History of the Shalam Colony

John B. Newbrough
John B. Newbrough

Shalam was founded by a New York dentist and doctor named John B. Newbrough and a group of his religious followers called Faithists. Newbrough claimed to have written a new Bible, called Oahspe, while under spirit control. Contained in this Bible was "The Book of Shalam," which set forth a plan for gathering the outcast and orphaned children of the world and raising them, according to strict religious principles, to be the spiritual leaders of a new age.

Newbrough and some twenty Faithists decided to create such a place as described in "The Book of Shalam."

Andrew M. Howland
Andrew M. Howland

In 1884, Shalam Colony was finally established on the banks of the Rio Grande, one mile from the village of Dona Ana. It is generally believed that without the help of the villagers of Dona Ana, the colonists would have suffered even more than they did the first year. The villagers showed them how to cook beans and make adobe bricks, and other skills necessary to survive in this new land. Financed by a wealthy wool merchant from Boston, Andrew Howland, the colony was developed into one of the finest agricultural areas of the Southwest. Nearly a million dollars was spent to build and furnish fine buildings and maintain a herd of prize dairy cattle, build a chicken farm with heated runs, and develop a reservoir and irrigation system which was far ahead of its time.

Frances Van de Water Swee
Frances Van de Water Sweet

Disaster befell the colony in 1891 when John Newbrough died of influenza. His widow, Frances Van de Water Sweet, married Andrew Howland in 1893 in an effort to put to an end malicious gossip. Together they tried valiantly to keep the colony going, but the obstacles proved overwhelming. The colony had attracted many who did not want to work; the Rio Grande flooded often and destroyed acres of crops; the financial burden was too great and the markets too few. In 1901, the children who had not been adopted were sent to orphanages in Dallas and Denver and Shalam Colony was closed.