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Tucumcari, New Mexico
Quay County Courthouse in 2008
Quay County Courthouse in 2008
Official seal of Tucumcari, New Mexico
Location of Tucumcari in New Mexico
Location of Tucumcari in New Mexico
Tucumcari, New Mexico is located in the United States
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Location in the United States
Country United States
State New Mexico
County Quay
Founded 1901
 • Total 9.51 sq mi (24.63 km2)
 • Land 9.51 sq mi (24.62 km2)
 • Water 0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
4,091 ft (1,247 m)
 • Total 5,363
 • Estimate 
 • Density 511.94/sq mi (197.65/km2)
Time zone UTC−7 (MST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−6 (MDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 575
FIPS code 35-79910
GNIS feature ID 0915909
Website City Website

Tucumcari ( too-CUM-carry) is a city in and the county seat of Quay County, New Mexico, United States. The population was 5,363 at the 2010 census. Tucumcari was founded in 1901, two years before Quay County was established.


In 1901, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad built a construction camp in the western portion of modern-day Quay County. Originally called Ragtown, the camp became known as Six Shooter Siding, due to numerous gunfights. Its first formal name, Douglas, was used only for a short time. After it grew into a permanent settlement, it was renamed Tucumcari in 1908. The name was taken from Tucumcari Mountain, which is situated near the community. Where the mountain got its name is uncertain. It may have come from the Comanche word tʉkamʉkarʉ, which means 'ambush'. A 1777 burial record mentions a Comanche woman and her child captured in a battle at Cuchuncari, which is believed to be an early version of the name Tucumcari.

In December 1951, a water storage tank collapsed in the city. Four were killed and numerous buildings were destroyed.


Tucumcari is located at 35°10′10″N 103°43′32″W / 35.16944°N 103.72556°W / 35.16944; -103.72556 (35.169453, −103.725488). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.6 sq mi (19.6 km2), of which, 7.5 sq mi (19.5 km2) of it is land and 0.13% is water.


Tucumcari has a cool semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk) characterized by cool winters and hot summers. Rainfall is relatively low except during the summer months, when thunderstorms associated with the North American monsoon can bring locally heavy downpours. Snowfall is generally light, with a mean of 19.4 inches or 0.49 metres and a median of 9.7 inches or 0.25 metres. Due to the frequency of low humidity, wide daily temperature ranges are normal.

The record high temperature at Tucumcari was 109 °F (43 °C) on June 25, 1990 and June 28, 2013, and the record low temperature −22 °F (−30 °C) on January 13, 1963. The hottest monthly mean maximum has been 100.5 °F or 38.1 °C in July 2011 and the coldest mean minimum 12.4 °F or −10.9 °C in January 1963, although the coldest month by mean maximum was January 1949 with a mean high of 38.6 °F or 3.7 °C.

The wettest calendar year has been 1941 with 34.94 inches (887.5 mm) and the driest 1934 with 6.13 inches (155.7 mm). The most rainfall in one month was 11.19 inches (284.2 mm) in July 1950. The most rainfall in 24 hours was 4.41 inches (112.0 mm) on June 21, 1971. The most snowfall in one year was 46.7 inches (1.19 m) in from July 1918 to June 1919. The most snowfall in one month was 30.0 inches (0.76 m) in February 1912.

New Mexico Monsoon 2011
Summer rain over Eastern New Mexico associated with the North American Monsoon.
Climate data for Tucumcari 4 NE (1971-2000; extremes 1904-2001)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 80
Average high °F (°C) 52.7
Average low °F (°C) 22.9
Record low °F (°C) −22
Precipitation inches (mm) 0.41
Snowfall inches (cm) 5.2
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 inch) 3.5 3.2 3.7 3.9 6.2 6.7 7.3 8.8 6.2 4.3 3.2 3.3 60.3
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 inch) 2.4 1.6 1.1 0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 1.0 2.3 9


Historical population
Census Pop.
1910 2,526
1920 3,117 23.4%
1930 4,143 32.9%
1940 6,194 49.5%
1950 8,419 35.9%
1960 8,143 −3.3%
1970 7,189 −11.7%
1980 6,765 −5.9%
1990 6,831 1.0%
2000 5,989 −12.3%
2010 5,363 −10.5%
2019 (est.) 4,867 −9.2%
U.S. Decennial Census
Tucumcari Grain Elevator 2011
Attebury Grain Elevator, 2011

As of the census of 2000, there were 5,989 people, 2,489 households, and 1,607 families residing in the city. The population density was 793.8 people per square mile (306.7/km2). There were 3,065 housing units at an average density of 406.2 per square mile (156.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 75.87% White, 1.29% African American, 1.39% Native American, 1.20% Asian, 0.22% Pacific Islander, 17.10% from other races, and 2.94% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 51.41% of the population.

