Drive U.S. 60 east of Fort Sumner, and you’ll soon come upon an abandoned church, standing alone in the high desert grasslands of eastern New Mexico.
You know the cliché, “If walls could talk …” Well, maybe in this church in Taiban, they can … in a way. Visitors, who find the building vacant and exposed, its bell tower gone, doors and windows destroyed, and floorboards pried up, have scribed spiritually inspired messages on the walls. The church is all that remains of a once thriving New Mexico town.
Taiban was named for nearby Taiban Creek, fed by Taiban spring — or Stinking Spring where Billy the Kid is said to have surrendered to Pat Garrett for the price of a grilled steak. Taiban was founded in 1906 when the Santa Fe railroad built the Belen cutoff, redirecting traffic from Raton Pass. It soon had a school, bank, hotel, and 50 homes.
Trains brought hundreds of homesteaders. Most emigrants passed on to somewhere else. But, in 1908, Taiban had a population of 400. That year, construction began on the First Presbyterian Church. It was completed at a cost of 250, but the congregation could only raise $100. The ladies of the Baptist Church assisted in raising funds and loans from Taiban Savings Bank covered the remainder of the bill.
In his City of Dust blog, Albuquerque’s J.M. House described the experience of Vane Outias upon his arrival in Taiban. “There we were, piling down off the steps of the jerk-water train — Pa, Ma, and the kids. After counting suitcases, packages, and bundles, Ma called the roll. All were present. The bunch of us, with Ma herding, started for the hotel. We had come out here to file on some land, make a living farming, and when we had proved-up, sell out, and go back east rich.”
Taiban was central to the ranching community and railroad, so, understandably, there were a lot of drinking men. The Presbyterian church faced off against the saloons and alcohol. It was a battle that would endure the life of the church and the town that became known as the “bootlegging capital” by imbibers from dry counties in Texas and Oklahoma.
By the 1930s, in the depths of Great Depression drought, families began to leave. No one could make a living. The bank failed in 1929. Passenger and express train service ceased in 1933. Telegraph service was also terminated. Taiban even lost its bid to Fort Sumner to be country seat. The De Baca County courthouse was built there in 1930.
House writes, “Following Prohibition, it was largely liquor that kept Taiban from blowing away entirely.”
After World War II, only seven businesses remained to serve a population of 50. The last residents of Taiban left and, in 1960, the only remaining business closed — and that was a bar. The church’s bell tower was removed that year as well. It would seem, House says, between alcohol and the church, “Call it a draw. There was no clear winner.”
On the church’s hundredth birthday, Albuquerque Journal reporter Leslie Linthicum visited. She wrote, “I thought about why I’ve loved that old church for so long. Mostly, I suppose, it’s because I’m naturally drawn to sad sacks and faded glory. But it’s also because the building conjures up a homesteader past that I can only imagine.”
Today, the church is ignored by the constant wind that bends nearby mesquite. It is ignored by semis roaring along U.S. 60 and the two-mile long BNSF trains that rumble by a hundred yards to the south. In all its faded glory it stands as a sentinel to Taiban’s past.