Cloudcroft Founder’s Series: William Ashton Hawkins

By Pat Rand
Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of the story about the Eddy brothers, John Arthur and Charles Bishop, who brought the railroad to Cloudcroft, and also about their long-time attorney and associate, William Ashton Hawkins. The first story, in December, was about John Arthur Eddy. In January, Charles Bishop Eddy was featured, and this February installment is about William Ashton Hawkins.

William Ashton Hawkins was born in Huntingdon, West Tennessee on April 6, 1861. He attended schools in Huntingdon, and began the study of law in the office of his uncle, Alvin Hawkins, who later became governor of Tennessee. During his uncle’s term as governor, Hawkins moved to Nashville, attended law school at Vanderbilt University, and got a job in the State House.

When Alvin Hawkins was defeated for a second term, William, who had campaigned very hard for his re-election, was devastated. At this same time, he had also fallen in love with a young lady named Margaret in Nashville, who was apparently equally in love with him. Since he had no job or money, his Southern chivalry kept him from courting her because he was in no position to marry. He returned to Huntingdon and began as a reporter for the local newspaper. His editor, seeing how unhappy he was, gave him a complimentary ticket to El Paso, Texas, where he soon became employed by the El Paso Times newspaper, taking the job as a correspondent for the new mining community of Silver City, where he located in 1883.

Hawkins was considering moving on to California, where his brother had gone five years before, when he heard reports that Geronimo and the Apaches were on the warpath, and signed up with a regiment of the New Mexico Volunteers to run them down. He made numerous friends during his service with the militiamen, and the people of Silver City soon accepted him into their society. Hawkins was admitted into the New Mexico Bar in 1885, and joined the law firm which soon became Conway, Posey and Hawkins. The law business became very successful, and Hawkins’ financial situation improved along with it.

Back in Nashville, Margaret, who believed that Hawkins did not love her, decided to escape her sorrow by going to India as a missionary. She explained the situation in a letter to her mother, who promptly sent the letter to Hawkins in Silver City. When he received her letter, he reacted immediately, asking her to return and marry him. They married in Nashville and promptly returned to Silver City, where they set up their new home.

In a short time, Margaret became pregnant, and the young couple looked forward to the new arrival. Unfortunately, she went into labor two months early and, despite every effort, both baby and mother died. In his great sorrow, Hawkins took his wife and baby back to Nashville for burial on what would have been their first wedding anniversary in 1888. Upon returning to Silver City, Hawkins felt that life there was intolerable for him, and he had to get away.

Fortunately, he received two offers soon after his return. One was from an old friend, Ed Doheny, who had left Silver City for California, and would later become one of the wealthiest men in America through his oil business. He hoped to mine the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles to make road pavement, and wanted Hawkins to join him. The second offer was a telegram from Santa Fe stating, “I hope you will be able to come to Santa Fe and talk with me. I have a proposition I think would be very interesting to you.” It was simply signed, “Eddy.” The telegram was very intriguing, and Hawkins was torn between the two offers. He took the stage to Deming and had decided he would get on the first train that was leaving – either to the east or to the west. The first train to leave went east to El Paso, where he boarded a train to Santa Fe and a meeting with Charles Bishop Eddy.

In Santa Fe, Eddy presented a very ambitious proposal. He, together with his brother John Arthur, wanted to develop the area along the Pecos River in southeastern New Mexico. His plan was to build a dam across the Pecos and develop a large-scale system of canals for irrigation. He would build a railroad from Pecos, Texas to a new town that would be named “Eddy.” This would allow farm products from the Eddy area to be shipped to the eastern markets. Eddy closed his offer by adding that he would have a camp wagon with a good cook and a fine thoroughbred Tennessee riding horse waiting for him in Pecos if he agreed. This convinced Hawkins, and thus began a business arrangement that would involve many activities over a number of years. William Ashton Hawkins then proceeded to open his law office in Eddy in 1889.

It soon became apparent that the project was eventually doomed to failure. Floods on the Pecos washed out dams and canals, requiring more capital to continue, and Eddy’s relationship with investor James John Hagerman was a touchy arrangement with both men being strong willed and argumentative. In July of 1898, the Pecos Irrigation and Improvement Company was declared insolvent, and went into receivership. The Eddy brothers had previously announced they were retiring from the Pecos Valley, and that Hagerman would carry on with the project. Charles Eddy told Hawkins of a new scheme to run a railroad north from El Paso to eventually meet with the Rock Island Line and provide a short cut for travel from Chicago to El Paso. Hawkins could have stayed in Eddy and been a valuable asset for Hagerman, but chose instead to move to El Paso and form a law practice there in 1895. From his new office, he continued to serve as the Eddy brothers’ attorney.

Hawkins accompanied Charles Bishop Eddy on a promotional trip to New York, where they talked to bankers and capitalists, outlining plans for the formation of corporations and establishment of bond issues necessary for the promotion and construction of the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad from El Paso northward. Hawkins then guided Eddy through all the legal trials and tribulations involved. He recommended that Eddy establish a $10,000 bond with the El Paso City Council, which convinced them that the Eddy company meant business, and should be the railroad they would deal with.

When the railroad purchased property and water rights from rancher Oliver Lee with the plan to establish a new town of Alamogordo, Hawkins provided the necessary legal documents for the organization of a municipal government. A map of the town was filed and subsidiary corporations were set up for the necessary operations of public utilities. The Eddys wanted a clause in the deed of every lot prohibiting the sale or consumption of intoxicating liquor, as had been done in the town of Eddy. Hawkins pointed out that in Eddy, a bootlegging problem developed just beyond the town limits, and suggested one block where liquor could legally be served. The Eddys agreed, but wanted it placed at the edge of town, far from terminal buildings of the railroad. Hawkins then suggested that it instead be placed across the street from the superintendent’s office, where a man would think twice before entering a saloon for a drink. The Eddys again agreed, and it was done.

Hawkins also investigated the situation involving a lawsuit over the coal mining property at the Dawson Ranch in Colfax County. He studied the suit, predicted the winner, and obtained an option for Eddy to buy the property, which turned out to be a great coal field and the salvation of the Eddy enterprises. When Charles Eddy sold the railroad and coal mines to the Phelps-Dodge Corporation in 1905, Hawkins relationship with him came to an end.

Hawkins remained busy with his professional work and was seldom involved in politics, but was persuaded to run for the Territorial Legislature in 1902. He was elected, and represented Dona Ana, Grant, Luna and Otero counties. For nearly fifty years, he was one of the leaders of the bar in the Southwest, being a specialist in corporate law.

Following his retirement from active law practice, Hawkins, who had remarried and raised a family, lived in the town of La Luz, not far from the tracks of the old El Paso and Northeastern Railroad that he had helped establish. William Ashton Hawkins died in Albuquerque on June 22, 1939 at the age of 78, after an eventful life. He argued that he had accomplished nothing great in life; that he had only done the best he could through the gifts with which he had been endowed.

(c) 2003 Mountain Monthly