Ralston/Shakespeare - Born Again and Again
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(Editors Note: This is a major update to our story on the
history of Ralston a.k.a. Shakespeare, by Gerald T. Ahnert, Old West historian and noted authority on the Overland Mail
Company, with additional history of the town by Kathy Weiser-Alexander,
Clarification of Shakespeare as related to the Butterfield Trail, by
Gerald T. Ahnert
Primary source references for Ralston/Shakespeare show that when it was
called Ralston, during its "Old West" period, was approximately from 1870
to 1879. Sometime around 1879 the name was changed to Shakespeare. "Dr.
Myra Ellen Jenkins, New Mexico State Historian, says that there is no
documentation to be found to prove there was a settlement here before the
Civil War." Ref: New Mexico Magazine, New Mexico Department of
Human habitation of the site, other than Native American, starts from
approximately 1870. An early reference was in the Democratic Enquirer,
McArthur, Ohio, February 1, 1871:
"Glowing accounts are given of the richness of the new silver mines lately
opened near Ralston, New Mexico. The average yield of the ore is said to
be $2,282 per ton."
By the statement "…new silver mines lately opened…" the discovery of the
mines may have taken place about 1870.
In 1876 Lieutenant Philip Reade, the project leader for constructing
telegraph lines along the Southern Overland Trail, proposed that the line
be constructed through Ralston. This gives an indication that, although
the old Butterfield Trail was two miles north of Ralston, that the town was
important enough to adjust the trail southward to pass through Ralston.
(Ref: Arizona Citizen, Tucson, September 2, 1876). A later article
in the same newspaper dated August 25, 1877, tells of the telegraph rates
and that the line is now going through Ralston.
In the Arizona Sentinel, Yuma, Arizona Territory, May 23, 1874,
appeared the following:
"New Mail Contractors. Kerens & Mitchell of Fort Smith, Arkansas,
have newly established a stage line from between Mesilla, New Mexico, and
San Diego, California."
An article just below the above states:
"The Old Mail Contractors. The old mail contractors for carrying
the mails between San Diego and Mesilla will soon retire and give place
for the new [Kerens & Mitchell]…"
"The Old Mail Contractors" that the article eludes to is probably the
stage line of Sanderson, Barlow & Co. In the Arizona Miner,
Prescott, Arizona Territory, May 18, 1867, was the article "Mail at
Last." It tells of stage lines finally returning to the "…old
Southern, or Butterfield, overland,…," although some local stage services
had been restored shortly after the Civil War ended. It is probable that
Sanderson, Barlow & Co. made the slight adjustment the two miles south of
the old Butterfield Trail to accommodate the new Ralston about 1870 or
the many primary source references for Butterfield's Overland Mail
Company, 1858-1861, and those that predate that time, do not show the
Southern Overland Trail going through the Ralston town site, there are
secondary references that elude to the Butterfield tail going through the
town site. Contemporary accounts state that there was a Butterfield stage
station there even though none is listed in government reports by the
Postmaster General in Senate documents for that time.
A contemporary account was given by Janaloo Hill-Hough and her husband
Manny Hough. Janaloo has passed on, but Manny and his group give tours of
the town site. The only contemporary account of a Butterfield station in
Ralston comes from a story passed down to them by way of Emma Mable Muir
who was told this by an old timer by the name of John Evensen. The Hough's
have stated that what they were told was that Evensen was hired by the
stage line of Kerens & Mitchell in 1865 to reopen the old Butterfield
station for the line. According to the article in the Arizona Sentinel,
Yuma, Arizona Territory, May 23, 1874, titled "The New Mail Contractors."
Kerens & Mitchell were stocking the trail between Mesilla and San Diego
and would open the line for service in July 1874. This is nine years after
the time that was related to the Houghs.
The story passed down to them was published by Janaloo Hill-Hough in her
brochure The Butterfield Overland Trail Through Hidalgo County.
Unfortunately the account is based only on local lore and not primary
source references, as she states the Butterfield records were destroyed in
the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1905. This could not have
happened since Butterfield's Overland Mail Company office was not in San
Francisco, but in New York City. Some records from the company office have
been preserved including minutes of the meetings. In almost every way this
was a "New York State" line, as John Butterfield was from Utica, New York,
and almost all the stagecoach drivers were from Upstate New York. Even the
architect of the Butterfield Trail was Marquis L. Kenyon of Rome, New
Historian George Hackler in his book The Butterfield Trail in New Mexico
gives a more complete accounting of Janaloo Hill-Hough and Manny Hough's
history of Shakespeare. Hackler's correct conclusion concerning the handed
down story is "There is no direct evidence to support a station at Mexican
Springs." The handed down account states that the name used for the area
before Ralston existed was Mexican Springs.
For those who wish to have a more detailed accounting of the history of
the Southern Overland Trail and the Butterfield Trail:
Goddard Bailey was assigned the task by Postmaster General Brown to take
the first Butterfield Overland Mail Company stage leaving San Francisco
and inspect the line to make sure it was meeting the government mail
contract specifications. He lists all the stations. His report is titled
“Report of the Postmaster General” and was published in House of
Representatives, Ex. Doc. No. 2, 35th Congress, 2d Session, 1858.
