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Fort Selden, Leasburg State Park, Radium Springs and Rincon, New Mexico

By Phyllis Eileen Banks

Last updated on Monday, December 30, 2002

Ruins at Fort Selden. Photo by Gary Smith
Ruins at Fort Selden. Photo by Gary Smith
Fort Selden

Located on the east bank of the Rio Grande, one mile southeast of Radium Springs, (Exit 18 off I-25) Fort Selden's post office was known as Fort Selden from 1866-1877, and again from 1881-1891 (the missing years from 1877 to 1881 indicate the Fort was temporarily abandoned, then permanently in 1990 when the railroad was built). Next it was known as Leasburg from 1891-1898, as Selden from 1911-1913, and as Fort Selden from 1913-1923. No post office exists there now.

Built in 1865 by troops from Albuquerque, the entire post was constructed of flat, dirt-roofed, one story adobe buildings, with the exception of the Administration Building. The location was an ancient Indian campground and a place where Spanish caravans headed across the Jornada del Muerto. The Fort was established primarily to protect travelers and settlers from the Apaches. However, it saw little action, and was evidently not successful as far as military installations are concerned.

It wasn't very popular with military wives, either, according to Lydia Spencer Lane in her book I Married a Soldier. Packing boxes were her furniture. She raised cows, but coyotes killed her chickens. They were eventually transferred, and that did not make her unhappy in the least.

General Douglas A. MacArthur spent part of his childhood at the Fort when his father served there in 1884. The Fort was located across from Mount Robledo, where the U. S. Army established a system of communication using the sun and mirrors known as heliography. Messages could be sent to Fort Bliss, 50 miles away.

According to Roadside History of New Mexico by Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate, after Geronimo's surrender, Fort Selden was abandoned. Troops were sent to Fort Bliss and "A contract was awarded to remove the bodies from the cemetery for reinterment at Fort Bliss. In exchange for his labor, the contractor received the wooden portions of the buildings. Only the adobe walls were left standing in the hot desert sun to become a historic ruin."

In 1974, New Mexico made it a State Monument. The Fort Selden Visitor's Center exhibits displays showing life there in the nineteenth century. Frontier Days is an annual event. There are no facilities for travelers at the Fort but some can be found at Leasburg Dam State Park next to the monument.

The monument is open 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. September 16 to April 30; May 1 - September 15, 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. $2 for adults, 16 and younger free. New Mexico residents half price on Sundays; New Mexico Seniors free on Wednesday. Phone or Fax 505-526-8911.

Leasburg Dam State Park

The Leasburg Dam, next to Fort Selden, was constructed in 1908, among the oldest diversion dams in New Mexico. The Park was created in 1971 and named for Leasburg, a settlement with only a few buildings remaining, southeast of Radium Springs. According to the Secretary of State's Blue Book, Leasburg Dam State Park (505-524-4068) has camping facilities, 18 electric sites, RV dumping, comfort station, showers, picnicking, fishing, visitor center and trails.

Radium Springs

Until a post office was established in 1926, Radium Springs had been known as Fort Selden Springs, named for nearby Fort Selden; some say it was also known as Randall Station. However, when the post office was established, a mineral analysis of the water showed enough "millimicrocuries" of radium per liter of water that the town could use the word "radium" in its name. No one else in the nation was allowed to use radium in its name, according to The Place Names of New Mexico by Robert Julyan and Roadside History of New Mexico by Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate.

Wells tapped the hot water after the springs ceased to flow. When wells were dug, hot water was available between twenty and forty feet in depth, which cost less to drill than the cold water that came in at eighty feet.

Radium Springs is located on NM 185 west of the Rio Grande fifteen miles north of Las Cruces across from Fort Selden State Monument and the ruins of Fort Selden. The Springs were frequently visited by soldiers when the Fort was active. In the 1920s the Radium Springs Resort Hotel was built with bathhouses connected to the wells. It attracted many people who felt the water was beneficial for arthritis, nerve problems and many other diseases. It flourished for almost 50 years, then fell from favor. It has since been a women's prison and also an art center.

Rincon

Rincon is east of the Rio Grande, five miles across the river from Hatch and about 26 miles north of Las Cruces, exit 35 off I-25. Established as a settlement in 1881, it was known as Thorn for two years, then in 1883, it was named Rincon, meaning "intersection." It was also reported to have been named El Rincon de Fray Diego for a 17th century Franciscan who died there. When the Santa Fe Railroad was established, Rincon became the trading center for the area. The railroad forked here with one branch going to Deming and one to El Paso.

The Rincon Arroyo runs through the town, and the area southeast of Hatch and southwest of Rincon is known as the Rincon Valley. Eventually Hatch became the more prominent village and Rincon is quiet, no longer known as a haven for outlaws. From the highway, one can see several stores and residences, as well as a schoolhouse, all bound by the railroad tracks that gave the town its beginning.

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