Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico

Ocate Creek, New Mexico

Ocate Creek, New Mexico

Ocaté Creek Crossing – Located on a modern ranch today, this was a river crossing was heavily used during and after the Civil War. General Stephen W. Kearny’s Army of the West crossed here in 1846 and camped nearby. Several early travelers through the area briefly described the site in their journals or other writings. In his journal Lieutenant Abert noted that he and his party were forced to go two miles upstream, skirting the end of a high-walled mesa (now called Apache Hill), in order to reach a passable crossing place on the Ocate River. During Kearny’s crossing, his advance guard came in contact with several “Mexicans” from Mora who were said to be spies and he sent them back to Mora with a message requesting a meeting with the alcalde. A Missouri volunteer described the Army of the West’s camp on the Ocate River: It was located on a limpid stream of fresh water with the nearest timber two miles away. He described the scramble of setting up camp, gathering firewood, preparing a meal, and finally settling down to sleep.

In 1866, on the south side of Ocate Creek, there once stood a Barlow, Sanderson & Co. stage station called Calhoun’s Crossing. The seven-room station included a hotel. Reportedly, Wild Bill Hickok drove a stagecoach over Raton Pass for the stage company.

According to Ocate elders, the Tewa Indians lived in this valley long before the Spanish arrived. The word Ocate is said to be a Tewa word meaning, “port of the air,” or “valley of the wind.” The wind blows almost continually through this valley.

Today, wagon ruts are still visible on both sides of the crossing.  The crossing is north of New Mexico Highway 120, 14.5 miles west of Wagon Mound and one mile north on a ranch road.


Mora Valley, New Mexico

Mora River Valley, New Mexico

Tiptonville – Located northwest of Watrous, near New Mexico Highway 161, this small community grew up around the home of William B. Tipton. William B. Tipton came to New Mexico in 1846 with General Stephen Kearny’s army and was later was hired by Samuel B. Watrous to help him claim and settle his portion of the Scolly Grant and the juncture of the Mora and Sapello Rivers in northeast New Mexico.


Soon, William Tipton and his brother, Enoch, settled on the Mora River, a couple of miles northwest of the town of Watrous. In 1849 William Tipton married Samuel Watrous daughter, Mary, who was only 12 years old. He then became a partner with Samuel Watrous in the firm of Watrous and Tipton, which would eventually own 20 freight wagons that hauled merchandise for many years on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and New Mexico.

Tipton continued to do business with his father-in-law, Samuel Watrous, until 1862 when he purchased an interest in the Scolly grant and erected a large galleried ranch house on the Mountain Branch north of Barclay’s Fort. He farmed, ranched, and raised beef for sale to Fort Union, which had been founded ten miles north of the Mora River.

In 1870, William Tipton platted the Tiptonville townsite adjacent to his ranch, which became a gathering place for caravans on the Santa Fe Trail. The town was laid out in a grid pattern by surveyor W. R. Shoemaker on the north bank of the Mora River.

Tipton’s new town grew fairly quickly, soon sporting a store, stables, a saloon, and a Barlow & Sanderson Stage Station. Its post office opened in 1876.

In 1869, the young Reverend Thomas Harwood, a pioneer Methodist missionary, arrived in New Mexico, making Tiptonville his home. He soon built a school for the benefit of the few Americans in the vicinity and from his home, ranged widely across the land, traveling on horseback or by buggy as a “circuit preacher.”

The Homes & Wallace Company briefly published the Weekly Pioneer in Tiptonville because they expected the town to expand and eventually engulf nearby Watrous. When it was evident that it would be the other way around, they moved the paper to Watrous.

At its peak, Tiptonville was called home to 128 people but with the nearby proximity to Watrous, its glory wouldn’t last. The post office closed in 1908.

Somewhere along the line, Tipton’s house was destroyed by fire but several largely unaltered buildings remain reflecting the adobe brick construction characteristic of the Territorial period. These trail-era buildings are on private property but can be seen from an access road. The Tiptonville Cemetery still also exists in Watrous. Santa Fe Trail ruts cross the dirt access road South of NM 161.


Tiptonville, New Mexico Cemetery

Tiptonville, New Mexico Cemetery

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2019.

Also See:

Santa Fe Trail (main page)

Lucien B. Maxwell

Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico

Watrous, New Mexico – River Junction on the Santa Fe Trail


National Register of Historic Places Nomination
Santa Fe Trail New Mexico
Santa Fe Trail Research

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