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Silver City, New Mexico

Silver City, New Mexico
City Hall
City Hall
Official seal of Silver City, New Mexico
Location in the State of New Mexico
Location in the State of New Mexico
Silver City, New Mexico is located in USA
Silver City, New Mexico
Location in the United States
Country United States
State New Mexico
County Grant
Founded 1878
 • Type Council-Manager
 • Mayor Michael S. Morones
 • Total 10.1 sq mi (26.3 km2)
 • Land 10.1 sq mi (26.3 km2)
 • Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 5,895 ft (1,797 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 10,315
 • Density 1,040.1/sq mi (401.5/km2)
Time zone MST (UTC-7)
 • Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6)
ZIP codes 88061-88062
Area code(s) 575
FIPS code 35-73260
GNIS feature ID 0920706

Silver City is a town in Grant County in southwestern New Mexico, USA. In 2013 the population was 10,273. It is the county seat[1] and the home of Western New Mexico University.


  • History 1
  • Geology 2
  • Climate 3
  • Demographics 4
  • Economy 5
  • Arts & culture 6
  • Education 7
    • Public schools 7.1
      • Elementary schools 7.1.1
      • Middle school 7.1.2
      • High schools 7.1.3
    • Private schools 7.2
    • Colleges 7.3
  • Transportation 8
  • Points of interest 9
  • Notable people 10
  • In popular culture 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


The valley that is now the site of Silver City once served as an Apache campsite. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the area became known for its copper mining. After the American Civil War, a settlement developed and became known as la Ciénega de San Vicente (the Marsh of St. Vincent). With a wave of American prospectors, the pace of change increased, and Silver City was founded in the summer of 1870. The founding of the town occurred shortly after the discovery of silver ore deposits at Chloride Flat, on the hill just west of the farm of Captain John M. Bullard and his brother James. Following the silver strike, Captain Bullard laid out the streets of the Silver City, and a bustling tent city quickly sprang to life. Although the trajectory of Silver City's development was to be different from the hundreds of other mining boom towns established during the same period, Captain Bullard himself never lived to see even the beginnings of permanence, as he was killed in a confrontation with Apache raiders less than a year later, on February 23, 1871.

The town's violent crime rate was substantial during the 1870s; Grant County Sheriff Harvey Whitehill was elected in 1874, and gained a sizable reputation for his abilities at controlling trouble. In 1875, Whitehill became the first lawman to arrest Billy the Kid, known at the time as William Bonney. Whitehill arrested him twice, both times for theft in Silver City, and would later claim that Bonney was a likeable kid, whose stealing was a result more of necessity than criminality. His mother is buried in the town cemetery. In 1878, the town hired its first town marshal, "Dangerous Dan" Tucker, who had been working as a deputy for Whitehill since 1875.

Mrs. Lettie B. Morrill, in a talk given to the Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Silver City on September 19, 1908, stated, "John Bullard was placed in the first grave dug in Silver City, having been killed while punishing the Indians for an attack upon the new town; the brothers were Prospectors about the country for many years. The last one left for the old home about 1885, saying, ‘It is only a matter of time until the Indians get me if I stay here.’" It was also known as the starting point for many expeditions hunting treasures such as the Lost Adams Diggings.

In 1893, New Mexico Normal School was established. It was later known as New Mexico Western State Teachers College. In 1963, it was renamed Western New Mexico University. Today, WNMU offers 8 graduate degrees, 41 baccalaureate degrees, and 18 associate degree and certificate programs. The WNMU athletic team is referred to as the Mustangs. Recognition for the university includes the 2003 Zia Award, the 2005 Best Practice Award (for the School of Education), the 2006 Chamber of Commerce Large Business of the Year Award, the 2008 Piñon Award, and the 2008 Compañero Award.

