Vado, New Mexico: The Answer to a Dream

By Jon Roberts, Photos Courtesy of Vado Historical Society & TMG

Vado, New Mexico is a small community located in the southern part of Doña Ana County. The history of Vado is very unique when compared to the nearby communities of Mesquite, San Miguel, La Mesa, Berino, Chamberino, Anthony, and La Union. 

The dream of settling a black community in the West came from William Henry Boyer. Henry, as he was known, was born in 1820 in Sparta, Georgia to slave owner George Bowyer and Hiram, a young female slave. Little is known about Henry Boyer's childhood, but it appears that George took Henry, age 9, west to Missouri. From there they spent several years exploring the Southwest. Both George and Henry participated in the Mexican American War in 1846. 

Following the war, George and Henry returned to Georgia. Henry told others about his many years in the Southwest and he kept his dream alive of one day having a black town in the West. Henry persuaded his white half-brothers to purchase a 12 year-old female slave named Hester. Once she became of womanhood, she and Henry married. 

Over the years, Henry and Hester had one daughter and seven sons. Their youngest son, Francis Marion Boyer was born on July 11, 1871 and was the first Boyer born free. As a child he always heard stories of the Southwest from his dad and the opportunity to have a successful black community in the West. Then, as a young man, Francis married Ella McGruder in 1894. Both were educators and helped former slaves and their offspring improve their education.

The murder of a 10 year old black boy and the subsequent acquittal of his white murderer prompted Francis Boyer to move west to raise his family. In 1899 Francis, Dan Keys, and a man named Ragsdale made the grueling 2,000 mile trip to Roswell, New Mexico by foot. It took the trio more than a year before they settled in Roswell. Francis Boyer took a variety of jobs over his almost 20 years there. In 1901, Ella arrived with the couple’s first seven children. 

Over the years, Boyer was able to convince black families that were passing through from back east, to stay and live in the area. By 1920, Francis and Ella were able to legally start the community of Blackdom. This worked for awhile, but then the artesian wells, which were their main water supply, dried up. Because the wells were used as collateral on loans and did not produce as predicted, they foreclosed on the town. This caused racism to rear its ugly head and the residents of Blackdom were "strongly encouraged" to move west. 

In late 1920, Francis Boyer and his family, including 100 year-old Henry, left the Pecos Valley west to Vado. Land was less expensive and more agriculture opportunities prevailed. Six wagons loaded with family possessions headed to the Mesilla Valley and the Boyers' settled in Vado. Soon, they began damming the Rio Grande preparing the alkali sand for cotton farming. The newest settlers found a more tolerant racial environment than was encountered in the Pecos Valley. Henry Boyer spent the last two years of his life telling stories about the Battle of Brazito. He died at the age of 102 in 1922.

By this time, the Boyers and others started renting and buying acres of land. Francis Boyer purchased land from the Brazito Land Company which at that time could be purchased in 10, 20, and 50 acre tracts. Frank Boyer owned almost 500 acres when some Southern white landowners persuaded the land company to limit Boyer and other blacks to 10 acre tracts. Despite this limitation many black families prospered in the 1930s growing cotton in the Mesilla Valley. From 1922-1935, Francis Boyer is credited with influencing 40 to 60 families to settle in Vado.

In 1923 construction began for a school for Vado. The state of New Mexico permitted school districts to segregate students and the Las Cruces and Gadsden Independent School Districts approved segregating the black students. The Gadsden School District put the Vado school building on hold and the children were sent to La Union daily. 

In 1925, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross across the street from the Boyer residence. This incident further motivated Francis Boyer to have a school for the black children in Vado. In 1925, Boyer petitioned the Gadsden Independent School District to build a school named Paul Lawrence Dunbar School. When approved, S.D. Morris of Chamberino was selected to build Dunbar school which was completed on February 10, 1926. Dunbar had four classrooms and held up to 175 students from grades 1-12. At times, when additional space was needed, the school rented a nearby church. 

Segregation continued well into the 1930s, 1940s and through 1957. The Gadsden Independent School District provided black high school students transportation to Las Cruces to Booker T. Washington School.

The black children in Vado played with the Hispanic children and quickly learned Spanish from their Spanish speaking friends. As a matter of fact, black, Hispanic and white kids all played together. A longtime Hispanic Vado resident that grew up in the 1940s and 1950s said that the only evidence of racism was that blacks could not go to the same school as other children.

In 1957 the Gadsden School District ended segregation in of its schools. Black students could now attend schools in the Gadsden Independent School District, including Gadsden High. Since Dunbar school was no longer needed, it became a Community Center for the youth of Vado and surrounding communities.

Francis Marian Boyer was responsible for growing and improving Vado. He died in 1949 at age 78 as a true pioneer. His wife, Ella, continued Frank's work until her death in 1965 at age 92.

Over the years many blacks in Vado have moved elsewhere after graduating from Gadsden or New Mexico State University. The 2010 U.S. Census states Vado's population is 3,194. Only 13 African Americans remain in Vado. The next generation is not staying but they should be proud of Henry Boyer that kept his dream alive, and Francis and Ella Boyer for establishing and developing Vado during thirty years of turbulent times.

Spring 2017


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