the southern roads



Physically, Fluorite Ridge and Pony Hills are on the periphery of the Black Range about 7 miles north of NM-26 near Deming, east of US-180, and southwest of Cooke’s Peak.   The area discussed in this section is featured in a Road Tour video which starts at NM-26, runs north on County Road A016 (Green Leaf Mine Road) and then west to County Road A008, which goes south to US-180.  This area is best known for its fluorite mines and the Pony Hills petroglyph sites.


Gold and silver was (is) not the only thing in them thar hills.  Fluorite is there too. (See Fluorspar Deposits of Burro Mountains and Vicinity New Mexico.pdf by Elliot Gillerman, Geological Survey Bulletin 973-F, for a good discussion of the geology of fluorite deposits and a description of the area north and west of Pony Hills.)  Fluorspar was classified as a strategic mineral during the second world war, and mills were constructed by the Metals Reserve Corporation (an independent US government agency).  Much of the production was to the north of Pony Hills in the Burro Mountains and in the Gila.  The Gila Fluorspar Mill (located northwest of Silver City) processed about 14 tons an hour and ran 15.5 hours a day, 6 days a week.  (See the Casitas de Gila Nature Blog for an excellent description of fluorspar mining in that area.)

The fluorite mines at Pony Hills are along Fluorite Ridge, and like most fluorite mines in the region are abandoned. Fluorite mining started in 1907 or 1909 at this location (see Archaeology Notes 215, below, pp. 10 - 11) using “Mexican” laborers as miners.  They were paid $1.50 a day at a time when the wage scale in the area was from 50 to 75 cents an hour.   

The Green Leaf Mine, from which the county road gets its name, has several standing structures - see photos to the
right.  Some of the mines in the area were trenches, sometimes up to 100 feet deep.  Others, such as the Green Leaf, were very deep shafts, as shown by the cross section above (Figure 14, p. 66 of Archaeology Notes 215 - full reference below).

Farther up the road is the Lucky Mine site (photographs shown here and in the right column).  The head- frame of the Lucky Mine is shown in the top photograph, as it appears today.  The black-and-white photograph (below) is Plate 10 of Archaeology Notes 215 (p. 123)
and shows how the headframe appeared in 1997.  A thorough description of the mines in this area (as of the date of publication - 1946 - and not much happened after that time, in this area) is found in the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources Bulletin 21 - Fluorspar Resources of New Mexico - prepared by the US Geological Survey. pp 123 - 142 (Fluorite Ridge Mines.pdf).  Apparently it is still possible to find massive and crystal fluorite in the mine tailings and in the general area.


Both the New Mexico Cultural Resource Information System and the BLM have recorded significant “lithic scatters” associated with this area.  In a survey of mining sites at the south end of Fluorite Ridge, the Museum of New Mexico, Office of Archaeological Studies (Archaeology Notes 215, The Fluorite Ridge Fluorspar Mines, Luna County, New Mexico.pdf, 1997) noted the lithic scatters and concluded that they were “part of a continuous scatter of chipped stone artifacts observed throughout the project area that undoubtedly extends well beyond the project massive ‘lithic scatter’ resulting from centuries of chert, limestone, mudstone, sandstone, and quartzite quarrying.” (p. 14)

Figure 8 (above) of Archaeology Notes 215 is a map of the Lucky Mine site.  It clearly shows that there are two “chipped stone” concentrations on the “grounds” of the site (p. 33).  Mining at this specific mine stopped in 1954 (p. 34).


The Pony Hills are just north of Fluorite Ridge and are known for the petroglyphs found there.  The petroglyphs are from the Mimbres Culture and are thought to date from 600 to 1200 AD.  The Pony Hills site is near the second check dam that you encounter near the end of the hills on your west.  Petroglyphs from this site are shown here and to the right (and on our Rock Art photo gallery).  The road here is a section of the Butterfield Stage Coach route which ran through the area just before the Civil War.  Ft. Cummings (3 miles east) was manned, in part, to protect the stage coach route. 