There were 2,489 households, out of which 29.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.4% were married couples living together, 15.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.4% were non-families. 31.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.93.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 26.0% under the age of 18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 24.8% from 45 to 64, and 17.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 90.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $22,560, and the median income for a family was $27,468. Males had a median income of $25,342 versus $18,568 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,786. About 19.1% of families and 24.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.5% of those under age 18 and 16.7% of those age 65 or over.

Legend surrounding the area

Legend has it that Apache Chief Wautonomah was nearing the end of his time on earth and was troubled by the question of who would succeed him as ruler of the tribe. In a classic portrait of love and competition, his two finest braves, Tonopah and Tocom, not only were rivals and sworn enemies of one another, but were both vying for the hand of Kari, Chief Wautonomah's daughter. Kari knew her heart belonged to Tocom. Chief Wautonomah beckoned Tonopah and Tocom to his side and announced, "Soon I must die and one of you must succeed me as chief. Tonight you must take your long knives and meet in combat to settle the matter between you. He who survives shall be the Chief and have for his wife Kari, my daughter."

As ordered, the two braves met, with knives outstretched, in mortal combat. Unknown to either brave was that Kari was hiding nearby. When Tonopah's knife found the heart of Tocom, the young woman rushed from her hiding place and used a knife to take Tonopah's life as well as her own.

When Chief Wautonomah was shown this tragic scene, heartbreak enveloped him and he buried his daughter's knife deep into his own heart, crying out in agony, "Tocom-Kari"!

A slight variation of the Chief's dying words lives on today as Tucumcari, and the mountain that bears this name stands as a stark reminder of unfulfilled love.

Some credit this folk tale to Geronimo. Others, believing the claims to be apocryphal, purport the tale variously to have been concocted by anyone from a 1907 Methodist minister to a group of local businesspeople seated together at the old Elk Drugstore each embellishing the stories one by one. Nonetheless, the town is named for Tucumcari Mountain, which in turn takes its name from native origins.

Gelo has documented another origin of the name, reportedly from a Comanche when the first train arrived. He stated "tuka? manooril, carry the light!"; to a brakeman with a lantern. The brakeman repeated this as "'tukama ... carry' [i.e., Tucumcari], that will be the name of this town."

Perhaps the most credible source for the name, and certainly the earliest, is found in the diary of Pedro Vial. His diary published in 1794 mentions travel past "Tuconcari", known today as Tucumcari Mountain.

In popular culture

  • Many of the scenes in the television show Rawhide (1959–1966) starring Clint Eastwood were shot in the Tucumcari area.
  • Tucumcari is the setting of one of the first scenes in Sergio Leone's 1965 film For a Few Dollars More, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Gian Maria Volontè. However, this is a prochronism, as Tucumcari was founded many years after the historical period in which For a Few Dollars More takes place.
  • A scene in the 1971 movie Two-Lane Blacktop, starring James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, and Warren Oates, was filmed at a gasoline service station on U.S. Highway 54 just northeast of Tucumcari. Tucumcari Mountain is clearly visible at the beginning of this scene.
  • The city is mentioned in the 1988 film Rain Man by the character played by Tom Cruise. However, the location in the scene is not Tucumcari.
  • In the David Stone Series featuring Micah Dalton, the lead character was raised in Tucumcari.
  • The city is mentioned in the 1989 Designing Women episode "Full Moon."
  • In an episode of Adam-12, Tucumcari is mentioned by the family of a baby who is supposed to have a brain tumor. But it is a con for money.
  • Tucumcari is mentioned in an episode of NCIS as a place where a suspect was issued a traffic citation.
  • In the 2005 Supernatural episode, "Bugs", the city is mentioned.
  • The 2015 documentary The Search for General Tso features local Tucumcari business owner Tammy Fang and her restaurant Golden Dragon Restaurant on old Route 66.
  • A scene for the film, Hell or High Water, was filmed in Tucumcari on June 1, 2015.
  • In the SyFy channel's miniseries "Taken" by Steven Spielberg, a scene in the second episode involves alien enthusiasts gathering in Tucumcari and trying to contact aliens in outer space with home made radios.
  • Tucumcari is mentioned in the refrain of Lowell George's song "Willin'."

