White Oaks Driving Tour
White Oaks Driving Tour
White Oaks was named for the white oak trees that grew around a local spring in the foothills of the Patos Mountains. Gold in rich veins drew people to the neighborhood. The discovery of such veins sparked interest in the vicinity of Baxter Mountain, but when gold was first discovered in the White Oaks area is not precisely known. There is evidence that the sheepherders knew there was placer gold (small particles which can be washed or panned out of the gravel) in the canyon as far back as 1848.
White Oaks is dotted with placer deposits, which over the years yielded varying amounts of gold dust and nuggets. There is evidence that descendants of the early Spaniards and perhaps even the Indians worked these deposits long before the discovery that led to the birth of White Oaks.
In 1870, three prospectors, Charles Baxter, John E. Wilson and John V. Winters, were camped at a spring. The spring may have been the one near the Old Powder House. George Wilson, an escapee from jail in El Paso, came to their camp and they shared their food with him. He urgently wanted to make his way westward and walked toward the ridge between Baxter Mountain and Lone Mountain in order to plot his path. Before reaching the ridge he tired and rested. At his resting place he noticed an outcropping of rock that was different. He broke off a piece and put it in his pocket. When he returned to camp rather late, he showed two of the prospectors the rock. They recognized it as gold and retraced his path to the place he had found it. George Wilson had only one aim. He wanted to put distance between himself and the El Paso sheriff. He was offered two ounces of gold, the silver they had left, and a pistol in return for whatever claim he had on the gold. He accepted all of these and headed west.
Numerous mining claims soon followed this transaction. Among them were the North Homestake, South Homestake, and the Old Abe (which was actually named as the White Oaks), the Robert E. Lee, the Smuggler, the Rita, Lady Godiva, Silver Cliff, Miners Cabin and others. It has been estimated that $4,500,000.00 in gold was actually produced. The Old Abe was the leading producer. White Oaks gold was mostly 90% pure with 10% silver oxide. Mining engineers search for formations such as the ones found at White Oaks because the gold is so pure and often found in easily accessible soft areas.
At its peak White Oaks had an estimated population of 2,500 and churches, a newspaper, a bank, opera house, lodges, saloons and well-stocked retail stores. Most impressive was the number of well-educated people who found their way to White Oaks. There was a great deal of cultured social life in this bustling mining town.
Some writers have portrayed White Oaks as a headquarters for a lawless element, but overall this was untrue. Still, as late as 1892 an El Paso reporter was pleasantly surprised to write there was “not a single revolver in sight” during his visit to White Oaks. Some incidents occurred involving notorious people. Billy the Kid (William Bonney) rode into White Oaks on a few occasions. On November 28, 1880, Bonney, Dave Rudabaugh and William Wilson rode into White Oaks with stolen horses which they took to Sam Dedrick’s livery stable. As the posse formed to arrest them, word of it filtered in to Bonney and his pals. They successfully slipped out of town that day, but the following day the posse followed Mose Dedrick, Sam’s brother, as he drove a load of supplies to the outlaw hideout. Deputy Sheriff Will Hudgin and his posse of eight expected trouble, but were taken by surprise when the shooting started. Even though the posse killed the horses of both Wilson and Bonney, he and the others escaped. Remarkably, the trio returned to White Oaks the day after this encounter, rode through town and even took a shot at Deputy Sheriff James Redman. Not surprisingly, some White Oaks men were members of a posse that followed him to the Greathouse Ranch near Corona November 30, 1880. Bonney led the ensuing battle in which White Oaks blacksmith James Carlyle was shot and killed.
The Hoyle house was built in 1893 by a part owner of the Old Abe, Watson Hoyle, for Mr. Hoyle's fiancée, but the young lady never arrived in White Oaks. The schoolhouse was built in 1895. White Oaks had at least two tragedies. A fire in the Old Abe took the lives of eight men and another fire in the South Homestake took two lives.
Shortly after the turn of the century the ore deposits became less profitable. The Old Abe developed a problem with the timbers in the shaft and John Y. Hewitt, one of the owners, shut it down.
Many in White Oaks assumed that the El Paso and North Eastern Railroad would be built through the town and from time to time the newspapers wrote of the prospects for the community after the coming of the railroad. However, those who owned the property wanted too much for the right-of-way and White Oaks was by-passed by the railroad in favor of Carrizozo. Soon after, a town that began as one of the most promising in all of New Mexico sank into oblivion.
Pictures and information were provided by White Oaks Historical Society
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