The Artesia, El Paso, and Mexican Railroad: An Unbuilt Swindle

The Artesia, El Paso, and Mexican Railroad was chartered in 1906 to connect Hope, NM with Artesia, 20 miles east, and the rest of the US rail network. Between the 1860's and the first World War, there were thousands of railroad companies formed to complete railway lines all across the United States and beyond. Many, however, never laid any track, and the Artesia El Paso & Mexican is an example of this.

Like many projects, it was the product of necessity and optimism. "One problem faced by farmers in Hope was the difficulty of transporting their goods to market, where they could then be shipped by railroad to other parts of the country. The nearest railroad depot was located approximately 20 miles away in Artesia, and farmers were forced to hitch wagons together and make the slow and difficult trek to sell their crops. A railroad spur linking Hope to Artesia was viewed as a critical necessity to the lasting prosperity of the community. In 1906, plans were drafted for a railroad that would pass through Hope, linking Artesia with El Paso, Texas, and the Artesia, El Paso, and Mexican Railroad Company was formed to build the line." (Okun, 2012)

"The Peñasco Valley Press, Hope’s first newspaper, was established in the same year, and entries in the paper portray the optimism that existed in the town at that time:  “It is a beautiful sight to drive thru the farms of the Hope country; big trees line the canals; fields are waving corn and alfalfa, kaffir and maize greet you; and you are surprised continually at the productiveness of the wonderful valley off from the railroad line some twenty-two miles” – Peñasco Valley Press (1911)

Funding was secured via taxes and private donations. Grading began in early 1911...only to end three months afterward.

From Investigations at the Byrd-Riley Homestead. New Mexico DOT.

According to the Artesia Daily Press in 1986, numerous sources reported that the funding for the project was lost when a financier traveled to England to procure additional funds for the project. The story was that he was killed in the sinking of the Titanic on his return trip, and the money was lost.

The list of names of those lost in the Titanic does not include A.G. Ragsdale, the English financier that was reportedly returning to England to procure additional funds for the project, leading many residents of Hope to believe the money was lost or stolen within the government itself. According to Gregory Strachta, the earliest mention of any involvement of the Titanic would not be until decades later in 1937.

Despite being never built, much of the grade between Hope and Artesia can be easily viewed on satellite imagery still today.

Preserved in the dry New Mexico desert is the grade of the unbuilt right of way of the Artesia El Paso and Mexican Railroad.

Longer range plans for the railroad, had it been built, would have had the road continue west from Hope to Cloudcroft, and then south to El Paso, TX. It is unlikely any grading west beyond Hope took place, and no obvious trace of such activity survives to this day.

From Investigations at the Byrd-Riley Homestead. New Mexico DOT.

Thankfully, Hope remains a village, albeit a very small one, to this day, surviving the lack of railroad access and the Dust Bowl, among numerous other events in the 20th century that doomed other towns of its size around the country. While its population peaked in 1920 with 430 residents, Hope still has over 100 residents to this day, and even experienced slight growth in population between 2010-2020.

Thanks as always for reading!


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