Tucumcari Tonite/Route 66

Blue Swallow Motel from SW 2
Blue Swallow Motel on U.S. Route 66, 2012

For many years, Tucumcari has been a popular stop for cross-country travelers on Interstate 40 (formerly U.S. Route 66 in the area). It is the largest city on the highway between Amarillo, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Billboards reading "TUCUMCARI TONITE!" placed along I-40 for many miles to the east and west of the town invite motorists to stay the night in one of Tucumcari's "2000" (later changed to "1200") motel rooms. The "TUCUMCARI TONITE!" campaign was abandoned in favor of a campaign which declared Tucumcari, "Gateway to the West". However, on June 24, 2008, Tucumcari's Lodgers Tax Advisory Board, the group responsible for the billboards, voted to return to the previous slogan.

Old U.S. Route 66 runs through the heart of Tucumcari via Route 66 Boulevard, which was previously known as Tucumcari Boulevard from 1970 to 2003 and as Gaynell Avenue before that time. Numerous businesses, including gasoline service stations, restaurants and motels, were constructed to accommodate tourists as they traveled through on the Mother Road. A large number of the vintage motels and restaurants built in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s are still in business despite intense competition from newer chain motels and restaurants in the vicinity of Interstate 40, which passes through the city's outskirts on the south.

Historic Downtown

Sand Dorsey fire
The Federal Building (Sands-Dorsey Drug) burned on June 8, 2007

Most of Tucumcari's oldest buildings lie along or near Main Street in the Historic Downtown area. These include:

  • Rock Island-Southern Pacific Train Depot (Built 1926, restored 2011)
  • Odeon Theatre (built 1937, still operating)
  • Crescent Creamery (vacant)
  • Masonic Temple (still operating)
  • Princess Theater (vacant)

Also located in the downtown area are the concrete arches that once surrounded the Hotel Vorenburg, which was demolished in the 1970s after being damaged by fire. The Federal Building, commonly known as Sands-Dorsey Drug, was damaged by two fires before finally being demolished in 2015. The location is now a park.

USS Tucumcari

The city had a United States Navy hydrofoil named after it. The USS Tucumcari (PGH-2) was built by Boeing. It began service in 1968 and ended service in 1972 after running aground in Puerto Rico.


The buildings formerly at Metropolitan Park (locally known as "Five Mile Park" because it is located about five miles (8 km) outside of town) were designed by Trent Thomas, adapted from his design of La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe. The park once featured New Mexico's largest outdoor swimming pool. Owing to deterioration, Metropolitan Park was named to the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance's list of Most Endangered for 2003. In 2010, the park's main building caught fire and burnt to the ground. The city of Tucumcari razed the site weeks after the fire.

In 2014, a series of suspicious fires destroyed abandoned buildings, including the Tucumcari Motel, Payless Motel, and a house in the 500 block of North Fourth Street. A former Tucumcari Police Department officer and several others have been charged with arson.

The town formerly hosted an air show each year. The show held on October 4, 2006, was canceled after one hour when a single-engine plane crashed, resulting in the pilot's death. Beginning in 2013, Tucumcari became the site for the yearly Rockabilly on the Route festival.


Schools in Tucumcari include:

  • Tucumcari Early Head Start and Head Start (non-public daycare and preschool)
  • Tucumcari Elementary School (public Pre-K through fifth grade)
  • Tucumcari Middle School (public sixth grade through eighth grade)
  • Tucumcari High School (public ninth grade through twelfth grade)
  • Mesalands Community College (community two-year institution of higher learning)

Notable people

  • In 1896, Tom "Black Jack" Ketchum and his associates robbed a post office and store in Liberty, NM, a community that dissolved after the railroad bypassed it. Many of Liberty's residents moved to the nearby railroad siding that eventually became Tucumcari. Some of the local residents believe that there is a cave in a mesa south of Tucumcari that may hold some loot from the robbery of Liberty, New Mexico.
  • Musician Bob Scobey was born in Tucumcari in 1916.
  • American character actor Paul Brinegar was born in Tucumcari.
  • Tucumcari High School graduate Stan David was a star safety for the Texas Tech Red Raiders and played 16 NFL games for the Buffalo Bills in 1984. He was listed as number 48 in the Sports Illustrated list of "The 50 Greatest New Mexico Sports Figures".
  • Rex Maddaford, who competed for the New Zealand team in the 1968 Summer Olympics, has been a long-time Tucumcari Public Schools faculty member.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Tucumcari, Nuevo México para niños

National Hispanic Heritage Month on Kiddle
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Juana Martinez-Neal
William Villalongo
Teresita Fernández
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