Hagerman, New Mexico and Its Pioneers

      Katherine Kitch Hagerman
            Back when I was a child in the 1940s, my mother used to take me and my younger brother, Bill, from Dallas up to Denison, Texas where some older cousins of hers lived.
            One of the ways the adults entertained the children on those visits was to take us down to the train station or depot in the evenings. If there was a train arriving or departing, we watched all the activity connected with that. When there were no arrivals or departures, we watched the switch engine moving cars around the train yard.
            I remember that my brother was outfitted with a trainman’s cap, a red bandana, and a toy lantern so he could pretend he was doing a brakeman’s work. I got nothing because, of course, girls did not work with trains or wear trainmen’s costumes. Still, I enjoyed the experience of watching the trains “up close.”
            At about the same time, back in Dallas, our father would from time to time take us out to Love Field to watch the airplanes arriving and departing. Even though we knew none of the travelers, the entertainment value of watching people coming from or going to distant places was considerable.
            More than fifty years later, in 1999, my husband and I made a trip to Yucatan and Belize. On a Sunday afternoon, we prepared to fly home from Belize City. We were lined up with our fellow passengers, waiting to walk out across the runway to board the plane. I looked around at the crowd of people gathered on the terrace behind us, including many families with children, and realized that, while a few of those people may have been “seeing off” a particular traveler, the majority had come out to the airport simply to watch the planes and their passengers arriving and departing, a local form of free entertainment.
            It would seem that, in any era or any place--whenever or wherever people and their children are/were not indoors glued to their electronic devices--watching the arrivals and departures of trains, airplanes, ships and boats, pack trains and caravans, and most recently rockets and spaceships has been and continues to be a focus of genuine interest and a source of pleasure. Small wonder that the Hagerman depot saw its share of this widespread and eternal human activity.
            The southeast quadrant of New Mexico is bisected by the Pecos River which runs north to south, and the town of Hagerman lies in the Pecos River Valley. From 1869 to 1889 the entire quadrant was designated as Lincoln County, scene of the infamous Lincoln County War.
            Due to the prevailing lawlessness and the fact that no railroads or major thoroughfares (except cattle trails) traversed it, the area remained remote and slow to develop until the late 1880s.
            Pat Garrett, Charles Eddy, and a number of other residents of the valley at that time had visions of developing irrigated farming and ranching--and, with it, a greater degree of “civilized living.” (Of course, they also expected to make their fortunes from land and water sales.) Having begun, they soon realized that they were woefully underfunded.
            They approached James John Hagerman of Colorado Springs, a wealthy mine owner and railroad builder who was experienced in organizing and financing large enterprises, and he was persuaded to share their vision.
            In 1889, J.J. Hagerman took the reins of the original irrigation company and began building and expanding the dams and canals of the system. He also began building a railroad to link the valley with the outside world without which, he knew, the valley could never prosper.
            It should be noted that 1889 was also the year that the Territorial Legislature created Chaves and Eddy Counties out of the enormous and unwieldy Lincoln County, thereby improving administrative and law-enforcement services and aiding development.
            The Hagerman townsite was acquired by the Pecos Valley Town Company in 1893, and the town began developing as the railroad was completed through Hagerman up to Roswell, New Mexico in 1894.
            Something should be said as well about the canal known today as the Hagerman Canal. When it was begun by Pat Garrett and others about 1887 or 1888, no one in the Pecos Valley had ever heard of J.J. Hagerman, and the town of Hagerman did not exist. After J.J. acquired the irrigation company, it was always known as the “Northern Canal.” Finally, the canal (retained by J.J. in the irrigation bankruptcy settlement of 1898) was sold by him to the Hagerman Irrigation Company in 1907. And from this date it has been known as the Hagerman Canal.
            The question often arises: did J.J. Hagerman or any of his family ever live in the town of Hagerman? The answer is no.
            During the entire decade (1889-1899) that J.J. Hagerman was involved in irrigation and railroad building in the Pecos Valley, his residence was in Colorado Springs.
            He owned various farms and ranches in the valley including the old John Chisum ranch at South Spring in Chaves County and Hagerman Heights east of Carlsbad in Eddy County. But these properties were occupied by resident managers and were operated as “demonstration showplaces” or simply as investments.
            Following the bankruptcy of the Irrigation Company in 1898 and the completion of the last leg of the Pecos Valley Railroad up to Amarillo in 1899, J.J. Hagerman sold his Colorado Springs home and moved, with his wife, to South Spring where he proceeded to build a new home on the site of the old John Chisum headquarters.
            Soon afterward, he sold the railroad to the Santa Fe and, within a year or so, bought a large ranch east of the Pecos River. During the last decade of his life (1899-1909), he lived the life of a “gentleman rancher.”
            Following J.J. Hagerman’s death, his widow, Anna, lived on at South Spring. Their younger son, Herbert, lived with her and managed the properties until the early 1920s when his place was taken by grandson, Lowry Hagerman (Herbert’s nephew). This arrangement lasted until Anna Hagerman’s death in 1930 when all the Pecos Valley properties were sold and the last Hagermans moved away.
            In 1992, the citizens of Hagerman were kind enough to include Lowry Hagerman’s sons, Charles and H.L. “Bud” (my husband), as honored guests at their Old Timers’ Day celebration.
            It is always a pleasure to visit the town of Hagerman, to contemplate our shared history, and to enjoy the warmth, kindness, and genuine interest of the people who live there.