Once upon a time, a trip to Loma Parda, New Mexico, guaranteed visitors a wild and dangerous a ride.
Appropriately nicknamed “Sodom on the Mora” during its heyday in the 1800s, Loma Parda was untamed and fierce – theft, murder, prostitution, gambling, copious amounts of drinking and even larger amounts of scandal all unfolded there.
The only thing riding there these days are fleas on a dog and an occasional history buff strapped into modern automobiles.
Loma Parda is officially listed as a ghost town by the state of New Mexico Tourism Department, but there are still a few occupied dwellings there.
Loma Parda translates to brown hill, but parda can also refer to something brownish-gray in color. This most likely is referring to the landscape. The once rowdy village sits along the Mora River and slopes up slightly to the west. It’s surrounded by trees, but the remains of the town sit in an open field and appears to still be owned by the C de Baca family. The village started as a small, quiet, farming community in the 1830s growing apples, plums, pears and vegetables, but it wouldn’t stay silent for long. The opening of Fort Union in 1851 changed everything.
The New Mexico Tourism Department has this to say:
“Loma Parda became the town where soldiers could go for wild nights. Saloons, gambling, dance halls and women of ill repute put Loma Parda on the map; especially if you were a soldier bored with your isolated existence at Fort Union. When a soldier went AWOL, it was half expected that he was still at Loma Parda either passed out or just too drunk to know where he was. Not all drunken debauchery was on account of the soldiers, though; cowboys and teamsters from the Santa Fe Trail engaged in their share of the mayhem.”
Col. Edwin V. Sumner established Fort Union and chose its isolated spot because he believed it would prevent his men from falling prey to the bad influences in Santa Fe. The capital was 30 miles away but a mere 6 miles down the road was Loma Parda, and it became a popular destination on their days off.
The soldiers were looking for entertainment and the town obliged. Julian Baca was the first to open a dance hall. He brought in the booze and hired the girls to entertain the boys in blue. The now bustling settlement started to attract gamblers, prostitutes and more saloon keepers hoping to capitalize on the commotion. The revelry went on 24 hours a day. Loma Parda became so popular that someone established a taxi service that ran between the fort and the village. Riders paid $1 for a round-trip ride.
It appears lawlessness ensued. The town became so dangerous the even the local priest fled, locking up but abandoning the church on his way out of town.
Newspaper clippings from the day seem to support this narrative of mayhem.
According to an article in the Aug. 19, 1880 Daily Gazette, a priest from the Mesilla Valley kidnapped and fled with a young lady who was staying in the nearby convent in an effort to force an elopement. It’s no surprise where he took her.
“At 7 p.m. Friday, the party that went after the Padre and Miss (Margarita) Garcia returned having captured them sleeping in a room near Loma Parda. They were married by Van Patten, J.P., against the protest of the relations. A grand fiasco.”
Other articles from New Mexico newspapers also tell the tales of a village gone wild.
Aug., 13, 1872, The Santa Fe New Mexican: “Within the past three weeks the town of Loma Parda in Mora County has lost four of its citizen by violence. They became too intimately associated with their neighbor’s stock, and were strung up by the sufferers, who had more faith in a stout lariat than in stone walls.”
March 2, 1878, The Mesilla Valley Independent: “The Las Vegas Gazette tells of a chicken fight at Loma Parda that resulted in the killing of four men and the wounding of nine others.”
Nov. 16, 1882, The Las Vegas Gazette: “James Gay, a soldier of the fort, was killed at a dance at Loma, about a week ago, and it was such a cowardly and brutal crime, that his comrades organized a posse, and on Monday swung the murderer from a projecting clift. The villain had taken refuge in a shanty about three miles from the village but the boys in blue hunted him out, and tied his last cravat.”
Aug. 7, 1896, The Santa Fe New Mexican: “A week ago last Sunday Jesus Garcia of Loma Parda shot his mistress (Isabel Montoya) three times …” (She later died and Garcia was executed by hanging in November of that year.)
Jan. 18, 1897, The Santa Fe New Mexican: “A double killing took place at Loma Parda … on Friday afternoon last. One of the Sheriff (Pat) Garrett’s trusty deputies, John McLeod, was sent at the head of a posse to capture Domingo Baca, who had stolen a saddle … Baca armed himself and opened fire upon them. His first shot penetrated McLeod’s body through the loins, inflicting a fatal wound. The officers returned the fire and Baca fell dead in his tracks. Domingo Baca was a notorious thief and ex-convict …”
Eventually soldiers were forbidden from visiting the sinful city and the town’s flow of steady income ceased. Fort Union closed in 1891 and its remains are now a national monument.
Today’s visitors to Loma Parda will have to use their imaginations to picture what it once was.
The stout structures that provided shelter to the sinners and their sins are now mostly crumbled piles of adobe bricks and a few partially erect walls. Wooden boards with nails protrude from barely-there roofs, falling vigas lean against the walls, and wild sunflowers cover the floors.
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at email@example.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”