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Aztecs Ruled Complex, Rich Society 17 (1998)From the Editor 17 (1998)Aztec Beliefs Helped Conquer Mexico 17 (1998)Cortés Created New Order in Mexico 17 (1998)La Malinche Remains Controversial 17 (1998)Cabeza de Vaca: Travels in Texas 17 (1998)Estebán Furthered Legend of Cíbola 17 (1998)Coronado Searched for Cities of Gold 17 (1998)Oñate Conquered Desert to Explore Southwest 17 (1998)Festival Celebrates Oñate's Historic Arrival 17 (1998)Fray Garcia Left Great Legacy 17 (1998)Franciscans Brought Catholicism to Area 17 (1998)America's First Highway: El Camino Real 17 (1998)Pueblo Revolt Brought Tiguas South 17 (1998)Tigua Indians Survive 300 Years of Ordeals 17 (1998)Area Missions are Part of Living History 17 (1998)San Elizario Presidio Protected Settlers 17 (1998)Ethnic Terms Can Cause Confusion 17 (1998)
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Change on the Border 15 (1997)From the Editor 15 (1997)Latinos Work To Change Stereotypes In Hollywood 15 (1997)Cesar Chávez: Simple Man, People’s Hero 15 (1997)Shelter For Farm Workers Becomes Reality 15 (1997)Women’s Shelter Helps To Heal The Pain 15 (1997)Home Schools Become Popular Alternative 15 (1997)Renovation May Revive Downtown El Paso 15 (1997)Title IX Changed Women's Sports 15 (1997)Special Olympics Shine In El Paso 15 (1997)La Fe Clinic Serves South El Paso 15 (1997)ASARCO Works To Clean Up Its Act 15 (1997)A Growing Phenomenon: Single Fathers 15 (1997)Stepfamilies Become More Numerous 15 (1997)Teens Rebel Against Authority 15 (1997)Comics Retain Popularity 15 (1997)Tom Moore And Archie Have Timeless Appeal 15 (1997)
Life on the Border: 1950s & 1960s --14 (1996)From The Editors 14 (1996)A Baseball Team By Any Other Name 14 (1996)Drive-In Theaters Appealed to all Ages 14 (1996)El Paso Trolley First to Connect Two Nations 14 (1996)Barbie Doll Revolutionized Toy Industry 14 (1996)Rabies Took Bite of Sun City 14 (1996)Rabies: A Deadly Virus 14 (1996)Border Patrol Used Variety of Methods to Control Immigration 14 (1996)L. A. Nixon Fought Texas Voting Law 14 (1996)Douglass School Served Black Community Well 14 (1996)Thelma White Case Forced College Integration 14 (1996)Steve Crosno: An El Paso Original 14 (1996)Rock 'N' Roll Defined Teen Culture 14 (1996)A Shopping Mall by the People for the People 14 (1996)Chamizal Dispute Settled Peacefully 14 (1996)Turney Mansion Becomes Work of Art 14 (1996)First Hispanic Mayor Elected in 1957 -- 14 (1996)Flower Children Chose Alternative Lifestyle 14 (1996)
Three Decades of History 12 (1994)From the Editors 12 (1994)The Plaza Theater…Here to Stay!? 12 (1994)El Paso Broadcasting: The Stories Behind the Call Letters 12 (1994)Alphabet Agencies: FDR's Brainstorm 12 (1994)Chihuahuita in the 1930s: Tough Times in the Barrio 12 (1994)Hobo Sign Language Targeted El Paso 12 (1994)Self- Sufficiency Key to Farmers' Survival During Depression 12 (1994)Hanna's Story A Holocaust Survivor Remembers 12 (1994)Former Members Recall Life in Hitler Youth 12 (1994)German Prisoners of War Interned at Fort Bliss During World War II -- 12 (1994)German POWs Remembered at Fort Bliss 12 (1994)One German POW's Story 12 (1994)Ration Books and Victory Gardens: Coping with Shortages 12 (1994)Women Changed Wartime Work Patterns 12 (1994)Bracero Program Hurt Domestic Farm Workers 12 (1994)San Pedro Pharmacy Retains Look of the Past 12 (1994)Teenage Fashions of the Nifty Fifties 12 (1994)Rebel Image of Motorcyclists Set in 1950s -- 12 (1994)
Border Customs and Crafts From the Editor 10 (1992)From the Editors 10 (1992)King on the Mountain 10 (1992)Piñatas! 10 (1992)How to Play the Piñata Game 10 (1992)Out of a Cotton Boll Bloom Beautiful Crafts 10 (1992)Cotton Boll Entertains Too 10 (1992)Hands That Create Art and Soul 10 (1992)La Charreada - Mexican Horsemanship 10 (1992)Boots - A Family Tradition 10 (1992)Some Boys Still Grow Up to be Cowboys 10 (1992)Boot Capital of the World 10 (1992)The Magic of Mariachis 10 (1992)Ballet Folklorico - High School Style 10 (1992)New Generation of Mariachis 10 (1992)The Lady is a Bullfighter 10 (1992)The Midwife: Choices for Border Women 10 (1992)Retablos: Echoes of Faith 10 (1992)Tigua Indians: Dancing for St. Anthony 10 (1992)The Aztec and the Miracle 10 (1992)A Hispanic Girl's Coming of Age 10 (1992)Art - Low and Slow 10 (1992)Wedding Traditions on the Border 10 (1992)
