About This City

Visit the The Branigan Cultural Center's online version of the Las Cruces History Exhibit.

Las Cruces was founded in 1849 in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico. The area had long been occupied by Native American groups, Spanish explorers, and Mexican colonists. Over the years, wars and international treaties have changed control of the area several times, to Spain, Mexico, the United States, and the Confederacy.

~ How We Got Our Name ~
There are multiple theories as to how Las Cruces got its name. One theory suggests that sometime during the 18th Century, a bishop, a priest, a Mexican Army colonel, a captain, four trappers and four choir boys were attacked near the Rio Grande and only one - a boy - survived. Crosses were erected in their honor, and the name, El Pueblo del Jardin de Las Cruces, (the City of the Garden of Crosses,) evolved.

Other stories say multiple crosses were erected in the area to mark the grave sites of the many victims of Apache raids. Still another story is that a group of 40 travelers from Taos, NM were killed just as they reached Las Cruces. But some people feel that the name is simply the Spanish translation for "crossing" or "crossroads."

~ Billy the Kid ~
Las Cruces has been the haunt of many notable figures, such as Geronimo, Victorio, Albert Fall and the discoverer of Pluto, the late Clyde Tombaugh. But none have garnered more attention than the most infamous outlaw in the West, William H. Bonney, a.k.a., Billy the Kid.

In 1880, Billy the Kid stood trial in a Mesilla, NM courtroom for the murder of Andrew “Buckshot” Roberts. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang by Judge Warren Bristol. During his sentencing, Judge Bristol told Billy he was to be hung “until you are dead, dead, dead!" Legend has it that Billy shouted back, "And you can go to hell, hell, hell!"

He was taken to Lincoln, NM where he escaped while awaiting execution. He was later shot and killed by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881. (Garrett was murdered not far from Las Cruces Weather!) The building in Mesilla that housed the jail and courtroom are still standing and the iron jail cell that held him is on display across the street in the Gadsden Museum. Another historical landmark still standing in Mesilla is the old Butterfield Stage Depot. Today it is home to La Posta, a restaurant with a worldwide reputation for its Mexican food.