Roswell is a city in and the county seat of Chaves County in the southeastern quarter of the state of New Mexico, United States. The population was 48,366 at the 2010 census. It is a center for irrigation farming, dairying, ranching, manufacturing, distribution, and petroleum production. It is also the home of New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI), founded in 1891. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located a few miles northeast of the city on the Pecos River. Bottomless Lakes State Park is located twelve miles east of Roswell on US 380.
Roswell is most popularly known for having its name attached to what is now called the 1947 Roswell UFO incident, even though the crash site of the alleged UFO was some 75 miles from Roswell and closer to Corona. The investigation and debris recovery was handled by the local Roswell Army Air Field.
The first non-indigenous settlers of the area around Roswell were a group of pioneers from Missouri, who attempted to start a settlement 15 miles southwest of what is now Roswell in 1865 but were forced to abandon the site because of a lack of water. It was called Missouri Plaza. It also had many Hispanic people from Lincoln, NM. John Chisum had his famous Jingle Bob Ranch about 5 miles from the center of Roswell, at South Spring Acres. At the time it was the largest ranch in the USA.
Van C. Smith, a businessman from Omaha, Nebraska, and his partner, Aaron Wilburn, constructed two adobe buildings in 1869 that began what is now Roswell. The two buildings became the settlement's general store, post office, and sleeping quarters for paying guests. In 1871, Smith filed a claim with the federal government for the land around the buildings, and on August 20, 1873, he became the town's first postmaster. Van C. Smith was the son of Roswell Smith, a prominent lawyer in Lafayette, Indiana, and Annie Ellsworth, daughter of U.S. Patent Commissioner Henry Leavitt Ellsworth. He called the town Roswell, after his father's first name.
In 1877, Captain Joseph Calloway Lea and his family bought out Smith and Wilburn's claim and became the owners of most of the land of Roswell and the area surrounding it. The town was relatively quiet during the Lincoln County War (1877–1879). A major aquifer was discovered when merchant Nathan Jaffa had a well drilled in his back yard on Richardson Avenue in 1890, resulting in the area's first major growth and development spurt. The growth continued when a railroad was built through town in 1893.
During World War II, a prisoner of war camp was located in nearby Orchard Park. The German prisoners of war were used to do major infrastructure work in Roswell, such as paving the banks of the North Spring River. Some POWs used rocks of different sizes to create the outline of an iron cross among the stones covering the north bank. Later, the iron cross was covered with a thin layer of concrete. In the 1980s, a crew cleaning the river bed cleared off the concrete and revealed the outline once more. The small park just south of the cross was then known as Iron Cross Park. On November 11, 1996 the park was renamed POW/MIA park. The park displays a piece of the Berlin Wall, presented to the City of Roswell by the German Air Force.
In the 1930s, Roswell was a site for much of Robert Goddard's early rocketry work. Roswell was a location of military importance from 1941 to 1967, at which time Walker Air Force Base was decommissioned. After the closure of the base, Roswell capitalized on its pleasant climate and reinvented itself as a retirement community.
As of the 2000 census, there were 45,293 people, 17,068 households, and 11,742 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,565.2 people per square mile (604.3/km²). There were 19,327 housing units at an average density of 667.9 per square mile (257.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 70.96% White, 2.47% African American, 1.28% Native American, 0.65% Asian, 21.29% from other races, and 3.31% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 44.34% of the population.
There were 17,069 households out of which 34.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.1% were married couples living together, 14.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.2% were non-families. 27.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.58 and the average family size was 3.13.
In the city the population was spread out with 28.5% under the age of 18, 9.9% from 18 to 24, 24.9% from 25 to 44, 20.6% from 45 to 64, and 16.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 93.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,252, and the median income for a family was $31,724. Males had a median income of $26,554 versus $21,408 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,589. About 18.7% of families and 22.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.1% of those under age 18 and 13.8% of those age 65 or over.