DEMING! WHY DEMING? An Exotic Compromise

By Prinnie McCourt

Florida Mountains. Photo Credit: Ron Wolfe

Long before passports and airline tickets came into my life, I had National Geographic magazine. It was my iPad, my Kindle, and my Bluetooth – long before they were even thought of.

With National Geographic I could dream, plan, plot and escape. With it I traveled to Borneo, New Guinea, and the Galapagos Islands before I was ten, and my parents had no idea I was gone.

But soon even that magazine wasn’t enough. I grew up, got a job that involved world travel and lived my dream. For a while. Then I got married, settled down on the East Coast  and reverted back to National Geographic, my secret vice, marking time until I could once again become a citizen of the world without boundaries or borders.

Suddenly it was time to retire with a husband who’d once traveled the world (with the Marines) but had no interest in relocating and no desire to spend his leisure years as a “foreigner.” So, short of divorce, how does one who’s travel hungry compromise with one who is all traveled out? If you live on the East Coast (New Jersey, to be specific) you GO WEST!

It was amazingly easy at first. My husband spent his youth in movie theaters watching Westerns then spent his adult years sublimating his desire to be a desert rat or prospector.

When our first Social Security checks arrived we packed his nostalgia and my National Geographics into our new RV and headed west, which by New Jersey definition is anywhere left of Pennsylvania.

We searched diligently for our perfect compromise – exotic, exciting environs within the contiguous 48. We almost settled on riverfront property in Arkansas but the sight of all of those cute little tornado shelters in every backyard persuaded us to reconsider what we considered exciting.

We ended up in Albuquerque, home of Navajo jewelry, Spanish Colonial Churches, and tourists. Then we hooked a left and drove south until we ended up in Mexico – or as close as we could get without a passport – Luna County, New Mexico right on the international border or Frontera, as on our Mexican neighbors’ license plates. Since culturally, historically and linguistically the border is blurred, New Mexico’s license plates include the letters USA.

This is just the beginning of exotic overload. Southwest New Mexico has become the Land of Compromise for us – the foreign adventure of my dreams and the familiar embrace of the USA for my husband. It’s the ultimate tradeoff.

There are few trees in the desert; disorienting to those from states where trees are taken for granted.  In exchange you get unimpeded views of the sky including stars, constellations, meteor showers, lightening displays, sunsets, and 360 degrees of horizon.

Then there’s the language. Back East you hear English. Out here it’s a Spanish immersion course. Trips to supermarkets are as linguistically effective as the Rosetta Stone Program and cheaper.

Other tradeoffs include: Legal highway speed limits, 75 vs 55; Twenty five brands of tortillas vs five of white bread; Salsa instead of ketchup; Mariachi vs Rock or Rap; Coyote serenades instead of police sirens; Whiffs of roasting chilies vs airborne petrochemical fumes; Open range vs urban sprawl.

So, you see, here in SW New Mexico, USA, you can have your international pastel and eat it, too.

Apache Homelands Update

Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous











In the popular Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears A Who, the elephant Horton needs the help of all of Whoville, a small community on a clover flower, to help save their community from destruction.

The mayor said to the Whoville community, “You’ve got to prove that you really are there! So call a big meeting. Get everyone out. Make every Who holler! Make every Who shout! We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts! So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

I think this parable is relevant to Deming’s future economic opportunity and the jobs the Apache Homelands casino will bring to the region.

While the Fort Sill Apache Tribe is moving forward with the federal government to gain approval for the Apache Homelands casino, now would be a good time to tell your elected officials what you want. This fall, we encourage you to call or email the Governor’s office and request a meeting with the Governor or her staff. Tell the Governor how important this casino project is to the future of our southwestern New Mexico community and economy.

The support that we have received through letters and petition signatures has been huge, but we still need more help to move this project into action. While we are working to persuade the Governor and other federal officials to approve this economic milestone for Luna County, every voice and opinion matters and can help us move forward. As citizens, it is your right to voice your support and your opinion.

With our application sent to the federal government for approval and our required environmental reviews complete, the next step in building the Apache Homelands casino is telling the government how vital this project is to the local economy.

Now, the Fort Sill Apache need your help and support to convince the government to approve the Apache Homelands casino.

Any efforts to meet with the Governor or her staff will have an impact, just as Horton the elephant had on saving the unseen town of Whoville. Please set up a meeting for yourself and your friends and neighbors. To set up a meeting with the Governor, call 505-476-2200 or fill out a meeting request form here:

In setting up a meeting, mention that it will be in regards to economic development or Indian affairs.

