San Marcial was a farming and ranching community near Black Mesa (Mesa del Contadero) located on the Rio Grande about 25 miles
south of Socorro. Other settlements in the area included La Mesa, Valverde, Geronimo, and "Old Town" or Plaza Viejo.
A boom began at San
Marcial in 1881 when the the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railroad selected the area as a major railroad hub. At
San Marcial were built machine shops, a foundry, roundhouse with turntable, and other facilities to support the railroad, in addition
to housing for the train and track maintenance crews. Hundreds of men were hired by AT&SF for the San Marcial shops and the
By the early 1900s, the population was around 1,500 persons, becoming one of Socorro County's largest towns. It had a Harvey House,
a bank, churches, schools, mercantile stores, a newspaper, and other businesses typical of a growing small city. San Marcial
and surrounding villages became prosperous communities. The railroad paid good wages which spawned many local lucrative businesses
and personal wealth. With the railroad, the local farmers and ranchers were able to move their crops and cattle quickly and cheaply
to market. Gold ores from the nearby mining town of Rosedale were shipped from San Marcial, as were thousands of head of cattle from
the adjoining Victoria Land and Cattle Company (now Armendaris Ranch). Compared to other struggling towns in Socorro County, life
was good in San Marcial.
The hopes and dreams of San Marcial and her citizens came to a disasterous end in a matter of hours in 1929.
On August 13, a devastating flood roared down the Rio Grande, the result of several days of very heavy monsoon rains that overwhelmed
the river, which is known locally as the "1929 San Marcial flood." However, it wasn't just San Marcial. Flood waters began north of
Socorro that destroyed much of San Acacia, Polvadera, Lemitar, Bosquecito, San Antonio, and San Antonito before reaching San
Marcial. Thousands of acres of fertile farm land were destroyed, buried under feet of silt. Businesses, homes,schools and churches
were erased along the river.
San Marcial did take the blunt of the flood. Sitting at the headwaters to Elephant Butte Reservoir,
filled to near capacity, the floodwaters had nowhere to go. San Marcial sat in flood waters for months causing the adobe walls to
melt and wood structures to collapse. Advanced notice of the arriving flood allowed the area to be evacuated before the flood waters
arrived; there were no casualties. The town crumbled into the murky silt and was never rebuilt. The railroad relocated
employees to Albuquerque, Belen, and El Paso. A few hearty families rebuilt the nearby small communities of Valverde, Geronimo, and
PlazaVeijo. However, these towns were completely destroyed by another flood in 1937. The Army Corps of Engineers stated the area would
always be flood-prone and declared the region untenable, meaning those left destitute by the 1937 flood could not obtain bank loans
or insurance to rebuild. The region has remained completely abandoned ever since except one surviving ranching family.
Marcial floods occurred in days before FEMA or other relief programs. Hundreds of once prosperous families were left destitute. Many
relocated to Socorro and Magdalena to find any employment they could to survive.
The "San Marcial flood" completely changed the
face of Socorro County. A major commerce center was gone with her citizens permanently displaced. A once booming railroad town ceased
to exist, moving hundreds of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars of local spending out of the county. Thousands of acres of
fruitful farm land, cotton fields, vineyards and orchards along the river were lost and never reclaimed. Even the thick
bosque along the river, occupying once fertile farmland, is the result of these floods. Most important are the huge number of families
that were completely wiped out by the floods, many who have never recovered from the affluence they once had.
The effect of the
San Marcial floods is a major chapter in the history of Socorro County and should never be forgotten.