History

The site of Clayton has been a crossroads ever since time began. About 100 million years ago it was a dinosaur track way on the edge of an ancient sea, and dinosaur tracks and bones are found throughout the area. The most impressive collection of tracks is at Clayton Lake State Park, where over 500 tracks have been documented. This area is open to the public with an interpretive center and a boardwalk around the site.

Native Americans began coming through the area at least 10,000 years ago. Many traces of their passing have been found including various types of pottery, spear points, and even human remains buried in caves. The area was rife with buffalo, deer, and antelope, which made it a prime hunting ground.

The Spanish were the first white men to pass through the area and it is believed that Coronado may have returned from his search for the Seven Cities of Gold following Indian and game trails that led past Rabbit Ears Mountain.

The twin peaks of Rabbit Ears Mountain have always been an important landmark to travelers and were particularly noted by Santa Fe Trail caravans which passed through the area from 1821 through the 1870’s. The name Rabbit Ears was given to the volcanic outcroppings in honor of the Indian Chief Orejas de Conejo who was killed in battle with Spanish colonists in the early 1700’s.

The Spanish, who populated the Rio Grande Valley, came to the area to hunt buffalo and other game every autumn and gradually sheepherders came this way looking for suitable forage for their flocks. After sheep camps were established, ranches began to appear, each isolated from its neighbors, and many days travel from any established towns or trade centers.

In the late 1880’s talk of a railroad was heard and Stephen W. Dorsey, who had built a mansion at Mountain Spring about 60 miles west of Clayton, acquired access to the site where Clayton was eventually situated. A town site was laid out, named after Dorsey’s son Clayton, the railroad came right through the town, and the community began growing in leaps and bounds.

Clayton immediately became a shipping point for cattle and soon big herds were being trailed up from the southern part of the New Mexico territory. The area drew cattle and sheep ranchers and later, farmers. To this day the focus is on ranching and farming.

One of the early visitors to the area was Tom "Black Jack" Ketchum who first came to Clayton as a cowboy with the trail herds. He and his brother Sam later became outlaws and three times robbed the train near Folsom, west of Clayton. Tom was hung in Clayton in 1901 and is buried in the Clayton cemetery.

Morris Herzstein settled in Clayton in the 1890’s and became a prominent merchant and rancher. His son Albert remembers a happy childhood in Clayton and contributed over a quarter of a million dollars to the Herzstein Memorial Museum making it one of the finest small museums to be found anywhere.

Other attractions in Clayton include:  an excellent library featuring a large collection of western literature, a 9-hole golf course, and many green spaces for picnicking and relaxing.  The Kiowa National Grassland northeast of town encourages a stroll along the Santa Fe Trail and enjoyment of the area’s flora and fauna.

In addition to dinosaur tracks, Clayton Lake State Park has excellent fishing, with picnic and camping facilities. Capulin Volcano National Monument has an informative visitor’s center and a view of five states from the top of the volcano.

Clayton has a number of shops featuring arts, crafts, collectibles, souvenirs and other interesting merchandise. For the traveler there are nine eating establishments, six motels, several convenience stores, and a full service campground.

*Hover over the photos below to learn about each photo.
The First Depot. This was the first depot in Clayton, built in 1888. Passenger service was discontinued in 1967 and the last depot on this site was torn down in 1987

The First Depot. This was the first depot in Clayton, built in 1888. Passenger service was discontinued in 1967 and the last depot on this site was torn down in 1987

Oldest Building. What for years was referred to as the oldest building in Clayton was located on Chestnut Street behind the Eklund Hotel. It was built by Walker Brothers in 1888 as a general merchandise store. Through the years it served as a church, community room, attorney’s office, schoolroom, bookstore, etc. It was demolished in 1999.

Oldest Building. What for years was referred to as the oldest building in Clayton was located on Chestnut Street behind the Eklund Hotel. It was built by Walker Brothers in 1888 as a general merchandise store. Through the years it served as a church, community room, attorney’s office, schoolroom, bookstore, etc. It was demolished in 1999.

