Roswell, New Mexico

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PosterIn the 1850s, Mexican farmers began settling in the Pecos Valley.

Some established Missouri Plaza on the Hondo River about 15 miles south of what is now Roswell. Others established a settlement they called Rio Hondo on the river in what is now the Chihuahuita section of southeastern Roswell. Another settlement, called El Berrendo, was established a few miles north of Rio Hondo on what is now the Berrendo River.

Meanwhile, Fort Stanton was established near the Mescalero Apache Reservation in 1855 and Fort Sumner near the Bosque Redondo Reservation in 1863.

Goodnight Loving PhotoIn 1866, Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving brought their longhorn cattle from Texas up the Pecos River to the Bosque Redondo, where most of the cattle were sold to the Army to feed the Navajos and Apaches on the reservation.The rest were taken to Denver and sold. Eventually the Goodnight-Loving Trail extended north to Cheyenne, Wyo.

John Chisum PhotoAnother Texas cattleman, John Chisum, joined the Goodnight-Loving partnership and began driving cattle up the Hondo River to Fort Stanton on what became known as the Chisum Trail.

Meanwhile, a trading post and gambling halls grew up at a Goodnight-Loving Trail camping site. In 1869, gambler Van Smith purchased these buildings and named the place “Roswell” after his father. Smith established a post office at Roswell in 1873.

In 1875, Chisum purchased the South Springs Ranch near Roswell. The ranch was the headquarters of what became one of the largest ranches in the United States.

Capt. Joseph Lea, whose Lea Cattle Co. raised cattle west of the Pecos, bought up most of Roswell in 1877 and began developing the community. Lea has been called “the father of Roswell.”

Chaves PhotoThe next few years saw explosive growth in the Roswell area. In 1889, part of huge Lincoln County became Chaves County, named after Col. José Francisco Chaves, a Civil War military leader in the area and a friend of Lea.

In 1890, the first artesian well was drilled in the Pecos Valley, providing what seemed at the time to be an NMMI Paintingunlimited supply of agricultural water. In 1891, Roswell was incorporated, and Lea and Col. Robert Goss founded Goss Military Academy — now New Mexico Military Institute — offering high school and junior college classes. NMMI alumnae include artist Peter Hurd, newsman Sam Donaldson, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and hotelier Conrad Hilton.

Locomotive PictureIn 1894, the Pecos Valley Railroad, which originally ran from the railroad tracks in Pecos, Texas, to Eddy, N.M. (now Carlsbad), was extended to Roswell and subsequently extended up to the tracks in Texico, N.M., by 1899.

Hotel PhotoSoutheastern New Mexico was transformed when a gusher oil well was drilled near Artesia, 40 miles south of Roswell, in 1924. The oil came from the Permian Basin, which covers parts of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. No wells were drilled in the Roswell area, but the city became a business hub for the oil industry.

In 1941, during World War II, the Roswell Army Air Field was established south of Roswell to train bomber crews.

RAAB PhotoSix years later, in 1947, RAAF personnel became involved with the remains of an unidentified flying object Aliennorthwest of Roswell. Whether the UFO was an alien spaceship, a weather balloon, or something else is still debated, but since the 1990s the Roswell Incident has been the basis of a flourishing tourist industry in Roswell (See Roswell Incident). RAAF was renamed Walker Air Force Base in 1948 and became a major Strategic Air Command base.

Walker Air Force Base was closed in 1967, resulting in a major population loss — and subsequent drop in property values. The base became the Roswell Industrial Air Center, housing several small industries and home to Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell.

Today, Roswell has a diversified economy which includes agriculture, small industry and tourism. Its centralized location — some 200 miles in any direction from any larger city — makes it a business hub for southeastern New Mexico.