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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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Utopia in Mesilla: The Shalam Colony

Article first published in Vol. 28, 2010.

By Autumn Aguilar and Katie Roby

Dr. John Ballou Newbrough, creator of Shalam Utopian Colony

View pdf version

Inside a horseshoe bend along the Rio Grande in Mesilla, N.M., pushed by the passion of one extraordinary man, a commonwealth utopian society was born, around what it considered to be the world’s most precious commodity: children. Welcome to the Land of Shalam.

On June 5, 1828, in a log cabin on a farm near Mohicanville, Ohio, John Ballou Newbrough was born. This future spiritual leader and author of worldwide renown began receiving spirit messages at a young age.

Image caption: Dr. John Ballou Newbrough chose the Mesilla Valley for his utopian community. (Photo courtesy of New Mexico State University Library, Archives and Special Collections)

His sympathetic mother, Elisabeth Polsley, a spiritualist herself, sustained him on his long road to becoming a physician. By selling wool and eggs, his mother scraped together money to send John to high school in Cleveland.

Once there, John worked for his room and board in the home of dentist Dr. F. S. Slausen by helping to make dental plates and taking impressions for false teeth. It was during this time that he encountered the plight of the poor, including their lack of health care. After years of hardships, he graduated from Cincinnati Medical College and started his practice as a physician.

Lee Priestley, a Las Cruces historian, wrote in her book Shalam: Utopia on the Rio Grande 1881-1907 that the constant contact with suffering and death led the soft-hearted man to become a dentist. He set up practices successively in Dayton, Cincinnati and New York City.

Remembering the poor and needing money to provide services for them, Dr. Newbrough left his practice and joined the California Gold Rush of 1849. He struck it rich and became business partners with another miner from Scotland, John Turnbull. The two men got lucky again off gold in Australia.

In 1857, John Turnbull’s sister Rachel and Newbrough were married, setting up residence in New York City. They had three children, one dying in infancy. Little is recorded about the other two.

Newbrough never forgot the underprivileged, using his own funds to support mothers and children and to fund private charities. He was one of the first individuals to consider alcoholism a disease and established a farm where patients could be treated. Looking for an answer to society’s evils, Newbrough immersed himself in selfpurification. He became a strict vegetarian and carried out severe forms of chastity for both body and mind, which he epitomized by bathing and changing clothes twice daily.

Newbrough traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia. He studied ancient religions and civilizations and received instruction from spiritualists. He returned to New York City with the intention of using his knowledge for social reform.

Linda Blazer, a researcher for NMSU archives and author of Shalam Colony: A Utopian Experiment, stated that it was upon Newbrough’s return that he purchased a typewriter. After unsuccessful attempts to use the strange contraption, he began to write under “spiritual control,” with angels behind his chair, and he did so for 50 weeks. The resulting manuscript was published under the title of Oahspe: The New Bible.

Organized in much the same way as the Bible, the Oahspe declared that a new era had begun, in which the supreme deity, Jehovih, would come to all mankind. Also included was a plan for bringing about peace on earth through children raised without sin. They would become the future leaders that would usher in this new era.

With persuasive and eloquent public speeches, Newbrough was able to establish a group of followers, known as Faithists of the Seed of Abraham. The Faithists first gathered together in Woodside, N.J. in 1883. Newbrough was elected president. That same year members gathered in New York City in November. With 60 Faithists in attendance, the colonization society was organized.

Shalam Colony buildingPriestley stated that the purpose of the proposed colony was to raise children away from sin and to provide a place for members to lead “higher and purer lives.” It was to be the “land of children” and a place of “peace and plenty.” Timothy Miller wrote in The Quest for Utopia in the Twentieth Century that the Faithists had attempted two unsuccessful colonies, first in New Jersey and then in New York.

In October 1884, Newbrough and his friend and financial contributor, Andrew M. Howland, arrived in Las Cruces. Linda Harris, author of Las Cruces: An Illustrated History, wrote that legend states the pair were led blindfolded by spirit guides to a bend in the Rio Grande just north of town. They purchased a 1,490 acre tract for $4,500 that was to become the Land of Shalam. Soon, 22 Faithists arrived.  Among the new colonists were Newbrough’s dental assistant, Frances Van de Water Sweet, and her and Newbrough’s nine-month-old baby girl, Justine.

