The name Mogollon is found in numerous places in New Mexico, including peaks, creek, plateau and mountains but is probably most well known for the once-booming mining camp turned town in the Gila Wilderness.
Robert Julyan in his book “The Place Names of New Mexico” said the mountains in Catron County’s Gila National Forest were the first be christened with the Mogollon moniker and everything after that was named for the mountains, including the former mining town. The name also appears in Arizona and is used to describe the prehistoric American Indian people who inhabited the mountains of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.
The pronunciation of the isolated ghost town varies, depending on who’s answering.
Julyan describes it as muggy-YOHN. The state of New Mexico’s tourism department lists the pronunciation as mo-go-yone.
The most popular theory about the origin of the name’s arrival to the area is that it commemorates Juan Ignacio de Flores Mogollón, the governor of New Mexico from 1712 to 1715 when it was still known as New Spain. Julyan agrees that’s a possibility. However, in his book, he says the lack of documentation leaves room for speculation and other possibilities.
Stanley Crocchiola, a Catholic priest and historian who served in New Mexico, has another theory. He thinks the word hails from the Mexican word mogollo, which is the name for a thin cake or bread made by Native Americans.
But for most New Mexicans, the history that is most relevant is its connection to a time when mining was booming here.
The once-busy home of miners cuts a swath through the wilderness; its few remaining buildings crowd the roadway. The only thing separating them from N.M.159’s blacktop is an inches-thick band of weeds. It’s now classified as a ghost town but does have a regular stream of visitors and a permanent population of 15 people.
What it lacks in people it makes up for in history and lore.
Sitting at an elevation nearly 7,000 feet and tucked away among a vast forest, the isolated area was a hideout for Geronimo and other Apache Indian chieftains before becoming home to miners, according to a May 31, 1940 story in the El Paso Herald-Post.
“As the years marched on and this region saw an influx of fortune hunters. … Mogollon in the late ’70s and early ’80s came into the mining picture. Then, as now, the camp was 80 miles from a rail outlet,” the story said.
Supplies were taken to the Mogollon camp by horse or mule “over tortuous mountain trails.”
Peak production there was from 1907 to 1916, according to the article, when the mines yielded an average of $1 million in gold and silver each year.
But it started when James C. Cooney found a strand of gold in the Gila Mountains in the 1870s near what would become Mogollon. He began working his claim in 1876 but was killed during the 1880 Alma Massacre. A prospector named John Eberle built the town’s first cabin in 1889 and he seems to have embraced the term Wild West a little too tightly.
“News of a shooting affray comes from the Mogollons,” a May 25, 1893 story in the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. “John E. Eberle, who is an old-timer in the Mogollon district, shot Sam Settle through the right breast. Settle had worked for Eberle for a number of years, and it seems Eberle owed him a considerate sum of money.”
A news report the next day in the New Mexican said the man was incorrectly identified and his real name was Edward Phoenix.
The next day, Eberle was distraught over what he had done and offered to pay a doctor $500 to travel to Mogollon and treat the man, according to the May 26 story. He claimed the shooting was an accident. Sadly, he took his own life that night, unable to cope with what he had done. Phoenix died three hours later.
The men, it turns out, were not fighting about unpaid wages but a dispute over mining, according to a May 30, 1893 story in the Southwest Sentinel.
“The two men met on Eberle’s ground on the afternoon of the 19th and after some words, Phoenix threatened to throw a rock at Eberle. Phoenix turned to look for a rock and Eberle shot him …”
He was immediately taken into custody amidst threats of a lynching.
“Although Eberle had done more for the Mogollon mining district than any other resident of the camp and was a generous man he had few friends in the camp,” the May 30 story said.
Mogollon got a permanent jail and post office in 1890 followed by school in 1892. Its first jail was a tree where offenders were chained. Albuquerque Journal staff writer Ollie Reed Jr. wrote a story about the town for the Albuquerque Tribune in November of 1988, interviewing its few remaining residents at the time.
“According to one story, sawmill owner Harry Hermann donated the lumber to build a proper jail in Mogollon,” Reed wrote. “The story says that Hermann celebrated the completion of the building so boisterously that he ended up being not only the jail’s benefactor, but its first occupant as well.”
Today, some of the few remaining buildings are private residences doubling as cafes and stores. There is one lodging business, the Silver Creek Inn, a small establishment operating in an historic 1885, 5,000- square-foot, two-story adobe house. It offers group retreats as well as individual lodging.
The Inn was built by Frank Lauderbaugh in 1885. Its use has shifted throughout history. The downstairs area was once used to sell food and merchandise and in 1914 converted to a barber shop and general store by James Holland, who came to the bustling town from Philadelphia in 1914.
Declining silver and gold prices during World War I killed the mining business and the population began to dwindle. According to Reed’s story natural disasters also led to its decline. Fires plagued the town – 1894, 1904, 1910, 1915 and 1942, and when it wasn’t burning, it flooded. Major floods flowed through the town in 1894, 1896, 1899 and 1914.
“In its heyday Mogollon boasted a population of some 3,000 to 6,000 souls and, because of its isolation, was truly one of the wildest, shoot ’em-up mining towns in the West,” according to the New Mexico Tourism Department. “Mining continued up to the 1950s and resumed for a short time in the 1970s before coming to a halt.”
However, the allure remains. The quaint town has now become a retreat for artists and others looking for a brief respite from civilization.
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email writer Elaine Briseño at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”