The other major petroglyph site in this area is at Frying Pan Canyon (photographs below, to the right, and on our Rock Art photo gallery).  The “cave-like” dwellings
associated with the petroglyphs are about 3/4 of a mile from Frying Pan Spring at Massacre Peak.  Massacre Peak takes its name from the fight between a stage coach  crew and their guards and a group of Apaches.  The fight ended poorly for the Anglos and is referred to as the Freeman Thomas Massacre (Couchman p. 133 - see below).  During the summer of 1861, Cooke’s Pass was the site of a number of confrontations between Anglos and Apaches, most ending badly for the former (Couchman p. 144).  Access to this area is shown in a video at Frying Pan Canyon Access (photograph below).



This section is based heavily on Cooke’s Peak - Pasaron Por Aqui - A Focus on United States History in Southwestern New Mexico, by Donald Howard Couchman, 1990 - Cultural Resources Bulletin No. 7 of the United States Bureau of Land Management.  References to page (below) refer to that document.  Elsewhere it is referenced as Couchman - p. “x”.  This book is extensively researched and well written.  The footnotes in the book are the definitive historical bibliography of this area.

The summit of Cooke’s Peak has an elevation of 8,404 feet; it is an imposing feature both in shape and mass.  The Apache called it “Standing Mountain”, the Spanish called it Picacho de los Mimbres and Cerro de los Remedios - the latter from a map of 1758 - (p. 19), and the Americans named it after Lieutenant Colonel (US Army) Philip St. George Cooke (see photograph in right column) who commanded the volunteers of the Mormon Battalion.  At its base is Cooke’s Spring, which was the only dependable water in the area, and it was the spring that brought people (Mimbres, Apaches, Mexicans, Anglos, et al.) to the area.  (Today the water is not potable - when it is present.)  See our Ft. Cummings Road video for route information.

Cooke’s Peak is at center right.  The Ft. Cummings site

is on the plains at the base of the mountain.

A military expedition led by de Anza in 1780 stopped at Cooke’s Spring (called Picacho by them) on November 28 (p. 20).  Martinez, who was leading a separate element of the expedition, camped there on November 18.  He called the spring San Miguel.

The Black Range and its environs are rich in minerals.  Native Americans had worked the mine now known as Santa Rita since about AD 900.  (Artifacts of copper from this mine were found at Etowah, Georgia, which was a Native American city from about 880 to 1550 (p. 21.)  Mineral reserves of this type brought Spaniards and Anglos to the area.  The Santa Rita mine was opened by the Spaniards in 1804 and was visited by Zebulon Pike in 1807.  The mine was abandoned because of conflict with the Apaches a short time after Pike’s visit.  In 1825, James and Sylvester Pattie, James Kirker, and Nathaniel Pryor reopened the mine (p. 23).  It was abandoned in 1838 because of increasing warfare between the Europeans and the Apaches (p. 24).  Later reopened again, it remains operational today.

In 1832 a company led by David Jackson (traveling to California from Santa Fe) most likely stopped at the springs.  In the 1830’s the springs were a stop on the Gila River Trail, which was a major route from Santa Fe to San Diego and Los Angeles (p. 23).

On November 16, 1846, Lieutenant Colonel (US Army) Philip St. George Cooke and the Mormon Battalion camped at the springs and the name “Cooke’s Spring” was given (p. 39).  The next day they crossed the saddle to the north of the mountain and camped at Frying Pan Springs (p. 41).

On April 30, 1851, Bartlett (the US Boundary Commissioner for the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo) stopped at the springs, describing them as “a pool, some 50 feet across, surrounded by rushes.  The water is a little brackish, but the grass in the vicinity is excellent.” (p. 56)

The Gadsden Purchase (last payment made in February 1856) added the land to the United States.  From that date, the route that constituted the Gila River Trail and Wagon Road was in the United States (p. 61).

As one of the nine reliable water sources between the Rio Grande and the Pima settlements, Cooke’s Spring was regularly visited by the military, gold seekers, cowboys taking cattle to California, sheepherders taking sheep to California, general emigrants, and Apaches.   The Gila Trail was the route westward chosen by most Southerners (p. 70).