These meetings can be coordinated through our casino manager, Gary Meyers. Gary can be reached at 575-694-2290 or at

Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous


By Prinnie McCourt

Merlin McGee’s Christmas Train. Photo Credit: Prinnie McCourt

“You can’t miss my house. There’s a forty foot train in the front yard.”

He was right. I couldn’t miss the Christmas train, or the full-sized sleigh with seven not-so-tiny reindeer, or this jolly old elf driving up in a golf cart to welcome me. That was my introduction to Merlin McGee whose yard and head full of projects benefit the community. The train and sleigh are highlights of Deming’s Christmas Lights Parade and the squad of 7-foot tall nutcracker soldiers guarded the Deming Luna County Visitors Center for the first time last Christmas.

Looking around his yard I couldn’t help saying, “Wow, how magical.”

“Of course,” Merlin answered with a Santa smile. “I’m Merlin the Sorcerer,” he teased. “I sat next to King Arthur at the Round Table.”

All these “magical” projects are Merlin’s answer to a doctor who, after examining him, suggested he go home, do nothing that would strain his lungs, and wait for the end. “That was six years ago, I’m now seventy-nine and I plan to keep doing things until I just fall over.”

Merlin pointed to the black locomotive and red caboose powered by a garden tractor hidden behind the full-sized cowcatcher in front. “I’m making another passenger car to add to the train for the next parade,” he confided. “I’m also building a full-sized, 1900s ice wagon for the parade complete with plastic ice blocks which will leave a trail of real water as they “melt.”

What makes Merlin’s creations even more magical is his list of health problems. “Back in 2006 doctors at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix said I had pulmonary arterial hypertension which makes it real hard to breathe, especially when walking.”

The only concession he makes is using the golf cart to carry tools and materials from one project to another.

Recent cataract surgery improved his vision, although his right eye is permanently damaged from an old injury. He also has Meniere’s which can affect hearing and balance.

Merlin was born in Iowa in 1933. The family moved to Moline, Illinois where he became Plant Layout Engineer for International Harvester.

In the 1960s his father answered an ad in Popular Science magazine and sent a $5 down payment to Deming Ranchettes. Seven years later, on Merlin’s 34th birthday the family moved to Deming.

He credits his father, Guy McGee, for influencing almost everything in his life from his mechanical and construction skills to his work ethic. That same work ethic led to his vow to continue his projects until his last breath.

Merlin’s interest in mechanics was evident at an early age. While the four-year-old was explaining the inner workings of an old fashioned lawn mower the blades moved and he lost the tips of his left pinky and ring finger. “They found the fingertips but in 1937 doctors didn’t know how to reattach them,” he explained.

In Deming, Merlin and Guy began building prefab homes for the National Home Company. By retirement he’d built over 200 homes in Deming and Columbus. They went up so fast that observers swore he had help from Merlin the Magician.

“We’d pull trucks up to an empty lot at 6 am. By 3 pm there’d be a house with a roof sitting there!” Merlin said. “It would be move-in-ready within three weeks.”

“I shouldn’t have retired, but I’d collected and restored two Studebakers and dreamed of traveling around America in my 1960 Studebaker convertible. It never happened. Instead I began building the stick-built house I’m in now.”

Merlin’s working on new projects now; some of which might benefit Deming, some personal. Looking for grants to go solar, he’s planning to convert his house and golf cart. The ideas and projects go on and on.

And Merlin McGee, powered by the determination to work till he drops, goes on too.


By Averil Darlington

Cancer Support Center vans transport patients free of charge. Photo credit: Averil Darlington

The jewel of our local non-profit organizations is our eight year old Cancer Support of Deming and Luna County formed after we discovered the American Cancer Society limits support for rural to distribute brochures.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Closer to home the numbers are even worse in Luna County compared with the rest of New Mexico or the nation.

A small group of local individuals, including cancer survivors and family members, who were aware of the many expenses not covered by insurance decided to remedy the situation. They understood the distances involved in obtaining treatment and sophisticated tests not available locally.

Many were familiar with the stress and expenses for family members driving patients to and from Las Cruces, Silver City, El Paso or Albuquerque which sometimes required overnight stays.

Recognizing donations and volunteerism as viable and commendable forces in Luna County they formed Cancer Support of Deming and Luna County, a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization to raise funds to assist area cancer patients. Most recently the 2012 Walk-a-thon, held in April raised over $62,000.

There are no situational or financial requirements for application to the program. Anyone with a legitimate cancer diagnosis is accepted.

