Alma — once a hideout for notorious outlaw gangs

View from Alma Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks
View from Alma

Alma, five miles north of Glenwood on U.S. 180, was a hideout for Butch Cassidy and his gang. when they worked for the W-S Ranch in the 1890s. It is said the gang members were good workers, and Cassidy was even offered a permanent job there. A post office existed from 1882 to 1896, then again from 1900 to1931. Mail now goes to Glenwood.

Only a few families reside in this once prosperous supply town for nearby ranches and mining camps. Capt. J. G. Birney purchased the townsite from W. H. McCullough in the late 1800s. Originally named Mogollon, Birney changed the name to Alma. Some said he named it for his mother, others for his wife and still others for the Latin alma meaning "nourishment" because that is what the town provided for the valley.

Bill Rakocy in his book, Mogollon Diary No. 2, quotes from 1899 writings by M. H. Brothers and Homer Hirsch: "The giant oak that stands on the outskirts of this ghost town once sheltered a blacksmith shop where Uncle Dad Russel and Uncle Billy Antrim (stepfather of Billy the Kid) kept freight wagons rolling and they shod horses for many men."

Just northeast of Alma is a small graveyard of some half-dozen mounds, perhaps graves of unknown men. Alma was a place where bullets popped often with resulting deaths of both the good and the bad.

The W-S Ranch, standing for partners Wilson and Stevens, surrounded Alma. Montague Stevens, visiting from England, decided he wanted to help hunt for Geronimo. The land around the Mogollon range fascinated him, and he started a cattle ranch there with Harold Wilson. Stevens was on the final expedition to Mexico to find Geronimo. He wrote with admiration of the chief who had eluded some 8,000 U.S. soldiers for eight years.

The rise and fall of many towns in New Mexico still have a remnant that provides community. The Red Hen Café in Alma is such a place. "Stop for a break and a hug," invites you in. It’s a welcoming place, and the locals around the woodburning stove are friendly. These are the basic tenets that bring people to a place and keep them there, adding to the history and folklore of a town that was once large and prospering.

About Phyllis Eileen Banks