Rynerson House 266 W. Court Avenue
William Logan Rynerson was born February 22,1828 in Mercer County, Kentucky. Rynerson studied briefly at Franklin College in Indiana and in 1852 crossed on foot to California where he engaged in mining and also studied law in Amador County along with another young lawyer named Samuel B. Axtel. When the Civil War broke out he organized a company of infantry that enlisted with Company C, First Infantry of the famed California Column. Rynerson advanced to captain and was appointed assistant quartermaster of volunteers.
During the Civil War in 1862 after Fort Fillmore was abandoned, the Union Army’s “First California Infantry” also known as “The California Column” led General James Charlton arrived in Las Cruces and Mesilla. They were welcomed with champagne, dinners, and balls. Wary of Rebel supporters, Charlton refused to set up headquarters in Mesilla. Instead, he set up camp in Las Cruces. His troops used Saint Genevieve’s plaza as a parade ground. The soldiers spent most of their time responding to Indian uprisings, establishing martial law and constructing roads and ditches. They helped build Fort Seldon in 1865. By 1866 more than 340 of the discharged California Column veterans stayed or spent part of their future lives in New Mexico. Eighty-nine of the veterans settled in Mesilla Valley. One of them was 6′ 11” Lt. Col. William Logan Rynerson, nicknamed “The Tall Sycamore of the Rio Grande.” By the time Rynerson mustered out of the military in Mesilla on November 3, 1866, as Lieutenant Colonel, he was much involved in Mesilla Valley life and the following year was elected to the territorial legislature.
Charges of Murder
When Rynerson went to Santa Fe to take his seat in the legislature, he became embroiled in an extended political feud with retired 1st Colorado Infantry Brigadier General and at the time Territorial Chief Justice of New Mexico, John P. Slough. Rynerson introduced a legislative resolution denouncing Judge Slough for generating scathing remarks about his friend Secretary H.H. Heath. Rynerson demanded Slough be removed from office and the Territorial Council approved Rynerson’s requests. On December 15, 1867, Slough threatened Rynerson’s life while Rynerson played billiards in the Exchange Hotel in Santa Fe (formerly the La Fonda Hotel). Rynerson believing Slough drunk, sought to avoid him. The following day he asked Slough to retract his vulgar attack. Instead, Slough drew a derringer while shouting “shoot and be damned.” In defense, Rynerson shot and killed Slough. Rynerson was acquitted by a jury and continued to serve in the legislature until 1870.
Mining Clains and Apaches
In 1869 William Rynerson was the post trader at Fort Bayard and was instrumental with quelling raids by Chief Victoria and the Apaches throughout the territory. In 1870 Reynerson became interested in silver deposits at Ralston (later Shakespeare near Lordsburg) and others near Silver City. Rynerson owned many mining claims in the Silver City area and played minor role in Silver City’s growth of five buildings in 1870 to more than 80 buildings in 1871. he became embroiled in affairs involving the Mimbres and Gila River Apaches. He became an ally of the Gila River Apaches after Charles Drew’s attempt to settle the Apaches on a reservation.