The Cancer Support Center is governed by a 15 member all-volunteer Board of Directors. It currently maintains a fleet of four vans, one of which is wheelchair accessible; has 10 volunteer drivers, one volunteer patient assistant and one paid patient advocate who administers to the needs of approximately 60 patients per year.

The vans transport patients – free of charge, to treatment centers in Deming, Las Cruces, Silver City and, in a few instances to El Paso. Volunteer drivers must meet stringent requirements: #1 retired; #2 have no moving violations in the past 2 years; and #3 have their own insurance.

If patients choose to travel with their families, are able to drive themselves or cannot utilize the van program, the voucher program is also available. During 2011 there were 77 patients who took advantage of this program, receiving almost $20,000 in fuel vouchers.

However, the Center does encourage patients to take advantage of the van program since there is support in numbers, and camaraderie with other people with the same ailment is a widely accepted therapeutic tool contributing toward recovery.

One volunteer patient assistant rides along to help patients boarding and leaving and to assist with patients’ well being while the driver concentrates on the road.  More importantly they encourage conversations during the ride to make the trips less boring.

A large commercial van is available only for wheelchair patients but the majority of patients use walkers and are able to get into the caravan-type vehicles.

The Cancer Support Center also maintains a much needed free-to-the patient supply of wigs, scarves, hats, jackets, comforters and blankets donated by locals. They also have a supply of walkers, wheelchairs, and prosthetics.


The 19th Century’s Greatest Scam Artist

By Ruth O’Donnell

James Addison Reavis

In the summer of 1896, James Addison Reavis was sentenced by a federal court in Santa Fe, New Mexico to a two-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine, convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States government. The attempted fraud was a claim Reavis filed in the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims on September 2, 1887, for a purported Spanish Land Grant (the Peralta Grant) of approximately 12,000,000 acres, an area “bigger than the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island put together.”  The territory ran the length of the Gila River from Arizona into New Mexico. North to south it covered all of Maricopa County (including Phoenix), most of the White Mountains, and a large portion of what is now Socorro and Grant Counties in New Mexico, with Silver City marking the eastern border.

Reavis had dozens of boxes of documentation supporting his claim. He had, however, forged most of those documents himself.

His career as a forger began as a soldier in the Confederate Army, where he easily forged his commander’s signature on furlough forms.

Years later as a real estate agent in St. Louis, MO, he forged real estate documents for clients. One client, George Willing, told Reavis he’d bought a large Spanish land grant from an old Mexican near Prescott. When Willing died Reavis began to hatch his scheme to claim a large portion of Arizona and New Mexico for himself.

After buying mineral rights to the claim from Florin Massol (who had already sold them to the now deceased George Willing), Reavis realized this original claim was unprovable. He then set about creating for himself a much larger Spanish Grant – inventing the Peralta family and eventually creating “documented proof that the Peralta Grant was not only authentic, but that his wife was the legitimate heir to the Grant.

Dona Sophia Micaela Maso Reavis y Peralta de la Cordoba, third Baroness of Arizona

Actually, Reavis’ wife was no more a Peralta than he was. It is widely believed she was a part-Indian orphan Reavis personally groomed (ala Pygmalion) to be “Dona Sophia Micaela Maso Reavis y Peralta de la Cordoba, third Baroness of Arizona” and married her in 1883.

Between 1883 and 1893, Reavis and his entourage traveled widely through the United States and Europe convincing politicians, royalty, and powerful corporate and financial figures that his claim to the Peralta Grant was legitimate. He was so good spinning a tale, none of the people who gave him credibility actually looked at his documents, the oldest of which dated back to the spring of 1758 when the Viceroy of New Spain supposedly issued the Land Grant to Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Cordoba.

If anyone had looked at the documents, they might have noticed obvious forgeries – words on the title page of the original Spanish Grant being spelled incorrectly. Instead they listened to Reavis’ convincing story about the history of the Peralta Grant.

As a result in less than a decade Reavis received over $7,000,000 from the men he’d convinced of his claim’s authenticity. Rich benefactors gave him money for living expenses and advances for future “royalties” to be paid once the claim was authenticated by the US Government.

Reavis’ undoing was suing the United States for $11,000,000 in 1893 after his claim was denied on the basis of the “Adverse report of the Surveyor General of Arizona, Royal A. Johnson, upon the alleged Peralta Grant.”

At the 1895 civil trial, Mathew Given Reynolds, Special Attorney for Defendant the United States, presented overwhelming evidence that Reavis had forged entire documents and parts of other documents then had secretly placed them in original document folders in land grant archives in Mexico and Spain.