Border Food Folkways From the Editor 9 (1991)From the Staff 9 (1991)Tortillas: Border Staff of Life 9 (1991)The Booming Tortilla Industry in Mexico 9 (1991)Where's The Beef? In El Paso! 9 (1991)How Do I Love Thee, Piggy? Let Me Count the Ways! 9 (1991)Tamales By Any Other Name Remain The Same 9 (1991)Rio Grande Thanksgiving 9 (1991)The Tigua Indians: Food for Thought 9 (1991)Corn: The Golden Gift from Our Ancestors 9 (1991)Border Pottery - Function and Beauty 9 (1991)Holy Hot Mole! 9 (1991)Looking Back at the Chile Pepper 9 (1991)Men Behind the Chile Pepper 9 (1991)Hot Peppers : They're Not Just for Eating 9 (1991)Food, Spices Double as Folk Cures 9 (1991)Weeds or Edible Desert Plants? 9 (1991)Cactus: It's Good for You! 9 (1991)Day of the Dead Celebrates Spiritual Tradition 9 (1991)Nutricious, Delicious Beans 9 (1991)Menudo Makes The Big Time 9 (1991)Mediterranean Cuisine: Old Tradition, Fresh Idea 9 (1991)Lenten Foods: From Fasting to Fabulous 9 (1991)Tarahumaras Rely on Nature for Food 9 (1991)Tempting Sweet Breads : Pan de Dulce 9 (1991)
Border Customs and Crafts II From the Editor -- 11 (1993)From the Editors 11 (1993)The Best Little Asaderos in Texas 11 (1993)Glass Work Disappearing on Border 11 (1993)Cockfights Legal in Surrounding Areas 11 (1993)Local Craftsmen Keep Art of Saddlery Alive 11 (1993)James and Joseph Magoffin: El Paso Pioneers 11 (1993)Chile Ristras Brighten Border Homes 11 (1993)Magoffin Home Preserves El Paso's Past 11 (1993)Bavarian Custom Celebrated in El Paso: Oktoberfest 11 (1993)Munich on the Border 11 (1993)Santo Niño de Atocha Called Miracle Worker 11 (1993)Lenten Customs Vary 11 (1993)To Ask is to Receive 11 (1993)Border Maintains Tradition of Posadas 11 (1993)A Visit from Three Kings 11 (1993)Matachines: Soldiers of the Virgin 11 (1993)Dichos Are an Intricate Part of Mexican Culture 11 (1993)Cultural Superstitions Affect Behavior 11 (1993)Que Onda Homeboy! Why Do We Talk Like This? 11 (1993)Traditional Hispanic Children's Games Disappear 11 (1993)
El Paso Women to ResearchEl Paso Women to Research (by name)El Paso Men to ResearchEl Paso Men to Research (by name)
From the Editors 30 (2012)From the Editor, Credits and Contents 30 (2012)Jessie Hawkins and Jenna Welch: Love, Loss and Laughter 30 (2012)Woodrow Wilson Bean: One in a Million 30 (2012)David L. Carrasco Gave Back to Hometown 30 (2012)Cleofas Calleros Made Local History Important 30 (2012)Robert E. McKee: From Rags to Riches to Philanthropy 30 (2012)Kate Moore Brown: A Woman of Many Firsts 30 (2012)Fun in the 1890s: The McGinty Club 30 (2012)
Borderlands Web Issue From the Editor 31(2013/14)Acknowledgements 31(2013/14)Mother Praxedes Carty: Serving God by Serving Others 31(2013/14)Carrie Tingley Hospital and the Couple Behind It 31 (2013/14)Harvey Girls Changed the West 31(2013/14)Jake Erlich: A Big Man in Many Ways 31(2013/14)Vernus Carey: Mr. YMCA 31(2013/14)
Borderlands 32 Tolerance. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 32(2014/15)Henry Kellen Created El Paso Holocaust Museum 32(2014/15)Bicycle Padre Still Working 32(2014/15)El Paso Connections: Ambrose Bierce: writer 32(2014/15)Mysterious Deaths: Bobby Fuller, Rock Icon 32(2014/15)Mysterious Deaths: Tom Ogle, Inventor 32(2014/15)Jake Erlich: A Big Man in Many Ways 32(2014)Harvey Girls Changed the West 32(2014)
Borderlands 33 Service. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 33(2015)Nothing Is Impossible: Major General Heidi V. Brown 33 (2015)Local Latino Soldiers Receive Medal of Honor Decades after Heroism 33 (2015)Vernus Carey: Mr. YMCA 33 (2015)Will the Real Leon Blevins Please stand up? 33 (2015)Carrie Tingley Hospital and the Couple Behind It 33 (2015)Mother Praxedes Carty: Serving God by Serving Others 33 (2015)
Borderlands 34 Inspiration. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 34(2016/17)Building Bridges Instead of Walls: Temple Mount Sinai 34 (2016/17)Ruben Salazar: A Bridge Between Two Societies 34 (2016/17)Luis Jimenez: Art Creates Dialogue 34 (2016/17)Richard "Tuff" Hedeman: The Michael Jordan of Professional Bull Riding 34 (2016/17)Rescue Mission of El Paso Provides Food and Opportunity 34 (2016/17)
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Jim White Explored Carlsbad Caverns for Years

