The area that is now southern Hidalgo County belonged to Mexico until 1853, when the Gadsden Purchase finally resolved border disputes following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War. The purchase added lands south of the Gila River and east of the Rio Grande to United States holdings. The U.S. particularly wanted the land in order to build a southern transcontinental railroad.
After New Mexico became a state in 1912, the residents of southern Grant County had to travel up to 130 miles north to the county seat of Silver City. The land was sparslely populated and few roads maintained. This caused problems that were best solved by a shift of county distribution.
On February 25, 1919, state legislators passed a bill to create Hidalgo County from the southernmost section of Grant County. The county seat was to be Lordsburg, which was named after railroad supervisor Delbert Lord, who envisioned a town halfway between El Paso, Texas and Tucson, Arizona.
The county courthouse was not built until 1927 and is still in use today.
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Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo & The Gadsden Purchase
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the two-year Mexican-American War. The United States dictated the terms, since it had defeated the Mexican army and invaded its capital.
The U.S. had attempted two unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a treaty with Santa Anna over disputes about land along the border. The resulting war and defeat for Mexico ended in 525,000 square miles of land being transferred to U.S. ownership, all or part of California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Over 389,000 square miles of Texas changed hands (Mexico had never acknowledged the independence of The Republic of Texas). The U.S. paid $15 million (about $380 million today). Mexico lost over half its land.
Later, in 1853, the Gadsden Purchase (peacefully negotiated) added the southern lands of New Mexico and Arizona for $10 million (about $260 million today). The U.S. wanted to build a southern railroad from Georgia to San Diego, California along this land, but never did. The railroad that passed through Lordsburg was the southernmost railroad built. The “boot heel” in Hidalgo County was part of the Gadsden Purchase.
Mining and Industry in Hidalgo County
In the 1870's, many miners settled and worked in Hidalgo County, but it was isolated and made it difficult to transport ore out. With the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1880. precious metals could be shipped economically from the county, mainly silver. In 1893, silver prices dropped sharply and the exploration for other metals began. Most ores were shipped as flux to smelt.
Because the county could easily access smelters at El Paso, Texas and Douglas, Arizona, mining increased steadily. Copper, silver, and gold caused communities like Hachita to spring up and attract prospectors and businesses that catered to them. Soon, mines were prevalent in the Little Hatchet Mountains, Animas Mountains, and around Lordsburg. The Pyramid Mountain district produced between $550,000 and
$600,000 in mostly silver.
After the "rush," other ores exceeded gold and silver. The Lordsburg district produced over 4,000,000 tons of siliceous fluxing ore and millinggrade ore, which yielded about 156,000,000 pounds of copper, 4,400,000 pounds of lead, 500,000 pounds of zinc, 157,000 ounces of gold and 6,700,000 ounces of silver between 1904 and 1961.
The Phelps Dodge Copper Smelter located in southern Hidalgo County remained a high performing flash furnace smelter from the early 1970's until copper price dips caused its closure in 1999. As mining decreased, other industries moved in. Mercantiles, travel amenities, pig farms, geothermal rose farming, and even a talapia hatchery functioned successfully in the county. Of course, farming and ranching began before mining and continued after it ceased at large scale.