Tularosa and the Dismantling of New Mexico Community Ditches

G. Emlen Hall
University of New Mexico – School of Law

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth, contested claims to the water of a small stream in south-central New Mexico produced a storm of legal activity. The maelstrom arose out ofthe tangled complications surrounding the development of non-Indian water rights to the Tularosa Creek. The creek was a small spring-fed stream that headed on the Mescalero Apache Indian homelands in the Sacramento Mountains. From its beginnings, the creek ran west, first through a narrow canyon and then out onto a broad plain before petering out in the porous White Sands. Between 1880 and 1919, this unpromising wilderness produced two full trials: one interim district court decree that became final, one final district court decree that was reversed, and no fewer than three New Mexico Supreme Court decisions. l In the eye of this legal hurricane, New Mexico transformed its basic water institutions.

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