While Roswell, New Mexico, has a rich pioneer history dating back to the mid 1800’s, the city is best known as a possible magnet for flying saucers and extraterrestrial visitors.
Visiting Roswell today, the local merchants celebrate their own version of the “Space Age”. Throughout the city, you’ll see kitschy larger-than-life statues of creatures from outer space and drawings of weird aliens on billboards and businesses. Many visitors to Roswell also make a stop at the International UFO Museum and Research Center while others stop for a meal at the Alien Zone restaurant.
When early pioneers from Missouri began settling in what is today Roswell in the mid-1800s they didn’t leave any reports of finding space creatures. They did, however, face challenges in the dry, arid desert settlement which they named Missouri Plaza.
By 1869, adobe buildings were being constructed including a general store, an inn for travelers, and a post office. In 1873, Van C. Smith, a businessman originally from Nebraska, became the city’s first postmaster. Smith’s father, Roswell Smith, was a lawyer from Indiana. The younger Smith honored his father by re-naming the town Roswell.
Roswell had wide open spaces, ideal for ranching cattle and herding sheep. By 1890, the small city was growing in part to the discovery of a major aquifer which could provide much-needed well water. Nine years later, Roswell was chosen as seat of Chaves County and in 1893 the railroad came to town.
John Chisum, the legendary cattle rancher, founded his Jingle Bob Ranch in Roswell in 1854. The extensive ranch was the largest cattle ranch in America at that time. Later, in partnership with famous cowboys Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, Chisum rounded up thousands of cattle to be driven west and north of Roswell to supply the military forts, settlers, and miners, from Santa Fe up into the Colorado hill country.
The New Mexico Military Institute was founded in Roswell in 1891 and is unique in that it is a four-year high school combined with a two-year junior college. Alumni include NFL great Roger Staubach, newsman Sam Donaldson, businessman Conrad Hilton, and one of America’s most talented storytellers, Will Rogers. The New Mexico Military Institute takes pride in having the most appointments of cadets to West Point of any other military academy in the nation.
During the 1920s, Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard had been conducting experiments in gasoline and liquid oxygen fuels for rockets. Goddard’s work kindled the interest of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. Funded by Harry Guggenheim, Dr. Goddard relocated to Roswell from Massachusetts hoping to explore the potential for rocketry in aviation. Many of Goddard’s experiments led to America’s entering the search to send a rocket to the moon.
In spite of a rich history during the Western Movement and other notable achievements of its residents, Roswell is best known today for it’s connection to the often wacky world of alien encounters and conspiracy theories of government cover-ups.
Dating back to a reported finding of debris from a possible unidentified flying object, or UFO, in 1947, folks have streamed to Roswell to learn more about possible “close encounters” with extraterrestrials.
The “Roswell Encounter” as it has become known, was based on the report of a crashed UFO by a sheep rancher in the summer of 1947. To this day, many proponents believe that the U.S. government covered up the facts to diffuse public panic that beings from another galaxy had landed near this remote New Mexican city. Interest in Roswell’s space invader theories has been boosted by films, books and TV shows, as well as reports of sightings on the internet.
On June 24, 1997, 50 years after the first “close encounter” in Roswell on the sheep ranch – the U.S. Air Force issued a report debunking extraterrestrial claims. However, hoards of tourists and outer-space enthusiasts continue to flock to Roswell hoping for a close encounter even if that only ends up with taking a selfie in front of one of the many space creature statues in Roswell.