Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t read “The Mesilla,” you may want to skip this post.
Yes, Virginia, there was a Shalam Colony in Las Cruces and there still is a road here named after that first of several “Faithist” colonies – some of which still exist in other places today. John Newbrough, a dentist from New York, had written his Oahspe: A New Bible, which he suggested he composed while using ‘automatic writing’ – which he claimed allowed him to create the 890-page tome without consciously writing – I kid you not!
In 1884, Dr. Newbrough purchased some 12,000 acres on an oxbow of the Rio Grande and some twenty of his Faithists followed him to settle there. They soon discovered that talking about their Shangri-La in their parlors in New York City was one thing, but living amongst the rattlesnakes, cacti and other dangers of the New Mexico frontier was another.
They would have likely died or left that winter had it not been for some charitable residents of the nearby village of Dona Ana. They showed the tenderfeet how to cook beans, build adobe huts, and generally how to keep from starving to death.
Finally, and as described in my book, they did build their Fraternum and they became self-sufficient and practiced the tenants of their ‘religion.’ Orphaned children were brought there to be raised according to the Oahspe.
With the arrival of the energetic and well-heeled Boston socialite, Andrew Howland, the colony flourished for a while. But times were tough and many of the ‘Faithists’ weren’t very good workers. Newborough died of the Flu and Pneumonia in 1891. Howland carried on, investing over $350,000 of his own money until 1907 when he physically and his fortune had been exhausted. The property was sold and what few colonists that remained were scattered to the wind.
Several Oahspe groups (along with their associated splinters) still exist scattered around the United States and the world.