Welcome to our new web site!

To give our readers a chance to experience all that our new website has to offer, we have made all content freely avaiable, through October 1, 2018.

During this time, print and digital subscribers will not need to log in to view our stories or e-editions.

July 1: Historical society celebrates 60th anniversary as Fort Selden celebrates 50th


The Doña Ana County Historical Society (DACHS) was formed in 1963 to help preserve historic Fort Selden north of Las Cruces. That preservation effort consumed the first 10 years of DACHS’ existence, culminating in Fort Selden becoming a state historic site in 1973. This year, DACHS and Fort Selden are once again joining forces, as they celebrate DACHS’ 60th anniversary and Fort Selden’s 50th at “Celebrating the Past, Looking to the Future,” Saturday, July 1, at Fort Selden Historic Site.

DACHS began Sept. 26, 1963, as a group of local history buffs met with Victor Westphall, president of the Historical Society of New Mexico, to establish a chapter of the society in Doña Ana County, according to the book “Doña Ana County Historical Society 1963-1994,” by Madeleine Vessel. The local group had two goals: an urgent one “to save Fort Selden … which was suffering from the effects of vandalism and decay,” Vessel said, and in the longer term, “to preserve the history and culture of Doña Ana County.”

Louis E. Freudenthal became the new society’s first president; George Adlai Feather was vice president, J. Paul Taylor was recording secretary, Thomas Branigan Memorial Library Director Helen Caffey was secretary and former NMSU President U.S. Army Gen. and former undersecretary of the Army Hugh Milton II was treasurer.

Fort Selden closed in 1890 and the post reverted to the public domain. It was acquired by Harry H. Bailey in 1926, and deterioration was already evident, Vessel said. Harry Bailey’s son, Harry N. Bailey, donated the fort to the state in 1963. A bill introduced by state Sen. Frank Papen of Las Cruces in 1963 created Fort Selden State Park, but the fort site was not officially transferred to state ownership until 1969.

A groundbreaking for the Fort Selden visitors center was held July 4, 1973, with DACHSC President Louise Garrett opening the program. The visitors center opened Aug. 25, 1974, and Fort Selden was formally dedicated as a state monument Feb. 21, 1976.

DACHS was also involved in preserving Fort Fillmore, which was built near Mesilla in 1854. The fort was placed on the national register of historic places in 1974. DACHS has also been involved in saving and preserving many historic buildings in Las Cruces, including the Nestor Armijo house that is now the home of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and the Amador Hotel.

DACHS began to establish a historical collection in 1963. Its first artifacts were nearly 100-year-old cannon balls from Fort Selden, and later post office boxes from the original Las Cruces Post Office. It also acquired a historic farm wagon, a doctor’s buggy and a stagecoach that was in service in 1881 between El Paso and Chihuahua.

DACHS has also been involved in marking historic sites throughout the county, including the site of former county sheriff Pat Garrett’s murder, which took place Feb. 29, 1908, east of Las Cruces.

The society has also been active in publishing county history in a variety of documents and creating the Southern New Mexico Historical Review.

In addition to Freudenthal and Garrett, DACHS presidents have included J. Paul Taylor, Opal Lee Priestley, Austin Hoover, Donna Eichstaedt and George Helfrich.

I have enormous respect and admiration for the vision and efforts of the founders of the society,” Helfrich told the Bulletin. “In particular, I value the friendship and advice of Paul Taylor over the years in his long support of DACHS and its goal of retaining our regions history and culture. He is and will be greatly missed.”

Since its founding DACHS has also led field trips and conducted programs focused on local history at its monthly meetings. The first field trip, May 24, 1964, was to Fort Selden, Rodey and Rincon. Other field trips have included Santa Fe, Lincoln, Columbus, Hillsboro and Santa Teresa.

DACHS has also honored individuals, organizations and properties during its annual banquet awards. It created a hall of fame to recognize “exceptional contribution to preservation of the history and culture of the Mesilla Valley,” Vessel said. Gen. Hugh Milton II, Helen Caffey and J. Paul Taylor, Louis E. Freudenthal and Opal Lee Priestley have been joined in the DACHS Hall of Fame by internationally recognized ag pioneer Fabian Garcia, the Cox family, Patrick Beckett (founder of COAS Books), NMSU professor and historian Ray Sadler and many others.

“For 60 years, DACHS has played an important role in this community by fostering interest in our region’s history,” said DACHS President Dennis Daily, who is head of the NMSU Archives and Special Collections Department. “The society has worked to recognize and preserve physical sites and structures of cultural significance, such as the Armijo home, the Amador Hotel, and Fort Selden, but just as importantly, has disseminated the stories of the people and events that have shaped this area through our programs and publications.”

"It is nice to belong to an organization with a history of saving the area's heritage but also discouraging that, in today's world, so few people are willing to step forward and help," said DACHS Secretary Jim Eckles, a local historian who worked in the White Sands Missile Range public affairs office for more than 30 years.
Visit www.donaanacountyhistsoc.org.