The town had originally been designed with the streets running north to south. The town was also built in the path of normal water runoff. Businesses sprang up, and people learned to deal with the inconveniences of the summer rain. Silver City was built with high sidewalks in the downtown area to accommodate high flood waters. Meanwhile, uncontrolled cattle grazing thinned down plant life on hills surrounding the town, as did deforestation. During the night of July 21, 1895, a heavy wall of water rushed through the downtown business district, leaving a trail of destruction. A ditch 55 feet (17 m) lower than the original street level was created in what was once known as Main Street.[2] Businesses on Main Street began using their back doors on Bullard Street as main entrances and eventually, were permanently used as the new front entrances. To this day, the incorrect odd/even addressing conventions on the east side of Bullard Street are a reminder that the buildings were addressed on Main Street originally, not Bullard Street. Main Street now ends near the back of the Silver City Police Station, where the Big Ditch Park begins.

The Mimbres Mogollon Indians (A.D. 200 - A.D. 1140/50) once lived in the area, along with other prehistoric groups, including the Salado. Mimbres archaeological sites are located throughout Silver City and surrounding communities on federal, state, municipal, and private property. Collecting of Mimbres pottery by landowners and others is documented as far back as the late 1870s. Collecting was something that occurred during a Sunday picnic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some individuals maintained collections that can now be seen in the Smithsonian, and other museums, who sent individuals out to acquire collections in the nearby Mimbres Valley during the early 1900s. Others dug into the ancient sites and used the pottery they found for target practice—something that occurred into the 1930s according to oral histories. Collecting, and the looting of Mimbres Mogollon sites did not stop with archaeological research conducted on private lands during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1970s, nor with the passage of the New Mexico "Burial Law" in 1989. Sadly, unlawful looting continues to this day, and many prehistoric sites have been badly damaged or completely obliterated.

The Apaches occupied areas in the vicinity of Silver City beginning in the late 1500s to early 1600s based on archaeological evidence.


The local geology of the Silver City area is complex. Sedimentary gravels are found in the form of alluvial gravels called the Mangas Valley gravels. Metamorphic schist and gneiss is also found. The downtown area is mostly made of granite outcrops. Silver City lies just east of the continental divide.


Climate data for Silver City, New Mexico. (Elevation 5,950 ft)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 71
Average high °F (°C) 50.8
Average low °F (°C) 23.9
Record low °F (°C) −13
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.05
Average snowfall inches (cm) 3.5
Source: The Western Regional Climate Center[3]


As of the census[6] of 2000, there were 10,545 people, 4,227 households, and 2,730 families residing in the town. The population density was 1,040.1 people per square mile (401.5/km²). There were 4,757 housing units at an average density of 469.2 per square mile (181.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 71.72% White, 0.86% African American, 1.14% Native American, 0.45% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 22.42% from other races, and 3.37% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 52.43% of the population.

There were 4,227 households out of which 30.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.6% were married couples living together, 15.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.4% were non-families. 30.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 3.00.

In the town the population by age was: 25.0% under the age of 18, 11.4% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to 64, and 16.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.7 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $25,881, and the median income for a family was $31,374. Males had a median income of $28,476 versus $18,434 for females. The per capita income for the town was $13,813. About 17.7% of families and 21.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.2% of those under age 18 and 10.0% of those age 65 or over.


Silver City was founded as a mining town. smelter after the Silver City, Deming and Pacific narrow gauge railway reached Silver City in 1883. The Santa Fe Railroad provided standard gauge rail service in 1886; and Commanche Mining and Smelting extended the 2-foot narrow gauge Silver City, Pinos Altos and Mogollon Railroad to Pinos Altos in 1906.[7]

The nearby mining operations, formerly Phelps Dodge, are still the basis for the local economy. In 2006, the Chino and Tyrone mines produced 125,400 long tons (127,400 t) of copper. Mine employment was 1,250, with wages and salaries totaling $73 million. However, a Phelps-Dodge spokesman remarked in 2007 that "based on current economic projections, our properties in New Mexico will not be operating in 25 years".[8] Phelps Dodge was acquired by international mining firm Freeport-McMoRan in March 2007, and operations at the Chino and Tyrone operations are continuing under the Freeport name.

Tourism, retirement and trade are the other major components of Silver City's economy. In 2006, an average home sold for about $160,000 for a three-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot (140 m2) house.[9]

Arts & culture

Silver City is home to many musicians and artists and has a thriving downtown arts district.[10][11] The Silco Theater, built in 1923, is undergoing renovations to return it to a 200-seat community movie house.[12]

Mimbres Region Arts Council (MRAC)[13] has been named #1 arts council in New Mexico for a decade and is the recipient of the 2013 New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. MRAC presents the Silver City Blues Festival each May and Pickamania—a Bluegrass, Americana, Folk and acoustic festival—each September, in addition to a number of other arts events throughout the year. MRAC's Youth Mural Program has brought school children together with artists and community members to create over 40 public murals throughout the region.

