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

Samuel B. Watrous House today

Samuel B. Watrous House today

At about the same time, Samuel B. Watrous and his family settled in La Junta. After purchasing a one-seventh interest in the Scolly Mexican land grant, he built a huge ranch house and store at the junction of the Mora and Sapello Rivers. The structure was described as a “fort-like” adobe with 20 rooms, ringing a large interior patio and courtyard. Over the years, Watrous amassed large herds of cattle and ample grazing land just north of the Mora River. He sold and traded what his ranch produced with local residents, travelers along the Santa Fe Trail, and, later, to troops at nearby Fort Union.

William B. Tipton, who had come to New Mexico in 1846 with General Stephen Kearny’s army was hired by Watrous to help him claim and settle his portion of the Scolly Grant. William Tipton and his brother, Enoch, settled what would be called Tiptonville on the Mora River, a couple of miles northwest of La Junta.

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. Together they owned 20 freight wagons that hauled merchandise for many years on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and  New Mexico.

By that time, New Mexico had become a territory of the United States and more and more settlers came to the area, taking over the traditional hunting grounds of the Moache Ute, Jicarilla Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche. Due to the increased traffic on the Santa Fe Trail, more and more emigrants, and their game being reduced, friction between the Indians and new settlers flared. Troops were soon sent in to protect the citizens of the territory. In 1850, Alexander Barclay tried to sell the fort to the Army but they wouldn’t buy it. Instead, Lieutenant Colonel Edwin V. Sumner tried to order Barclay off his own land so the Army could build their own fort there.

When Colonel Sumner came in to take command, he found the existing military encampments in deplorable conditions and immediately disbanded these temporary posts, relocating the troops to posts closer to the Indians. In 1851, he would begin the work of the establishing Fort Union about nine miles northwest of Watrous on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. Located near Alexander Barclay’s land, the Army again tried to order him off his own land but he took the army to court, which dragged on for several years.

The new fort became the principal depot for supplies for other forts in the region, utilizing the fertile Mora Valley ranchers and farmers, including Samuel Watrous, as suppliers. Because of the numerous military trails that joined at La Junta, hundreds of ox and mule teams, freighters, muleteers, drivers, escorts, and travelers passed yearly by the Watrous Store which prospered greatly.

In 1853, Alexander Barclay made a trip north to trade with the Indians and found they’d moved from where he thought they were. He suffered a large financial loss. When he returned to the fort, he found that operations were out of control and the fort in bad repair. By the end of October, he was living at the fort by himself. He advertised the fort for sale in the  Santa Fe newspapers but, never had an inquiry. In 1854, the post office closed and it would be over a decade before another would open in nearby La Junta. Alexander soon grew very ill and died. He was buried at his “fort” in December 1855. Litigation with the army continued with Joseph Doyle, who finally won out. In 1856, he sold the land and the fort to a German immigrant named William Kronig for about $7,000. Kroenig soon collected 94 head of cattle and 200 sheep which he drove to La Junta. He cemented a familial relationship with Samuel Watrous by marrying his daughter, Louisa. His showpiece ranch was just west of his father-in-law’s and came to be known as the Phoenix Ranch. Here, he created nine artificial lakes and stocked them with fish.  Barclay’s Fort was located about two miles north of Watrous. Though the buildings are long gone today, the foundations can still be seen in the historic district.

Fort Union, New Mexico wagons

Fort Union, New Mexico wagons

By the 1850s traffic along the Santa Fe Trail dramatically increased due to gold seekers, many of whom stopped and traded in the Watrous store. Several new settlers called La Junta home at this time, including William Shoemaker, the ordnance officer at Fort Union.

In the 1860s, descendants of James Boney returned to the Valley and resettled in what is now the West Tiptonville area about 2.5 miles northwest of Watrous. Boney’s son, Santiago Bone Jr., built a simple rock and adobe home that remains today. The Bernardo Salazar House and the Trinidad Lopez House, homes of James Boney’s daughters and their husbands, are also still standing.

In 1862 William Tipton purchased an interest in the Scolly Grant and erected a large galleried ranch house on the Mountain Branch north of Barclay’s Fort. He raised beef for sale to Fort Union. Adjacent to his ranch, Tipton laid out the village of Tiptonville on the north bank of the Mora River in 1870, which became a gathering place for caravans. Today, the area displays visible trail ruts and arroyas fanning out into the rolling hills.

Although Tipton’s house was destroyed by fire, its foundation and the buildings used for his store, post office, and stable have survived. The town, at one time, boasted several stores and saloons that served the wagon trains as well as soldiers from nearby Fort Union, a church, and a school. Ten largely unaltered buildings remain and reflect the adobe brick construction characteristic of the Territorial period.

The Boney family donated land to Jesuit priests for the construction of a church, rectory, school, and cemetery. Built in 1870, the Sagrado Corazon Mission ministered to a parish extending from Las Vegas, New Mexico to Trinidad, Colorado. The foundations of the mission, rectory, and school are visible in the district, as is the historic cemetery.

When the business of William Kronig’s trading post began to diminish, he built a handsome two-story galleried plantation-type house in the Territorial Style, known as the Phoenix Ranch House, in 1865. It still stands today. In 1868 he sold the Phoenix Ranch and left the valley, returning in 1883 to build a home upstream from Sapello Crossing.

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