The hardships faced by travelers along this route were myriad.  When the Cornelius Cox party arrived at the Rio Grande above Dona Ana on July 23, 1849, they found the river to be 150 yards across.  By August 4 they had reached Cooke’s Spring and complained that the water was bad (p. 74).  After being bitten by a wolf, one of the party contracted rabies and died two days later.

On May 9, 1857, James Leach was given the job of constructing a wagon road from Franklin (El Paso) to Yuma.  The route selected for the section near Cooke’s Spring is shown in the right column (p. 91).  As part of the road construction, Leach’s workforce constructed two overflow tanks that provided 27,000 gallons of water in addition to the spring water (p. 92).

In 1857, Cooke’s Spring was a stop on the San Antonio to San Diego Mail Company route (p. 95).  The line starting carrying passengers in 1858 (p. 96).  The fare from San Antonio to El Paso was $100, to San Diego $200.  The trip generally took a month (p. 97).

After various machinations, the Butterfield Stage Company took over the mail service, starting service in September 1858.  Part of the contract with the US allowed the mail carrier to also transport passengers and freight.  A swing station was established at Cooke’s Spring (about one-half mile southeast of the Spring).  Swing stations were used to change teams and did not provide food or lodging for passengers.  Initially the station was a tent, but that was eventually replaced with an adobe structure (p. 102).

During the early days of the stage coach service there was little interference from the various Indian tribes.  That is not to say, however, that vicious fights did not occur between the Anglos (soldiers and civilians) on one hand and the Apaches on the other during this period (p. 113).  The Apache attitude towards the coaches changed dramatically on February 4, 1861, when Lt. Nicholas Bascom kidnapped the family of Cochise while they were at a stage station in Arizona.  Things escalated on both sides from that event (p. 128).  Bascom died at the Battle of Valverde, six miles from Fort Craig, on February 21, 1862.

When Texas seceded from the union, the Butterfield Route was terminated.  But this being the west, Giddings, who had a contract for the route before Butterfield, was awarded a new contract for the route.

The Freeman Thomas Massacre and decisions in Washington, D.C. effectively ended Giddings efforts (p. 133-134).

By June of 1861, conditions in the area can only be called chaos.  Union and Confederate troops moved about trying to consolidate forces, the citizenry was agitated and in turmoil - most had southern sympathies - and the Apaches were making warfare on the Anglos instead of the Mexicans (p. 139).  The Texas invasion was stopped at the Battle of Glorieta on March 28, 1862.


With the Texans defeated, Union forces turned to the Indians.  Among the efforts they undertook was the establishment of a series of new forts.  Fort Cummings, at Cooke’s Spring, was established on October 2, 1863, as part of this effort (p. 168).  The fort wast staffed with Union troops from California when first established. 

The war in the Southwest was with the Apache, not the Southern States.  The list of skirmishes and battles is extensive.  On May 29, 1864, for instance, Captain George Burkett and 33 of his men surprised Apaches at a rancheria in the Gila.  Among the items seized was a ton of mescal.  Like their brethren in Sonora, the Apaches in the American Southwest harvested and roasted mescal.  But, apparently, they did not take the additional step of fermenting the mescal and making an alcoholic beverage.  In the north, the roasted mescal was a food staple.  The Apaches at the rancheria were also growing corn and wheat.

At the new Fort Cummings, a garden was quickly established near the marsh which formed from Cooke’s Spring.  The troops were eager to supplement their army fare. 

In some locales, forts are a number of buildings with a guarded perimeter. 
(See photograph of Ft. Davis, Texas, to the right, as an example of this type of fort.)  In other places, forts are enclosed within stockades.  Fort Cummings was of the latter design, with ten foot high adobe walls that had no windows facing out.  The fort’s design is shown below (p. 172).
The Guard House and Prison (1 & 2) were constructed of stone.

In the spring of 1865, Nana asked the Indian Agent (Michael Steck) for peace negotiations, but the Fort Cummings Commander, Carleton, refused to allow Steck to go, stating that it was a military matter.  An Army officer went instead and the “negotiations” were not fruitful.  (See our Tales of Lake Valley page for more about Nana.)

