Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Mexico’s Little Sodom

Thirty miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico off U.S. 85 is a forgotten village shaded by enormous cottonwood trees. This village is a ghost town today. 

Hearing rumors it was haunted, my sister and I visited this village in the early 1970s. 

To reach this ghost town we had to drive on a rough eight-mile gravel road that disappeared at one spot. We then left our car and hiked down a rugged canyon choked with pinion and juniper.

At the bottom of this hill, we crossed the Mora River at a shallow spot. Once on the other side we followed an old rutted road that leads to the ruins of this tiny village originally named Loma Parda-- Spanish for, “small gray hill.”

We had read that the village was established in the 1830s and serviced the surrounding farms. Then twenty years later its peaceful existence was changed forever.

In 1851, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, placed Lieutenant Colonel Edwin V. Sumner  in charge of New Mexico's territorial troops. He was assigned the task to make these soldiers more efficient--their job was to fight the Indians that had terrorized the area for two and half centuries.

Sumner felt the 1300 troops scattered across New Mexico territory were in peril of being “demoralized.” Many of these men were stationed at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe. Sumner viewed this fort as a "sink hole of sin." He became determined to break-up this post.

Mora River
He found a spot by the Mora River near the Santa Fe Trail. It had an ample supply of grass, wood and water. It was a hundred miles north of Santa Fe.

He built his new outpost--Fort Union just five miles from the village of Loma Parda. Sumner was now assured his soldiers were “protected from vice.”

Fort Union today

When the construction on Fort Union was complete the residents of Loma Parda began to realize what a bonanza Uncle Sam had deposited right next door. Almost overnight this village of 500 people despite its tiny size easily rivaled the much larger towns of Tombstone, Arizona and Dodge City, Kansas when it came to “sinful” activities.

What's left of one building
Loma Parda.
Two string bands played continuously, rotating shifts, at Julian Baca’s dance hall. Gambling, which included three-card Monte, a  territorial favorite, was played.

The liquor served in the cantinas was a treacherous rotgut known throughout the West as “Taos Lightning.” The number one draw though for the lonely men from the fort was the enchanting girls the village supplied.

Loma Parda was now known as “Little Sodom.”

Little Sodom proved to be a nuisance for the Fort Union commanders. Thievery and murder became common occurrences. The town became so rowdy in 1866 that the new commanding officer Major John Thompson declared Loma Parda off limits.

On November 2, 1882, Private James Gray went into Little Sodom although it was off limits. He was ambushed and slain. A few days later some of his buddies disguised as civilians attended a dance in the village. They found the man responsible for Gray’s death and hanged him.

The village also attracted desperadoes. The Las Vegas Optic reported the story of a murderer named James Lafer who paid a visit to Loma Parda in 1888.

“. . . In Loma Parda he is still remembered as the man who picked up a New Mexican woman in the street, placed her across his horse in front of him, and rode into the saloon, making the bartender set up drinks for the whole party, and because his horse would not drink, he shot him through the head, lifted the woman from the saddle before the horse fell, and walked out leaving the horse dead on the floor . . .”

The army occupied Fort Union until 1889--when the Indian Wars ended. By 1900, the post office closed and by 1910, the village’s name disappeared off the census.

My sister and I saw the ruins of several buildings along the village's main road. The bridge that once crossed the Mora River was washed away in 1948. The stone walls of the town’s store remain.

Loma Parde’s adobe church is the one building that remains intact. Directly behind this building, rubble mounds mark the graves of several “fancy women.” Across the road stands a low adobe building that once housed Julian Baca’s dance hall.

This old village is on private ranch land today.

A few visitors have reported seeing “shadowy figures” roaming about Loma Parda’s ruins at dusk. It is not known if these are the spirits of prostitutes or the men that met a violent end. 

We didn't encounter anything unusual during our visit but I still remember the eerie sound the wind made as it traveled through the nearby cottonwoods.


Unknown said...

My dad and I spent a day there in 1988. I went down the town well with my metal detector. Treasure was old women's shoes and a few nails. The legend of gold hidden there stolen from the fort had taken its toll. Some took a chainsaw to the church walks believing the gold was hidden inside. Many large holes dug throughout the town looking again for the gold. Great history and legend there.

Virginia Lamkin said...

Sorry to hear it has been vandalized.