Black River Village, Loving, Loco Hills, Illinois Camp, Malaga, Maljamar, and White’s City — settlements with history

Post office in Loving, New Mexico. Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks.
Post office in Loving, New Mexico

Anyone who has visited or will visit Carlsbad Caverns will pass through the settlement of White’s City, New Mexico. It is at the crossroads of U. S. Highway 62/180 and NM Highway 7, the highway into Carlsbad Caverns. Named for Charlie White from Kentucky who homesteaded south of Carlsbad about 1927, it began with a small store and service station and has expanded to a tourist center. Ironically the young cowboy who is credited with discovering the Caverns was also named White, although probably no relation to the White’s City family.

As you travel the 20 miles from Carlsbad toward the Caverns entrance, signs all along the highway, reminiscent of Burma Shave Signs of the 30s, advertise what you will find at White’s City. There is an RV Park, a Museum, Granny’s Opera House, Antiques, Groceries and the Velvet Garter Saloon plus a hotel. Inside the Velvet Garter building is Fast Jack’s for fast food if you’re hungry before 4 p.m. when the Velvet Garter Restaurant and Saloon open. The complex continues to be managed by descendants of Charlie White.

If you like to explore the side roads, you can retrace U. S. Highway 62/180 north six miles to NM Highways 396 and turn right to Black River Village. There is an “Oasis in the Desert,” that is the Tres Rios Christian Growth Center. Formally tourist cabins, it is used as a retreat complete with swimming pool. Black River flows into the Pecos and runs underground as it nears Malaga. Legend says it was known as a neutral area because of the River and there was no fighting between the warring Indian tribes and the U. S. Cavalry at that location.

At Malaga at the intersection of U. S. Highway 285 and NM Highway 396, there are a few homes, an abandoned school and a small Cristo Rey Catholic Church. Settled by Swiss immigrants in the early 1890s, and later by Italian laborers, it was named for the grapes that grew there. The vineyards are gone and very little of the community remains.

Five miles north on U. S. 285 is the romantically named town of Loving, population 1243, and an incorporated city. Historic buildings have been torn down but there is a new post office where people from all over the world send Valentines to be hand stamped “Loving.” Swiss immigrants also settled here and named the town Vaud after their home in Switzerland. In 1904 the name was changed to Florence because of the influence of the Italians laboring there. Yet again in 1908 it was changed to Loving to honor Oliver Loving, one of the first men to drive cattle up the Pecos from Texas. With Charles Goodnight he had established the Goodnight- Loving cattle trail.

According to Roadside History of New Mexico by Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate, the old cemetery in Loving was the scene of an incredible occurrence. The family did not place a marker for a man named Joseph Jonathon Hoag when he died in 1894. His son came to Loving in 1910 to put a headstone at his father’s grave. However, he was not sure which one was his father’s, so proceeded to “dig up bodies and examine skulls until he recognized his father’s dental work and then set the marker . . .”

Continuing on the side roads out of Carlsbad north about 25 miles to Illinois Camp, you go through wide-open spaces. This settlement was the site of the first oil discovery east of the Pecos River. A refinery exists along with a few people. The men who made the strike were from Illinois and consequently named their wells and the oil company for their home state.

Six miles north of Illinois Camp is U. S. Highway 82. Turn right about 13 miles to Loco Hills, another settlement that began as an oil camp in the late 1920s. At that time it was nearer the Illinois Camp, consisting of some shacks, a supply store and building that doubled as a cafeteria, and a school. It was called Old Loco. When the oil field developed at Loco Hills, the community moved to the east in its present location. In the 1930s a post office and store were established by a man named Smith. He named the town Smith but in 1938 when a Keith Miller bought Smith’s property it was discovered another town in New Mexico was named Smith. The nearby Loco Hills then furnished the location its present name. Several explanations are given for the name of these hills. One, that oil geologists named them for the crazy formations they found below the surface. Another is that the Indians thought they looked like mountains after any snow storm. Others say mirages appear on top of the hills during the summer. Yet another is that the people who live among these barren sandhills are “crazy.”

Fourteen miles east of Loco Hillis, Maljamar was a boomtown for its oil discovery in 1926. The Maljamar Oil & Gas Company brought in the first oil well in southeastern New Mexico. William Mitchell, president of the company, reportedly named the company and the town for his three children: Malcom, Janet and Margaret. However, the post office wasn’t established until 1943. Oil still dominates the economy and the community but it is no longer a boomtown. It does have the honor of having a transmitter for KENW- National Public Radio and its name is announced daily from that station. Lovington is 26 miles to the east.

About Phyllis Eileen Banks