History of the Lincoln National Forest
This article was originally a presentation to the Tularosa Basin Historical Society on May 17, 1977 by Stanley Stroup. It was taken from what historical information Mr. Stroup could find in the files at the Forest Supervisor’s office in Alamogordo.
The idea of Congress and the Government of the United States for years was to transfer all the public domain land into private ownership. The main act that implemented this was the Homestead Act of 1862. Other methods were railroad grant lands, the timber cultural act and timber stone act, all passed in the middle 1800's. In 1875, the American Forestry Association was organized. About this same time there were quite a few people in the United States who were becoming aware of the fact that timber supplies were not inexhaustible, and that some method needed to be arrived at to maintain or preserve some of the timber supplies and also provide for watershed protection on public lands.
In 1876, the first forestry agent was hired in the Department of Agriculture. This was a forerunner of the current Forest Service organization. This first forest agent did not have any land to manage or really any authority, or very little authority, over government actions. He mostly provided information to private landowners who wanted to know how to better manage their forest resources.
In 1891 an act was passed authorizing the President of the United States to set aside lands as forest reserves. However, these lands were to be set aside and managed by the General Land Office in the Department of Interior and not by the Forestry office in the Department of Agriculture. The first reserve set aside was the Yellowstone Forest reserve which was adjacent to the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana. The idea was to provide a buffer around the already established Yellowstone National Park.
It is interesting to note that the first forest reserve established in New Mexico was in 1892, which included the upper drainage of the Pecos River and was called the Pecos Forest Reserve. In 1905 the Forest Service was established in the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Reserves were transferred, at that time, from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. Then in 1907 the name of the Forest Reserves was changed to National Forests. What now constitutes the Lincoln National Forest used to be parts of five other National Forests or Forest Reserves. The Lincoln National Forest was originally established on July 26, 1902 with the office in Capitan. This area only included the White Mountains and Capitan Mountains. Presidential proclamations were then signed in 1905, 1906, 1907, 1910, and 1919 adding additional lands to the Lincoln National Forest.
On April 19, 1907 the Guadalupe National Forest was established. This was composed of the Guadalupe Mountains down near the Texas border, west of Carlsbad. On July 2, 1907 the Guadalupe National Forest was combined with the Alamo National Forest to form the Sacramento National Forest.
On April 24, 1907 a proclamation was issued to establish the Sacramento National Forest. This included the area south of the Mescalero Apache Reservation to the end of the Sacramento Mountain range. As mentioned previously on July 2, 1908, Sacramento National Forest was combined with the Guadalupe National Forest to form the Alamo National Forest. The office for the Alamo National Forest was located in Alamogordo during the winter time, but it moved to Cloudcroft during the summer.
An interesting sequence of events then occurred in relationship to the Alamo National Forest. On March 2, 1909 part of the Mescalero Apache Reservation was added to the Alamo National Forest. This is the area east and north of Tularosa in what is now the northwest corner of the Apache Reservation. Because of complaints by the Indians and other people interested in Indian welfare, these lands were then returned back to the reservation on the first of March, 1912.
In 1910 and again in 1916 additional lands were added to the Alamo National Forest, a part of it in the Sacramento Mountains and part of it in the Guadalupe Mountains. On June 6, 1917 the Alamo National Forest was combined with the Lincoln National Forest to form what is pretty much the current boundaries of the Lincoln National Forest. The headquarters for the Lincoln National Forest was then moved to Alamogordo.
A proclamation was signed on November 5, 1906 creating the Gallinas National Forest. This is an area that is west of Corona. Then in 1908 some additional land was added to this area and the Gallinas National Forest was combined with the Lincoln National Forest. The Gallinas Mountains were then part of the Lincoln National Forest until 1958 when a law was passed and these lands were transferred from the Lincoln National Forest to the Cibola National Forest, with headquarters in Albuquerque.