Article first published in Vol. 23, 2004.

By Ruth Reyes, Kyndle Tooke, Audra Graziano and Casandra Jimenez

Jim White, Carlsbad Caverns explorer"I worked my way through the rocks and brush until I found myself gazing into the biggest and blackest hole I had ever seen, out of which the bats seemed literally to boil. ... I couldn't estimate the number, but I knew that it must run into millions." So begins the amazing story of cowboy ingenuity, perseverance and the later controversy surrounding a cowboy named Jim White, who discovered Carlsbad Caverns in 1901 and explored the caves for decades.

Image caption: Jim White explored & promoted Carlsbad Caverns for more than 30 years. Photo courtesy of the El Paso County Historical Society

White was born in Mason County, Texas, on July 11, 1882. He grew up working on ranches in the heart of the cattle business. Favoring "bustin' broncos to books and blackboards," Jim White was educated in the great outdoors.

In 1892, the White family moved to New Mexico, and Jim began work on the X-X-X Ranch, owned by John and Dan Lucas. Three miles away, his destiny waited.

Like other cowboys, Jim White knew of the dark hole in the ground but never felt the desire to explore it until he witnessed the bat flight . In Jim White's Own Story: The Discovery and History of Carlsbad Caverns, White wrote, "any hole in the ground which could house such a gigantic army of bats must be a whale of a big cave."

A couple of days later, he returned to the cave with some crude tools and a kerosene lantern. He cut sticks of wood from nearby shrubs and built a rope ladder in order to descend into the mouth of the cave. When White ran out of rope as he stood on a ledge, he lit his lantern and could see a tunnel off to his right about 20 feet down. Holding onto the wall, he descended to a level surface into a huge chamber. He now saw another tunnel off to his left.

He explored the tunnel to the left first, finding the bat cave. Returning to the large room, he headed for the tunnel to the right where he saw a wonderland. Enormous stalagmites rose from the floor, clusters of stalactites in a variety of colors hung from above and onyx-lined pools full of pure water sparkled brilliantly on the floor. Jim White would return again and again, often staying as long as three days within the caves.

Eager to share his discovery, White relayed his stories to the cowboys who laughed at him in disbelief. One who did believe White was a 15-year-old Mexican boy who began accompanying White in his explorations. All that White and "the Kid," whose real name the cowboys did not know, took with them were crude handmade lanterns, rope, a canteen of oil, and food and water. They wore overcoats to combat the steady 56-degree temperature and high humidity.

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White wrote, "Our lanterns looked like coffee pots. We had 'em fixed with string wicks an' made arrow and crosses on the walls an' rocks as we went along ... we'd come to a hard place and throw our packs over an' then climb down."

In their explorations, White and the Kid discovered an intact skeleton, about twice the size of an average man. When White went to pick up one of the bones, it crumbled into pieces. The skeleton had lain under a water drip for years, softening the bones with minerals and enlarging them with lime. White and the Kid found other skeletons during their various explorations. Archeologists think that an ancient people called the Basketmakers lived in the caverns around 1000 B.C.E. Apaches were known to live close to the cave in the early 1920s.