Ormsby, Waterman L. The Butterfield Overland Mail, The Huntington
Library, San Marino, CA, 1991. From the Introduction, pvii, is the
following: “The best narrative consists of a series of eight articles by
Waterman L. Ormsby, published in six numbers of the New York Herald
at intervals from September 26 to November 19, 1858. Ormsby, a special
correspondent of the Herald, was the only through passenger on the first
The Overland Mail Company contract:
The Report of the Postmaster General, Senate, 35th Congress, 2d
Session, Ex. Doc. No. 48, pp. 7-10.
This government report, with maps, was based on Leach's improvements
through Arizona in September 1858 just as the first Butterfield stages
were going through Arizona. His maps show the Butterfield Trail. James B.
Leach, "REPORT UPON THE PACIFIC WAGON ROADS, CONSTRUCTED Under the
direction of the Hon. Jacob Thompson, Secretary of the Interior, in
1857-'58-'59, El Paso to Yuma Wagon Road," The Executive Documents,
Second Session, Thirty-Fifty Congress, 1858-'59, pp. 9-11, 74-97.
(Includes two maps).
Another major reference which contains California Column reconnaissance of
War of the Rebellion, Vol. L, Part I, “Operations on the Pacific
Coast, Washington, 1897
"San Antonio and San Diego Route," The Senate of the United States,
Second Session, Thirty-Fifth Congress, 1858-'59, Washington, 1859, p.
©Gerald T. Ahnert, for Legends of
America, October 2015.
More about the mining history and legends of Ralston & Shakespeare - by
Kathy Weiser-Alexander, Dave Alexander
Around 1870, the area
that would eventually become Shakespeare, had attracted a
number of prospectors always on the look-out for mineral deposits.
When a couple of them found rich silver ore, they contacted San
Francisco businessman and financier, William Ralston, co-founder of
the Bank Of California six years earlier. When the
prospectors were successful in gaining Ralston’s financial support to
develop the mines, the resulting settlement was named Ralston in his
Soon, the New Mexico Mining Company was digging for
ore and a new town was laid out, filling with tents and about 200
people. In no time; however; the town boomed when newspapers as far
away as San Diego and San Francisco, told the news of the rich silver
finds. More miners flocked to the area, that some say, soon sported
some 3,000 people.
New Mexico Mining Company found a few isolated pockets of silver ore,
William Ralston's credibility was quickly waning due to his
involvement in several dicey scams, one of which was the Great Diamond
Hoax of 1871. His stock dropped dramatically and people began to leave
the newly formed camp. By
1873, there were only a few people left in the boom town.
William Ralston, meantime, would see his Bank of California
collapse during the depression of 1875, leaving him in financial ruin. That same
year, on August 27th, he reportedly went for a swim in the San
Francisco Bay and drowned.
though the town of Ralston was virtually non-existent, another
investor, Colonel Boyle of
Missouri, staked a number of claims under the name of the
Shakespeare Mining Company and renamed the settlement Shakespeare. Mining
was in full force again with the principal mines being Boyle’s
Shakespeare Gold and Silver Mining and Milling Company, as well as
the Atwood, Miners Chest, and others. Colonel
Boyle also bought an adobe building which he turned into the
Stratford Hotel. The town began to grow again, this time with
more adobe buildings. In the 1883 publication Congressional
Series of the United States Public Documents, Volume 2113,
Shakespeare is described as follows:
"Like most towns which are built in a
country infested with Indians, as this has been in the not remote
past, Shakespeare is built of adobe, as affording best means of
defense as well as furnishing the greatest amount of comfort
attainable in a frontier residence.
"It is not a large town, although it
would seem to have elements about it to have made it so ere this.
The Atwood mine.. is on its outskirts; the Superior.. is but a
mile away; the Jerry Boyle, an immense copper vein, immediately
adjoins the Atwood; the Miner's Chest, less than 2 miles away, and
upwards of a hundred other good claims in more or less advanced
stages of development within a radius of less than 3 miles, are
enough to furnish employment for thousands of miners. Not only in
the number of claims but in the great diversity of ores, generally
carrying both silver and gold, although other veins show excellent
galena ores carrying largely of silver."
Though the town was typical of the
time with rowdy miners and lawlessness, it never gained the reputation
of other mining towns of the time, such as the more decadent mining
In fact, men began to bring in their
families and settle down; however, the town never settled so much
as to ever get a school, a church, or a newspaper.
"Law” was generally handled by the citizens
of the community, even though the settlement was overseen by a County
Deputy Sheriff as early as
1870. Some offenders were even hanged by the timbers of the Grant
House dining room.
On one occasion, a well known
outlaw by the name of
Sandy King was making his home in
Shakespeare and when he got into an argument with a storekeeper and
shot off his index finger, he was quickly taken to jail Deputy Sheriff
Continued Next Page
The Grant House on the right and
saloon on the left. The front dining room
sometimes served as the "hanging" room.
February, 2008, Kathy Weiser.
This image available for
photo prints & editorial downloads
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