Clayton Automotive Service. This building was constructed in 1915 and located on the northwest corner of Main and Second Streets. The photograph was taken when W.C. (Bill) Wheatley was owner-operator. He started the business in 1932 and sold out in 1973. After several owners, FNB New Mexico bought the lot. The building was torn down in 1989 to make a parking area.

Clayton Automotive Service. This building was constructed in 1915 and located on the northwest corner of Main and Second Streets. The photograph was taken when W.C. (Bill) Wheatley was owner-operator. He started the business in 1932 and sold out in 1973. After several owners, FNB New Mexico bought the lot. The building was torn down in 1989 to make a parking area.

La Tienda Del Simon* Simon Herzstein’s ready-to-wear store, next to the old Farmers and Stockmens Bank on the corner of Main and First, was constructed during the drought and depression in 1931. According to reports, it was built entirely on the barter system. It was torn down in 1971. Alsup’s law office is in the new building. *The sign is now in the Museum.  This photo was taken during a parade in 1904.

La Tienda Del Simon* Simon Herzstein’s ready-to-wear store, next to the old Farmers and Stockmens Bank on the corner of Main and First, was constructed during the drought and depression in 1931. According to reports, it was built entirely on the barter system. It was torn down in 1971. Alsup’s law office is in the new building. *The sign is now in the Museum.  This photo was taken during a parade in 1904.

St. Joseph’s Hospital. The local doctors needing a general hospital contacted the Catholic sisters in Santa Fe. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth built the hospital in 1921. Construction was by B.C. Froman. It closed in 1962. Now the block between Second and Third and Locust and Aspen Streets is occupied by the Clayton Housing Authority.

St. Joseph’s Hospital. The local doctors needing a general hospital contacted the Catholic sisters in Santa Fe. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth built the hospital in 1921. Construction was by B.C. Froman. It closed in 1962. Now the block between Second and Third and Locust and Aspen Streets is occupied by the Clayton Housing Authority.

Main Street – North Side. A view of Clayton Shows Main Street before 1917 when A.W. Thompson built what is now the Shrine of the Testaments on the corner of First Street. Note the Eklund Hotel’s second Story "opera balcony."

Main Street – North Side. A view of Clayton Shows Main Street before 1917 when A.W. Thompson built what is now the Shrine of the Testaments on the corner of First Street. Note the Eklund Hotel’s second Story "opera balcony."

Baptist Church. In 1902, this Baptist Church was built on the corner of Chestnut and first where the Shamrock Station now stands. It served until 1940. A.W. Thompson in memory of his wife and child gave the bell pictured in the belfry. It is now in front of the Albert W. Thompson Memorial Library.

Baptist Church. In 1902, this Baptist Church was built on the corner of Chestnut and first where the Shamrock Station now stands. It served until 1940. A.W. Thompson in memory of his wife and child gave the bell pictured in the belfry. It is now in front of the Albert W. Thompson Memorial Library.

This is the North side of Main Street as it looked on June 19, 1891, before the advent of the Eklund Hotel.

This is the North side of Main Street as it looked on June 19, 1891, before the advent of the Eklund Hotel.

Clayton Commercial Company. The photograph of this wool warehouse is dated 1891. The warehouse is across Front Street from the Clayton Police Department. The wooden water tank that served only the railroad steam engines and the C.C.C.’s store warehouse no longer exist.

Clayton Commercial Company. The photograph of this wool warehouse is dated 1891. The warehouse is across Front Street from the Clayton Police Department. The wooden water tank that served only the railroad steam engines and the C.C.C.’s store warehouse no longer exist.

Union County Courthouse. The county commissioners awarded the contract for the courthouse to John Hill, designer and builder from Las Vegas, New Mexico, for a bid of $18,000.00. The courthouse and jail were dedicated on December 8, 1894. The roof and portions of the upper story were blown away by a tornado on October 18, 1908.

Union County Courthouse. The county commissioners awarded the contract for the courthouse to John Hill, designer and builder from Las Vegas, New Mexico, for a bid of $18,000.00. The courthouse and jail were dedicated on December 8, 1894. The roof and portions of the upper story were blown away by a tornado on October 18, 1908.