There were a lot of boundary adjustments made in the National Forests from the time they were originally created up until the late 1920's. The original proclamation setting aside the National Forests contained broad descriptions based mostly on township boundaries (a township for your information, is six miles square or six miles on a side of 36 square miles). These areas at times did not very well correspond with existing mountain ranges, forested areas or non-forested areas. Consequently over a period of years better surveys were made and better knowledge gained of the country. A series of proclamations over the years were issued adjusting the boundaries of the National Forests.
Over the years a series of events occurred effecting the Lincoln Forest or the Alamo National Forest. Several proclamations were signed during the years eliminating parts of the National Forest because they were not suitable for National Forest purposes. The basis for establishing most of the Lincoln National Forest was the preservation of commercial timber stands and for watershed protection. In fact, for the Guadalupe Mountain area, the sole basis for establishing the National Forest was for watershed protection. In the years prior to 1907 there were several serious floods in the Pecos River Valley around Carlsbad that originated from the Guadalupe Mountains. The residents believed that the floods were due to overgrazing and removal of vegetation in the mountains.
The National Forest used to extend out closer to Alamogordo than where it is located at present. Also there was a row of townships across the southern part of the Sacramento Mountains that used to be part of the National Forest. This was also true on the east side of the Sacramento Mountains in the vicinity of Elk and Pinon.
In 1924 a proclamation was issued delineating several thousand acres of the National Forest south and east of Mayhill. The purpose of this was to make this land available to veterans of the First World War for homesteading purposes.
During the winter of 1913 and 1914 there was a very strong effort of the local people to eliminate the Alamo National Forest. This was before the Alamo was combined with the Lincoln National Forest in 1917. A petition was circulated and signed by approximately 640 people to have 900,000 acres of the Alamo National Forest returned back to the public domain. About 60 of these people contributed money to help finance the cost. A board was appointed to plan and carry out the effort. The spokesman that was elected for this board was a gentleman by the name of Thomas B. Longwell. Mr. Longwell was an ex-Forest Service employee. He had been hired by the Forest Service to conduct timber surveys in the Sacramento Mountains as well as other locations. He was selected as a spokesman for the group because he had the most knowledge of the land and the timber resources on the Alamo National Forest. In March 1914, Mr. Longwell went back to Washington D.C. to present his case before the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture employees. There were many reasons given for the government to return the land, but behind all these reasons was the basic idea that the public domain land belonged to the local people and they did not think it was desirable to have their activities controlled by the Federal Government.
There was another interesting idea that kept occurring from about 1908 until it finally died out about 1920. This was the idea to establish a national park out of the Sacramento Mountains and a portion of the Mescalero Indian Reservation. Also included was a little bit of the then existing Lincoln National Forest in the area of Ruidoso. This proposal was mostly made by Congressmen from Texas and southern New Mexico, who even at that time, recognized the importance of the Lincoln National Forest area for recreation and for climatic relief for the dwellers in the dry, desert type country. The effort never really gained too much support on a national basis because the Lincoln National Forest, although scenicly attractive, was not an outstanding attraction as compared to places like Yellowstone Park, Grand Canyon, and other areas that were being established as National Parks around that time.
The early Forest Service employees were almost all political appointees, especially the Forest Supervisors who usually came from population centers in the eastern half of the United States. The forest rangers, as they were called then and now, were usually local people. The general requirements for these early day rangers were that they had to be capable of hard work, and they had to be able to ride horses, handle firearms, and have some knowledge of farming. The early rangers were only paid $900 dollars a year. Out of this $900 they had to provide their own horse, their own saddle, and their own weapons. One of the of the early day rangers was to raise their own horse feed.
There is an interesting story related about one of the early Forest Supervisors in New Mexico who was a political appointee. This gentleman came from Illinois and had worked as editor of a newspaper. This Supervisor when he was out riding always carried an umbrella with him. One day it started to rain as he was going by a pasture where some livestock were grazing. There was, just inside the fence, a mother cow and a newborn calf. This Forest Supervisor got off his horse, crawled through the fence, walked over and put his umbrella over the calf to try to protect it from the rain. After a couple of minutes the mother cow became just a little alarmed, and tried to attack the Supervisor. As he was escaping through the fence he managed to tear his uniform. This incident is related in a book that was published in 1972 titled “Men to Match the Mountains.”
