Located seven miles north of Silver City and like most Western mining settlements, Pinos Altos came to be following the discovery of gold in its free-running waters. A post office was erected in 1860, and not many years later, as the Civil War came to an end, the Buckhorn Saloon was established to quench the thirsts of the many-hundred miners who had arrived in the years since.
With its 18-inch adobe walls and traditional vigas, the building was constructed with a mind for defense, the town having suffered through the 1861 Battle of Pinos Altos when Cochise joined forces with 400 of Mangas Colorado’s Chiricahuan warriors in an effort to convince the miners the price for gold was too high. Even today, visitors to Pinos Altos can visit the graves of those who died engaged in battle with the Apache.
As was the trend in the Anglo’s settlement of the West, settlers continued to arrive, including legendary characters like Roy Bean, who opened a mercantile prior to finally ending up in Langtry, Texas, where he operated The Jersey Lilly as the judge and “The Law West of the Pecos.” Then, in 1877, local Frank Brito was born, destined to become a cowpuncher for the Circle Bar before saddling up as one of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in 1898, the same year that Phoebe Hearst, mother of New York newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, came to Pinos Altos for the dedication of its church, of which she was a benefactress, as thanks for the fortune her husband, U.S. Senator George Hearst, had made in mining in Pinos Altos.
The future of the early saloon was then put in jeopardy when, in 1915, a vote was cast to determine whether the county would become dry. When wet votes garnered a win, 68–42, the Silver City Enterprise celebrated the outcome, stating, “The vote will keep the historic Buckhorn Bar operating as it has for the past 50 years.”
Now, more than 100 years after the Enterprise’s designation of the bar as “historical,” drinks continue to be served on its original Brunswick bars and the steak is rumored to be the best around, served in a dining room with converted gas lights from other original buildings throughout the town. Live music is another staple of the establishment, whether it’s offered in the saloon or in the equally historic Opera House next door.
Today’s visitors to the now sparsely populated Pinos Altos will do well to also visit the Hearst Church, currently the headquarters for the Grant County Art Guild’s Pinos Altos Art Museum; the old post office, now an ice cream parlor; and the Shafer Cabin, a rare 1860s log cabin that still belongs to the Shafer family and now serves as the Historical Museum.