when the new owners attempted to evict the settlers, who were suddenly seen as squatters, even though they themselves understood that they had the right to be there. The Utes and Jicarilla Apaches whose tenure predated everybody else, were not part of the discussion.

The conflict attracted the attention of the Santa Fe Ring, a powerful clique of attorneys and real-estate investors who controlled the Territory, who sided with the Company, bringing the full force of the Government, including the Army, to bear on the settlers. The County Seat was moved to Springer 1882 from a previous location because the railroad and the Company moved its headquarters and the leadership there was seen as more favorable to the Ring.

Factional violence continued to plague the County. One of the most spectacular confrontations occurred in March, 1885, when Sheriff’s deputies loyal to the Company faced a large party of armed settlers led by future U.S. Congressman George Curry on the courthouse lawn in Springer, leaving two settlers dead.

While the conflict seems the stuff of cinema, a movie of the feud would be disappointing. Though figures like legendary gunfighter Clay Allison fell in with the settlers, there was no man on a white horse riding in to lead the humble sodbusters to victory over the villainous corporation. In fact, the Company ultimately won, their ownership of the land confirmed by an 1887 Supreme Court case. Many of the settlers, out-gunned and with no legal recourse, moved on.

By 1897, the railroad had moved its operations to Raton, some forty miles away, and nearby coal mines there had attracted investment and settlers. Furthermore, the local leadership was largely favorable to the Company. Now out-voted, Springer lost the county seat after a bitter political fight.

Some historians say that Springer went into “decline” after losing the seat, but in a southwest littered with ghost towns this does not seem fair. Springer remained a small but vital community. Arguably, the fact that it no longer attracts the attention that it did during its heyday, when it was the focus for major historical events, might be the reason why it retains a picturesque downtown that recalls a colorful past.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

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