Our History

The settlement of Las Cruces was founded in 1849 when the U.S. Army first surveyed the town, thus opening up the area for American settlement. In 1907, Las Cruces was officially incorporated as a town, and in 1912, New Mexico was awarded statehood, becoming the country’s 47th state. The town was named, "Las Cruces," after three crosses which were once located just north of the town. By this time, Las Cruces had its first water system, electric power, an ice factory, cold storage factory, cannery, and steam laundry. Las Cruces also had a superintendent of schools and 13 teachers. Land sold for $25 to $50 an acre.

By the 1920s, Las Cruces’ population was close to 4,000 residents, and by 1940, it was almost 9,000. But the United States’ involvement in World War II dramatically affected life in Las Cruces. More than 2,000 New Mexicans died in the war, many of them on the Bataan Death March, and many of them were from southern New Mexico.

Another consequence of the war was a shortage of farm labor, leading to the establishment of the Emergency Farm Labor Program, which brought more than 900 German and Italian POWs to New Mexico to help farmers battle the labor shortage.

Growth of Las Cruces has been attributed to the university, government jobs, and recent retirees. The establishment of White Sands Missile Range in 1944 and White Sands Test Facility in 1963 has been integral to population growth. Las Cruces is part of the bi-national, tri-state region known as the Borderplex. The region offers collaborative working, education, and cultural environments between Las Cruces, NM; El Paso, Texas; and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

In 2021 archaeologists announced the discovery of fossilized footprints in gypsum soil at White Sands National Park, less than 60 minutes east of Las Cruces. Previously, archaeologists believed humans arrived in North America between 13,500 and 16,000 years ago. The White Sands discovery proves that humans have been living here – in our backyard – for roughly 23,000 years making it the oldest-known existence of humans in North America.

Prehistoric Trackways National Monument
The Prehistoric Trackways National Monument site includes a major deposit of Paleozoic Era fossilized footprints in fossil mega-trackways of land animals, sea creatures, and insects. There are also fossilized plants and petrified wood present, as well as plenty of marine invertebrate fossils including brachiopods, gastropods, cephalopods, bivalves, and echinoderms. Much of the fossilized material originated during the Permian Period and is around 280 million years old. Some of the animals who may have left tracks in the Robledo Mountains include Dimetrodon, Eryops, Edaphosaurus, and multiple other pelycosaurs. There are at least 13 major trace fossils found at the monument.

Gadsden Purchase
The Gadsden Purchase was an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, finalized in 1854, in which the U.S. agreed to pay Mexico $10 million for a 29,670 square mile portion of Mexico that later became part of Arizona and New Mexico. Gadsden’s Purchase provided the land necessary for a southern transcontinental railroad.

While the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ended the Mexican-American War in February 1848, tensions between the Governments of Mexico and the U.S. continued to simmer over the next six years. The two countries each claimed the Mesilla Valley as part of their own country. The Mexican government demanded monetary compensation for Native American attacks in the region because, under the Treaty, the United States had agreed to protect Mexico from such attacks; however, the United States refused to comply, insisting that while they had agreed to protect Mexico from Native American attacks, they had not agreed to financially compensate for attacks that did occur. The persistent efforts of private American citizens to enter Mexico illegally and incite rebellions in an effort to gain territory exacerbated tensions between the governments. With a great deal of difficulty resulting from the increasing strife between the northern and southern states, the US Senate ratified a revised treaty on April 25, 1854, and Mexican President Antonio de Santa Anna signed it on June 8, 1854.

Armando and Inez – Ghosts at the Double Eagle
The lively commerce of the Double Eagle Restaurant must have rejuvenated the spirits of Armando and Inez — two young lovers murdered by Armando’s mother, Senora Maes, in a fit of rage in the mid-1800s. The spirits seem quite active today. The ghosts make their presence known in many ways — never with malice or anger, but more like teens’ high-spirited pranks. Tables left in one spot have been found in a different place the next morning. Wine glasses have been broken, without sounding the motion detector’s alarm. Whispered names and strange perfumes have also been reported. And, most famously, two overstuffed master and mistress chairs sit in the corner of the Salon — the first clues leading to discovery of the tale. The chairs, though rarely used and newly reupholstered to match the decor, show signs of wear. The cut velvet fabric is worn in the shape of two human bodies, one larger than the other, but both small by today’s standards. Visit the Double Eagle (or their website) for the full, gory story. 

Alameda District 
Initially, Mesilla became the leading settlement of the area, with more than 2,000 residents in 1860, more than twice what Las Cruces had; Mesilla then having a population primarily of Mexican descent. When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway reached the area, the landowners of Mesilla refused to sell it the rights-of-way, and instead, residents of Las Cruces donated the rights-of-way and land for a depot in Las Cruces.  The first train reached Las Cruces in 1881.  Las Cruces was not affected as strongly by the train as some other villages, as it was not a terminus or a crossroads, but the population did grow to 2,300 in the 1880s. 