Fort Cummings was generally staffed with 78 soldiers.  (Usually only 40 - 45 were available for duty at any particular time.)  In September of 1865, Company C of the First Cavalry California Volunteers and 10 other troops added 100 soldiers to the rolls.  In addition, from 30 to 50 civilians were generally working at the post at any given time (p. 173).  Most of the soldiers’ efforts were focused in providing escort services east, west, and to Pinos Altos.  Confrontations between the Anglos and the Apaches continued.  On January 17, 1866, four soldiers at a temporary camp established to gather wood for the fort were killed by Apaches and one was wounded.  The camp was only four and a half miles from Ft. Cummings.

To assist in the Apache Wars, the army established Ft. Bayard, near Pinos Altos, on August 21, 1866.  Army express riders, carrying mail along the old mail routes, continued to be targets of opportunity for the Apaches (p. 174).  On August 25, 1866 two soldiers traveling
from Camp Mimbres to Ft. Cummings were attacked by Apaches and one was killed.   On September 10, 1866, the stock herd at Ft. Cummings was stampeded by Apaches.

In 1866 Congress allowed the post commissary to sell to soldiers at cost.  Canned vegetables, butter, potatoes, oysters, and pickles could be purchased for the occasional extravagance - if you can imagine it, it could be canned.  The “restored” commissary shown here is at Ft. Davis, Texas.  On December 10, 1866, a post office was established at the fort (p. 175).

The Army failed to report the fact that two Apache boys managed to enter Ft. Cummings at this time and steal a shotgun and pistol.  Apparently they took a rope with a large stone attached to the end, threw the rope over the adobe wall, and sawed through the adobe with the rope weighted by the stone on the other side.  After cutting into the adobe for a couple of feet, they pulled the rope taut and climbed over the wall (p. 178).  Incidents of this type are mentioned in Parker’s work (see immediately below) on pp. 21-22 and 29-30.

You may wish to read “Annals of Old Fort Cummings.pdf” by William Thornton Parker, M.D. which was published in 1916.  Some authorities argue that Parker may have “overstated” at times.  The drawing below is his recollection of what the fort was like at the time of his service.  It is not possible to verify the details.

In 1867, the Kerns and Mitchell Company took over the abandoned Butterfield et al. stage route.  The soldiers at Ft. Cummings were called on to provide escort services for the stages.  The troops were also tasked with cleaning up Cooke’s Canyon.  Seems all of the human skeletons along the route disturbed the stage coach passengers.  The human remains were transferred to the to the Ft. Cummings cemetery and placed in “unknown” graves.


Names are sometimes difficult to fix to geographic features.  In October 1867, a survey crew for the Kansas Pacific Railway Company named Cooke’s Canyon “Palmer’s Pass” (p. 178).  A photographer attached to the crew, Dr. William Abraham Bell, took this photograph of the fort from the general area of the cemetery:

Some of the “large” names of New Mexico were associated with the fort at this time, albeit indirectly.  Charges of mutiny were brought against several soldiers in December of 1867.  Those who were defended by Thomas Benton Catron were found not guilty (p. 180). Catron was the prosecuting attorney in the Fountain Murder Trial.

During 1868-69, the commanding officer at Ft. Cummings reported insufficient staff to perform the escort duties.  Additional staff was not provided (p. 183).  All was not well within the ranks, and problems with civilians at the fort developed (or continued).  In 1871, a Second Lt. Ryan requested that his commanding officer be released from arrest.  It seems he (Ryan) was the only officer left at the fort, and the paperwork was becoming overwhelming (p. 186).  Problems at Ft. Cummings were not unique.  In 1871 there were just short of 9,000 desertions in the army (about 1/3 of the total manpower) (p. 187).  Soldiers were ill provisioned, bored, and paid poorly.  (Pay of $16 a month had been reduced to $13 in 1870 [p. 187]).

Fort Cummings was abandoned on December 1, 1873 (p. 188).  On the whole, Anglo and Apache conflict had diminished greatly by this time.  Freight, mail, and humans continued to use Cooke’s Canyon heavily.  But by 1876, hold-ups had become a problem, with masked men absconding with several thousands of dollars worth of metal and cash.  Cooke’s Canyon was the perfect place for a holdup.  “Dutch Joe”, “Billie the Kid”, and “Brazelon” were identified as some of the culprits (p. 197).