Albert J. Fountain and Statehood
Rynerson again gained a measure of notoriety when he declared the Mesilla Civil Colony land grant defective and staked claims on what others considered their property in 1874. The angry Mesilleros physically removed him from the area. Albert J. Fountain, a fellow of the California Column and a man much noted for his support of the underdog, defended the Mesilleros at a trial where the jury took ten minutes to decide against Rynerson. Fountain and Rynerson fueded much of their lives. One such instance was when Rynerson and Judge Simon B. Newcomb persuaded the territorial legislature in January 1882 to change the county seat from Mesilla to Las Cruces. This action incensed Mesilla residents, the Mesilla News, and Albert J. Fountain. The Mesilla News claimed that Rynerson owned the land where the new courthouse would be located. Shortly thereafter Rynerson and Fountain ended their feud and joined forces to challenge the political power of Santa Fe. At a spring 1884 meeting of county residents, Rynerson, Newcomb, and Fountain denounced “the infamous Santa Fe legislature” for enacting certain bills which benefited only the capital city and burdened the people with unfair taxes. In May 1884 Rynerson, Fountain and six other county representatives attended a Republican meeting in Santa Fe to select two delegates to attend the Chicago national Republican Convention. Fountain formally announced Rynerson’s candidacy for the Republican nomination in an August meeting of the Dona Ana Republicans. In addressing the meeting, Fountain declared that “we come here to nominate the man who in my opinion will be elected our next delegate to Congress. The time has arrived when we should select a strong candidate to represent Southern New Mexico in Congress”. Rynerson was not nominated but was nominated as an Independent Republican candidate. In accepting his nomination, Rynerson declared his sympathy for the efforts of his supporters “to drive from political power the combination of men known as the Santa Fe Ring.” In 1890 Rynerson continued his tireless campaign for statehood. On the suggestions of Rynerson, Territorial Governor Gradford L. Prince appointed fifty-four prominent citizens to travel to Washington, DC to promote statehood. Twenty-nine made the trip in the spring of 1890. Unfortunately, they were not united in their views or matters at hand. In addition, the railroad lobbied to block the legislation to avoid substantial taxation, so the vote for statehood was lost in Washington.
District Attorney and Billy the Kid
In January of 1876 Rynerson’s Californian colleague and fellow transplant, Samuel B. Axtell, appointed Rynerson district attorney for the Third Judicial District, encompassing Dona Ana, Grant, and Lincoln Counties; Rynerson was reappointed in 1878. On April 14, 1879, Rynerson convened a Grand Jury in Lincoln County. The Grand Jury brought about 200 indictments against members of the Dolan faction who participated in the burning and killings at the McSween home. At this time an arrest warrant was issued for Billy the Kid for the April 4, 1878 murder of Buckshot Roberts at Blazers Mill. Billy the Kid was arrested by Pat Garrett on December 23, 1880 in Stinking Springs and brought to Mesilla for trial. In early April 1881, Billy the Kid was put on trial in Mesilla and was sentenced to hang for the April 1, 1878 murder of Sheriff William Brady. Under Rynersons guidance, Prosecuting Attorney Simon B. Newcomb and Judge Bristol chose April 30, 1881, as the date Billy the Kid would hang in Lincoln County. On May 13 Billy escaped and proclaimed Rynerson his sworn enemy. On July 14, 1881, Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Pete Maxwell’s home in Fort Sumner. In 1885 after the Lincoln County troubles ended, Rynerson, partnered with John H. Riley, Numa Reymond, James Dolan, John Lemon, Thomas B. Catron, Albert L. Christy and Henry Cuniffe and established the Rio Feliz Land & Cattle Co. with twelve to fifteen hundred head of cattle on what would have been John Tunstall’s range. And in 1890 was named the Tularosa land and Cattle Company with over 10,000 cattle grazing along the Tularosa River.
In l880 Rynerson, harry Cunnife, Simon Newcomb and Jacinto Armijo formed the Las Cruces Town Company. The Company offered their land for the right of way and Depot Land to the Santa Fe Railroad only after mesilla refused to participate in negotiations for Mesilla right-of -way. In April 1881 the first train arrived at the new Las Cruces Depot.
Before Rynerson’s death in 1893, he had been not only a wealthy miner, a successful cattle rancher, and Farmer, a District Attorney, a lawyer, a county school commissioner, but also a vigorous campaigner for statehood. In 1880 he helped form the Las Cruces School Association, organized the Southwest Stock Growers Association, was representative to the Territorial Legislature from Don Ana County, served three terms on the Legislative Council, helped form the first police force called Company A 1st Regiment – New Mexico Militia, helped organize and build the Aztec Masonic Lodge #3 which was charted in 1877. He served as the Masonic Lodge Grand Master from 1880-1881. In 1889 Rynerson served on the first Board of Regents of Las Cruces College. In 1891 Las Cruces College changed its name to New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanics. Rynerson served on the board of regents from its founding until his death. (The College’s name was changed to New Mexico State University in 1960.) Also in the 1880s, Rynerson was part owner of the Rio Grande Republican newspaper. He invested in cattle, hogs, was a minor figure in the Lincoln County War and was an advocate of modern farming methods. Rynerson was a known associate of The Santa Fe Ring. He staunchly dismissed any affiliation to the Ring up until his death. The owner of a large farm between Las Cruces and Mesilla, he introduced a corn planter and a hay baler when such machines were scarcely known and few in the valley could afford them. During the 1880s Rynerson owned many mining claims including the largest and most lucrative “Modoc Mine” located in the Organ Mountains. The Modoc had its own smelter and a small city which evolved around the smelter to accommodate the workers. The mine operated into the 1890s. Also during the 1880s, Rynerson was an attorney partnering with Edward C. Wade, Simon Newcomb and John McFie.