In 1896, Clara Frenger and her friends wanted to make sure people felt welcomed in Las Cruces and had places to rest and picnic on their way through town so they created Pioneer Women’s Park. During the Great Depression, the ladies from the WIA planted trees and shrubs, increasing its appeal. The cultural value of the park to the surrounding area cannot be understated. In the center of the park is an eight-sided gazebo, built in May 1898. Pioneer Women’s Park was donated to the City of Las Cruces by the Woman’s Improvement Association, it dates to 1896.

William Bonney, AKA "Billy the Kid"
On December 21, 1880, Billy the Kid and his gang were barricaded in a farmhouse at Stinking Springs, about 15 miles east of Fort Sumner. Pat Garrett and his posse were waiting outside in the biting cold. Garrett sent to the nearby Wilcox ranch for food for his hungry men and, as they cooked steaks, the aroma of the meat penetrated the farmhouse. It was just too much for Billy and his gang. They agreed to surrender if the posse would share the hot meal with them.

Garrett hauled Billy to the Doña Ana courthouse in Mesilla for trial, which was held in a pink stucco building, today a gift shop on the southeast corner of the Mesilla Plaza. It was built when Mesilla was founded and originally was owned by Narcisco Valencia. He sold it in 1859 to Zanobia Madrid, who operated a store until after the Civil War, when, for a while, it was the county courthouse. Here, Billy was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang, once he was returned to Lincoln.

Pat Garrett is best known for his involvement in the Lincoln County War, but he also worked in Las Cruces on a famous case, the disappearance of Albert Jennings Fountain in 1896.

NM State 
New Mexico State University was founded in 1888 as the Las Cruces College, and the following year became New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts and designated as a Land Grant college. It received its present name in 1960. NM State is the oldest public institution of higher education in the state of New Mexico and one of two flagship universities in New Mexico. 

Today, NM State has branch campuses in Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Doña Ana County and Grants, and with extension and research centers across New Mexico. In 2016, The Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, a private medical school, opened on NMSU's main campus.

NM State is ranked by the National Science Foundation among United States colleges and universities with high research and development. Although early research focused on generating knowledge useful in agriculture and engineering, research soon expanded under land-grant status and space-grant status to all natural sciences and to include all disciplines of the university. The university is also home to New Mexico's NASA Space Grant Program.

Chile has become symbolic of New Mexico culture and is one of the state’s biggest crops — naturally, NM produces more chile than any other state in the country. Chiles have long been used in folk medicine, for their flavor and heat, and lately, they’ve been found to have strong antibacterial qualities. They are loaded with nutrients including calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, and are sometimes used to relieve headaches. Bright red chile ristras decorate our homes. 

The Chile Pepper Institute at NM State is known for developing new varieties starting with “New Mexico 9,” developed in the early 1900s — the first variety with a dependable pod size and heat level, plus a much newer development, a cayenne that is resistant to a devastating pest as well as a new paprika variety that produces the reddest pigments commercially available. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories, which often does research on advanced weapon design, agreed to aim its engineering horsepower at improving mechanical chile cleaning equipment. Chile is big in New Mexico.

Until the 1960s, nearly half of the irrigated cropland was in cotton. While cotton is still an important crop, synthetic fabrics and the migration of the textile industries overseas decreased the demand.

With new varieties of pecans being developed that tolerated the New Mexico climate, more and more of the valley became pecan “forests” to satisfy an increasing demand. By the late 1970s, New Mexico was the second leading state in pecan production. Pecans are “thirsty,” requiring about 5 acre-feet of water to produce well, but drip irrigation systems have cut water use by two-thirds. In 2020, New Mexico ranked first in the nation in pecan production.

The Mesilla Valley also provides “row crops,” such as pumpkins, corn, peanuts, melons, lettuce, cabbage, and onions. We are the major supplier of onions to Mexico. New Mexico onion production ranks fifth in the nation. 

Since the end of WWII, this region has stood as one of the nation’s top locations for aerospace research, testing, and development. Home to a well-established base of firms in the aerospace industry, including Jacobs Technology, Boeing, General Dynamics, Honeywell, PSL, Raytheon, and NASA, as well as a large number of federal, state, and military research centers, this area is a hub for aerospace study and advancement.

White Sands Missile Range
Established in 1945, White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is a test range that functions to support missile development and test programs for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, NASA, other government agencies, and private industry. It is the largest open-air land test range in the country and boasts state-of-the-art environmental testing chambers, an extensive data collection instrumentation suite and data processing, and modeling and simulation facilities.

Spaceport America
The location for Spaceport America — our nation’s first purpose-built commercial space facility — was chosen because of the no-fly airspace (due to the proximity of WSMR) and the abundance of good weather days in the area. Designed to accommodate all classes of aircraft including wide-body commercial aircraft, Spaceport America is also used by numerous private companies and scientific and engineering research programs. The site will soon be capable of accommodating the activities of both vertical and horizontal takeoff space launch vehicles and serve as the base for preflight and post-flight activities.

NASA White Sands Test Facility
The NASA White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) provides expertise and infrastructure to test and evaluate spacecraft materials, components, and rocket propulsion systems. WSTF plays a key role in the nation’s space effort and enables the safe human exploration and utilization of space.