Clayton, New Mexico is the first town on the Santa Fe Trail in the land of Enchantment. It is close to the base of Rabbit Ear Mountains a major landmark on the Santa Fe Trail. Those first outcroppings of the Rocky Mountains were named for the sixteenth century Cheyenne Chief, Orejas de Conejo. He was killed in a battle on the slopes of the mountains and buried on the larger of the two peaks.
Clayton has long been a major stop on the trails of the west. Coronado passed through there on his way to Kansas. The Goodnight-Loving Trail with its large cattle drives, used Clayton for a stop over and resting place for the many herds of cattle driven over the famous trail.
In the latter days of the Santa Fe Trail, freight lines from the railroads in Kansas passed through here. Soon after the railroad reached Santa Fe, another railroad came to Clayton. The arrival of the railroad in 1887, probably signaled the birth of Clayton.
Freighting, by wagon, was major industry here at that time.
Before entering Northeastern New Mexico from one of the four adjoining states, the Rabbit Ear Mountains stand out like sentinels, visible from a distance of forty to fifty miles away. Upon determining the name of these peaks from their highway maps, tourists immediately ask the question about these first foot hills of the Rockies "Why do the call it Rabbit Ears". They in no way resemble a pair of rabbits ears. Which is exactly right.
The portion of the trail here near Clayton was in the heart of the land of the Indian. Indian scouts could watch the slow progress of the westbound wagon trains from the top of these two mountains from one, to possibly three or four days depending on where the wagons were pulled by horses and mules or slow plodding oxen.
Chief Rabbit Ear and his braves began raiding these wagon trains, as they invaded his hunting and camping grounds. No doubt ambushing them as they attempted the crossings on the Corrumpa and Seneca Creeks and the tributaries.
The Governor, of what was then the Spanish Colony of Santa Fe, governed by Mexico, sent a detachment of Cavalry along with their indian scouts and guides, into what is now northeastern New Mexico to stop the Indians from interfering with the traffic on the Trail. The Cavalry located the Indian Village, which was near the foot of the peaks, possibly in the Seneca Creek Valley, as this spot shows evidence of having been inhabited by Indians for many, many years.
The Spanish Cavalry took the village by surprise, and in the ensuing battle, killed Chief Rabbit Ear and his warriors, leaving only women and children. The engagement made the Trail much safer for commerce, and gave those peaks their name - RABBIT EAR MOUNTAINS.
Union County lies in the Northeast corner of the State of New Mexico with borders touching the states of Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. Union County borders the NM counties of Quay and Harding county. Clayton is the county seat. Clayton is located at the intersections of US Highways 56, 412, 64 and 87. It is 83 miles east of I-25 (at springer NM) and 110 miles North of I-40 (at Nara Visa ,NM)
The 2000 Census reports Union County as having 4,174 residents. There are four incorporated incorporated municipalities in the county: Clayton, with 2524 residents , Des Moines with 177 , Folsum with 75 and Grenville with a populatin of 25. There are numerous recognized communitites through out the area , most lacking a depth of infrastructure and population. The county is 3830 square miles in size, which constitutes a population density of 1.089 per square mile. Union County is deemed as a "Rural Frontier" County by definition of having fewer than 2 persons per square mile.
The community has an excellent school system, numerous surrounding natural wonders, and a stable government both county and city. The community has a large infrastructure expansion for an industrial park in progress. We are uniquely positioned on the Ports to Plains commerce corridor. We are also uniquely positioned in the Class 4 Winds and Solar belt of New Mexico.