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Shakespeare Ghost Town – New Mexico

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This small New Mexico town has gone by many names, and only acquired its present one in 1879 at the beginning of its second mining boom. Old timers called it Mexican Springs, back when it served as a relay station on the Army Mail line, while for a few years after the Civil War it was called Grant.
In 1870, some of the prospectors hanging around this little station discovered samples of very rich silver ore in the surrounding hills and they went hunting for financing to develop their new mines. Some of them must have had San Francisco connections because they interested the group of financiers connected with William Ralston, at the time President of the Bank of California and, in fact, they renamed it Ralston City in his honor, the man who financed their mining operation. The promising camp was home to some 3,000 people with independent miners flocking in to try to get a piece of the action. However, the rich silver mined out very rapidly but then the rumor began to circulate that diamonds had been discovered on Lee’s Peak west of town. The stages kept running, and the town boomed until sometime in 1872 when the diamond swindle was revealed as a hoax all over the country and most people left town for fear of being implicated in the crooked work.

It was almost a ghost town in 1879 when Colonel William G. Boyle bought up most of the land and goods claims. In an attempt to give the town a fresh start, he gave it a new name, to eliminate memories of the earlier swindles: Shakespeare. With financing coming from St. Louis this time he started the Shakespeare Gold and Silver Mining and Milling Company and the town enjoyed a second boom. Mining operations picked up again, and for a little while, the small town was lively even if it never got a church , a school, a newspaper, or any real law. Occasionally there would be a serious fight and some of the losers might be hanged to the timbers of the Grant House dining room.
In its heyday, Shakespeare was a theater of old western stories filled with colorful characters. Rumor has it that the skinny kid who washed dishes at the hotel in the mid-1870s was none other than Billy the Kid, the popular Old West outlaw and gunfighter who killed eight men before he was shot and killed at age 21. In 1881, notorious cattle raiders “Russian Bill” Tattenbaum and Sandy King were captured and hanged in Shakespeare. Records state that the men were executed because “Russian Bill stole a horse and Sandy King was just a damn nuisance.”

But all that glitters is not gold: the railroad missed Shakespeare by about 3 miles and the beginning of the new railroad town of Lordsburg was only the start of its death. Businesses gradually moved down to the new town to be closer to the source of supplies, the depression of 1893 caused the mines to close and most people moved away to find jobs elsewhere. In 1907 a new copper mine about a mile south of Shakespeare started to work and some of those miners rented remaining buildings in the old town. Many ghost stories date from this era when the older residents seemed to come back to haunt the younger ones.

In 1935, ranchers Frank and Rita Hill bought the abandoned town for a ranch, and they maintained the buildings as well as they could with limited resources. In 1970, Shakespeare was declared a National Historic site. Shakespeare was declared a National Historic Site in 1970. Frank Hill passed away in 1970, Rita in 1985, and they are buried at the top of the hill overlooking the town. Today, the Shakespeare Foundation strives to preserve the town as a monument to the real Old West.

Author’s notes: Shakespeare can be only visited under the supervision of a guide. Contact information and a schedule of guided tours are available on the official website (source of my article. Images from web).

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