In the spring of 1877, the telegraph line had reached Ft. Cummings, and an operator at Sam Lyons’ staffed it.  At this time the Apaches started a period of horse rustling, apparently trading horses in Mexico and making peace with the Mexicans.  Since a strategy the Apaches followed was making peace with either the Mexicans or the Anglos and fighting the other, a certain amount of concern developed - especially in Silver City (p. 198).  The Warm Springs Apaches had been sent to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, an especially harsh place for them, and a place where they would not stay.  Leaving the reservation, they returned to Ojo Caliente (see video) in Alamosa Canyon (see video), near present day Monticello.

Late 1877 and early 1878 saw a period of relative quiet, and in July 1878 military forces in the region were reduced.  But peace was always short lived in this region (p. 199).

Increased conflict between Victorio, Nana, and Loco and their followers, on one hand, and the Anglos (both military and civilian) on the other led to the reopening of Ft. Cummings as a military post in the summer of 1880 (p. 199).  The significant military force at Ft. Cummings kept things quiet (more or less) in the immediate area of Cooke’s Spring.  Not far away , however, chaos reigned (p 201).

President Hayes stayed a night at Ft. Cummings on October 25, 1880, while en route to California. 

At first the renewed Ft. Cummings was a tent fort, but efforts were soon underway to construct adobe structures for at least the officers (p. 210).  Even so, this is how the fort looked in 1882 (tents, lots of tents):

In June of 1884, the number of soldiers at the fort had dropped to 125, in July it was reduced to 59, and on August 14, 1884, the fort was ordered to be abandoned once again and the flag pole was removed on February 19, 1885 (p. 210).

Lake Valley  - 1884

The “Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and Arizona Gazetteer and Business Directory 1884-1885” described Ft. Cummings as:

Page 318

During the 1870’s and 1880’s, a fair amount of prospecting was occurring in the vicinity of Cooke’s Peak.  Significant amounts of both silver and lead were found in the area, but the Apaches did not like miners (p. 211).

The Southern Pacific Railroad line had reached Deming, and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe arrived there shortly thereafter.  That juncture enabled the shipping of heavy ore to El Paso.  In 1882, a wagon road was constructed up Hadley Draw on Cooke’s peak to the mining town of Cooks.  Soldiers from Ft. Cummings stood guard while the road was constructed.  Ore mined on the mountain was 30 percent lead and contained 80 ounces of silver a ton. 
Three towns sprang up on the mountain: Cooks on the east slope, Jose on the west slope, and Hadley part way up the mountain at the Hadley mine.  By the spring of 1890, the mines at Cooke’s peak were some of the most productive lead mines in the west (p. 212).  Cooks and Hadley were both significant enough to have a post office.  The post office at Cooks is shown in the above photograph and on the map from 1891 (right column).

Lead mining during this era meant lead poisoning.  James McKenna was “leaded” when he worked at Cooks, leading many to question the accuracy of some of his accounts in the book Black Range Tales (p. 215).

In 1886, the United States was having trouble with Geronimo and his followers.  As part of the effort to contain Geronimo, a series of heliographs was established throughout the southwest.  One of the stations was located on Cooke’s Peak.  It was supported, part of the time, by two cavalry companies at Ft. Cummings (the fort that would just not go away).  Heliograph stations were also established at Lake Valley and Hillsboro.  By the end of the year, Geronimo was imprisoned in the eastern US, and the stations were decommissioned.  An order to decommission and actual decommissioning were not always the same thing in the west, and it is possible that the heliograph at Cooke’s Peak operated until July 1887, when the last troops were withdrawn (again) and the post office at Ft. Cummings was closed.

As for the “again” part.  The army decided to reestablish the heliograph network, and the station at Ft. Cummings was operational on May 20, 1890.  In June 1890 the post office at Ft. Cummings was reopened.  (Heliograph sites at Lake Valley and Hillsboro were also reestablished at this time.)  On October 6, 1891, the Fort was closed again and the land turned over to the Department of Interior (p. 219).  By 1904, the fort looked like this:

The railroad diminished the importance of Cooke’s Spring and  the route through Cooke’s Canyon immensely.