Grant County Community Concert Association presents numerous performance events each Fall/Winter.[14] The first Southwest Festival of the Written Word [15] was held in 2013, at multiple venues in historic downtown Silver City. Over 50 presenters—fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, bloggers, journalists, lyricists, editors, dramatists, and publishers from throughout the Southwest—were represented.

The Red Paint Pow Wow, Chicano Music Festival, Silver City Clay Festival, Red Dot Studio & Gallery Tours, Chocolate Fantasia, Gila River Festival, Red Hot Children's Fiesta, Tamal Fiesta y Mas and the Silver City Fiber Arts Festival are also held in Silver City.


Public schools

Public schools are in the Silver Consolidated School District, as well as one state-authorized charter high school. The District covers the Town of Silver City as well as Cliff, Pinos Altos, Tyrone, and White Signal. The system has five elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools.

Elementary schools

  • Cliff Elementary
  • G.W. Stout Elementary
  • Harrison H. Schmitt Elementary
  • Jose Barrios, Jr. Elementary
  • Sixth Street Elementary

Middle school

  • La Plata Middle School
  • Aldo Leopold Charter School (middle school and high school)

High schools

  • Cliff High School
  • Opportunity High School
  • Silver High School
  • Aldo Leopold Charter School (middle school and high school)

Private schools

Private schools include:

  • Agape Academy
  • Calvary Christian Academy
  • Down to Earth School
  • Guadalupe Montessori School
  • Meadowhawk Erdkinder




Major highways

Points of interest

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is about 44 miles (71 km) north of Silver City, via the winding NM 15. At the monument, the remains of Indian inhabitants within five caves in a cliff can be found. They were built sometime between 1275 and 1300 AD by the Mogollon culture. In addition to ancient ruins, there are plenty of places to camp, hike and fish within the Gila Wilderness.

The Catwalk is a trail enclosed by a metal walkway that suspends 25 feet (7.6 m) above the Whitewater Canyon hugging the canyon walls. It follows water-pipe routes built by miners in 1893. When the pipes needed repair, the miners walked on them. Visitors can explore the walkway and trail, picnic, and enjoy the river. It is located 70 miles (110 km) north of Silver City on U.S. Route 180 near Glenwood, New Mexico.

There are several lakes in the area. Lake Roberts is 72-acre (290,000 m2) about 27 miles (43 km) north of Silver City on NM 15 near the NM 35 junction. Other lakes in the Silver City area include Bill Evans Lake, Snow Lake, Wall Lake, Bear Canyon Dam. Anglers have a choice of brown and rainbow trout, catfish and bass. In addition, several mountainous rivers can be found nearby. Some of note are the Gila River, Negrito Creek, San Francisco River, and Willow Creek.

City of Rocks State Park is an area of interesting rock formations created by volcanic eruptions long ago. People can enjoy climbing the rocks, picnicking, and camping. The City of Rocks is located off NM 61.

The Kneeling Nun is a natural rock formation located about 20 miles (32 km) to the east of Silver City along NM 152. Several legends have developed explaining its origin.[16][17]

