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Reserve - almost the frontier

By Joann Mazzio

Last updated on Sunday, December 29, 2002

Reserve, New Mexico. Photo by Carla DeMarco
Reserve, New Mexico.  Photo by Carla DeMarco

Reserve, with 400 citizens, is the largest town in and county seat of Catron County, which is the largest county, by area, in New Mexico. At more than 7,000 square miles, Catron County is larger than a few Eastern states. With a population of only 2,900 people, the county is as sparsely populated as many an old West frontier area.

Within the boundaries of Catron County lie parts of the Gila National Forest, the Apache National Forest, and the Cibola National Forest. The establishment of these national forests, in the past called "forest reserves," led to the name Reserve being given to a village on the San Francisco River.

In the 1860s, Mexican-Americans established a string of villages along the river, naming them the Upper, Lower, and Middle San Francisco Plazas. In the late 1870s anglo settlers began arriving. They called the Upper Frisco Plaza, Milligan's Plaza, naming it after a merchant and saloon owner. This village is now Reserve.

Milligan's Plaza was the site of the first legendary exploit of Elfego Baca. In 1882, or perhaps 1884, the nineteen-year-old Baca apparently appointed himself deputy sheriff and rode 130 miles from Socorro to the Plaza. Here he set about bringing justice to the Mexican-American community which had been beset by drunken cowboys.

Slightly outnumbered by, it is said, 80 Texans, he holed up in a jacal, the flimsiest kind of hut, and was besieged by a mob. Bullets and dynamite could not dislodge him, and in a gun battle lasting 33 hours, he inflicted death and grievous injury on his adversaries without being injured himself.

Its false-fronted buildings give Reserve the look of a frontier town. And like a frontier town, it doesn't make much fuss about the lengthy shootout. It quietly goes about its business of being the center of ranching and farming activities.

Bordering Arizona, Catron County affords the shortest route between Albuquerque and Phoenix or Tucson. Reserve can also be reached by following US 180 north from Silver City and NM 12 east for a total of 99 miles.

With the national forests on all sides, Reserve is a natural gateway by Forest Service roads or hiking trails into this wild and wonderful country. For the hikers, bird-watchers, photographers, hunters, and campers who come out of the woods hankerinq for civilization, Reserve offers three motels and six restaurants. Quietly, of course.

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