Mining peaked in 1897.  In that same year James Hyatt and his wife moved to the Cooke’s Peak area. (By the 1950’s, the Hyatts’ holdings completely encircled the Peak [p. 227].)  The mines had their ups and downs, but there was enough stability that the Cooks school saw two generations of some families (p. 235).  Cattle ranching around the base of the mountain and goat ranching on the mountain added to the economic stability of the area.    By 1911 mining activity had more or less ceased (p. 237).  The last person left Cooks in 1959 (p. 229).

During the First World War, Camp Cody, a large training facility, was established at Deming.  During training the troops sometimes camped at Cooke’s Spring.  The US government had to step in and resolve a conflict between three parties (the railroad and two ranchers) over the use of the water, so that the troops could use some of it (p. 237).  During the Second World War, the area around Ft. Cummings was used as part of a bombing range for trainees at Deming Army Air Base.

Between 1951 and 1953, mining was again tried on Cooke’s Peak but ceased rather quickly.

The history of Cooke’s Peak, Spring, and Canyon is indicative of the history of the west.  The importance of the area can perhaps be seen in the many names that were used for the road through Cooke’s Canyon: Butterfield Trail, California Cattle Trail, Cooke’s Wagon Road, Destiny Road, El Dorado Trail, El Paso - Fort Yuma Road, Fort Yuma and Rio Grande Road, Franklin - Fort Yuma Road, Gila Trail, Great Southern Mail Road, Great Pacific Trail, Leach’s Government Wagon Road, Main Emigrant Road to California, Mesilla - Tucson Road, Mormon Battalion Trail, Mormon Road, Overland Mail Company Route, Overland Trail, Ox-Bow Route, Rainbow Trail, San Antonio - San Diego Mail Route, Silver City and Arizona Road, Southern Indian Trail, Southern Emigrant Road, Southern Road to California, Southwestern Trail, and Southern Wagon Road (p. 259).


This Page covers Three discrete areas along the southern edge of the Black Range.  They are:

Fluorite Ridge & Pony Hills

Frying Pan Canyon

Cooke’s Canyon Road & FT. Cummings



Colonel Philip St. George Cooke (about 1860), after whom the Americans named the peak.

Santa Rita Mine as it appears today.

Wagon Road route from Franklin (El Paso) to Yuma.
The Cooke’s Spring springhouse as it looks today (photograph above

and two below)

The washes in the area provide a testament to the millennia of flowing streams in the area.  A nice place to study deposit stratigraphy.

The only gravestone at the Ft. Cummings Cemetery is for four privates of the California Volunteers who were killed by Apaches.  The more typical grave sites are like the one shown below.

The Daughters of the American Revolution claim that this wall is part of the Stage Coach Station.  That may be accurate.
The following photographs are from the ruins at Fort Cummings - a site which is long on history and short on remains.

Grave markers at cemetery

(above and below).

Cooke’s Spring Springhouse

(above and below)

“Civilian” structural remains near the Springs (above) and water trough at the same location.

1891 map of Cooks, showing Post Office

and other structures.

A large variety of cactus are

found in the area.



The abandoned mine marker

for the Green Leaf Mine.

At the Green Leaf Mine site.
The Holy West - a steel water tank.
The abandoned mine marker

for the Lucky Mine.

At Lucky Mine

Loadout Chute at the Lucky MIne


by Margaret Nelson (author & editor) & Michelle Hegmon (author & editor) - Published by School for Advanced Research Press


Defining Mimbres Rock Art Sites.pdf



Petroglyphs from the Pony Hills site.



Henry Standage of Company E of the Mormon Battalion wrote (about the camp at Frying Pan Springs): “Close to our camp is some traces or proof of the Nephites once living here.  Large entrances into the rocks and several pestels (sic) and mortars found made of rock, also some pieces of ancient crockery ware, showing that a people has once lived here who knew how to make such things, whereas the Indians who now inhabit these parts do not understand such things.  We found a great many hieroglyphics engraven in the rocks, which resembled those found in Pike Co. Illinois.  I take this for good circumstantial evidence of the Divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”

Petroglyphs at Frying Pan Canyon site.