Shootouts, Cattle Drives and Model T’s: a History of the Villages of Catron County

St. Anne Church, Horse Springs.

Catron County

Catron, located in southwest New Mexico, officially became a county in 1921. While it contains the largest land size of any county in New Mexico, it remains very sparsely populated. The beautiful Gila National Wilderness is here, along with rugged mountains and plains. Catron county also has some of the oldest history of any area in New Mexico. One cave, known as “Bat Cave”, shows signs of occupants as early as 3500 BC. In about the 10th century AD, a people known as the Mogollons made their home in the Gila Wilderness. Many of their ruins and artwork are still in pristine condition. Geronimo, Butch Cassidy, and Billy the Kid all led their respective bands in Catron County at some point.

The county itself is named after Thomas Catron, an attorney and political leader from Santa Fe.


Images via Library of Congress. 


Founded: 1870s
Catholic Church: Santo Niño

Santo Niño Church, Aragon
Santo Niño Church, Aragon

“Aragon was once the site of Fort Tularosa, built to help protect the residents from marauding Indians. Gradually, the area was settled with Spanish speaking ranchers and farmers.

Before Aragon became a parish in 1937, the Catholic people of this part of Catron County were served by a priest from Monticello, New Mexico, who visited the area two or three times a year, usually on horseback.

In the late 1930s, it was recognized that a parish would have to be established in the western part of the state to provide better religious care of the people. Aragon was selected as the site and Father Joseph Osca, a native of Spain, was named first pastor.

To establish the necessary buildings, he began by enlarging the existing church, constructed in the early years of the century and dedicated to Santo Nino del Atocha.

Next, a rectory was built and a convent for the sisters who were then teaching in the public school. When the sisters were no longer allowed to teach in the public school, Father Osca established a parochial school which was opened in 1951. The school lasted for many years but is now no longer in existence.

In 1952, the mission of Quemado was added to the parish. At this time, the parish covered the entire Catron County, an area of 3,416 square miles. With this addition to the parish, the missions of Aragon totaled seven.

They were: Saint Anne at Horse Springs, Sacred Heart at Quemado, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Datil, Saint Francis of Assisi at Middle Frisco, Saint Paul at Mangas and Saint Isidore at Lower Frisco. At that time, the mission station at Glenwood did not have a chapel.

The construction dates for the churches in the missions were quite old, with those at Middle Frisco, now known as Reserve, and Lower Frisco built in 1880. The little church at Horse Springs was built in 1928.

In December, 1954, the parish hall burned down. A new one was constructed, giving the people of this isolated area an instructional and recreational building.

Over the years, the population of Aragon has decreased and that of Reserve has increased. While Aragon is still the parish seat, more and more activities are directed from Reserve.”

– taken from a written history of parishes in the Diocese of Gallup by Elizabeth Kelley

“The Aragon Santo Niño Church is a beautiful church in its simplicity and rich history which began in the early 1900’s. Baptismal records indicate that priests were coming to administer to the people of Aragon since 1905.

The mode of travel for priests during that time was on horseback, and later, on horse drawn carriages. Services were held in people’s homes before the churches were built. The Pastor officiated weddings and Baptisms, heard confessions, and then offered Mass. Mass generally lasted two to three hours because the sermon amounted to catechetical instruction and explanation of the Gospels. Often times, this was the only religious instruction available to the congregation.

Father Albert Canova, (a native of Switzerland) who had been appointed pastor by the Archbishop of Santa Fe to the parish of Monticello (a small town near T or C) came out to the missions of Catron County in 1916. The parish of Monticello encompassed the counties of Sierra and Catron in the north central part of the State of New Mexico.

In Catron County there were eight missions. Father Canova drove a Model T and would visit these missions every three months.

The middle section of the Santo Niño Church in Aragon was completed in the early 1900’s. At that time, the main entrance to the church was on the south side, with the altar facing north. The construction of this part of the church was supervised by Maria Aragon, Deacon Juan Aragon’s Grandmother.

In 1924, a sacristy was added to the east side of the church. This addition is the present altar of the church.

In the late 1930’s, it was recognized that a parish needed to be established in the western part of the state to provide better religious services for the people. Aragon was selected for the parish site and the parish was officially established in 1937. Father Joseph Osca, (a native of Valencia, Spain) was named first pastor.

To establish the necessary buildings, Father Osca began by enlarging the existing church. Next, a rectory and a Catholic Center were erected. A convent was also built for the Franciscan Sisters who were then teaching in the public school. (The public school was located in the present Santo Niño Parish Hall). When the sisters were no longer allowed to teach in the public school, Father Osca established a parochial school which was dedicated on August 25, 1951 (the day of the parish’s annual fiesta) by Bishop Espelage, Bishop of the Diocese of Gallup. School was taught by the sisters in the building across the highway from the church.

In 1953, the two-story rectory was remodeled and converted into a school. Later on, the Rev. Samuel J. Wilson, (who became pastor of Santo Niño Parish August 6th, 1953) was able to acquire the public school building and the parochial school was once again relocated. The parochial school was in operation until the early 1970’s.

In 1952, the mission of Quemado was added to the parish. At this time, the parish covered the entire Catron County, an area of 3,416 square miles.

The missions administered out of the Santo Niño Parish today include: Saint Francis of Assisi at Reserve, Saint Isidro at Lower Frisco, Santo Niño de Praga at Glenwood, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Datil and St. Anne at Horse Springs. The St. Paul Mission at Mangus, no longer exists; however, part of the church is still standing.

The construction dates for some of the churches in the missions are quite old, with those at Middle Frisco, now known as Reserve, and Lower Frisco built in the late 1800s. The little church at Horse Springs was finished July 26, 1929 and dedicated to Saint Anne by Father Albert Canova.