Notable people

  • ("Billy the Kid"), outlaw, aka Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, William H. Bonney
  • Ben Lilly (1856–1936), hunter and mountain man
  • James Tenney (1934–2006), composer, was born in Silver City
  • Norman Packard, physicist[18]
  • Doyne Famer, physicist[18]
  • Harrison Schmitt, astronaut
  • Karen Carr, artist
  • Philip Connors, writer
  • Phillip Parotti, fiction writer and educator[18]
  • Jeff Bingaman, Senator of New Mexico, grew up in Silver City.
  • Paul Benedict, actor, "Harry Bentley" on The Jeffersons[19]
  • Ralph Bakshi, animator, director, producer, writer, actor, painter
  • Ralph Kiner (1922-2014), born in Santa Rita (Silver City area), baseball player, Hall of Fame inductee, combat pilot, broadcaster for New York Mets
  • William Harrell Nellis, born in Santa Rita (Silver City area)
  • Poker Alice, frontier gambler, lived for a time in Silver City as well as in Colorado and South Dakota
  • Geronimo, born at the headwaters of the Gila River (north of Silver City)
  • Victorio, Apache war leader who roamed and attacked area
  • Cochise, Apache war leader who raided surrounding area
  • Mangas Coloradas or Dasoda-hae (known as Red Sleeves), Apache war leader who roamed the Silver City area
  • Naiche, Apache war chief, second son of Cochise; mother was daughter of Mangas Coloradas, roamed area with Geronimo
  • Nana, Apache war leader who roamed the Silver City area
  • General "Black Jack" Pershing, U.S. Army general, first duty station at Fort Bayard (9 miles west of Silver City), General of the Armies
  • General George Crook, U.S. Army Major General
  • Judge Roy Bean, frontier judge and outlaw, operated a merchandise store and saloon on Main Street in Pinos Altos (just north of Silver City)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, outlaws, were familiar with every saloon and "soiled dove" in Silver City
  • Cathay Williams, first African-American female to enlist in the US Army (posed as a man).
  • Kit Carson, western scout and frontiersman, in 1829 went into Apache country along the Gila River, where he first saw combat.
  • Alfred Shea Addis (1832-1886), photographer who photographed "Billy the Kid's" mothers home, lived in Silver City and acted as Sheriff in 1886.

In popular culture

Silver City was the finish line in the 2001 movie Rat Race, in which several people race from Las Vegas, Nevada to a locker containing $2 million in Silver City's train station. In reality, there is no longer a train station in Silver City.

Silver City is referenced in the 2007 movie There Will Be Blood, whose screenplay was written by Paul Thomas Anderson and was based on the 1927 novel, Oil! by Upton Sinclair.[20] Upton Sinclair based his novel on the experiences of Edward L. Doheny, a prospector and oil tycoon living in the Silver City area (near Kingston, New Mexico). In the movie, Henry, the man claiming to be Daniel's half-brother, says that he had been in Silver City for two years drilling on his own.

In the 1956 film Backlash starring Richard Widmark as Jim Slater, Slater goes to Silver City with the body of the deputy sheriff he killed. Slater is advised to leave quickly for Tucson by the sheriff who advises him "We don't like gunfights here in Silver City".

In the 2010 road trip movie Friendship!, the two friends Veit and Tom are stopped and arrested by Silver City police because of driving naked. Since their car was damaged, they need to rest and raise some money in Silver City for getting their car repaired before being able to continue their trip.


  1. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  2. ^ “Destruction of Main Street”, Silver City Daily Press, July 9, 1975, p. 7
  3. ^ "Seasonal Temperature and Precipitation Information". Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved April 1, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  6. ^ "American FactFinder".  
  7. ^ Ericson, Duane (2007). Silver City Narrow Gauge. M2FQ Publications. 
  8. ^ New Mexico Business Journal, 9-07, p. 31
  9. ^ New Mexico Business Journal, 9-07, p. 33
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Mimbres Region Arts Council
  14. ^ County Community Concert Association
  15. ^ Southwest Festival of the Written Word
  16. ^ Southwest Crossroads: The Kneeling Nun.
  17. ^ Southwestern New Mexico: Kneeling Nun Legend.
  18. ^ a b c Bass, Thomas A., The Predictors, 1999, Henry Holt Publishing, p. 54
  19. ^ "Paul Benedict dies at 70; actor from 'The Jeffersons' and 'Sesame Street'," Los Angeles Times, retrieved online on January 5, 2009.[2]
  20. ^ "Reel NM: Dan Mayfield Talks Movies: Something Terrific in State of Utah, Friday, January 25, 2008." Dan Mayfield, The Albuquerque Journal,

External links

  • Official website
  • Official Silver City Tourism website
  • Silver City & Grant County Chamber of Commerce
  • Silver City on New Mexico Dept. of Tourism website
  • Cycling Race Hosted In Silver City
  • Flowers and Plants in the Silver City area
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