As you continue the drive on Highway 72 headed for Folsom, the descent from the Mesa is spectacular. Folsom is 19 miles past the old settlement of Bell.
The town of Folsom named for President Cleveland’s wife Frances Folsom, began as a tiny hamlet close to the present town. The first person to arrive on the scene, Madison Emery, arrived in 1862 where he built a cabin and, as more families arrived, homes, stores and other businesses sprang up. Emery erected a rough hotel and the small settlement was named Madison.
When the outlaws sensed a raid on their “Roost”, they would often hide out in Madison. Coe was eventually caught in Madison by the US Cavalry with the help of Emery Madison’s wife and step-son. He was taken to Pueblo, Colorado to await trial, but was lynched by a group of vigilantes before he had a chance. After Coe was captured and killed, the rest of the gang must have scattered because they were never heard from again.
The coming of the Colorado and Southern Railroad in 1887 killed the settlement of Madison because the line bypassed the original town. Today there is little physical evidence that it ever existed except foundations of the old grist mill. A new settlement sprang up about 8 miles northeast of Madison and was originally called Ragtown, because the shelters and business establishments were all tents. Finally it was renamed Folsom.
One of the first citizens in Folsom was W.A. Thompson who was the proprietor of the saloon and deputy sheriff. Arriving from Missouri, where he had been charged with murder, he quickly racked up a lurid record in Folsom.
He was said to have shot and killed a friend because he visited another saloon. On another occasion, enraged at a boy for taunting him, Thompson chased the boy with a six-shooter and when he failed to catch him, turned his guns on a fellow officer and a customer emerging from a store, killing one of them. Though Thompson was captured and tried in Clayton, he was acquitted and went back to Oklahoma, where he was said to have killed another man.
By 1895, Folsom had two mercantile stores, three saloons, several other businesses and one of the largest stockyards north of Fort Worth, Texas. The railroad town was planned as a beautiful city and expected to develop as a luxury resort community under the auspices of the Colorado and Southern Railroad and once was a contender for the Union County Seat.
In 1908 the town had a new telephone switchboard which was operated by Sarah J. Rooke in her home on the edge of town. One night in August, 1908 Sarah answered her buzzer to hear a voice shouting that a flash flood was racing down the river and would strike the town within minutes. Sarah rang one phone after another warning people to get out of town before the water hit. She was still sitting at her switchboard when her own house was swept from its foundations and her body was found eight miles below the town. Most of town’s buildings were carried away and 17 people drowned.
But, Folsom’s most prominent citizen was the “Folsom Man”, existing only by deduction. Archeologists had long been interested in an arroyo close to the town where they had found evidence of artifacts dating from 10,000 years ago. In 1927 more careful digging revealed bones belonging to the ice age animals, most of them slain by man-made weapons.
In several instances flint points, which showed careful workmanship, were imbedded bones. Although no human remains were found, the discovery dated the existence of man in North America to 1000 B.C., much earlier than previously estimated.
Now a semi ghost town, Folsom is a pleasant ranching community with several historic buildings. The old railroad station, moved from the right-of-way around 1970 is now a private residence; the abandoned stone two-story Folsom Hotel still stands, as well as an old gas station on the corner, several false-front stores on the south side of Main Street; and the general merchandise store, built in 1896, is now a museum.
South of town, in the Folsom Cemetery, a granite memorial, erected by her fellow workers, commemorates Sarah J. Rooke’s heroism in the many lives that she saved.
Folsom Falls and Toll-Gate Canyon
From Folsom, take NM Highway 456 four miles north where you will see a natural spring-fed waterfall called Folsom Falls, which is a favorite fishing hole in the area and has picnic grounds.
Four miles north of Folsom Falls is a detour opportunity along NM Highway 551, north through Toll-Gate Canyon. A historical marker explains the unique history of this famous wagon trail, where Charles Goodnight trailed many herds of cattle from Texas to Wyoming from 1866 to 1869. Thinking that the toll through Raton Pass was too high he found the Toll-Gate Canyon. An old tollgate building and old rock jail are still intact.
Continuing on NM 456, you will cross the Dry Cimarron River several times. At Travessier, there is a picturesque overlook, which is the entrance into the Dry Cimarron Valley, which narrows into a series of wild and wonderful sandstone formations. On the north side you will see a particular colored sandstone formation called the “Battleship,” named in remembrance of the Maine. You will also see “Wedding Cake Butte,” a round mound rising about 300 feet above the valley floor, where its red, white and brown layers of sandy rock gives it an appearance of a large layered cake. In early days, many couples exchanged wedding vows atop this geographic formation. The drive along NM 456 is a refreshing change from the grasslands.