Reavis’ landlady in Sevilla, Spain testified that Reavis kept special inks and old papers in his rooms where he worked many nights. In addition, Allen’s investigators proved that the typeface on the 1758 Grant was not in existence until 1885, and that steel pen nibs clearly used for signatures on the documents were not available until the 1800s.

At the end of the civil trial, Reavis walked out of the courtroom right into the hands of a U.S. Marshall, who took him straight to jail.

Abandoned by his wife, his backers and his attorneys, Reavis continued to believe his claim would eventually be authenticated despite evidence against him.

In 1913, broke and without friends or family, still calling himself the “Baron of Arizona,” Reavis died of pneumonia and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Denver. He is still famous as the biggest con artist in the state of Arizona and there is a plaque marking the site of his Arizona home on State Route 84 near Casa Grande although the house itself is no longer standing.

Village of Columbus Update

By Martha Skinner

Always an exciting atmosphere of music, food, parade, camaraderie, and hard work, is how I find Columbus Day here in the Village.  It did not disappoint this year, as the First Aero Squadron Foundation celebrated and dedicated the opening of an airstrip on the land they have purchased.  The 60 acre tract, as close as can  be tracked, is part of the original airfield that was used during the tenure of the U.S. Army and its First Aero Squadron here in Columbus.

Two brave souls flew their planes over during the parade and then landed on the new airstrip.  Our thanks to Dick Chevalier and Larry Benedict for their piloting skills and the thrill we all got from seeing their maneuvers.

Then, when you thought things couldn’t be better, our local resident, Paul Salopek, gave a magnificent presentation at the American Legion.  It was standing room only as he took us on a journey around the world in seven years.  Paul will be walking on this excursion exploring people he meets along the way.  He is being sponsored by National Geographic, NPR, and a couple more foundations, so, stay tuned as he starts in January and you will be able to follow him on the website, “Out of Eden.”  Imagine how fortunate we are to have him and his lovely wife, Linda, here in our lively mix.

And, if that is not enough, Sally Farber a local former reporter, has begun a newsletter.  It is called “Que Pasa Columbus” and is published each month, featuring articles about people, events, health news, animal news, the Senior lunch menu, and even some history of the area.   What’s more, it has a Spanish translation too, so it truly is something for everyone in the Village to enjoy.

We are gearing up for the election this month encouraging all registered voters to go to the polls!!!  It is your opportunity to make a difference.


By Nancy Winslow Johnson

German immigrant John Deckert’s Gold St. brewery. In the 1880s burro trains carrying Mexican ore arrived in Deming twice weekly for rail shipment to US refineries. A water trough in front of his business refreshed burros while drivers drank beer inside.

WalMart has started putting out Christmas trees, decorations and unique knickknacks. As usual people with a long list of relatives and friends are spending hard earned money on those things. If only they would look at the price of each of those items and think about how much they would bring at a yard sale next May. That’s where most will end up.

Since 1982 I’ve kept a folder of inexpensive, creative Christmas presents I’ve received or heard about. Only now have I realized all were from New Mexico — no surprise since my closest friends, coworkers and relatives live here. Many times the givers’ money was limited for a variety of reasons. In retrospect I wonder if desperation and love spur our creativity.

Most of these gifts cost almost nothing compared to store-bought presents. They were more appreciated, allowed givers to spread their budgets wider and the gifts took up less time than shopping. The majority were thought up and made by kids!

Farmington:  A brother and sister saw a beautiful $125 welcome mat with Christmas designs in a 1992 catalog. They found similar undecorated mats for $2 each in a Dollar Store and bought ten. Paint and brushes cost less than $15 and the finished product was identical to the original. Relatives still use them every year.

Las Cruces: An early Christmas present. A young couple with 3 small children, new to the Southwest, continued their New Jersey traditions. All year they shopped yard sales for pretty casserole dishes paying as little as 50 cents each. They woke early on December 23 to make lasagna using the same sauce recipe brought to America by their immigrant grandparents. That evening they delivered them wrapped and ready to bake to friends and neighbors.

Albuquerque: A temporarily disabled coworker surviving on disability insurance found cooking distracted her from pain and worry. She made twenty kinds of Christmas cookies over a two week period, storing them in old cookie tins. She bought 22 large red plastic platters for $1 each, one large Santa and two small elf cookie cutters for $3.50. We were delighted when she invited us to drop in for cookies and hot chocolate after which we were each presented a plate of cookies 4” high centered by a large Santa with two small elves on either side.

