Exhibits: History: Lake Valley
Striking it Rich
J. Whitaker Wright later wrote that the first great silver discovery at Lake Valley occurred as they brought the body of George Daly into camp. Silver ore with forty ounces of silver per ton had been found earlier, but this new discovery ran thousands of ounces per ton. It became known as the Bridal Chamber for the glistening appearance of the ore in candlelight. The 40-foot by 60-foot room in the center of this pocket of ore was mined out, leaving a lining on the walls of almost pure silver worth $15,000 or more a ton. The promoters publicized it as the richest silver mine ever discovered. The silver ore was some of the richest ever found, worth 10 dollars a pound, in an age when a miner only earned $3 a day.
In a few months over a million dollars in silver was mined from the Bridal Chamber. The promoters sold five million dollars worth of stock in their Lake Valley mining companies. By late 1882 Robert’s reputation for fraudulent mining stock promotions was hurting the sale of Lake Valley stock and he sold out to Wright. Cope and others forced Wright out a year later. J. Whitaker Wright became a multimillionaire promoting mining stocks, but following his conviction of stock fraud in a London Court in 1902 he committed suicide in the courtroom.
For seven months the Sierra Grande paid $100,000 a month in dividends. After the rich ore of the Bridal Chamber ran out in 1882 they seldom made a profit. The company built a large mill at Lake Valley and employed several hundred men. The town flourished from miner’s wages as well as the silver ore the miners ‘highgraded’ (stole) from the mine to trade for drinks in the taverns.
Cattle Rustling and Viglante Justice
Lake Valley since its founding in 1881 had a reputation as being the center of cattle rustling in southern New Mexico. On February 12, 1883 the Territorial Governor issued and order to the Territorial Militia that they could deal with cattle rustlers by whatever means was necessary.
Major Albert Fountain, commander of the 1st Regiment of the Territorial Militia in Las Cruces, lead a raid on butcher shops and cattle rustlers in Lake Valley and the two mining camps north of it, Hillsboro and Kingston. He brought his troops with their horses on a chartered night train up from Las Cruces and surrounded Lake Valley. At 2 AM on March 22, 1883 he led squads into town to arrest suspects. They only captured two of the men they were looking for and about 4 AM left town with their prisoners. Fountain later claimed they stopped to make coffee just before sun light and the two prisoners tried to run away on foot.
All the people in Lake Valley knew was that shortly after sunrise Fountain sent word to people in town to come get the two bodies. The town was outraged and one resident tried to get the town to go out and punish the Las Cruces militia. Lake Valley had its own well-armed militia and a true war could have resulted.
The Sierra Grande mining company arrested the man they felt was the leader of the protest and one other man. Word was sent to Major Fountain to send some of his militia back to guard the prisoners. A squad of militia came back to Lake Valley the next afternoon and took charge of the prisoners. Only a few hours later they shot and killed the protest leader, claiming he tried to escape in broad daylight. This vigilante justice did not put an end to the cattle rustling business in Lake Valley, but criticism in the press of this ruthless vigilante behavior brought an end to Territorial Militia’s effort to stop cattle rustling in New Mexico.
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