Home Built in 1870
In January of 1867, Rynerson purchased property directly west of the Acequia Madre (man irrigating ditch) for $300 where his future homes would be built. Three were built on the north side of Court Avenue originally Bonanza Avenue, and one on the Southwest side where the Las Cruces Sun-News currently exists. The only home still standing is at 266 W. Court Ave. and is the current location of Del Valle Design & Imaging. Built-in 1870 the Victorian Queen Anne style home still showcases its original ornate trim, large round porch, spindle work, elaborate rake and frieze details, ornate window and door trim, etched plaster to resemble cut stone, asymmetry, and corbeled chimneys that make this adobe home, along with its limestone foundation, one of the most stellar territorial homes. It’s outstanding feat of frontier architectural elegance created quite a stir upon its original construction. The home is the only adobe Queen Anne style structure in the United States. Today the house remains much as it was when built more than 140 years ago.
Rynerson’s first marriage was to Pilar Cerea in 1863 or 1864. In 1865 they had a daughter named Cosette Rynerson. Shortly after the birth of her daughter, Pilar died, and Rynerson sent Cosette to Indiana to be raised by his sister. On December 22, 1872, two years after building the house, Rynerson, a widower, married Luciana Pope Lemon, the daughter of a California Hacendado (great rancher) and the widow of John Lemon, a Mesilla merchant, and probate judge whose falling to the blow of a wagon spoke touched off the Mesilla Riot. They were married in La Mesilla by Father Augustus Morin. Luciana came to the marriage with five children. John, Candelaria (Calita), Rosa, Julianna (Julia) and Katie Lemon. Julia, who died young in 1900, married Albert Christy who served in the territorial legislature in the 1890s. Rynerson built a home for Calita which was directly East of the Rynerson home and is currently the Bank of the Rio Grande. On September 24, 1884, Calita married Nick J. Kennedy. Julia and Albert took on Rynerson’s house after he built and moved into a new home across the street, currently the Las Cruces Sun-News and the Lofts at Alameda Apartments. In 1883 Cosette returned to Las Cruces and lived with Luciana and Rynerson in the new home. In 1890 Cosette was hired by the New Mexico Agricultural College (NMSU) as their first Instructor in Instrumental Music. In 1892 Cosette and a fellow college professor, Reverand J.A. Lowe who was the professor of ancient and modern languages at NMAC resigned their positions at the college and ran off to Indiana where they were married in July. Lowe left behind a wife Mary and son Joseph. Joseph was planning on going on the fatal trip to Lincoln, New Mexico when Albert and Henry were murdered. But Mary not wanting her son to be gone for such a long trip and concerned that it might be dangerous, made Joseph stay behind. Cosette and Rev. Lowe eventually returned to New Mexico and settled in Socorro. Luciana and Rynerson had two children: Willaim Jr., and a second son, Henry. William was born in 1874 and died in 1925 in Columbia South America. Henry was born in 1876 but there is no record of his death.
William Rynerson died on September 26, 1893, before witnessing William Jr.’s induction into Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and participation in the Spanish-American War. Luciana died on June 29, 1900, and is buried alongside her daughter Julia in St. Joseph’s Cemetery. Rynerson is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces in section A, Block 7, Lot 15 at the south-east corner. He had become a mason in Amador Lodge No. 65 in Jackson, California, 36 miles Southeast of Sacramento. The lodge buildings there and all records, including records of Rynerson s life prior to his time in California were destroyed by an earthquake and fire.