Thursday, May 3, 2012

Me, Mark, Billy, Butch, Grover, Black Jack and Sundance

Unknown Kingstonian.
Name the biggest city in New Mexico — in 1892. Nope, not Santa Fe. Not Albuquerque. The biggest city — and most prosperous — was Kingston. Today, Kingston is all but a ghost town. The unpaved streets boast few houses. There is the old Percha Bank building sitting idle on Main Street and the Black Range Lodge, a bed and breakfast, that once garrisoned a U.S. Calvary deployment and was constructed in part from the ruins of Pretty Sam's Casino across the street. The lodge is a good place to come if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of, say — Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

It all began here in 1888 when a miner, Jack Sheddon, discovered silver  — lots of it! In a few years there were 23 saloons, almost as many mines, fresh oysters 24-hours a day, and no shortage of visitors — Mark Twain, Butch Cassiday, the Sundance kid, Black Jack Ketchum, Billy the Kid  and even President Grover Cleveland made it here to the bustling town that had sprung up almost over night.

It was a happening place. For a while.

Downtown Kingston in the 1880s.
The glory lasted only 15 brief years. By 1892 the silver had all but run out. In 1893 a Wall Street panic and a limit on silver coinage (Remember William Jennings Bryan's: "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold" in protest to the end of the free coinage of silver) had reduced the price of the white metal by as much as 90%. The bar girls and  bad boys skipped town, the bank relocated to Hillsborough (where there was some gold), and what was left of the town was was destroyed by a fire.

But there were good times here while they lasted.

Unpaved New Mexico road where Kingston once thrived.
Today the town, such as it is, and the almost bare surrounding area like to celebrate what once was. Last weekend there was a festival —  music, food, street vending, antiquing but mostly just fun. Donations go to charity. Visitors sit on hay bales to listen to country, rock and Mexican music on a rustic outdoor stage. Local artists vend their wares, from pottery to painting,  affixed to trees, under tents or in one case attached to the side of a truck almost as old as the town.

One enterprising resident brings in gritty soil known to have flecks of gold in it, and with a backyard sluice and some pans, for $15 lets you pan for the metal stuff and take what you recover home in a small bottle.

Stroll down the dusty unpaved streets and it is hard to imagine that there were once three newspapers, a brewery, 14 general stores and one or two plush hotels flourishing hill.

Lillian Russell before she became a movie star — indeed before there were movies — came here to perform.

Today the Percha Bank building is the only original building still standing. The stone building once housed $7 million in silver  in its ceiling-high black steel walk-in vault. The teller windows and lobby interior remains changed from the early days when stage coaches pulled up to the bank, the assay office, and the stores to deliver goods, and haul out silver to the Carson City mint.

You never knew who just might step off the stage.

The old Percha Bank's original interior.
Today home grown entertainment has taken the place of the all-night saloons, and oysters by the bushel have been replaced by lemonade and tacos, sandwiches and sodas.

That Grover Cleveland may have visited Kingston is interesting. Cleveland — who at 250 pounds could well have eaten his share of oysters — was an anti-silver Democrat who helped end free unlimited coinage of silver and thus engender the panic that would destroy many similar silver mining towns  in the west.

Local artists vend paintings from a truck.

Desert Landscapes.

Mariachi musician.

An old-timer listens.

So long, Butch, Billy, Mark, Grover, Black Jack and Sundance. Good times come, and good times go. 

But good times are not forgotten even after more than a century.


  1. Story reminds me of the Chloride, NM story. Those towns represent the great old West.

  2. It's a myth that Kingston was the largest town in New Mexico. See Desert Exposure June 2012.

    1. That's a great great link. Thank you so much for posting. Boy, I was sure taken in by the local establishment !

    2. Your followers may enjoy the Hillsboro Historical Society's blog

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