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New Mexico Flag - High Country LegendsNEW MEXICO LEGENDS

Steins - A Railroad Ghost Town

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This old railroad and mining town south of the Peloncillo Mountain Range, got its start as a small stop on the Birch Stage Line in 1857. A year later, Birch was replaced by the Butterfield Overland Stage Company, who continued to use the station. At that time, it was called Doubtful Canyon, for the nearby pass by the same name, called such because of the constant threat of Indian attacks. In 1873, another such skirmish occurred in the canyon between the Apache Indians and the cavalry led by Captain Enoch Steins, who was killed in the attack. Afterwards, it was called Steins Pass.

 

When rich mineral deposits of gold, silver, lead and copper were found several years later, in the Peloncillo Mountains north of the pass, the area began to crawl with prospectors.

 

Called the Kimball Mining District, a number of mining camps, with names like Kimball, Pocahontas, and Beck, sprang up along the base of the Peloncillo Range.

 

In 1878, the Southern Pacific Railroad began to blast away at the rock bluffs of the area, developing a quarry and taking away tons of rock for a new railroad bed. During this time, some 1,000 Chinese railroad workers lived at the foot of Steins Peak. 

 

Welcome To Steins Ghost Town Sign, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2014

Welcome to Steins Ghost Town, photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2014.

Available for Prints and Downloads HERE.

 

 

 

By 1880, the railway was complete through the area and the railroad stabled a station at Steins Pass. In 1888, a post office, called Doubtful Canyon, was established on the main wagon road to serve the mining camps. For more than a decade, the area was dotted with little more than ramshackle cabins and prospector tents, though Beck’s Camp sported a store and a hotel, with buckboard service to the Southern Pacific Station.

On December 9, 1897, the mining camps were bursting with excitement when the Southern Pacific Sunset Limited was held up at Steins Pass by the Black Jack Ketchum Gang. In the robbery attempt a trainman named Edward Cullen was killed, and the bandits were able to escape; however, they made off with no money.

In 1902, the Doubtful Canyon had only 35 registered voters, but sported a schoolhouse for the children. A few years later, the Southern Pacific Railroad built a new station a few miles east of the older one and the town of Steins grew up around it. Soon, the Doubtful Canyon Post Office was transferred to the new "town.” By 1905, the settlement boasted about 100 people, a mercantile store, a restaurant, and a saloon. Acting as a headquarters for a few of the mining companies, the town grew to about 200 people, most of who worked in the nearby mines or in the rock quarry.

 

However, it is estimated, at its high point in 1919, the surrounding area supported more than 1,000 residents. By this time, the town also had a boarding house, two bordellos, a dance hall, more stores, two more saloons, and a hotel. But, for those early pioneers, life was tough in the desert region, as there was no source of water and had to be brought into the area on the train, selling as high as $1.00 per barrel.

 

But, for Steins (pronounced 'steens'), prosperity would be short lived. In 1925, the rock quarry closed putting dozens of men out of work and at the end of World War II, the Southern Pacific Railroad discontinued its stop in Steins, giving the town notice that it would no longer deliver water and the station would be closed.

 

Spelling certain death for the town, the railway offered the residents free transportation to wherever they might like to go and the vast majority of its inhabitants took the offer, leaving many of their possessions behind. In time Steins was completely abandoned. The post office was discontinued in 1944. In 1964 a fire destroyed many of the historic deserted buildings.

 

Around 1976, a man by the name of Warren Garrison says he took on the task to "rebuild" Steins, after his parents purchased the land. About his experience in the 1970's Garrison wrote 'I remember the very first morning I stayed there, a man came up and sat down in the window. "Good morning, how you doing?" and I was just waking up. "So what's going on, what are you doing here?" I said, "well I've always wanted to do something here and I guess this is it". He kind of laughed and gave me $5 and said he'd check on me again some day when he passed through again and left. That was the first bit of encouragement that I got from anyone. During that first night a rattler had crawled into the room and my little dog Spooky had barked and tipped me off, kinda scary but I got up and I do remember having a flashlight so I got it and put it in a big barrel that was there at Steins.'

 

Garrison says during the next 13 years he worked many days at nearby Shakespeare for Manny and Janaloo Hough in order to get money to support his renovation project, building a following for the Ghost Town along the way.  He tells us that after a while he had three to four hundred visitors a week coming in to experience the "Old West" realism he had created.

 

Warren Garrison after arriving to rebuild Steins, NM

Warren Garrison with, we presume, his dog Spooky, in Steins, NM in the mid to late 1970s.
Photo courtesy Warren Garrison.

 

Steins, New Mexico Mercantile

Steins, New Mexico Mercantile, Kathy Weiser, February, 2008. Available for Prints and Downloads HERE.

 

In 1988 Garrison decided to sell the place to Larry and Linda Link, and says since then the Link's managed to write him out of Steins history. Indeed, while researching this article, some describe Garrison not by name, but only as "a mysterious fellow who lived there alone". Regardless of the feud between Garrison and the Links, Steins continued to host tourists until the Links retired in 2008, then continued tours by appointment for another few years. 

 

In June of 2011, Larry Link was murdered, a crime that as of this writing, is still unsolved. Link was shot five times by an unknown assailant who left an untraceable gun behind. Police think it was a break in gone wrong that potentially involved drug cartels, but Pamela Link, Larry's daughter, told ABC Television affiliate KVIA in May of 2015 she thinks it was someone local who knew him.

 

In June of 2013 family members announced they would no longer open the ghost town to the public on a regular basis. We've also seen other websites indicate they could not reach the Link's to book a tour, although Steins website is still active.

 

What’s left of the community includes several adobe ruins and about ten restored buildings, including a tack shop, a community kitchen, and "Girdie’s Garter.” Nearby is an old cemetery that is dotted with a few worn and weathered tombstones.

 

Though its many residents are gone, the Southern Pacific locomotives still make their way past the town daily, whistling away to remind the coyotes and its two residents of a more prominent time.

 

Steins is 19 miles west of Lordsburg, New Mexico, just off I-10 at Exit #3, just east of the Arizona-New Mexico border.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2015 with edits on Garrison by Dave Alexander.

 

More information see: Stein's Railroad Ghost Town Official Site

Also See:

Black Jack Ketchum

The Railroad in the American West

Ghost Towns of New Mexico

New Mexico Ghost Towns Photo Print Gallery

 

 

Steins, New Mexico

Much of Steins has been reduced to ruins today, Kathy Weiser, February, 2008. Available for Prints and Downloads HERE.

 

Steins New Mexico Town Site, Kathy Weiser-Alexander 2008

Steins town site, Kathy Weiser, February, 2008. Available for Prints and Downloads HERE.

 

Warren Garrison with an unidentifed NM Univesity History Professor.

Warren Garrison along with an unidentified Professor from New Mexico State University and his girl friend during Garrison's  time at Steins. Photo provided by Warren Garrison.

 

From Legends' General Store

Saloon Style Advertising Prints - What were on the walls of the saloons in the Old West?  Likely, much of the same as those you find today - advertisements for liquor, beer, and tobacco.  Plus the "decadent" women of the time.  In our Photo Print Shop, you'll find dozens of photographs for decorating your "real" saloon or den in a saloon type atmosphere.

          

 

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