Chimayo: A young hippy starving-artist trying to break into Santa Fe’s art market was a gourmet cook. He presented patrons, gallery owners, and friends with a new cookie sheet holding eight 4” pots of windowsill herbs and a small hand lettered and decorated recipe book of his favorite dishes using those herbs. It was the best, least expensive PR promotion I’ve ever known. Galleries that wouldn’t have glanced at his work were suddenly anxious to see his art.

T or C: Two teenaged sisters from a large extended family made over 40 personalized gingerbread men and girls ranging from 4” to 18” tall (depending on age of the recipient) for all their cousins and neighborhood children. The largest ones were attached to cardboard templates to prevent breakage and wore red cinnamon gummy bear buttons with the recipient’s name in white icing around the waist; the smaller ones had redhots buttons.

Deming: Once upon a time the bride of a local rancher rose early on Christmas mornings to deliver large platters of warm-from-the-oven cinnamon rolls to nearby neighbors.

Deming: A college student haunted thrift shops for old bright colored brocade or taffeta formals which she cut up and turned into Christmas table runners for friends and families.

Albuquerque: The only expensive unique gift in the folder. A successful lawyer and his sister gave their elderly widowed grandmothers cell phones with unlimited long distance calls to keep in touch with friends and relatives far away then paid the bill every month. Every month his sister arranged and paid for taxi transportation for each to take three friends to lunch. The gift was renewed every year.

Think about it. Our most memorable gifts come from the heart, not from a store.


By Fr. Don Heacox

Fr. Don Heacox

Having lived in Deming longer than any other place, nearly 25 years, making Deming better has been important to me. It seems to me that a number of influential locals are more interested in economic control than in economic development.

Recently I had a thought about unleashing the creative power of local individuals — that oft cited strength of a community. I issued a challenge for an “activist essay” contest, offering a first prize of $175, second prize of $100, and third prize of $25. There were guidelines, a deadline for entries, individuals were limited to three entries, and independent judges would rank the entries:

By the deadline there were only three entries in the contest.

There was unanimous agreement on the first place winner, but the second and third places were not agreed to. Since the second and third place winners were the same person, it really didn’t matter.

The first place winner was Bill Duncan, Director of Main Street. His idea was to use Main Street to develop a farmers’ market of greater scope and permanency than the previous efforts. He has established Main Street committees and developed an organizational structure to publicize, recruit, and develop the potential for local income, for nutrition education, for feeding the poor and the like. In a rural land based economy his approach seems to stand a good chance of being implemented and being successful.

Main Street will be looking for all kinds of help to get this going. I hope many in the community will look forward to and respond to his initiative. Volunteers will be needed in a number of different areas.

Patricia Skillingstad won both second and third prizes. I selected as runner up her idea of “home sharing,” a non-profit, volunteer-run, home share program based on a successful Seattle project. It would match needs of two segments of our population, seniors and those needing work, housing and perhaps mentoring. Both groups are often getting by with limited income. The program could potentially be adjunct to existing organizations like Deming Senior Center or Senior Circle.

The third place winning idea was her suggestion for a “Y” like those in cities across the nation. Unfortunately a “Y” opened here several years ago but failed soon afterward due to lack of community participation.


Tribe Plans Economic Growth in Southwestern New Mexico

By Rachel Cromer

While working with the government to gain approval for development of the Apache Homelands Casino, the Fort Sill Apaches feel that it is not only their legal and historical right to return to the land of their ancestors, but also their obligation to improve their Luna County community, according to Fort Sill Apache Chairman Jeff Haozous.

“To us, this is about both honoring our heritage and joining our neighbors in building a better future for southwest New Mexico,” said Haozous.

Currently, the Fort Sill Apaches are involved in business ventures that bring economic support to their tribal members, and also to the communities in which they reside.

Aside from the Apache Casino in Lawton, Oklahoma and the Apache Homelands Entertainment Center in Akela, the Tribe also owns Fort Sill Apache Industries, LLC (FSAIL). FSAIL is a tribally owned company that provides both government and commercial clients with a diverse range of services including construction, information technology, program management, and technical and administrative support. Some FSAIL clients include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Navy.

With the development of the Apache Homelands Casino, the Tribe plans to establish a FSAIL presence in southwest New Mexico. While a complete relocation of staff is not likely, the FSAIL presence will offer potential for new industries and opportunities in the state. For example, with the abundant sunlight the Land of Enchantment has to offer, Haozous sees opportunity for solar power generation.

Haozous has served as Chairman of the Tribe for ten years, and he is responsible for all business transactions. With his business experience and education, Haozous said he is looking forward to expanding tribal industries in the Southwest.