The bats, however, had been certain inhabitants for centuries. The caverns contained an incredible amount of bat guano. In 1901, Abijah Long , a fertilizer expert, realized that guano could be used as a nitrate rich fertilizer. The following year, Long filed a claim for guano mining inside the caverns, and he offered Jim White work as a foreman. White now had every opportunity to spend time in the caves. In about 20 years, an estimated 100,000 tons of guano were taken from Carlsbad Caverns at as much as $90 a ton.

Throughout his career as mining foreman, White sought to bring recognition to Carlsbad Caverns. Over the years, he lowered hundreds of people into the cave in the guano bucket and guided them over trails he himself had built. When he was finally able to persuade a photographer to go down into the caverns in 1915 , people began to believe the incredible stories White had told about the beauty and variety of the caves.

In 1922, a group of 13 businessmen from Carlsbad went down with White to confirm that he was not a liar. The men stayed with the Whites overnight (Jim had married in 1912) and explored the caverns the next day, beginning a type of bed and breakfast (and dinner) for the family, for which they charged only $2. White often took those who could not afford the $2 fee into the caves for free. He always took reporters in free for the resulting advertising.

In 1923, Robert Holley, the mineral examiner at the General Land Office, was sent to survey the caverns. The skeptic soon became the believer and wrote, "I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to convey in words the deep conflicting emotions, the feeling of fear and awe, and a desire for an inspired understanding of the Divine Creator's work which presents to the human eye such a complex aggregate of natural wonders in such a space."

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It had taken White 20 years to interest someone in the value of the cave. In his book, White wrote, "It occurred to me that since I was unable to interest an individual in further development and presentation, perhaps I could get the government to do something." In October 1923, President Calvin Coolidge declared Carlsbad Caverns a national monument, and Jim White became cavern guide. In 1924, a government geologist by the name of Willis T. Lee also got to experience the caves with White, resulting in pictures and articles in the National Geographic magazine.

When the federal government took over the caverns, it had been understood that White would be named chief explorer. However, no such position existed on park service lists, so it was up to the government to create the position. Thomas C. Boles , park superintendent, supported White in his battle for the position, but White was ignored. The cowboy was allowed to sell his story at 75 cents a booklet in the caverns. The Whites lived in a bungalow built for them at the caverns while he was chief guide or ranger. He resigned from that position in 1929.

White again applied for the job of chief explorer, and with that application he included a petition signed by many, including New Mexico Governor R. C. Dillon and prominent El Pasoans. An editorial in the El Paso Times on September 28, 1929, encouraged the director of national parks to "liberate Mr. White from the routine of guiding and permit him to devote his time and strength to the job for which, ...he is best fitted -- exploring the still unknown depths and recesses of that mighty underworld." White did not get the job.

In 1930, Carlsbad Caverns became a national park. According to One Man's Dream, a book by Ruth Caiar which takes up White's story after his own book ends, an oral contract was drawn up in 1937, permitting his father and mother the sale of the elder White's books in the national park. Even this recognition was not granted until New Mexico Senator Dennis Chavez introduced a bill that would grant right of concessions to White and his wife.

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More controversy arose after Jim White's death on April 26, 1946. A debate with Jim White, Jr., and the National Park Service began after the government allegedly forced his mother to sign an agreement that reduced her income from the books and another that allowed government officials to change White's book in any way they wished.

White's son said, "If we never get a dime more, I want the park officials to recognize that Jim White worked in the Caverns for 25 years before the government took any interest in it, and now they are trying to discredit him."

For Jim White, exploring Carlsbad Caverns had always been a time of joy. His wife early understood that he loved the Caverns almost as much as he loved her, and his greatest wish was to share his wonder and pleasure in the caverns with as many people as possible. In his lifetime, he was an explorer, guano miner, guide, trail-builder, park ranger and promoter for the caverns, profiting little from his activities. Carl Livingston wrote in the New York Times, "Jim White is not the explorer with the pith helmet, tight-legged pants, and horn-rimmed glasses  -- but the genuine article of cowboy tradition."

Today, millions of visitors have witnessed the magnetic qualities that tantalized Jim White to go deeper and discover more. The explorer's legacy is preserved in the name of White's City, located about seven miles from the Caverns, and in the short booklet telling of his adventure when he discovered this marvel, available from the Guadalupe Mountains Association for $4.95.

Today, Carlsbad Caverns National Park covers 46,766 acres and contains more than 90 caves. Only experienced cavers are allowed into most caves. In 1986, explorers discovered Lechuguilla Cave , more than 100 miles long. Because of its delicate ecosystem, Lechuguilla is open only to scientific groups.

Jim White explored these caves for 30 years, using the simplest of tools. Today, the official park guide to the caverns includes a small photo of White and a short summary of his exploration. Each evening that visitors watch the bat flight, they are experiencing the same sight a young curious cowboy did over 100 years ago. Jim White would be pleased.

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