Coal and gold was discovered here close to the Jicarilla Mountains turning White Oaks into a boomtown in 1879. It is located on the outskirts of Lincoln National Forest. Initially, White Oaks was the hunting ground of Piros Indians since the area boasted of an abundance of game and this was before the Indians got kicked out by the Apache.
Members of Don Juan de Onate’s expedition were the first Europeans to access the area towards the end of the 1500s, who named the area Malpais after a lava flow within the vicinity of the area. Later on, when John J. Baxter heard that gold had been discovered at White Oaks, he followed Mexican prospectors to a shallow canyon where the Homestake mine was later uncovered.
As news about the findings of this site went round, a tented mining camp was established here and given the name White Oaks after a small nearby stream that had white oak trees along it. Rambling shacks and tents that had been put up in the area started vanishing with the advent of permanent buildings in 1880, which was also the period when a post office set up shop, in the town of White Oak.
Growth was fast and some of the businesses operating here at the time were gambling houses, 2 hotels, saloons, four newspapers, livery stables, 3 churches, an opera house, a sawmill and a bank. By this time, prospectors Baxter and Winters owned claims to the South Homestake mine and Homestake mine. These two sold these claims after some time at a cost of $300,000 each
Baxter Mountain was the location where the precious metal had been located and White Oak became a famous spot for several notable personalities among them being Shotgun John Collins, Dave Rudabaugh, Pat Garret and Billy the Kid. The town’s first newspaper was called White Oaks Golden Era, which was followed by others including the New Mexico Interpreter, the Lincoln County Leader and the Old Abe Eagle.
In November 1880, one of the notable characters who frequented White Oaks; Billy the Kid, was pursued by an outlaw for a distance of more than 40 miles. This ended up in a standoff in which Jim Carlyle who was the Deputy Sheriff then was shot dead as he tried to negotiate with the outlaw. To this day, the person responsible for the murder of Carlyle remains unidentified and the reason behind the killing is still unknown.
As at July 1880, the population of this town stood at 800 individuals and when it hit its peak, there were a total of 4,000 inhabitants living in White Oaks. In the 19th Century, Alexander McSween’s widow; Susan McSween Barber, acquired and developed the Three Rivers Ranch, which was located southwest of White Oaks. She had more than 5,000 head of cattle in the ranch and she eventually came to be known as the “Cattle Queen of New Mexico.”
In 1902 she sold the ranch and made White Oaks her home until 1931 when she was killed during the Lincoln County War. By 1970, little could be traced of the original town apart from 6 buildings that had been left standing. The town was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district the same year and today The No Scum Allowed Saloon continues operating in this ghost town.