Santo Niño Parish and its various missions are now administered by Father Patrick Wedeking.

Throughout the years repairs and renovations have been made to the church in Aragon. In the late 1980’s, new carpet and new pews were installed in the church through the many donations and efforts of the parishioners and other sponsors. The pews were constructed by here in Aragon. The plaques on some of the pews are dedicated to various members of the Aragon Community.

In 2012, much needed repairs were made to the church as follows: the roof was replaced; the electric system was rewired; a heating system was installed in the sacristy; the outside door of the sacristy was replaced; the west side doors of the church were replaced; the inside of the bell tower was repaired; some of the statues inside the church were restored; and the cross on top of the bell tower was replaced.

On September of 2012, the Knights of Columbus from Santa Fe came to Aragon to assist the parishioners replace the floors of the sacristy and bell tower and to build a new closet. They also helped to scrape the frames of the doors and windows on the outside of the church and to repaint them. The structure of the Grotto was repaired and our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Bernadette statues were replaced in 2013.”

“History of Santo Niño Church” by Flora Najar

Mission Villages of Aragon


Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Datil
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Datil

Founded: 1884
Catholic Church: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Images via Wikimedia Commons and Library of Congress.

This village, located 36 miles west of Magdalena, was named by the original inhabitants for yucca seedpods which look like dates, as the word “datil” means “date” in Spanish.

In 1885, a cattle driveway was established between Springerville, Arizona and the railroad at Magdalena, NM. In order to accommodate the needs of the local ranchers and cattle drivers, a post office and store were built. Several cattle ranching families settled in the area, and today some 200 citizens, along with surrounding ranchers, call Datil their home.


Santo Niño Church, Glenwood
Santo Niño Church, Glenwood

Founded: 1878
Catholic Church: Santo Niño

Images via Wikipedia.

Glenwood was first established as a stagecoach stop on the White Water creek, about 39 miles south of Reserve. It was first called Glenwood springs, then shortened simply to “Glenwood”. The first powered airplane flight in New Mexico took place nearby in 1909. Today it is home to around 300 residents.

Nearby points of interest include a hotsprings which was first used for medicinal and therapeutic reasons by ancient Indians and later settlers.

There is also the Catwalk – a famous recreational area near an abandoned gold and silver mine. The Catwalk is a series of paths, bridges, and walkways stretching through a canyon over whitewater creek as it flows past giant boulders, woods, natural swimming pools and waterfalls.

Horse Springs

Founded: 1879
Catholic Church: St. Anne’s (Closed, founded in 1928)

St. Anne Church, Horse Springs.
St. Anne Church, Horse Springs.

Horse Springs, legend has it, was named when a group of soldiers traveling between Ft. Tularosa and Socorro found a lost horse at a spring of water, about 20 miles northeast of Aragon. After the spring was discovered, a post office was built nearby and used to send mail to Socorro.

Today the village is all but a ghost town.

Lower Frisco

San Isidro, Lower Frisco.
San Isidro, Lower Frisco.

Founded: 1880
Catholic Church: San Isidro

Images via Wikipedia.

Original Spanish settlers to the area named the three villages along their creek Upper, Middle, and Lower Frisco. Middle Frisco is now known as the town of Reserve, and Upper was renamed Milligan’s plaza for the owner of a local store and saloon. Lower Frisco, however, still bears the original name.

Lower Frisco is noted as the site of the legendary gunfight of Elfego Baca, who, in 1884 over a three-day period, held off 80 cowboys.

Acting as an independent lawman, Baca arrested a ranch hand named Mcarty, who had been shooting his guns around the Middle Plaza and harassing local Mexican citizens. Baca arrested McCarty and planned to escort him to the courthouse at Socorro, but was confronted by McCarty’s foreman and several fellow workers, who demanded his release. Baca refused, fired upon the men, and the foreman was killed when his horse reared and fell on him.

The next day, Baca was persuaded to turn McCarty over to the local justice of the peace. He was soon confronted by Tom Slaughter, owner of the ranch where McCarty worked, and 80 of his cowboys, who fired upon Baca. Baca was able to take cover in a nearby jacal, a tiny house flimsily constructed. He held on that day, and throughout the night and next day. Although the cowboys fired many shots, none hit Baca, but his own aim was good enough to kill four men.

After 33 hours, a deputy sheriff was able to negotiate a ceasefire – the cowboys had used up all their ammunition. Baca was transported to the courthouse at Socorro, where he was acquitted of any murder charges. He later became the mayor of Socorro and a school superintendent.

Another site of historical interest is nearby Apache Creek.  In the 1870s, a boy named Epitacio Martinez and his father encountered a band of Geronimo’s Apaches. The Apaches fired upon them, killing the father and wounding the son in the leg. Before he died, the father engaged the Apaches, and Epitacio, who had fallen off his horse, crawled away and hid near a creek under a log. The creek where he hid was later named Apache Creek because of the encounter.


Founded: Earliest record is 1873, from a family who settled there by a spring.
Catholic Church: Saint Paul (closed – in ruins)

via Wikipedia.

The name of the village could refer to a transfer of land from Mangas, CO, but the name means “sleeve” in Spanish and could also refer to the “sleeve” that rain sometimes forms when falling.

The famous son of an Apache chieftain also lived nearby. He was ultimately killed unjustly by American troops, and named Mangas Coloradas (“red sleeves”).

Reserve (Middle Frisco)

St. Francis Church, Reserve
St. Francis Church, Reserve

Founded: 1880
Catholic Church: St. Francis of Assisi

images via Library of Congress.

First settled by Spanish families in the 1860s and used for livestock grazing before becoming the site of a sawmill, which is now closed.

Efforts to reintroduce the Mexican Gray Wolf are underway around this area, in the Gila National Forest.


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