Priestley wrote that the colonists found the winter harsh; a few died of privation. With the arrival of spring and supplies coming from the east, new hope surged. Residents of the nearby village of Doña Ana introduced the colonists to local foods, such as beans, blue corn, hot red and green chiles and tortillas.

Newbrough hired 100 local laborers at an unheard of $1 a day to build what eventually became a complex of 35 structures. The buildings included a temple, an art studio, a children’s home, barns and stables and what Newbrough called the fraternum. This was a long u-shaped building with 20 rooms on both sides and a courtyard in the middle, equipped with a steam laundry and flushing toilets.

Image caption: The Shalam Colony built a fraternum, a u-shaped building that included modern features. (Photo courtesy of New Mexico State University Library, Archives and Special Collections)

Once the buildings were complete, receiving houses were set up in Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City and New Orleans to gather the orphan children Shalam was founded on. All babies were accepted regardless of race or health and brought to the desert Southwest.

Education began in infancy. By the time the children could walk, they received spiritual instruction. They could read at an early age, sing on key and were taught to be keenly aware of their five senses. Education was important, but so was play. Children rode ponies, went on picnics, learned to swim in the river and tended their own little “miracle gardens.”

Agriculture was very important to the pacifist vegetarians of Shalam. A water reservoir was built with wooden pipes for irrigation. Commercial crops included alfalfa and canaigre, a herb used for leather tanning. Colonists cultivated grapes, apples, pears, apricots and peaches, as well as artichokes and asparagus, some of which was taken by thieving neighbors.

But the climate was no friend to the farmers. Heat warped irrigation pipes. Floods washed away new crops. Fires destroyed farm equipment. Soon, the huge farming enterprise was overrun with debt.

The colonists also had an extensive herd of dairy cattle to provide milk for the children. High-quality cattle that filled barns and corrals gradually decreased in number as neighboring families also made off with the colony’s animals.

While the external complications were plenty, it was the internal strife that brought about the colony’s demise.

During Shalam’s conception in 1884, Newbrough was still married to his first wife, Rachel. He was granted a divorce on Oct. 6, 1886. Newbrough and Frances Sweet were married in 1887, causing dissension amongst the colonists, as well as rumors of free-love and easy character.

The well publicized trial of Ellis vs. Howland and Newbrough over ownership of the land and delay of agricultural plans also played a major role in the demise of the colony. Cutting remakes made by the presiding judge, Justice A. A. Freeman, caused derogatory publicity, and recruitment of potential colonists came to a halt.

Ultimate disaster befell the colony in 1891 when Newbrough died of influenza. Frances Newbrough and Andrew Howland attempted to revive the faded dream. In 1893 they were married to quiet sordid rumors. For almost a decade, they struggled to keep the colony going.

By 1900, Shalam was destitute. The school closed, children rebelled and colonists squabbled. They officially disbanded in 1901, with the remaining children sent to orphanages in Texas and Colorado.

Andrew Howland sold Shalam in 1907 for $60,000. He and Frances settled in El Paso, selling vegetarian snacks.

The Newbroughs’ daughter, Justine, changed her name to Jone Howland, and wrote for an El Paso newspaper.

Never reaching the hundreds predicted, the 50 children of Shalam grew up, most abandoning their Faithist training. Some found relatives, others wandered.

The Faithists of Shalam scattered throughout the West. Some started their own colonies, all to be short-lived. In 1942, Faithists led by Wing Anderson bought property in Utah and Colorado for orphanages and agriculture. Today, there are about 1,500 Faithists in the United States, and the Oahspe is still in print and available online, but very little of Shalam can be seen. Amidst cottonwood trees stands the studio, the sole surviving building, where Newbrough painted religious art while children colored at his feet.

The history of this short-lived utopian society, laced with fact and fiction, is attracting new attention. The Shalam Colony & Oahspe Museum in Las Cruces is located at 1910 Calle de Niños. T. Robin Riley, a former NMSU professor now teaching in Minnesota, has recently produced a documentary film on the colony and curated an exhibit in 2009 at the Farm and Ranch Museum in Las Cruces. Can Hollywood be far behind?

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