Special Note: Idlewild, New Mexico is where Legends of America founder and editor, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, gained her interest in American History. Kathy spent summers here as a child in her Grandparents Ben and Irene Foster’s cabin. It was Irene and the rich history of the Moreno Valley that sparked the passion which became a website called High Country Legends in 2002, then transformed into Legends of America on June 27, 2003.
Though the gold rush had petered out in the Moreno Valley in New Mexico by the early 1900s, some were still convinced that “there was gold in them thar hills.”
Fred Montague of Chanute, Kansas was one that still believed. He, along with four other investors, purchased property in the Moreno Valley and dug three tunnels in 1920, two of which showed little promise, but one would become the Klondyke Mine.
In the beginning, assay reports from the mine showed that the tunnel had large amounts of gold, silver, and copper. An engineer from Denver, Colorado advised the investors to build a mill. Before the mill was built, the owners first built several buildings on the property, including a mining office, a cookhouse, a general store, and cabins for the miners.
Finally, the mill was built, but it was never a large operation, employing just 13 miners during the summer months, all of whom left in the winter except for a caretaker and overseer.
Unfortunately, only after the mill was built did the investors find, in 1926, that the grade of ore found needed to be smelted, and the nearest facility was in Pueblo, Colorado. Trucking the ore to Pueblo was too expensive to justify continuing the endeavor.
The Klondyke Mine was never very productive and the mining company was constantly in search of additional working capital, though they continued to hold board meetings until the 1940s. Finally, the mine was abandoned as a business venture, but the Montague family still retains the ten acres surrounding the mine.
In 2008, the area continued to serve as a private getaway for the Montague family and their friends, and the Klondyke Mine remained. For several years, plans were in the works to dismantle the mill and relocate it to the Enchanted Circle Museum in Eagle Nest. The blacksmith shop behind the mine was dismantled and moved to the future site of the museum on Highway 64. However, within a few years, the old mill was torn down in January 2011 due to liability concerns. Very sad.
Idlewild developed adjacent to the Klondyke Mine in the 1930s. Originally, the land was owned by Charles Gallagher, who married Mae Lowery, the daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Moore Lowery, for whom Elizabethtown was named.
In 1929, Charles was shipping a herd of cattle to Kansas City about the time when the stock market began to fall, expecting to receive $1,500 for the herd. Unfortunately, due to market conditions, he netted only $700 and was forced to sell some of his land.
Thomas Cook, from the Texas panhandle, purchased 160 acres from Gallagher so that his family might enjoy the retreat that he called “Idlewild.” He built a cabin near the road to the Klondyke mine and began to bring his friends and family to the retreat. Deciding to develop the property, he began selling lots in 1931 for $6 and 12 people bought lots in the new development. The following year 87 people purchased property and the area continued to develop through the years.
In the early 1940s, Mr. Cook sold most of his holdings to Hardy Watson of Lawton, Oklahoma, and Mayme and Britt Marrs were installed as caretakers who continued for the next 50 years. Most of the properties in Idlewild were sold to visitors from Texas and many are passed from generation to generation, including my own family cabin, one of the oldest in Idlewild. My grandparents were good friends with the Marrs when I was a child. Now, there are about 320 structures in Idlewild.
Update: From Fred Montague of Chanute, Kansas, a direct descendant of the original Fred Montague who built the mine and mill, the Klondyke Mill was torn down on January 17, 2011. Very sad news for the many of us that grew up fascinated by the old structure.
From Our Readers:
I visited Idlewild with my grandfather every summer. I actually explored that old mine and we would stay in an old cabin near the mine. The family finally bought its own cabin in Idlewild. – Greg