For the Alamo National Forest in 1911, rangers were stationed at La Luz, Cloudcroft, Elk, Weed, Pinon, Hope and Queen. The later was located in the Guadalupe Mountains. In 1911 Lincoln National Forest Rangers were stationed at Capitan, Glencoe, Lincoln, Richardson, Hollaway, Progresso, and White Oaks. Hollaway and Progresso may have been locations in the Gallinas Mountains near Corona.
Here are a couple more items from this book on the early Forest Service employees and some of their problems. One well known Supervisor was a gentleman by the name of Fred Breen, a newspaper man from Illinois, who was Supervisor of the Coconio National Forest from 1901 until he resigned. He was known for putting out interesting instructions to his rangers. Some of these are quoted in this book. An example "Rangers are employed for the purpose of protecting Government land and timber, a ranger’s whole time is to be devoted to the interest of the Government, and to no other private businesses. Rangers are expected to go to a fire at once, wherever one is discovered within a reasonable distance of his district. Daily reports should show where he went and the purpose of his visit, the distance traveled, and the time consumed each day. Or if the employees have been building fire brakes, piling brush, building trails, or other similar work, state the amount of work done in a comprehensive manner, that the amount may be known. Post fire warnings along all roads, trails, and springs, and other camping places. Nail them up, securely and plentifully. Merely riding over your district does not constitute the duties of a ranger. They should be on the lookout for all things effecting the reserve. Find the most exposed places and remove the debris to protect the forest from fires, be constantly on the alert for trespass, and depredations."
In 1908, Mr. Breen decided to resign, and wrote a letter of resignation to the Chief Forester in Washington D.C. Below is a quote of that letter.
"I thought I had a bright future before me, but that durn bright future has certainly sidestepped me along the routes somewhere and must be loafing behind. I was not promoted in 1905, when the transfer was made from the Land office. I didn't think much about it at the time, one way or the other. But when I did get promoted in 1906 I was glad I wasn't promoted in 1905. I was getting $2,371 until my promotion came along in 1906, which gave me $2,200. I knew it was a promotion for my commission from the Secretary of the Interior; said so right square in the middle of it. In 1907, I was raised to $2,300. So I am still shy some of the good 'old salary that I started with way back in September 1898, with only the San Francisco Mountain National Forest to handle. The fellas on Black Mesa and Grand Canyon Forests were getting the same amount that I got. But when they fell by the wayside, I fell heir to their territory, and their troubles, but none of the pesos they were getting. One can get a heap more money out of a little old band of sheep or something of that kind, even if his intellect doesn't average over 30%, with a whole lot of less trouble, and retain some friends; but with this job the general public just naturally gets cross if you try to enforce the rules, and if you don't enforce the rules then you get cross; so the Supervisor gets double cross whatever happens, and has no pension at the end of the game to sorta ease down in his old age when the pace is too fast. While I think a good deal of forestry, I realize that a man can't live in this country and lay up anything unless he gets a good salary; consequently, believe I should go out and make money while I can. I feel mighty relieved at the prospect of some other fella being accused of prejudice, ignorance, partiality, graft, ulterior motives, laziness, salary grabbing and other such innocent pastimes. I am, glad there will be a bright young man here March 15, to separate me and my troubles and let me wander away to new fields where the bleat of the sheep, the height of a stump, the brand of the cow nor even a special privilege can hop up and fill me with fright or woe."
This article from the archives of the Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum was slightly edited to conserve space. The Photos are also from the Museum. Visit the museum in Cloudcroft and find out more about the history of the Sacramento Mountains.
Knowing what has happened in the past helps you understand the present, and prepare for the future!